新冠病毒会永久改变大学吗?现在下结论还为时过早

布鲁斯·麦克法伦(Bruce Macfarlane)表示,未来的世界通常与我们最初的想象大相径庭

五月 14, 2020
Model of a UFO
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在新冠病毒大流行之下,很多人说高等教育将发生根本改变。下一学年的国际招生受到了新冠病毒的直接影响,但许多评论员预测,高校经历的巨大且持久影响远远不止于此。

该病毒激发了新一轮的高等教育未来学。埃克塞特大学(University of Exeter)校长史蒂夫·史密斯爵士(Steve Smith)认为,教学、研究和行政管理将发生根本变化,而白金汉大学(University of Buckingham)校长安东尼·赛尔登爵士(Anthony Seldon)则认为“大学将发生永久性改变”。

许多预测者提出理想主义的愿景以鼓舞人心。利兹·莱特福特(Liz Lightfoot)在《卫报》(The Guardian)上撰文,她乐观地认为,随着人们对符合职业要求的一线人员(如护理人员和送货司机)产生新的尊重,这场危机可能会给学术学科和更多的实践课程带来更多的荣誉。随着大学调整教学方式,其他人则将沐浴在以学生为中心的在线学习的新曙光之下。

若这两个预言都能成真,那真是皆大欢喜。然而我怀疑它们都不会实现。正如马丁·维纳(Martin Wiener)40年前在《英国文化和工业精神的衰落》(English Culture and the Decline of the Industrial Spirit)中指出的那样,英国教育文化中的学术和职业鸿沟由来已久,并也体现在其它的许多国家中。人们或许认为这一情况已大为改善,但事实并非如此。用伦敦国王学院(King’s College London)公共部门管理学罗伊·格里弗斯爵士教授艾莉森·沃尔夫(Alison Wolf)的话来说,职业资格通常被视为“适合其他孩子的好选择”;而这一想法可能在疫情结束后也依然存在。

对转向在线学习的夸张宣传也同样存在问题。新冠病毒不会将学者转变为执行以学生为中心的学习方式的典范。在许多英国大学中,虚拟学习环境很大程度上被用作保存手册和讲义等文件的存储库,并很少用于以学生为中心的互动式活动。香港的大学在率先进行完全线上授课数个月后发现,面对面教学在众人心中仍具有很高价值。这使得学生们要求部分退还学费。

这些看着水晶球预测未来的行为让我想起我成长中的经历。那是上世纪60、70年代,我当时总感觉人们将使用喷气背包到处飞行,并且我能在40岁之前定居在月球上。

但是在高等教育界,我们通常是宣告厄运的先知而非乐观主义者。在这一方面,由于Z世代(出生于1995-2009年间的人)中没有那么多人认为高等教育是物有所值的,学生的需求将会长期减少。从前曾有人假设,更高的成本会抑制需求(如1998年英国引入学费制度),但这一假设也被证实是错误的。

大学长期以来一直处在“危机”之中。学者们在写到高等教育时总喜欢使用这个词语来表达一种引人注目的紧迫感。杰弗逊·弗兰克(Jefferson Frank)及其同事于2019年出版了《危机中的英国大学》(English Universities in Crisis),但此前70年,已有沃尔特·莫伯利(Walter Moberly)爵士所著的《大学危机》(The Crisis in the University)。甚至早至1971就出版过《大学危机读者》。“危机”一词的使用早有先例,且频繁见于高等教育研究。

假设的危机会吸引权威人士,但它们常常给未来预测带来严重错误。讲义课的消亡、人文学科的式微以及学生人数增加会导致学术水平下降的论调都证明了事实被严重夸大。然而数十年来,这些先知们想方设法使这些寓言在重要学术期刊和学术新闻媒体中继续流传。

事实上,我们很难预测新冠病毒对高等教育的长期影响。我可能会搬起石头砸自己的脚,但我可以冒险预测,新冠病毒最可能的影响是深化现有的趋势,例如增加雇佣仅负责教学的高校教师。一些大学将疫情用作暗度陈仓的契机,强化现有策略,以加快人员配备和课程交付的效率。俗话说,永远不要浪费好危机。

不可否认,新冠病毒大流行正在对大学产生深远的破坏性影响。面对风暴感到迷茫是自然的。但历史的教训是,当人们说事情将会有永久性变化时,他们还有一种迅速回归正常的习惯。

尽管现在很流行重新构想未来,但事实证明,明天的世界与我们最初所想象的并没有那么大的差别。我们必须保持警惕,提防那些急切想要赶上预言潮流的伪先知们。

布鲁斯·麦克法伦(Bruce Macfarlane)系布里斯托大学(University of Bristol)教育学院院长、高等教育教授。

本文由陆子惠为泰晤士高等教育翻译。

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Reader's comments (6)

In general, this is a very sensible article. However, I must take issue with the assertion that higher student numbers have not reduced academic standards. This has not been my experience in a range of institutions. Students often appear unwilling to work at the level needed when I was a student and seem reluctant to take on the role of independent learners.
Sad but true. The more higher ed is conflated with workplace earning potential, the less it's identified with what it actually is: a quest for knowledge about the self, about one's history, about one's fellow creatures, & about the world in which one lives & dies. The quest for knowledge and the search for money/social position are two mutually exclusive realms that should never be confused.
Is it not precisely this sort of laissez faire attitude that inhibits change in HE?
Sensible and cautious article. But re: "The virus will not transform academics into paragons of student-centred learning. In many UK universities, virtual learning environments are largely repositories for dumping content such as handbooks and lecture notes. Use of interactive, student-centred activities is minimal." Can't argue with that. But what happened over the last couple of months (anecdotal evidence) is that academics who were already committed to their students grabbed the new situation and continued to teach classes online in real time and continued one-to-one consultations online and by phone. Many or most of these academics never did distance teaching before and are at universities that have used VLEs for 'dumping content'. It has been a big change. True that academics have not been transformed into paragons of student-centred learning. But many students have now experienced the kind of pedagogy that is possible online and have been served well by it.
A very sensible article. The more things change the more they stay the same. It will be interesting how much of the online rush will remain once we are back offline.
Whether the rush is online or offline too many universities, professors and other commentators knowingly or unknowingly avoid the real issues: a.) too many universities are not doing anything to help their community or society because of their inward-looking self serving focus; b.) too many universities proclaim a policy position about inclusion and diversity and in practice they do the opposite staff and student levels ; c.) too many continue to conduct research that are of no interest to governments, industries, community organizations d.) too many university administrators and professors continue to use the word teaching when they really mean lecturing. The truth is they have no idea what teaching is about and they do not care to find out what teaching is about. If universities begin to collaborate with other universities or community groups to resolve key societal challenges like poverty, unemployment, inequalities, family health issues then student numbers, the university's credibility and revenue would be less of a problem online or offline.

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