Interregnum: “Morbid Symptoms” and Emerging Opportunities in Education


“Interregnum” is a word I came across while watching Dr Tara Brabazon’s recent series, The Post, this week.

As Tara puts it,

“‘Interregnum’ is a gap, a break, an aperture between one system ending and another one beginning. Originally used to describe the space between the reign of monarchs, the word also captured the social unrest that emerged from these periods. Unstable, volatile, violent states jut from interregna.”

Expounding on Antonio Gramsci’s use of the term in his study of Mussolini’s Italy in his Prison Notebooks, Tara adds that Gramsci’s diction refers more carefully to “a halt, a stop, or a blockage on expectations and also a parking of future hopes.”

Crisis and Opportunities

According to Gramsci, “[t]he crisis consists precisely because the old is dying and the new cannot be born. In this interregnum, a great variety of morbid symptoms exist.” So, what are some of the “morbid symptoms” that seem to plague many contemporary education systems in interregna?

Fordist Models of Teaching and Learning

It is curious that many education systems today remain remarkably Fordist even in the wake of the fourth industrial revolution. Perhaps this has to do with the tacit yet unambiguous aim of producing job-ready graduates. Sets of predetermined skills and competencies are prescribed for students alongside rigid frameworks and narrowly-defined criteria to ensure and measure the attainment of such aptitudes. The vocabulary associated with holistic education and elements of postformal education exist in schools (think "holism", "interdisciplinarity", "interpretation", etc. See Fig. 1.). Yet, academic results still frequently undergird the reductionist basis upon which we confront, evaluate, rank, and engage with our students.

Fig. 1: A comparison of key tenets in formal education with elements in postformal pedagogies. Taken from Jennifer Gidley (2016)'s chapter in Postformal Education: A Philosophy for Complex Futures, "Postformal Pedagogies: Theorising Twelve Approaches", p. 145.
Fig. 1: A comparison of key tenets in formal education with elements in postformal pedagogies. Taken from Jennifer Gidley (2016)'s chapter in Postformal Education: A Philosophy for Complex Futures, "Postformal Pedagogies: Theorising Twelve Approaches", p. 145.

Modes of Examination

Pen-and-paper tests continue to be the predominant mode of assessment despite the reality that most writing today is performed digitally. Moreover, most summative assessments prohibit reference to students’ personal notes and/or online reference materials available, even as we claim to be assessing critical thinking skills instead of our students’ ability to regurgitate and superficially permutate information.

Emerging Literacies

Many educators today are still playing catch-up to teaching the different kinds of literacies that our students need to be equipped with to negotiate their turbulent social and digital environments. It is indubitable that such classes (about, say, cyber wellness) are crucial. Yet, what is worrying is that these programmes tend to address the symptoms, not the cause of problems like cyberbullying, scams, and violations of privacy.

To take a step back, however, perhaps the preceding criticism is unfair, since these issues may be indicative of larger patterns of social shift and cultural interregnum.

Nevertheless, new forms of critical literacies (I raise more questions about them in this post) are sure to emerge from this interregnum, and we have to ask ourselves if we are ready for the inevitable need to impart them to our students.

Going Through the Motion

Attempts to integrate technology and digital applications with teaching and learning are laudable, but not if existing physical teaching resources are merely implanted — not transposed — into a digital context. Transposition implies a careful consideration of intent and context. Uploading a PDF version of a worksheet onto a learning management system is digitisation, but only in the technical, mechanical sense. We shouldn’t be using online platforms just for the sake of using them.

Instead, we need to think about the affordances provided by these platforms and how they can add value to our students’ learning. Some possibilities:

  • Using Google Forms as a quiz to facilitate self-assessment and provide immediate feedback for our students based on their responses could be a more elegant and time- and resource-efficient way of conducting formative assessments.
  • A guided exercise on independent research can be assigned as a home-based assignment before students come to class and share what they have discovered and the challenges they have faced while embarking on the project.

Artificial Intelligence

A promising use of artificial intelligence (AI) lies in automating or streamlining processes that are time-intensive or resource-inefficient. The recent announcement of the employment of AI to perform the task of grading is exciting. To ensure validity and reliability for high-stake summative assessments, we could adopt a hybrid system where the AI’s grading is cross-referenced with that of a human grader. This system is not new¹ and can still drastically reduce the time teachers spend on grading.

Narrow Accreditation: A Feature or a Bug?

Many existing systems of accreditation tend to be summative and final, leaving little room for more formal, fine-grained recognition of a student’s strengths and aptitudes outside of one-off, high-stake assessments. If this is not by design, then we need to think of ways to capture multi-faceted aspects of student growth and development in a reliable and composable way.

Recently, there have been numerous discussions about how verifiable credentials or on-chain soulbound tokens can help to remediate the current shortcomings of our systems of accreditation. More reflections about this topic in a future post to come.


Education is in interregnum and has been for a while. That sounds more baleful than it should be. In fact, it should be seen as a time to reflect, build, innovate, and iterate. Communities of educators excited to meet the potential epistemological challenges and opportunities of Web3 have emerged organically. Harnessing that collective desire and drive to reshape and optimise the way education is conducted holds the key to unlocking the elusive “future hope” that Gramsci alludes to.

**¹ The analytical writing component of the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) employs AI to grade a piece of writing alongside a human grader. If the scores of both the AI and the human assessor are sufficiently similar, the candidate obtains the average of the two scores. If the scores differ significantly, a second human grader assesses the writing before the average of the scores provided by the human examiners is awarded to the candidate.

Featured image by Israel Palacio on Unsplash. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

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