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You are reading: Reimagining the new pedagogical possibilities for universities post-Covid-19

An EPAT Collective Project

Michael A. Peters, Fazal Rizvi, Gary McCulloch, Paul Gibbs, Radhika Gorur, Moon Hong, Yoonjung Hwang, Lew Zipin, Marie Brennan, Susan Robertson, John Quay, Justin Malbon, Danilo Taglietti, Ronald Barnett, Wang Chengbing, Peter McLaren, Rima Apple, Marianna Papastephanou, Nick Burbules, Liz Jackson, Pankaj Jalote, Mary Kalantzis, Bill Cope, Aslam Fataar, James Conroy, Greg Misiaszek, Gert Biesta, Petar Jandrić, Suzanne S. Choo, Michael Apple, Lynda Stone, Rob Tierney, Marek Tesar, Tina Besley and Lauren Misiaszek

Originally published in Educational Philosophy and Theory
Published online 25 June 2020


Michael A. Peters and Fazal Rizvi

Beijing Normal University, Beijing, PR China; Melbourne University, Melbourne, Australia

Our minds are still racing back and forth, longing for a return to ‘normality’, trying to stitch our future to our past and refusing to acknowledge the rupture. But the rupture exists. And in the midst of this terrible despair, it offers us a chance to rethink the doomsday machine we have built for ourselves. Nothing could be worse than a return to normality. Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.

Arundhati Roy, Pandemic is a PortalThe Financial Times

The economist Robert J. Shiller argues there are two related COVID-19 pandemics – the health pandemic and an associated economic one based on the fears and anxieties of the first. 1The two are related: business closures, historic levels of unemployment, market volativity and crashes, and financial anxiety based on the affect heuristic. 2Oil demand is at its lowest for decades and oil producers have curtained production to stop prices declining further. Those industries based on travel, tourism, hospitality, retail, and international education will continue to experience on-going problems in the foreseeable future.

The issues surrounding COVID-19 and various policy responses to its salience in communities across the world do not however relate to health and economic issues alone. They have also given rise to issues of sociality – how, under the new conditions, might people within and across communities relate to each other, and what new cultural and social formations might emerge in their aftermath. How might we need to rethink and reimagine issues of global interconnectivity and interdependence? How might they lead to the emergence of a new kind of world society? And for us as educators, how might we rethink the basic purposes of education, and the pedagogic models better suited to the ever-present possibilities of insecurity, risk and relentless change?

In the wake of COVID 19, universities around the world have been closed for instruction on campuses. Most are transitioning to online remote course instruction and learning for the semester. Universities have suspended study abroad programs. 3A number of Australasian universities, dependent on international students, especially Chinese students, have simply closed down for the semester. The loss of international students across Australasian universities could be 40 billion dollars, says QUT Margaret Sheil, leading to the devastation of the IE market. 4Around the world, many universities have also closed.

As Steve Elers reports, ‘Education institutions around the world are scrambling to prepare for online teaching and learning because of the coronavirus threat’. In the United Kingdom, he notes, ‘most universities across the UK have suspended face-to-face teaching and moved to online learning. In the United States, many universities are doing the same by moving all their classes to online mode, including most of their highest-ranked universities, such as MIT, Stanford, Caltech, Chicago, Princeton, Cornell, Pennsylvania, Yale, Columbia, Johns Hopkins and Duke’.5

Chinese universities were the first to ‘go viral’ (an unhappy expression) with their courses moving all of their teaching online, some 30 million students at 3,000 institutions. Little thought, so far, has been given to continuing research online, although it already lends itself to online communication and knowledge sharing. The clear bias against online teaching that would never match the real thing, is destined to become a thing of the past. 6It is a forced change that may well break this expectation and become a game changer, if only as a national fail-safe back-up plan. The much-hyped development of MOOCs only a few short years ago was predicted to change the face of the university. It did not. No doubt Chinese students will recalibrate their priorities in face of differential rates of infection and death among US, UK, and Australian universities.

The shift to online classes is not as easy as it sounds with all sorts of problems of delivery, staff expertise, and student engagement. 7Given that fact that there is a history of online and open education that extends back before the development of the internet it is surprising, perhaps, that universities – the institution that might have led the way in online teaching and the delivery of online courses – should be so slow to offer such courses and so problematic with digital versions and assistance to international students.

Digital pedagogies are of course not neutral with respect to the kind of sociality they encourage. Since a core function of education has always been social and cultural formation, the question arises as to what kind of sociality is possible when students and their faculty only meet in the digital space. In recent years, universities have promoted the idea of global citizenship. We need to ask what challenges they might now face if pedagogic and cultural exchange is to take place for a growing number of international students in the virtual space only. Also important of course are the issues of inequalities of access and outcomes in the new pedagogic spaces, and how they might be mitigated both within and across nations.

The COVID-19 pandemic offers us the opportunity to rethink not only new digital, online, and pedagogical possibilities but also the basic purposes of education, and how renewed vision of education might be harnessed to develop more democratic and just societies. To that end, we have invited a group of scholars for around the world to reimagine the emerging conditions, based on our capacity for making informed predictions but grounded also in an ethics of possibilities.

In what follows, we reproduce a number of think pieces from scholars whom we invited to participate in this collective writing exercise. Their thoughts represent a diversity of perspectives, opinions and provocations. Collectively, however they indicate their determination to use the COVID-19 crisis to describe their experiences of working through the current conditions, reconsider some of the contradictions that have long existed in the modern systems of higher education, and imagine new pedagogic possibilities in which we have no other option but to experiment, under the conditions of distress, uncertainty and complexity.

Read the full article in Educational Philosophy and Theory