S eemingly everyone is now offering online learning which can be accessed anywhere, anytime; and information can be easily accessed via the web. What does this mean for the role of the academic? Is the academic an endangered species?

I’ve been reading Professor Glyn Davis’ book, The Australian Idea of a University*, extract available here: https://pursuit.unimelb.edu.au/articles/the-creative-disruption-of-higher-ed, and pondering what the future of RMIT will be in 10 or 20 year’s time. Prof Davis asserts that a business model in the US is gaining market share where ‘The university has evolved into a virtual exchange connecting contracted teachers with paying customers.’

Certainly, digital disruption has affected all Universities and RTOs in Australia. At RMIT we’re in the middle of the implementation of a new LMS, with the expectation that Course Coordinators will create informative and engaging spaces for students. So, if all the course resources are available in Canvas, what then is the role of the academic or teacher?

“our students need to be guided to be critical thinkers who are able to apply, analyse, synthesise, and create”

Unlike some, I believe their role is now more important than ever. In an age where we all suffer from ‘information overload’, our students need to be guided to be critical thinkers who are able to apply, analyse, synthesise, and create. The 21st Century skills frequently discussed in academia are also sought-after by industry. Information does not become useful knowledge without guidance, practice, reflection and, often, collaboration. Surely, the role of the academic and teacher is to enable students to take all the relevant information and make sense of it. In other words, we should teach our students to think. This is an old idea, but has increasing relevance in our complex, uncertain and fast-moving world.

What do you think? How do you see your role? Does digital disruption result in a diminished role for academics, or enable them to focus on what is truly impactful?

*available from the RMIT Library