Professor Siân Bayne

Sabbatical Fellow
Professor Siân Bayne

Professor Siân Bayne

Sabbatical Fellow, January - July 2023

Siân Bayne is Professor of Digital Education and Director of Education at the Edinburgh Futures Institute. She directs the Centre for Research in Digital Education, where her research is currently focused on higher education futures and on interdisciplinary and critical approaches to researching digital education. She is one of the authors of The Manifesto for Teaching Online, recently published by MIT Press. Sian gives regular keynotes on the future of digital education, publishes widely and has conducted research funded by UKRI, Erasmus+, AdvanceHE and NESTA. More information about her work is on her website at:

Project Title: Cognitive enhancement: smart drugs in academia / Universities: from ivory tower to factory to…what?

During my IASH Fellowship, I will be working on two connected scoping projects.

1. Cognitive enhancement: smart drugs in academia

Empirical studies suggest that non-prescribed cognitive enhancement drugs (or ‘nootropics’) are increasingly being used by university students to improve alertness, concentration and memory, particularly around exams and other high-stakes assessment points. They are also increasingly used by staff as a way of managing writing deadlines, marking and other key stressors. The bioethical and regulatory challenges surrounding this issue are under lively debate, but there is relatively little work either in developing theory around ‘smart drug’ use as an element of the human ‘enhancement’ imaginary, or in understanding the implications of growing nootropic drug use for institutional teaching and learning policy. During my Fellowship I will conduct a scoping study to connect smart drug use with policy in universities, performance-driven cultures in higher education and the boundaries of acceptable ‘enhancement’.

2. Universities: from ivory tower to factory to…what?

The second strand of the work I will scope relates to the ‘idea of the university’ and related literatures concerned with the purpose, function and future of higher education itself. In particular it will consider the idea of ‘mode 3’ higher education – the ‘networked’ or ‘ecological’ idea of the university. This is focused on the idea of universal access to higher education via universities which are porous, open and digital. During my Fellowship I will work to flesh out this still under-developed idea of the Mode 3, ‘networked’ university, and aim to write a paper which draws together current thought in this area, connecting it in particular to contemporary scholarship in digital education. As some of the most interesting thinking about this has been conducted by colleagues at Aarhus University in Denmark, I will arrange a short study visit there, to explore potential for collaboration.