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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.

Doug Specht


Doug Specht is a Chartered Geographer (CGeog. FRGS) and a Senior Lecturer (SFHEA) at the Communication and Media Research Institute, within the University of Westminster. His research examines how knowledge is constructed and codified through digital and cartographic artefacts, focusing on development issues, and he has written on this subject in numerous books and papers. He has also spoken on topics of data ethics and mapping practices at conferences and invited lectures around the world. He is a member of the editorial board at Westminster Papers in Communication and Culture, and sits on BSi committee IST/36 Geographic Information, where he focuses on geographic data in the SDGs. Doug is additionally a trustee of the Santa Rosa Fund, an educational charity; and a core member of the Environmental Network for Central America.


28 April 2021
Research Area
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Times Higher Education
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