Archive for the 'Report' Category

The future of higher education in the edgeless university

Personal Tax
Personal Tax
Originally uploaded by Pulpolux !!!
I’ve finally got around to reading a couple of reports which have been sitting on my desktop (just got a monitor big enough to read document online – the trees will be happy!). Both of them are around the theme of  working out the direction of education in a digital ‘edgeless’ age. The reports were the ‘The future of learning institutions in a digital age’ and ‘The edgeless university’. In this post I’ll highlight some of the main features of these reports, leaving the question of how do we take these ideas forward (Wordle’s for all the reports mentioned are at the end of this post).

The future of learning institutions in a digital age

The future of learning institutions in a digital age Authored by Cathy N. Davidson and David Theo Goldberg, this report funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation series on Digital Media and Learning, highlights how the affordances of the Internet, and in particular how the sharing and contribution to knowledge and ideas has created a mismatch between the general accepted model of teaching and how the current generation learns. Unlike the “Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World”, which in my opinion focuses too heavily on technology, this report looks at the shift from instructional to participatory learning and the resulting impact this has on the way we conceive ‘learning institutions’.

The authors of the report identify ten pedagogic principles which they believe are “foundational to rethinking the future of learning institutions”.  These are:

  1. self learning
  2. horizontal structures
  3. from presumed authority to collective credibility
  4. a de-centered pedagogy
  5. networked learning
  6. open source education
  7. learning as connectivity and interactivity
  8. lifelong learning
  9. learning institutions as mobilizing networks
  10. flexible scalability and simulation

As noted by other commentators many of these ideas are not new. For example, you could argue that ‘networked learning’ stems from Illich in the 1970s:

we can provide the learner with new links to the world instead of continuing to funnel all educational programs through the teacher (Illich, 1970)

A common theme in these principals is the move towards educational models which use participation, learning communities and collective intelligence. These principles are also evident in the way that the report has been contributed to by the wider academic community. A draft of the report was published online in January 2007 which allowed any reader to comment on each paragraph of text or add additional remarks to existing comments (this was achieved using an open source theme for WordPress called CommentPress, developed by the Institute for the Future of the Book). The original draft and comments are here.I’ve read through a number of the comments posted on the draft, the majority of which appear to be very constructive, how successful the open review was isn’t clear (but the use of CommentPress as a tool to support student peer review looks very interesting).

In terms of making actionable recommendations the report falls short and the authors appear to be more interested in plugging their next book. The report is probably still worth a read, particularly if you are looking for material to convince your colleagues that there is a need to change.

The Edgeless University

the edgeless university: why higher education must embrace technology Authored by Peter Bradwell at Demos and funded by JISC, this report identifies “why higher education must embrace technology” and solutions for adapting to a world which requires institutions of the same function but of a different form, present in new places, in new ways. To this end the reports remit isn’t just teaching and learning, but extends to the other key functions of universities, research.

At the heart of this report is the same recognition  that “people [are] finding new ways to access and use ideas and knowledge, by new networks of learning and innovation” made possible by technologies like mobile internet and social networking which are becoming an increasing part of our everyday lives.

Last week I touched upon the idea of this blog being an ‘intelligent filter’. In the edgeless university the same responsibility is true, but on a larger scale: “the noise of information and knowledge needs filtering; students need guidance and expertise”.

The report identifies several challenges to managing an edgeless university. One of the challenges identified was the need to “reconcile informal learning with the formal system”. To achieve this requires strong leadership at institutional and governmental level:

Government policy must help higher education institutions develop new ways of offering education seekers affiliation and accreditation

Systems for accrediting informal learning will undoubtedly create pressures within institutions at all levels particularly regarding the cost, and public perception. For example, Glasgow Caledonian University, who have a number of experts leading the field of recognising prior and experiential learning, came under fire in 2003 with tabloid headlines reporting that students were given credit for having recovered from a drug addiction. I’m sure also a number of professional bodies who accredit degree programmes will also be resistant to any change. This is certainly an area where the Government needs to lead.

The report also highlights that becoming ‘edgeless’ isn’t about becoming faceless, students still highly valuing face-to-face contact and that staff need the opportunity and incentive to develop new ways of working.

