The use of mobile technologies and a more innovative use of existing institutional systems such as virtual learning environments will be increasingly important to colleges that provide higher education according to a new Jisc funded study.
“All institutions surveyed recognise the strategic imperative of developing an increased capability in information learning technology in support of emerging markets in the higher education sector.”
Phase one of “Creating a Virtual Faculty” looked at 34 members of the Mixed Economy Group of colleges (MEG) to investigate how targeted investment in information learning technology could benefit emerging markets in the higher education sector. The role of colleges of further education in providing higher education is recognised as increasingly significant, serving the needs of a growing number of students.
Colleges that provide higher education enable students from backgrounds traditionally underrepresented in higher education to pursue higher education in a local environment, enabling them to live at home, minimise costs, avoid disruption to their families, and acquire a qualification that may open the door to better economic circumstances. In many cases, these learners are already in employment and have opted to pursue a part-time course.
Sarah Knight from Jisc’s e-Learning Programme says: “We are delighted to be working with the MEG colleges on this project. The study highlights the strategic importance of developing increased capability of technology enhanced learning in support of the growing demand for HE in FE provision. Although all colleges are using Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) to support students’ learning, more effective and innovative uses can be made of the technology.
We support the finding that practitioners and senior managers working in this area should be encouraged to share best practice in their use of information learning technology (ILT) in their programmes and have opportunities to do so at a regional and national level. Jisc already offers support with this through its Regional Support Centres and Jisc Advance.”
Outcomes from the study highlight
• the importance of good pedagogy to the design and delivery of online learning models
• the need to ensure that VLE training addresses technical competency among staff as well as pedagogical and professional needs
• understanding and exploitation of the VLE amongst college higher education teams is uneven and the approach taken by senior management is crucial, both in terms of the development of an e-learning strategy and a separate higher education teaching, learning and assessment
• few colleges have a specific e-learning strategy for HE
• the VLE can enable staff to spend more time to develop scholarly activity or subject updating
The study stresses that meeting student expectations will be of increasing importance as colleges and universities go into a more market-led environment. Many young full-time students are already familiar with e-learning approaches as a result of the technologies available in schools, and some employers have high-quality in-house IT systems. Colleges have to be able to match these expectations.
he use of mobile technologies and a more innovative use of existing institutional systems such as VLEs, becomes increasingly important in this new HE world, according to John Widdowson who chairs the Mixed Economy Group of colleges: “it is important that colleges use all the resources and assets available to them as effectively as possible, including better use of virtual learning environments and the opportunities they afford.
The second phase of this project will analyse the ways in which VLEs are used by staff and students to enhance learning and propose ways in which they can be used to improve communication between colleagues and give better value for all concerned.
Jisc’s Deputy Chair, Professor David Baker, adds: “the study is one of several that Jisc has funded with representative bodies as part of its ongoing engagement with further and higher education. Successful studies have already been completed with GuildHE and Million+ and are ongoing with the 1994 group, 157 group and London Higher. The findings from all of these studies highlight the diverse needs of the sector.“