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Universities can’t rely on early adopters to drive transformation

An Opinion Piece by Doug Specht, published by Times Higher Education

Doug Specht, Senior Lecturer and Director of Teaching, Learning and Quality Assurance, wrote an article for Times Higher Education about how online teaching could have been better if higher education institutions had taken a communal approach to digital evolution. In the article, Specht discussed how the modes of digital adoption taken by many institutions in the years preceding the pandemic could have made the situation more difficult. He wrote: “Throughout the first two decades of the 21st century, there was a huge amount of investment in modernising the UK’s higher education sector…Yet, for the most part, the learning from these programmes were isolated in small projects and pilots.”

Talking about digital imposter syndrome, he added: “During the pandemic, it was greatly enhanced for many academics by the media, whist pushed a relentlessly negative narrative around students’ satisfaction with online university teaching – as well as by a lack of access to support due to working from home. However, it might have been less pronounced if universities had adopted a more inclusive approach to digital development from the start. Constant talk of innovation and demonstration of highly skilled digital teaching by early adopters can keep technology at arm’s length from the rest of the university, making it feel too avant-garde and difficult to learn.”

He said: “Pointing to early adopters and saying ‘be more like them’ doesn’t work for most people. If universities are to effectively build on what has been learned during the past year, they need to approach it as a collective of equals. They need to work from a common desire to improve students’ education, allowing themselves the space to get things wrong and to learn from the lessons together, as a community. Heroes or ambassadors will only distract from that common purpose.”

Read the full article on the Times Higher Education website.


Photo by Sergey Zolkin on Unsplash

Doug Specht


Dr Doug Specht is a cultural geographer and educationalist. His research explores themes related to environmental justice, human rights, and access to education, with a focus on the production and codification of knowledge though cartographic artefacts and in educational settings. In recognition of his work, he has been appointed as a Chartered Geographer and Chartered Teacher. In addition, he has been awarded Advanced Teacher Status, alongside being a Senior Fellow of AdvanceHE. Dr. Specht has authored numerous articles and books, including Mapping Crisis, the Routledge Handbook of Geospatial Technology and Society, the Media and Communications Student Study Guide and Imagining Apocalyptic Politics in the Anthropocene. He writes regularly on ethics, environmental and human rights, education, and mapping practices in such publications as WonkHE, The Conversation, Geographical, and for Times Higher Education. Dr Specht is a member of the editorial board of the European Journal of Geography, Westminster papers in Communication and Culture, and Anthropocenes – Human, Inhuman, Posthuman. He is Chair of the Environmental Network for Central America.


28 April 2021
Research Area
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Times Higher Education
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