26 June, 2009

The 'Edgeless University' report and the £20m Open Learning Innovatin Fund.

The Demos report on 'Edgeless Universities: why higher education must embrace technology' was actually one of the more interesting reads of late, and i'm sure each reader will probably take something slightly different from it. Already, the Times Higher has published an interesting overview, and amongst others, Suki at De Montfort has posted her take on the report.

Whilst Suki picked up on some of the issues around distributed institutions and flexible learning spaces, another area stood out for me - Open access to resources.

As we already know, the current economic climate means that the public investment most of the sector relies on is insecure. 'Universities are being asked to do more for less' and 'current ways of working are unsustainable. We are entering a period of critical change in which UK institutions will need to adapt to survive.'

Part of this adaptation is to collaborate with other institutions and share resources. This may be in the shape of course content, but equally applicable to research output, ways of working, and frameworks for development. It requires 'commitment to open content and shared resources, and investment in the management and curatorship of vast amounts of data and knowledge.'
A sound basis for linking the technology with the learning and teaching is also a critical issue :
'While technology opens up many new possibilities, matching these possibilities with a vision for teaching and learning is the real challenge".

Obviously this is something we try to encourage through the notion of New Academic Teams, however perhaps we could drive this even further by collaborating across institutions. Dr Shaun Curtis of Universities UK, told Demos: ‘If you have aspirations to be a world-class institution, then there is an acknowledgment that no body of knowledge resides in one institution or in one country.

Despite such positivity, the fact that reports like this still discuss issues of 'openness versus competition' suggests it will remain a debate for some time yet. Brand development 'makes more sense for established institutions with robust brands such as Oxford or, in the US, MIT, than it might for other less established or high-profile institutions'.
I actually believe the debate is not only between openness versus competition, but openness versus competition versus capability. Even if we philosophically agree upon openness, it is still difficult to participate.
I presented some of the challenges we face in openness at the SOLSTICE conference a few weeks back, such as Institutional maturity and readiness, and mechanisms for storage and dissemination. The Demos report reinforces challenges around Staff Development.

"The UCISA survey noted that staff skills were ‘overwhelmingly seen as the greatest challenge for these new demands’. The answer is not to barrage teachers with imperatives to change how they behave, but to help them find space and the capacity to develop new ways of working for themselves. This needs more resources, incentives and support."

This will undoubtedly remain a key area for the future development of Technology Enhanced Learning, that is of course, if we are committed to using Technology to Enhance Learning, rather than paying lip service to the politically correct stance of ICT inclusion.

The issues around collaboration across institutions has obviously been considered for some time, as David Lammy (Minister for Higher Education and IPR) announced a new £20m open learning innovation fund for UK universities, encouraging collaboration between institutions to innovate. There is also encouragement for the Open University to be a national resource for UK HEIs, allowing us to develop a world class infrastructure to build build on our "international reputation for online distance learning". The Money will ensure institutions collaborate and establish renowned expertise in relation to distance learning.
Attention is also drawn to the importance of Open access:

"Knowledge is Power. But access to that knowledge is absolutely key.. Rules and means to distribute must be accessible to all."

For further reading see;
Times Higher article on Demos Report
DMU Learner Exchanges blog post on Demos Report
or the full Demos report itself.

10 June, 2009

Happy Birthday! Cakes

Cakes is 5 years old today! Over those 5 years, it has developed a lot, and I think it is worth taking a closer look at that experience and to ask what new bloggers could learn from it?

Early on, Cakes was just a way for the Learning Technology Development team to share bookmarks. Although now I might use a social bookmarking tool like Delicious to share links, it was worth starting off just doing something simple that gave us the chance to explore the process of blogging. It also gave us an understanding of the blogging software and surrounding technologies like web feeds.

It was only after a few months that we really started adding value in what we were doing. There are many, many blogs that just link to things, but when we started writing up our own knowledge and opinions we began to find what it made sense for our voice to be in the external conversation around elearning. We started becoming more outward looking too.

My advice to new bloggers would be just to start writing about things that interest you. Over time you usually need to develop some sort of focus and identity if you want people to read your work and subscribe to it. However if you need time to find out what this identity is, just find time to write about and properly explore the topic you are interested in. For me this has been a very important activity in my own learning about learning and about technology.

