Emerging Technologies and their implications for the concept and role of the law academic profession

Paper presented at the 2015 CLEA Conference in Glasgow

Jenny Hamilton
University of London

Implicit within the roles and responsibilities of the professional academic within law schools is the expectation that issues related to pedagogy, learning and teaching methodology, course instruction and content (which I will call ‘pedagogy and practice’ for the purposes of this essay) are the preserve of the expert academic. However a number of profound changes have been identified in the organisation structure and traditional practices within universities in the UK (and in the USA and Australia in particular). These changes have flowed from the increased emphasis on commercialisation and accountability of universities who are also now competing in a globalising economy, but they have also flowed from developments in information and communication technology – now an intrinsic part of university infrastructure.

One significant result has been the growth of the non-academic ,’managerial professionals’ within universities leading to a ‘disaggregation’ or ‘unbundling’ of academic practice and what Whitchurch and Henkel have described as a ‘blurring the boundaries’ between the managerial and academic domains, including over matters of pedagogy and practice.

Then in 2012 ‘massive open online courses‘ (‘MOOCs’) entered into the lexicon of higher education and captured the imagination of both the educational and mainstream press and threatening further and significant change for universities. Early coverage of MOOCs included predictions about their ability to fundamentally ‘disrupt’ the structures that support higher education, including the academic profession, through their ability to provide mass, reusable courses online in a standardised format, with limited or no requirement for ongoing academic input. The expression ‘disruptive technology’ became firmly associated with the MOOC.

While the hype around the MOOC has passed, the phenomena did serve to illustrate the potential for technologies to transform the way courses can be delivered. In this paper I will explore the potential for evolving technologies to provide the catalyst for a significant shift of professional authority over pedagogy and practice, away from the academic towards the domain of the managerial professionals. First I will outline the reasons for the general growth of the managerial professions within universities to date and how this is impacting on the authority of the general academic profession over pedagogy and practice, before considering the impact on academic authority specifically within the law school. Drawing on my personal experience as academic Director (‘Head’) of a law programme that developed and delivered a MOOC, I will consider how these technologies can provide a further opportunity for the managerial professions to establish a claim to this authority. Finally, I will consider the implications of this shift in authority for the concept of the academic profession itself.

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