The Inconvenient Truth About Digital Transformation in Higher Education

The Inconvenient Truth About Digital Transformation in Higher Education

Roslind Xaviour Thambusamy (Future Academy, Malaysia), Parmjit Singh (Universiti Teknologi MARA, Malaysia) and Mohd Adlan Ramly (Universiti Teknologi MARA, Malaysia)
Copyright: © 2019 |Pages: 16
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7438-5.ch014
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The proliferation of technology into the teaching and learning process has drawn ire in certain quarters of education. This chapter takes up this train of thought to elucidate on certain aspects of the digital transformation of higher education processes which threaten to suffocate the humanistic aspects of the educative process. Special focuses are placed on the pervasive and invasive encroachment of technology into all aspects of teaching, learning, and assessment in terms of its actual value to the end users—the students. The authors highlight how universities are now reflecting Giroux's neoliberalism and Ritzer's McDonaldization in their management and, consequently, depriving instructors and students of the opportunity to true quality education that should pivot on humanistic values and not the accumulation of grades. Apart from these theoretical bases, the authors present arguments drawn from empirical evidence and their own experience as long-serving academics.
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We are the hollow men

We are the stuffed men

Leaning together

Headpiece filled with straw

The above lines from T. S. Eliot’s famous poem, “The Hollow Men,” is a depressing albeit poignant and useful departure point for this chapter. The discussion in this chapter is based on some questions that need to be asked and answered about the state of higher education (henceforth HE) today. The stance adopted in this chapter will be primarily philosophical in nature primed by pithy perturbations of the “digitise or die” (as with “publish or perish” dictum) status quo in HE. The philosophical stance will be buttressed by pertinent theoretical foundations as well as empirical and anecdotal evidence gleaned from the authors’ own experiences as HE instructors with a combined teaching experience of close to eighty years and whose experience straddle the divide of pre-digitalization era and the current digitalized teaching learning scenario in higher education. The philosophical ruminations in the chapter are grounded in Giroux’s (2010) neoliberalism and Ritzer’s (1983) McDonaldization of society and particularly of HE. The authors also acknowledge the contributions of Holmes and Lindsay’s (2018) brilliantly astute paper, titled “Do you want fries with that?: The McDonaldization of university education—some critical reflections on nursing higher education.”

The authors draw from the literature on digital transformations of learning in universities, and on insights from their own careers as academics, to shed light on the actual pros and cons in Aladdin’s cave of technological wonders. Because the authors seek to balance—not negate—arguments promoting online learning, a disclaimer is in order. At no time, do the authors dismiss the beneficial applications of technology in the educational process. The fact is that technology, in all its manifest wondrous transformative applications, is welcomed and lauded by the authors. Needless to say, it would be self-defeating for any educator to dismiss any tool that can enhance teaching and learning. Technology is indeed most welcomed in terms of its myriad offerings of multiple devices and platforms through which the teaching and learning process can be developed and enhanced. To this effect, there is, of course, overwhelming empirical evidence from a bulk of studies, too many to state here, of the perceived benefits of e-Learning (also known as online learning) from blended to flipped classrooms, not to mention the accessibility, flexibility, and affordability that e-Learning provides.

Like sticks used to draw pictures in the sand, followed by chalkboards, whiteboards, projectors, and now mobile devices and learning systems, the tools that best promote the teaching and learning of their time must be embraced: not because they are new, but because they provide for positive change.

The authors concede that with the democratization and resulting massification of HE, there was no choice but to find ways to accommodate the academic needs of the burgeoning numbers of learners. The constraints of finite physical spaces and resources invariably led to exploring options other than traditional forms of disseminating knowledge. This is where educational technology stepped in: to provide alternatives to learners to amass knowledge. However, this is where the authors rant commences, from starting out as education’s “little helpers,” the encroachment of technology into the inner sanctum of educative processes became more firmly entrenched when the ante was upped by the neoliberal battle cry to render HE an “industry” that was required to churn out “marketable” graduates who were considered “human resources.” This perverse reconfiguring of universities as economic-industrial entities (Giroux, 2010) led to the commodification of knowledge and delivery processes. Education per se was side lined in the frenzy to produce graduates to meet industry needs not personal or societal needs. Meeting national and global economic needs were touted as the primary and only function for HE. Corporate figures (pun intended), not professors, became the new gods who, decrying the ancient agenda of the university and crying foul at the knowledge for knowledge’s sake paradigm, began to dictate the business of universities.

Key Terms in this Chapter

McDonaldization: This term was coined by Ritzer to describe the homogenization of American culture by applying the precepts of efficiency, predictability, calculability, and substitution of non-human for human technology.

Hidden Curriculum: Those learning outcomes that are not directly stated in the curriculum; not directly taught and unassessed; and refers to values such as the soft skills.

Massification of Higher Education: Higher education that is available to everyone resulting in overwhelming numbers of students entering universities and a proliferation of higher education institutions to cater for these numbers of students.

Democratization of Higher Education: The opening of higher education to everyone where a university education is no longer deemed elitist; accessible higher education for all classes of society.

Technomanagerialism: This term refers to the management of educational institutions which are based on business models and which depend highly on measuring performance using pre-ordained numerical metrics which are delivered by specially designed technological applications.

Malaysian Qualifications Agency (MQA): The organization entrusted with accreditation of higher education institutions and ensuring that standards are met in the higher education processes.

Integrated Cumulative Grade Point Average (ICGPA): This is an integrated grading system for assessing and reporting students’ academic performance and the professional skills attained during the course of their university study by assessing such students’ performance across eight domains of learning outcomes: 1) knowledge; 2) psychomotor skills; 3) social responsibility; 4) value, attitude, and professionalism; 5) communication, leadership, and teamwork; 6) problem solving and scientific skills; 7) information technology and lifelong learning; and 8) management and entrepreneurial skills.

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