“Intelligent” Campus?

Photo by Phil Whitehouse https://flic.kr/p/ntu9dA CC with some rights reserved

Photo by Phil Whitehouse https://flic.kr/p/ntu9dA
CC with some rights reserved

 

I’d like to kick back today against the persistent idea that knowledge and information necessarily transform behavior.  I was made to think about this while perusing the Jisc HE learning and teaching vision document (now open for comments), and in particular the “Intelligent Campus” item at the end.

I work with groups of people at UNC Charlotte who are excited about advising systems and learning analytics that can push information out to students about how they are doing, what they are doing, and what it might mean for their time to degree.  These people are administrators, teaching faculty, and advisors who are already engaged with students within networks of care, who provide service and support.  

So, to call the “new” vision of a university campus that Jisc is considering “Intelligent” is an insult to the people who currently provide the human labor that goes into educating people.  Students need to learn how to do higher education, and university campuses are full of people whose job that is.  And they are doing it.  

So, I’d suggest that we might usefully talk about how to be a more “Responsive” campus.  How we might leverage these tools to be more agile in our responses to student needs, more timely, and yes, to involve students more in the labor of their own education.  I’m not suggesting that pushing information out to students is useless, but rather that it cannot be enough to effect behavioral change.  

I think about people and their fitbits.  And how the information they get from their fitbit isn’t what effects change (if it does).  It’s about the other things that happen around fitbits, the network they build around that fitbit, the people with whom they share that information, the social connections and relationships, and social media sharing that build around paying attention to the information.  Just wearing the fitbit is not what makes them more active.

Handing people a piece of tech, or a piece of information, is not inherently transformative.

Behavioral change is about networks, trust, motivations to engage, about being able to understand the implications of the information being received.  That is the role of advising and teaching staff, and should not be seen as anything that learning analytics systems can replace.  “Dashboards” may make certain sorts of information visible.  They are not a substitute for teaching and advising, both in the classroom and beyond.

These systems are tools.  The important focus is on the people within our universities, the work they do, and whether these tools will help them do that work more effectively.