Reconnecting Relationships Through Technology: How Important is it to Institutions?

Professor Dominique Parish, Macquarie University

In preparation for the ASCILITE conference I pondered on the conference theme ‘Reconnecting relationships through technology’ and considered how this theme might be enlivened across the higher education sector. I decided it would be interesting to investigate how the essence of the conference theme resonated with higher education providers. To do this, I decided to examine institutions’ strategic plans and explore if there were references in these plans to the key conference theme sentiments. I focused on those institutions with an ASCILITE institutional membership a total of 45 institutions. There were 3 institutions for which their strategic plans could not be found on their websites so a total of 42 institutions’ strategic plans were reviewed. Here I must pause and thank my EA Jennifer for her assistance in downloading and interrogating the strategic plans of these 42 institutions.

A quick search of the terms – connection, relationship, technology, and their derivatives in the downloaded strategic plans highlighted the prevalence of connection and technology as illustrated in Figure 1. The Charles Darwin University and Deakin University strategic plans had the greatest number of references to both connection and technology. Deakin University and Griffith University strategic plans had the most references to technology and Charles Darwin University and La Trobe University the most references to connection. The Griffith University and University of Western Australia strategic plans had the greatest number of references to both relationship and technology and had the most references to all three terms collectively. The RMIT University and Griffith University strategic plans had the most references to relationships.

I then looked at the way these terms were being referenced in these strategic plans. Were they highlighting or emphasising the importance and value of connections or focusing on strong relationships and was the technology reference in relation to empowerment or enhancement? Undoubtedly, the most common reference to connection across all the strategic plans reviewed was connections between people or to industry or society. Connectedness and connected were terms often used but as descriptors. Notably, Charles Darwin University state in their strategic plan that they strive to be Australia’s most connected university.

The least referenced term as illustrated in figure 1 was relationships. However, most of the strategic plans that referenced this term did so with reference to relationships being built and forged with students, staff, alumni, partners, communities and industry. There were some references to the types of relationships that were being sought for example reflective, enduring, sustained or valuable relationships. CQ university state in their strategic plan that they connect by having strong relationships while La Trobe University and RMIT University maintain in their strategic plans that they seek to develop strong relationships.

Across the strategic plans examined 4 were from universities with technology in their name. All 4 referenced technology in their strategic plans in relation to using technology, technology as a supporting resource, or being recognised for or advancing technology. The University of Sydney in their strategic plans calls out the value of technology in bringing people closer together. Only 7 university’s strategic plans accentuated technology as contributing to empowering or enhancing practice. More commonly technology was referenced in strategic plans in relation to new or emerging technology, digital technology or technology innovation.

I intend to further discuss some of these insights in the presentation I will be delivering at the ASCILITE 2022 conference.

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