Experts, knowledge and criticality in the age of ‘alternative facts’: re-examining the contribution of higher education

This event looks fantastic. More details and registration here.

Chair: Dr Neil Harrison, University of Oxford

In their seminal works of the early 1990s, both Ulrich Beck and Anthony Giddens predicted that one manifestation of late modernity would be a popular suspicion of experts and scepticism about expertise.  Since then, the rise of the individual’s ability to have their voice heard through mass social media has eroded traditional patterns of cognitive authority – including in academia.

On the one hand, this democratisation of knowledge is to be welcomed, as it has enabled new critical voices to emerge and new discourses to develop, especially among groups that have historically been voiceless. However, it has also created an environment of confusion – a crowded forum of competing voices where volume, integrity and quality are often out of balance.  This confusion has allowed those with power to obfuscate, especially when the weight of evidence is against them.  In recent times, we have seen former UK Education Secretary Michael Gove claim that the public are ‘tired of experts’, while US President Donald Trump’s infamous refrain of ‘fake news’ is used to sideline inconvenient facts and opinions.

Universities have traditionally been seen as authoritative sites for both the creation and transmission of knowledge.  Academics are positioned as experts whose work enriches public life through scientific, social and cultural advances, with expertise that is passed to students through a variety of teaching practices as part of a consensual corpus of knowledge. More recently, universities have increasingly promoted the idea of their graduates as globally-aware and values-led problem-solvers, with the knowledge to tackle ‘wicked issues’ like climate change, public health crises and economic instability.

This event will showcase a diverse collection of papers from a special issue of Teaching in Higher Education journal. They are bound together by a focus on how universities can and should respond to the ‘post-truth’ world where experts and expertise are under attack, but where knowledge and theory-based practice continue to offer the hope of a fairer, safer and more rewarding world.  Specifically, the papers touch on the contributions that can be made by information literacies, public intellectualism, curriculum reform, interdisciplinarity and alternative pedagogies.

 

Presenters:

Elizabeth Hauke (Imperial College, London): “Understanding the world today: the roles of knowledge and knowing in higher education”

Gwyneth Hughes (University College London): “Developing student research capability for a ‘post-truth’ world: three challenges for integrating research across taught programmes”

Rita Hordósy (University of Manchester) and Tom Clark (University of Sheffield): “Undergraduate experiences of the research/teaching nexus across the whole student lifecycle”

Mark Brooke (National University of Singapore): “The analytical lens: developing undergraduate students’ critical dispositions in English for Academic Purposes writing courses”

Alison MacKenzie (Queen’s University, Belfast): “Just Google it: digital literacy and the epistemology of ignorance”

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