The current higher education landscape is more complex than ever before. With the 2012 reforms introducing new fee structures and increased marketisation, students are very much in the driving seat. As a result, higher education institutions – as well as further education colleges that teach HE in FE – find themselves in a position where they need to respond to student demands in unprecedented new ways.
"New generations of young people who have grown up with digital technology have high expectations of anytime, anywhere learning, but many learners do not have a clear understanding of how courses could or should use technology to support learning. They are still very much reliant on lecturers for guidance."
Jisc learner experiences of e-learning, guide 2
Students are likely to make their voice and demands heard in a range of ways. The uncritical use of technology in the curriculum, for example, is not something that students are prepared to tolerate.
As the 2010 NUS/HSBC Student Experience Report found,
“using IT for studies more frequently does not necessarily lead to an increase in student satisfaction.”
Indeed, research by the NUS found that:
“the percentage of students who feel that ICT usage has enhanced their experience of studying has actually decreased, from 46% in 2009 to 42% in 2010.”
Much of students’ dissatisfaction with technology in education has, perhaps, to do with the disconnect between their institutional and non-institutional experiences of IT. Most institutional use of IT is driven by impersonal VLE and e-portfolio systems; as the 2010 UCISA survey of technology-enhanced learning demonstrates, academic departments are developing their own learning platforms in tandem to them. The most popular response for why this is happening? “A case has been made for the departmental VLE based on pedagogical reasons.”
Mobile learning allows for ubiquitous, personalised and social learning experiences. Deployed in consultation with learners it allows for a more nuanced approach to students’ technology-mediated interactions. Given their familiarity with the device they use for other purposes, students are also less likely to find such interactions frustrating. This all, however, depends upon a planned, coherent and holistic approach to deployment.
"I think the learners themselves still aren’t clued up to the potential of mobile learning so in surveys where we asked them they only really responded with access to the VLE."
John Fairhall, University of Bradford
As the Google Generation project discovered, young people may be adept users of technology for social interaction, but not necessarily for learning. As a result, the learner experiences of e-learning report made several recommendations:
- Provide clear explanations of technologies learners are expected to use (support available and educational benefits)
- Ensure essential course information and learning resources are available via the VLE (expected by learners as a minimum)
- Offer ‘tasters’ of potentially innovative learning activities that learners can try online
- Explore what colleagues are doing to ensure a level of consistency for learners in their experience of technology
- Treat new technologies as an opportunity to share skills (some learners may be highly proficient while others are unsure)
- Recognise that how the use of technology is explained to learners is of critical importance
This advice is particularly applicable to mobile learning where peer learning through the technology that students already have available can make a significant difference to their educational experience.
"From our research…what students say they would value most is a ‘one stop shop’ where they can get instant access to reliable and up to date information about the teaching and administration that matters to them. This might include lecture times and rooms, assignment deadlines, course notes, lecture slides and recordings, and overdue library books."
Mike Sharples, The Open University
Even when rolling out parts of the overall mobile learning experience that are more administration-focused it is important to nevertheless place pedagogy at the heart of change management initiatives. There are certain things that students expect despite their initial unfamiliarity with how mobile devices can help in their learning:
- To be able to use their own devices with corporately-owned IT infrastructure.
- For technology not to be used as a crutch for poor learning and teaching experiences.
- Unhampered digital communication with their peers, tutors and administrators.
Study habits are changing as an inevitable consequence of the ability for students to instantly access both information, their peers and knowledge-brokers such as academic staff.
Social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Google+ can blur the lines between the previously-demarcated worlds of the academic and the social. The cultural considerations section provides some guidance as to how to deal with these changes in a positive and reasonable manner.