Probably the biggest barrier the report identifies is supporting and recognising changing working practices at institutional and sector level. The new £20m open learning innovation fund announced with the release of the report is only a small drop in the ocean considering the storm that is brewing.

Overall the report concludes that:

In building the e-infrastructure for higher education we should not just build around the needs of institutions as they exist already. To pursue the possibilities of the ‘Edgeless University’, technology will have to be taken more seriously as a strategic asset. Technology is a driver for change. But we should harness it as a solution, a tool, for the way we want universities to support learning and research in the future.


imageWordle: Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World
imageWordle: The future of learning institutions in a digital age
imageWordle: The edgeless university

Digital Student - More than Web 2.0

Moosh Fashion Show
Moosh Fashion Show
Originally uploaded by Ravenelle

Yesterday (Tue. 2nd Dec ’08) saw the publication of the JISC sponsored Guardian Supplement - Digital Student highlighting the experiences and expectations of students in and entering higher education. This particular area has received a lot of recent interest with a number of projects funded by the JISC Learner experiences of e-learning: phase 2, and the Denham reports on Teaching and the student experience and World leader in e-learning.

In particular I’m looking forward to the final report of The Committee of Inquiry into the Changing Learner Experience. This committee, chaired by Professor Sir David Melville CBE, aims to bring ‘focus and coherence’ to this area, pulling together research to inform policy and strategy for national agencies, universities and colleges. Their remit is to "consider the impact of the newest technologies such as social networking and mobile devices on the behaviour and attitudes of students coming up to and just entered higher education and the issues this poses for universities and colleges".

I was a little disappointed so see that the Committee have decided to only focus on Web 2.0 technologies (mobile appears to have been dropped according to the Committee’s emerging findings), particularly as the inquiry state they are "looking to draw the big picture and to interpret it clearly and concisely".  Even when just considering the impact of ICT I would argue there is a whole raft of other influencing factors which effect the learner experience such as the provision/ownership of hardware, or the effectiveness of existing systems (i.e. student email, Virtual Learning Environments, network access). You could also argue that while the majority of students use Web 2.0 in their social life, it is still only a minority who experience this technology as part of formal structured learning. My concern being that emphasis is being placed on a particular technology and not the learning experience as a whole.

While I wrestle with my thoughts on this one some of you might like to read a report commissioned by the Committee on the "Review of current and developing international practice in the use of social networking (Web 2.0) in higher education" (Warning: 141 pages). The Committee also highlight the following relevant activities:

Mobile Internet, Mobile Life, Mobile Learning

The Mini-Geek in Me…
The Mini-Geek in Me…
Originally uploaded by David M*

Last month I commented on the growth in the Mobile Internet. More evidence of this was revealed on Monday (24th Nov ’08) when Neilson Online published the first results from Mobile Media View (full press release available here). They are reporting a 25% growth in the use of mobile Internet from 5.8 to 7.3 million users. More shocking is the fact that this surge in uptake occurred in one quarter (Q2 to Q3 2008). It is probably not surprising that just over 50% of mobile Internet users are aged 15-34.

So what is this mobile generation surfing for? Kent Ferguson, Nielsen Senior Analyst comments that:

It’s interesting to see that BBC Weather, Sky Sports and Gmail are amongst the few sites that have a greater reach on the mobile Internet than the PC-based Internet. This highlights the advantage of mobile when it comes to immediacy; people often need fast, instant access to weather or sports news and mobile can obviously satisfy this, wherever they are.

For me ‘immediacy’ will continue to grow increasingly important for 21st century learners. A common system found in probably all institutions is a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). VLEs are incredibly cumbersome and largely unusable on a mobile device, an issue which developers like Blackboard seem to continue to ignore. In particular Blackboard cannot be used on the very popular mobile web browsers Opera Mini and Opera Mobile because of the reliance on cookies.

Open source solutions provide a glimmer of hope because they can be customised and styled for mobile browsing. This is not to say there isn’t issues, for example,  Moodle will only work with Opera Mini if the installation has cookieless sessions enabled.

