A few reflections on the ‘blended professor’ of the future

This post is based on my first six months of working and teaching at Malmö University in Sweden. Even though I do not want to and cannot claim universal application of the emergence of the
‘blended professor’ I still believe that some emerging trends may be interesting to share-explicitly not in the listicle style of ‘the four things that will change academia forever and ever’.

What we will likely see more of is a generation of academics that will use (or forced to use) a mix of blended technology, pedagogy and skills – from TA-ing as a professor in a MOOC to adopting teaching from near-high school levels to PhD supervision. This may not be as ‘radical’, ‘revolutionary’ or ‘disruptive’ as fancy op-ed writers claim regularly, but especially for those at the beginning of their academic careers or post-graduate studies it will be important to think about some of the changes of academia as a profession in the nearer rather than further future. To keep it readable I will focus on four broad trends:

1. Blended technology will redefine the professional role of ‘the professor’
2. Blended pedagogy will require more teaching skills
3. Institutions will offer/enforce a blended career trajectory
4. Blended outputs will go beyond questions around open access

Blended technology will redefine the professional role of ‘the professor’

Between the radical assumptions that MOOCs will take over entire schools or that classroom teaching will remain the primary mode of instruction in the next decades lies the less catchy truth that boundaries will become more fluid. Moderating an online course, teaching a summer school, be an instructor for content produced elsewhere – all of these skills will be required and, as I elaborate on in the third paragraph, they will be required from faculty at all levels. So the 58-year old full tenured professor may become a teaching assistant for a MOOC that some well-known colleague elsewhere put together. S/he may also communicate on a less formal level with peers and students on an online learning platform. And between a Skype office hour and hot-desking on campus as single offices disappear a new culture of work and engagement is already blossoming. These will likely be not just exceptions or one-offs, but built into the teaching and learning system. It also means that many faculty members will be on camera more often as lectures will be broadcasted and blended into other teaching materials. And ‘I don’t do videos’ or similar attempts of resistance will probably be met with less and less understanding.

Blended pedagogy will require more/different teaching skills

Whether or not students today (and, more importantly, tomorrow) know less than they used to, you as academic will need to get used to an academic environment that in many places will become less intellectual, but potentially more democratic, diverse and certainly different. With increasing demand and competition, it will be difficult for all but a few institutions with a global brand to focus on academic, tertiary education alone. As administrative systems and services are likely to change regular academics will feel an increased pressure to step in and provide extra tuition and prepare students for academic studies. Especially social science and humanities are likely to be faced with a situation where the ‘English professor’ will provide basic writing skills courses and the ‘Development Studies professor’ will offer general courses on critical thinking on political systems. Many universities will be asked to
‘fix’ educational problems and they will be encouraged to demonstrate how they become more inclusive and more closely attuned to the needs of other parts of society-not just the private sector.

Institutions will offer/enforce a blended career trajectory

As I indicated above, traditional career trajectories are likely to slow down and change in their linear progression. ‘Lifelong learning’ will be an issue for ‘the professor’ as well and catching up with the latest publications in one specific sub-field is unlikely to be sufficient. Professors will be students, teachers, TAs and managers at some point in their career and as Chi Ali once famously rapped ‘Age ain’t nothin' but a #’
This can be a chance for academic staff to keep up with technological developments, evolutions in teaching and innovations in field work. And for those who are eying a traditional tenured career, a few research projects and regular publications may not be enough to meet the demands of blended learning.

Blended outputs will go beyond questions around open access
Some time ago I wrote about peer reviewed articles as a genre of literature that is still the gold standard in most parts of academia but nonetheless in danger of becoming ritualized text with diminishing relevance. I think many academics or even whole (sub-)disciplines will be disappointed in the medium term when they realize that open access publishing will not solve challenges of relevance, rigor and readership. One of he key challenges will be how you answer the question ‘What is the most effective way to communicate?’. I think there will be more flexibility when a promotion committee asks this question. Your academia.edu profile, blog, e-book and articles will all play a part.

I deliberately do not want to create dramatic scenario mainly because I believe many of these changes are likely to be incremental, will come in many different interpretations and will complement rather than replace existing foundations of how many academic institutions operate and engage with students and the public.
My own experience is that a blended mix of products and roles ensures innovation and faculty that stays in touch with different worlds outside the ivory tower as traditional hierarchies, prestige and authority are exposed to a blended mix of new surroundings in the higher education industry.


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