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.

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