University of Maryland

2014 ICA Preconference – Innovation in Higher Education: building a better future?

November 18th, 2013 by

2014 International Communication Association (ICA) Preconference

Innovation in Higher Education: building a better future?

Thursday 22 May 2014 10:00 – 16:00

Location: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, 500 5th Avenue North, Seattle, Washington, United States

Registration: To register for this preconference, please use the normal ICA Conference Registration process. Those attending ICA may register for this preconference, whether or not they are presenting a paper. Registration for the conference opens 15 January 2014.



Higher education is described as being in a time of crisis. In the US, tuition costs have been escalating beyond the cost of inflation for some years, students are building up significant debt, whilst completion rates are in decline. The higher education system is creaking under the strain of additional scrutiny from government, funders, parents and students, yet is struggling to re-invent itself to reduce costs whilst improving quality and increasing flexibility for learners. In a Europe facing the financial downturn, universities struggle to retain their public service ethos when budgets are under huge pressure. Elsewhere in the world, many countries plan dramatic expansion to their higher education systems to fuel their growing economies, but they are being held up by lack of infrastructure and the increased intellectual capital that is needed.

Higher education is becoming a global, Internet-based business. But few universities are equipped to fully embrace the potential that this offers. Few faculty were even aware of these seismic shifts until the recent publicity around Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) which provide access to free online courses by a wide range of universities and opened to students with any academic background. They are attracting millions of students from across the globe. To what extent though is the MOOC really revolutionary and disruptive, or is it being used cynically by the most elite institutions to further increase their brand power and assert their superiority, whilst the middle tier of institutions lose student numbers and academic credibility? Do MOOCs hold the potential to support the developing world in its academic ambitions, or are they just another example of neo-colonialism? And what about online learning more broadly – are we giving enough attention to the quiet revolution of blended learning that has been taken place over many years, and what that means for higher education?

Whether MOOCs succeed or fail, or quickly evolve to become something else, they offer a clarion-call for the higher education system to consider its future models and to test out new approaches to the way that it does its business – how it creates courses and course materials, how it teaches, how it supports students, how it accredits degrees, how it markets itself, how it covers its costs or makes a profit.

There is another, potentially more sinister perspective to the seemingly open philosophy of MOOCs. Behind the online learning systems, sophisticated data collection and analysis tools are being created that will gather and analyse information about each student as they move through the system, as they learn and interact with each other. This is valuable data and, for the first time, universities will have access to live information about the study habits of many millions of students, linked to their personal profile. The potential to use this data for the good, to develop increasingly adaptable and personalised learning systems, is huge; but therein also lies the potential for mis-use and, in the words of the for profit providers of education, for ‘brand differentiation’. What are the implications of this innovation, for good and for bad – and are we giving enough due care and attention to how we allow this data this data to be used?

This 2014 ICA Preconference proposes to explore the issues raised by these developments, focusing on several interrelated questions:

  1. Is higher education really in crisis or is it really a success story of a system that has adapted over time, and will survive the current challenges without major change?
  2. What are the major innovation challenges for the higher education system and how can they best be addressed?
  3. What do MOOCs mean for the future of higher education? Are they just a marketing device for elite institutions, or can they really be a force for the ‘democratisation of education’? Or is there an option of a more incremental change in the materials and texts supporting campus-based students?
  4. How is technology-enabled online learning more generally changing the nature of teaching and learning, the role of faculty and the teacher-student relationship?
  5. What is the potential for the use of learner analytics and big data approaches to large-scale online education, and are there threats hidden in this advances?

We propose to invite abstracts of papers for presentation, and a selected number of keynote speakers to address these questions across a range of topical areas, including:

  • the current state of higher education, the challenges that it faces and whether it is really a system in crisis, focusing upon the different challenges facing systems across the globe;
  • innovation models that could help to transform higher education systems;
  • the potential of blended learning and MOOCs to catalyse the transformation of higher education;
  • the value and importance of learner data and the implications of both big data approaches and analytics for the development of personalised learning experiences;
  • issues related to the tracking of students and the collection of personal data, focusing on intellectual property rights;
  • sustainability of higher education, focused in particular on business models for MOOCs.

These are only indicative of the range of topics to be explored, as we welcome proposals that add new dimensions or challenge fundamental assumptions the current state of higher education and its need to change.

Structure of Pre-Conference

Based on invited and submitted papers, the organizing committee of the ICA Preconference will design an opening and closing plenary session, bracketing a range of parallel sessions that permit the widest possible range of topics to be explored. We will organize panels on online learning (including MOOCs) and its power to transform higher education, on data and analytics, and on innovation models for higher education. The organizers welcome proposals for papers on any topic relevant to the theme of innovation in higher education as well as any proposal of topics that you believe the conference should address.

Deadlines for Proposals and Registration

Proposals for abstracts are due by 13 December 2013 and should not exceed 500 words. All abstracts should be sent Authors of successful proposals will be notified by 1 February 2014 and completed papers will be due by 1 May 2014.

Organising Committee

  • Professor William H. Dutton, Oxford Internet Institute
  • Ms Sarah Porter, Oxford Internet Institute
  • Ian Dolphin, Executive Director, Apereo Foundation
  • Dr Kendall Guthrie, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
  • Kevin Guthrie, President, Ithaka
  • Professor Jeff Haywood, University of Edinburgh
  • Brian Loader, Editor, iCS, and Director, School of Social and Political Sciences, The University of York
  • Professor Grainne Conole, University of Leicester

Sponsors and Partners

Taylor & Francis Routledge