My Becoming in a World of Virtual Learning Communities

My Becoming in a World of Virtual Learning Communities

Karen Joy Koopman (University of the Western Cape, South Africa)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-9316-4.ch010
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The aim of this chapter is to chronicle the author's becoming in a world of virtual learning communities (VLCs) and spaces. She considers her narrative of becoming in a world of VLCs and spaces important as it might resonate with many experienced lecturers and teachers who grew up in an era with no internet and no (or very little) technological tools, and who now suddenly find themselves thrust into an age where smartphones and various other mobile devices are inescapable. These smart devices such as iPhones, Macbooks, online programs, and so forth make university life frenetic not only for the author but for her students as well. This means we are all busy beyond belief with a seemingly relentless push to make everything we do and experience faster and faster. In this chapter, the author wants to share how the needs of her students, who are referred to as “digital natives” motivated her in her becoming in a world of VLCs.
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In September 2018 I attended the Philosophy and Theory in Higher Education conference hosted by Middlesex University, London Campus. The theme of the conference was focused on two main questions, namely, (i) Who is the student? (ii) How do we nurture the students’ becoming in the future university? In simple terms, the main underlying theme of the conference was: How can we, as academics, support our students in their growth and development in the teaching and learning environment? According to the Cambridge English Dictionary, the verb ‘support’ means to ‘uphold’, to ‘sustain’ or to ‘provide’. In the educational sense the word ‘support’ refers to what academics must do, or need to put in place to ensure that they encourage students in the teaching and learning process. In education providing support includes all aspects pertaining to the teaching and learning process, such as curricula, course content, resources for teaching and learning, and assessment.

There were two things that stood out for me at this conference. The first was how little attention was devoted to the historical past of the university, that is, the crooked paths that led to the present. Instead, the main focus was on where the university ought to be and what should be done to get from where we are to where we need to be with a sense of urgency. The second was the vivacious presentation of one of the keynote speakers, Rikke Toft Nϕrgard (2018), and her account of how she in her own pedagogical practice encourages her students to focus on what she calls ‘poetry, passions, polyphony, and potency in thinking, doing and being’. To do this, she draws on philosophies and theories of playfulness as offering one possible route towards advancing more divergent, imaginative and vibrant ways of being and becoming in higher education. The most striking feature – and what held my attention throughout her presentation – was the beautiful, detailed, colourful and animated slides that she designed for the presentation. Another aspect that impressed me was how she used technology to bring the outside world into the lecture theatre so that I could experience her discipline (that is, module that she teaches) in a virtual world. Although the focus of the conference, or of Rikke Toft Nϕrgard’s presentation, was not specifically on the use of technology in the classroom, I realised that technology can be both entertaining and educational, as it presents simplified theoretical models of real world processes and phenomena, a point also made by Song (2007).

This entire conference reminded me of Clark Kerr (2001), who introduced the word ‘multiversity’ to describe the challenges faced by universities today because of outside pressures on them, where more and more emphasis is placed on networks and diverse national and global markets. In the light of Kerr’s (2001) notion of the ‘multiversity’ and Rikke Toft Nϕrgard’s presentation – in which she compared the ever-changing nature of pedagogy to a jellyfish, because it is always changing its shape as it moves – I constantly asked myself how do I get from where I am in my own practice as an academic to where my peers in the rest of Europe are, so that I could give my students in the Faculty of Education at the university where I teach the same experience of integrating technology into my lectures. This means that as digital media are becoming increasingly more pervasive features of our society, and as students are becoming more techno savvy, more pressure is placed on South African academics to integrate technology into their classrooms to prepare students effectively for the world of work. In the light of this need to prepare students for the world of work, Ozturk and Hodgson emphasise:

Now, in the digital age, revisiting democratic pedagogy in a digital learning context, such as VLCs, is of increasing relevance and importance (2017, p. 25).

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