I’m on sabbatical for six months until end of June 2023, and feel very lucky also to have a Fellowship at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities (IASH) over this period. IASH is a fabulous hub for interdisciplinary research, attracting visiting international scholars who are working at the leading edge of their fields. With a focus on environmental and digital humanities, it’s a really good base to have while I focus on development of two potential new research directions…
Cognitive enhancement: smart drugs and the future of ‘misconduct’
In the past I’ve written about ‘enhancement’ discourses in relation to educational technology, and the conceptual alignment of ‘technology-enhanced learning’ with the ideologies of transhumanism. I’ve also written on higher education futures, and the trends and trajectories which are shaping higher education teaching and the policies which govern it. As part of my sabbatical Fellowship I’m extending this work to look specifically at biomedical ‘enhancement’ through universities’ responses to the use of ‘smart drugs’ among the student body. Studies suggest that non-prescribed cognitive enhancement drugs (or ‘nootropics’) are increasingly being used by university students to improve alertness, concentration and memory, particularly around exams and other high-stakes assessment points. The bioethical and regulatory challenges surrounding this issue are under debate, but there is relatively little work either in developing theory around ‘smart drug’ use as an element of the human ‘enhancement’ discourse, or in understanding the implications of growing nootropic drug use for institutional teaching and learning policy. My scoping study will focus specifically on these two missing pieces.
Universities: from ivory tower to factory to…what?
The second strand of my work relates to literatures concerned with the purpose, function and future of higher education itself. Since the turn of the 21st century we have seen a distinctive imaginary emerge which sees the future of ‘the university’ as being – broadly – networked, devolved, democratised and diverse. It is also often aligned to a strong social mission built around engagement with communities, acceptance of persistent change, knowledge democracy and a focus on fundamental societal and planetary challenges. This imaginary might be seen either as a utopic ideal capable of bringing new, hopeful sense of purpose to the sector or, less positively, as simply a mask for the further unbundling, commercialisation and commodification of higher education. During my sabbatical I am digging into this new ‘vision’ of what universities might be, to understand how it might shape research in digital education.