We live in a world of fast political, social, economic, technological, and environmental change. At the same time, a transformative shift in the way innovation takes place is unfolding around the globe. According to Tapscott and Williams (2010), this shift, which is driven primarily by the Internet and the collaborative communities it affords, changes everything from the nature of science and invention, to the evolution of societies and economies. Investment in education, training, and professional development is essential to increase growth and competitiveness. Similarly, according to Ito and Howe (2016) advances in Internet technology and communication have created an explosive change in the very nature of innovation shifting the power dynamic from governments and large corporations to people with knowledge, skills, and innovative ideas. Unfortunately, “European education and training systems continue to fall short in providing the right skills for employability, and are not working adequately with businesses or employers to bring the learning experience closer to the reality of the working environment” (European Commission, 2012, p. 2). In line with Duderstadt (2017), the key strategic resource necessary for prosperity in this new age is knowledge creation – not knowledge consumption. Consequently, as society gradually becomes more knowledge-intensive, it becomes ever more dependent on social institutions that produce knowledge, such as, the university. Thus, it becomes imperative to rethink the role of higher education and the transformation it needs to undergo in order to meet the challenges of a fast changing society.
Not all societies are the same; some are more forward-thinking and cutting-edge than others. As a result, differences in technological development, infrastructure, and mindset have created a number of divides in higher education related to the dissemination of academic expertise in research and teaching, invention of new research fields and programs of study, distribution of services, resources, and tools, and the establishment of strategic alliances and partnerships across and beyond borders and boundaries. The author herein argues that the digital transformation afforded by technology can provide opportunities for bridging the divides that currently exist in higher education at the local, national, and international levels.
Technology, can easily and effectively replace the old industrial model of education with a new model called collaborative knowledge production. Succinctly, the main idea here is to use technology to transcend borders and traverse boundaries so that universities can form strategic partnerships between them for the advancement of research as well as the development of flexible, adaptive, and innovative programs of study across different disciplines and institutional settings. While collaborative learning is not a new concept, today’s technology has the potential to embrace novel collaboration models and open up new worlds for collaboration that change teaching and learning in higher education fundamentally (Kinnaman & Bleigh, 2004). In this context, however, transformation is not about the technology per se; it is about scaling up innovative collaborative learning partnerships in higher education through communities of practice across different cultures that will sustain and achieve economies of scale.
Communities of Practice (CoPs) are groups of people who share interests and work together to solve common problems through regular interaction (Wenger, 1998, 2006). A CoP has three illustrious elements, namely (a) a domain of interest and a commitment to the domain, (b) a community of members who engage in joint activities and discussions in order to help each other, share information, interact, and learn together, and (c) a shared practice. CoPs are found in different settings such as, in education, business, government, and professional associations. In higher education, CoPs can be used for designing and implementing educational experiences that ground learning in authentic practice through participation in communities around subject matters, as well as in connecting the experiences of students to actual practice through peripheral forms of participation in broader communities beyond the classroom walls. Undoubtedly, the Internet opens up the way to virtual or online CoPs through a multitude of Web 2.0 tools enabling universities to open themselves up to ideas outside their boundaries. This will open up opportunities for new research fields, collaborative programs of study, and learning opportunities for students to pursue on their own.
In conclusion, investing efforts for creating and sustaining online CoPs is pivotal as these online environments afford and offer new learning possibilities and open up multiple windows for enabling us to excel in a “brave new world” (Huxley, 1932). It is however important to point out that it is the openness of all of us to new ways of thinking and habits of mind that will allow us to sustain our partnerships in the online CoPs.
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