[Image by ĻiĻ Pië]

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09 June, 2009

Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World

Within the last couple of months we have seen the release of the much talked about report: 'Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World' from JISC. Its a pretty hefty document, so hopefully I have summarised some of the key aspects (or at least some of the points that really stood out for me).
Before delving into them though, it is worth noting that the term 'Web 2.0', in the report, is identified as 'social software' or 'social media', and works to bring about "a culture of participation and collaboration." (of course this ties in with Pete's earlier post on 'Making Peace with Web 2.0').

One of the first key points raised is that the digital divide has not been completely resolved i.e. a perfect segregation between the youth and the elders, the have's and have not's, natives and immigrants. Of course, the debate around the topic has identified that such a finely tuned definition and segregation by age group is inaccurate - lets not forget the enjoyable 'barrage' on Prensky's work last week at Tara Brabazon's keynote at #solstice2009 conference (keep a look out on the SOLSTICE website for when it is available online).
Whilst the issue is identified in the document, it goes on to stress that the divide (albeit blurry) still exists and can be seen between students and tutors, which causes concern not only in the development of blended and supported online courses, but in the everyday usage of technology by academic staff;
"Staff capability with ICT is a further dimension of the digital divide, and effective use of technology, ie to enhance learning, is as much of an issue as practical operation, ie getting it to work"

However, and whilst staff development is clearly an important issue, some of the most interesting points (for me at least) revolved around students;

The findings report that "Present-day students are heavily influenced by school methods of delivery and are not pressing for change in traditional HE delivery methods", which kind of suggests we are getting off easily at present, but changes in school approaches will likely impact upon FE/HE in the future. For today's students, "Imagining technology used for social purposes in a study context presents conceptual difficulties to learners as well as challenge to their notions of space", tying in with, and reinforcing the widely accepted viewpoint that Facebook is for the students, and tutors should keep away!!! The report also highlights that "Face to face contact with staff – the personal element in study – matters to students", thus providing a potential demotivating kick in the teeth (or at least considerations) for completely online courses.

The report cites other work to alert us to findings of today's younger generation (11-15), labeling them as ‘digitally-social’ and alludes to their likely expectations when reaching FE/HE. Some statistics identified include;

75% Having at least one social networking site
90% Using email and instant messaging
60% Playing online multiplayer games
80% Owning an MP3 player
85% Owning a mobile phone with camera
Source: Learners’ use of Web 2.0 technologies, Becta 2008

These figures suggest great potential when considering the 'art of the possible';
avoiding Facebook, but considering Personal Learning Environments combined with Social Networking elements such as Ning and Netvibes should not be alien to the future student (if indeed alien to today's);
The use of online multiplayer games bodes well for those immersed in virtual worlds (2nd Life);
and where I see great uses is that in mobile technologies - camera phones are already being used for field work, but 85% of 11-15 year olds suggests this could be almost taken for granted, needing only the insight and imagination of academics to take advantage;
and the 80% of the age group owning mp3 players calls out for academics to take advantage through pod/vod-casting to provide greater flexibility for students to be (academically) active anytime, anyplace.

The report does turn our attention to the current state of Web 2.0 usage of today's academic staff, and claims that deployment is principally driven bottom-up, coming from "professional interest and enthusiasm of individual members of staff", and as such, usage in learning and teaching is patchy. Lending to the problem is that there is "no blueprint for implementation of Web 2.0 technologies, and each [institution] is currently deciding its own path."
Therefore a huge responsibility rests on us to support academics by raising awareness, skills and usage of Web 2.0 tools within teaching and learning in order to raise the quality and match the expectations of future students.

Of the recommendations of the report, a few are striking;
we should continue to focus on transitions between FE - HE, and I know Richard Hall at De Montfort has a project currently focussing upon peer mentors to assist new students in their freshmen year;
Information literacies continues to be a major focus - an area in which I think we have been addressing for some time through Fast Track / Fast Forward / Springboard;
and we should continue to support staff in the use of Web 2.0 and e-pedagogies in order to cater for the future student.

So, a lot of work ahead. Perhaps a Web 2.0 course for academics is in there somewhere too :-)