The environment of further and higher education is changing in response to economic pressures, government policies and a cultural shift marked by an increasing emphasis on student satisfaction and concerns about the impact of rising student fees.
In addition, the rapid growth in personal ownership of new and more powerful technologies such as mobile phones and tablet PCs, along with the pervasive use of social software is changing the way we work, socialise, communicate and collaborate. It is only natural that students will expect to see the powerful benefits these technologies offer – technologies that are common-place in many aspects of our working lives – used to support their learning ambitions as they endeavour to balance the competing pressures of study, work, caring and social responsibilities.
So how are colleges and universities responding to these challenges and preparing for the future?JISC’s new guide on Emerging Practice in a Digital Age shows how colleges and universities are continuing to embrace innovation in use of mobile technologies, social software and virtual worlds despite constraints on public funding. The guide shows how they are harnessing new and emerging technologies to enhance the learning experience and respond to changes in economic, social and technological circumstances in a fast-changing world.
Through the three themes of: working in partnership with students, developing students’ employability potential and preparing for the future, the guide demonstrates how considered and innovative use of technology can enhance learning. It highlights opportunities to transform practice and explore some of the benefits and challenges using written, video case studies and podcasts of expert voices from the JISC 2011 Emerging Practice symposium.
For me, key messages include the need to go beyond listening to students to working with them as co-collaborators of their own learning, the need to focus on learning design as an integral aspect of introducing new technologies, the importance of working with employers and the need to develop digital literacy skills for both staff and students.
The change in culture and shifting locus of control from institution to learner is something that David White, Co-manager, Technology Assisted Lifelong Learning (TALL), Department for Continuing Education, University of Oxford highlights: “I think we need to accept that the culture has changed, that institutions don’t need to own or control that culture but they need to take advantage of it and to equip their students to engage with it in new forms of literacy. We can’t just slide across traditional forms of literacy, and I think that is where the challenge is set.”
With an emphasis on emerging practice, the guide makes the case for strong leadership at a senior level to ensure the vision and opportunities presented by these emerging technologies are realised with due consideration to the support mechanisms necessary to make their introduction successful. The need to look ahead, embrace change and create the right culture by developing strategies that engage staff and students is something that Clare Killen, the author of the guide suggests is likely to lead to longer-lasting transformation, “in the longer term, efforts to create the right culture and to engage others in the process of change may prove to be more valuable and lead to more sustainable and responsive practice in a world of rapid change”.
For information about the JISC e-Learning programme, visit: www.jisc.ac.uk/elearningprogramme