Fully Digital ICODeL 2021: A Student’s Explications and Expectations

by Wilzen D. Bermoy

The University of the Philippines Open University (UPOU) will once again hold its well-acclaimed International Conference on Open and Distance e-Learning (ICODeL) on 13-15 October 2021, with the theme “The University of the Future: Sustainability and Agility Amidst Disruption” that deftly encapsulates the conference rationale in as much as it inimitably blazons the core values of UPOU.

In concordance with its predecessors, the 4th ICODeL will foregather scholars, practitioners, and policymakers into a forum that invites them to cogitate on meaningful experiences, tackle trends and issues, and collaboratively enkindle solutions and possibilities with regard to open and distance e-learning (ODeL) for development. Pertinent to the new normal brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s ICODeL will be held entirely as a virtual event where all presentations will be delivered online. 

Favorably, the online platform not only makes ICODeL more accessible for presenters and participants to interact this time around; correspondingly, it also makes ICODeL responsive to the health protocols and safety measures needed in these trying times. Paper presenters are required to submit video recordings or slide presentations with recorded narration weeks prior to the actual conference to ensure that asynchronous and synchronous interactions take place.

So what else is there to expect for the fully digital ICODeL 2021?  I know we are still weeks ahead of the actual event, yet explicating its theme and rationale now might shed some light as to what the conference will offer. As one of UPOU’s postgraduate students, I am as excited and hopeful as everyone else.

On the University of the Future (UoF)

First, I find the notion of the university of the future worth contemplating for, vis-à-vis the previous ICODeL themes.  

“The future isn’t waiting,” remarks Sheldon Rothblatt. Put simply, the university of the future is the university of today. Rothblatt adds: “The University of the Future, at least the near future, is already visible, not only in outline but in its organization, its interior values, its external relationships, its disturbing aspects but also its strengths.” According to Louise Morley, the University of the Past was “associated with elitism, exclusion, and inequalities,” while the University of Today is “diversified, expanded, globalised, borderless/edgeless, marketised, technologised, neo-liberalised and potentially privatised.” 

In a separate blog entry, I elaborated how the qualities that make up the University of the Future are sensibly and invariably imbibed by UPOU. But aside from those qualities, it is also crucial to expound on the responsibilities that any aspiring or prevailing UoF must undertake. For example, Jonathan A. Poritz and Jonathan Rees propose the Jonathans’ Laws (JL) in the appendix of their book entitled Education is not an App: The Future of University Teaching in the Internet Age, in which the following principles are laid down:

  1. Every real student deserves individual attention from, and interaction with, a real teacher.
  2. Professors’ working conditions are their students’ learning conditions; professors without autonomy and agency cannot teach those characteristics.
  3. Since your university is not broke, the root causes of IT [information technology] decisions are ideological and political, not economic.
  4. Edtech [educational technology] wants to be free; FLOSS [acronym for free/libre/open-source software] is the best way to build that freedom.
  5. It is the responsibility of the academic faculty to keep current on technological developments, no matter how far outside their comfort zone such learning may be.

I anticipate that ICODeL 2021 participants will have the opportunity to think critically not only on the responsibilities but also on the demarcations that separate the UoF from the University of the Past and the University of Today. 

Valuing Sustainability and Agility against Disruption

In addition to the values of honor and excellence firmly held by the entire UP System, UPOU adheres to other values that constitute its esse as a Cybercampus, two of which are sustainability and agility. Thus, the second half of the ICODeL 2021 theme, for me,  is about the confluence of these values.

In Media, Sustainability and Everyday Life, Geoffrey Craig purports that “understandings of sustainability are profoundly informed by its temporality.” In other words, sustainability must not only be understood as the “ongoing viability of the complex interconnection between the environment and human activity.” More importantly, sustainability refers to “a future viability while also requiring that our current practices and values are informed by their future ramifications.” So, with the looming post-pandemic ramifications, the thrust of UPOU and its counterparts is no longer about lobbying for virtual education in the hopes of convincing other higher education institutions (HEIs) to embrace the inexorable realities and the undeniable necessities of technology-enhanced instruction and flexible learning. In point of fact, the emergency education that the world is now caught up in imparts a newfound currency of open and distant e-learning. For in order to be truly long-term sustainable, HEIs must not just react to disruptions and be present-oriented.

When we finally overcome this pandemic, flexible learning will not end, nor will it lose its relevance; instead, it is here to stay as it progresses into its adaptive mode. To take advantage of what is inherent in flexible learning, HEIs must be agile enough not to be the ones left behind. Following Neha Chatwani’s definition, agility is “the synonym for an organization that is flexible, fast, lean, customer-oriented, innovative and adaptable.” Yet, to be agile is more than just having the ability to implement the quick acquisition of infrastructure and learning resources. Above all else, agility is a mindset. In times of so many digital disruptions, agility is what allows any HEI to manage crises and navigate even the most volatile situations.

Like other institutional values, agility has to be tested to determine how else it can be improved. That is where mistakes, failures, and multiple chances come in. Comparably, agility in self-directed e-learning lies within the core of the students who have been through ups and downs yet remain hopeful in keeping on with their academic and personal journeys. The same agility drives the non-straight A students to make it to their respective virtual graduation day. For Armin Trost, agility means “never really arriving at a final destination.” Thus, the lifelong learners are nothing but the so-called scrappers, which in Regina Hartley’s words, are those among us who do not have the perfect resumes but are worth hiring for.

ODeL for Development: Now More than Ever!

Any developmental thrust that HEIs take will eventually translate to the sustainability of teachers’ and students’ autonomy and agency in the advent of virtual education. In addition, when ODeL is purposefully geared towards development, HEIs get closer to becoming a perspicacious network of academic experts imbued with a greater capacity to care.                                                                                                                                                  

What I mentioned here are just a few of the things that I expect as a UPOU graduate student from  ICODeL 2021. I invite you to register and join this would-be momentous, fully digital ICODeL event to have a full grasp of The University of the Future: Sustainability and Agility Amidst Disruption.

For more information regarding the upcoming ICODeL 2021, visit its official homepage here.

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