Friday, January 27, 2017

The PhD Chronicles: Dissertation Journal #2

So in the last blog post, I merely stated my ideas but in this post, I want to drill down a bit further with them and see where that lands me.  My advisor has given me a handful of questions that I think will be useful for me to articulate what it is I'm trying to get at.  As I start to pinpoint different ideas to consider, I feel like this will help me refine my ideas and translate them into something more coherent.

Accessing the Digital University

What does this subject/topic mean to me?

I think about the span of my higher education experience (19 out of the last 20 years, I have been in higher education as a student, faculty, or staff--sometimes all 3 at once) and I think about the increasing digitalization of higher education.  I came into higher education just as computers were becoming ubiquitous, colleges were using websites, and libraries were using databases but they were still overwhelmingly analog spaces.  Over the years, I watched as classrooms gained whiteboards and projectors, as email became a space of dialogue between instructors and students, where learning management systems became a home, not just to online courses (initially, largely textual) but also to face-to-face courses.  I've seen the student management systems become robust (though still flakey) enough to be able to do many different things that it significantly reduces the trips and time one had to waste in lines in years past.  None of this even touches upon how social media, tablets, and smartphones have changed colleges and universities.  

All of this is to say that there has been many changes to how students, faculty, and staff engage with an institution and many of those entail a digital interface of one means or another.  A college is not longer just a physical space (if it ever was) but a digital one and that is fascinating to me on all three levels (student, instructor, staff) and how that changes (or doesn't) experiences and meanings of college.  


What's the problem to study?

While digital has many different opportunities to positively change and influence the access to, experience in, and success at college for all players, the move to digital is not without its challenges and problems on many different fronts.  The digitalization of processes, information, and communication means that accessing services and resources requires digital access.  Those with the best access are likely to make out better than those with limited access.  More importantly, it also requires different skillsets--technical skills on top of the other skills needed to manuever through a complex environment.  


A drawing of a computer with the screen reading, "Access Denied; #SorryNotSorry"

Higher education already demands various cultural and social capital (to speak nothing of financial capital) to access and succeed.  To this, we are adding techno-capital (or rather, adding the requirement for more techno-captial as it can be argued there has been a techno-capital requirement prior to the last twenty years).  Techno-capital is the ability to both access and manipulate technology.  This becomes a problem because just like social and cultural capital are not spread out equal, techno-capital isn't either.  Those with social and cultural cpaital are already likely to have or to easily acquire digital capital. 

It also seems clear that at the K-12 level, techno-capital isn't distributed equally with some schools having a plethora of technology including a one-to-one programs while others have little-to-none technology in the students' daily lives.  A digital presence is likely to help build a student's techno-capital, making them more capable in knowing how to use technology and possibly even more knowledgeable about how to access it (e.g. they may encounter more tech-hacks when technology is present such as being aware of a rental program for tablets if they forget their tablet at home could translate into knowing such services exist on an as-need basis).  Thus, often, students lacking equitable social and cultural capital (of the the kind that is valued in higher education), are potentially furthered disadvantaged as colleges become increasingly digital and it decreases a student's chance at success.


What's the thing that needs solving?

Ultimately, as colleges continue to digitalize their processes, they increase the need for techno-capital by all members.  While those already part of a college environment (e.g. faculty), may be able to push back (e.g. refuse to use the learning management system beyond the bare minimum) or at least get training on the job for catching up with the new digital processes, the students desiring to become part of or just recently joined with the instution are left to fend for themselves.  So how do we undo the harm and limitations put upon students lacking techno-capital through the digitalization of higher education.  


What am I addressing?

Great question.  When I look at what I've written thus far, it would seem that I'm thinking mainly about access to higher education and techno-capital's role within it as the institution becomes increasingly digital, does it replicate so many of the issues of access that we have seen in the past in higher education.  That is, are we just reshuffling the board rather than improving access to higher education?
  

What does this contribute to?

Embedded in so many college missions is that idea of access or a similar social justice mission that looks to create a more equitable space.  Higher education masturbatorily speaks of itself as a meritocracy but stacks the deck regularly and the digitalization of higher education, whether knowingly or not, contributes to a further disenfranchisement of access and support for students whose circumstances, rather their abilities preclude them from being made members of a college community.     
    
I've found this quite useful so you can expect more them laid out like this.  So in the next post, I'll tackle the idea of techno-capital and its role within learning in the same fashion.  


Want to catch up on my previous reflections about being in a PhD program?  Check them out:
  1. Acceptance
  2. Orientation
  3. Day 1
  4. Week 1
  5. First 2 Courses Completed
  6. First 2 Courses Finished
  7. Semester 2, Here We Go
  8. The Existential Crisis of the Week
  9. The Balancing Act
  10. Negotiating Privilege in Higher Education
  11. Zeroing in on Research
  12. Completing the Second Semester
  13. The PhD Chronicles #26: Dissertation Journal #1



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