The UK government recently released a paper: Higher Ambitions: The future of universities in a knowledge economy. There’s a short section on digital learning hidden within this 115 page document on p78-79. Three points emerge clearly:
- University leaderships will have to take responsibility for driving the use of new technologies throughout institutions.
That can be done in a variety of ways as we’re trying to facilitate at the Open University e.g. awareness raising and professional development, enhancing systems, and developing strategies and procedures which promote and remove blockages to the adoption of elearning.
- Students should leave university with a competent mastery of online modes of communication and information transfer.
This means there will be no scope for degree programmes (and therefore probably individual courses/modules as well) which do not incorporate online communication and media. To what extent they will have to do so is the unanswered question. It’s all too easy to pay lip service to the use of online content and communication without fundamentally changing the traditional mode of delivery e.g. by adding a forum or uploading some Powerpoint slides. The next one might help:
- Information about how technologies are used in each course will be available to students as they choose their options.
Many course descriptors already include details of teaching methods and the use of technologies. It’ll be interesting to see whether students will be presented with such information in a consistent way across institutions to allow them to make the informed choices envisaged by the report. For a really informed choice students would ideally be presented with details such as:
- What types of online communication tools are provided and how are they expected to be used?
- What assessed collaborative activities are involved?
- What is the balance of synchronous / aysnchronous collaborative activities within the course?
- What kinds of online content are made available and how are they expected to be used?
- How much time are you expected to study online and offline?
- What are the hardware, software and internet connection requirements?
- What assessments will be carried out online?
- What kind of eportfolio facilities are provided and how are they expected to be used?
And then for an even more informed choice:
- How did students on previous instances of this course evaluate their use of the online elements of the course?
And wouldn’t it be great to be able to answer the killer question (pretty much impossible to answer of course because of the range of factors involved):
- Does the use of these technologies enhance the overall learning experience, the results and job prospects of the students taking this course?
All this could certainly be useful to students when selecting courses to study. Arguably unless we can include much of the above this cataloguing exercise will achieve little. Providing such detailed information consistently across the courses within one institution will be challenging but I believe worthwhile. Even without the benefits to students it would be useful for institutions to develop a comprehensive picture of the extent and types of elearning being carried out. Across the sector? That would be interesting and would require a standardised data format and a way of aggregating information from all institutions. Another wee challenge for us.