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 :-)

1 comment:

Clive said...

Great post, very informative!

Have you thought of adding interactive web comics to your list of web 2.0 tools?

Pixton.com is a new and innovative website where you create comics without having to draw, then share and remix them with others.

Interactive web comics are a wonderful way to engage students at all levels to actively participate in learning while having fun too.

We invite you to try Pixton and tell us what you think.

Creator of Pixton - Interactive Web Comics