There have been some projects which specifically address a mobile VLE. Notably the Mobile Moodle (MOMO) project have gone beyond tweaking style sheets and looked at the fundamental features of a mobile VLE. In particular they have been looking at new scenarios which allow online and offline interaction with Moodle. They have achieved this by developing a small JAVA based application which is run on a students mobile phone. Using this students can login to the institution’s Moodle site download mobile elements, which can include quizzes, use these offline, then resynchronising with the central site.

While I see projects like MOMO as a positive development, at the back of my mind I have the nagging question is the growth in mobile Internet another nail in the institutional VLE. When I look at projects like OU’s SocialLearn (a previous post on SocialLearn is here), you can see the disaggregation of a central system into the integration of a personal system. The fact that many of the existing web applications being used by students in their social life are already optimised for mobile usage can only strengthen this argument.

New Report - The future of higher education: How technology will shape learning

Cover of The future of higher education: How technology will shape learning The Economist Intelligence Unit, with sponsorship from the New Media Consortium published The future of higher education: How technology will shape learning report yesterday (27th Oct). The key findings, from the global survey of 289 executives* from higher education and corporate setting, aren’t that surprising. In particular the associated press release highlights that "online learning is gaining a firm foothold in universities around the world" and "university respondents view technology as having a largely positive impact on their campuses", which I’m sure most of us already knew.

Digging deeper into the report there are one or two interesting findings not highlighted in the press release. For example almost 50% of respondents said that their institution already use mobile broadband and 66% utilise text messaging/notifications systems.  SMS usage was particularly surprising as over half the respondents were from the USA, which has historically had a low take-up of this technology.

When asked how respondents felt higher education would evolve in their country over the next five years, 69% felt that campus libraries would be enhanced by full-text searchable databases. The next most popular with 64% of respondents agreeing was that universities will frequently partner with corporations and other third parties to create new areas of study (this was a closed question with 8 other similar statements).

Overall however I feel the questions used in the survey were a little loaded and with the small sample size I doubt many institutions will be basing their strategic plans on the findings. I’ll leave it up to you to decide … 

*189 participants from HE, of which 60% were ‘professor’

UCISA Survey: Technology Enhanced Learning For Higher Education in the UK

UCISA have recently published results from the 2008 survey on Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL).

The survey is the fourth in a series of surveys which have, over time, looked at the adoption of what have variously been described as VLEs, e-learning, MLEs and now ‘technologically enhanced learning’ tools.

The survey records increased use in technology enhanced learning the primary drivers being improving quality and meeting student expectations. The most important influencing factors in encouraging this are identified as committed local champions and the availability of internal funding. ‘Lack of time’ is still seen as the biggest barrier to uptake.

In terms of institutional provision of a centralised VLE Blackboard is still the most dominant platform (47%), followed by WebCT (23%) and Moodle (11%). When respondents were asked to list all the VLEs used within the institution Moodle was the most commonly used platform (55%) followed by Blackboard (50%) and WebCT (31%). The authors of the report suggest that this disparity reflects "a trend towards the adoption of Moodle across the sector … at departmental/school level and has not extended to institutional systems to date".

[At the end of the day I suppose it doesn't matter what VLE you have but how you use it that counts. Its also interesting to note different disciplinary approaches to TEL. This was picked up by David Muir who is blogging from ECER 2008 - VLE Use in Higher Education]

The full UCISA report is available here

Scottish Higher Education: Probably the best higher education in the world?

Yesterday saw the the publication of the first interim report from the Joint Future Thinking Taskforce on Universities on ‘New Horizons: responding to the challenges of the 21st century’. Various papers comment on the potential implications of this report for Scotland’s universities funding (see ‘Related Google News Feed’ for examples). As well as outlining a roadmap for a framework for the future of funding the report highlights what the Taskforce sees as the current strengths of Scotland’s universities. These include:

  • three Scottish universities in the world’s top 100 research universities
  • three universities in ranked in the top 10 new universities in the UK
  • 4.3% of Scottish students fail to leave university with a successful outcome (degree, other award or transfer to another educational programme)

So are we probably the best higher education in the world?


This blog is authored by Martin Hawksey e-Learning Advisor (Higher Education) at the JISC RSC Scotland N&E.

mhawksey [at] | 0131 559 4112 | @mhawksey

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