A report entitled “The Edgeless University: why Higher Education Must Embrace Technology” was launched earlier today. As described on the JISC Web site:
The Edgeless University argues that technology in higher education is not just about virtual learning environments, but is increasingly central to the way institutions provide learning and facilitate research. Technology is making research and learning possible in new places, often outside of institutions. Far from undermining them, this is creating exciting opportunities for universities to demonstrate and capitalise on their value so will take strategic leadership from inside institutions, new connections with a growing world of informal learning, and a commitment to openness and collaboration. This is the radical role of The Edgeless University.
I haven’t yet had a chance to fully absorb this 90 page report but there were a number of aspects to the report which reflect my areas of interest. I should first disclose, however, that I contributed to the report (Peter Bradwell, author of this DEMOS report, was aware of my work in this area and invited me to give my views).
The need for fundamental changes in the higher educational sector: The report describes the comment made by one participant at a roundtable meeting who described the current predicament of the higher education sector: ‘This seminar feels a bit like sitting with a group of record industry executives in 1999’. The report went on to say “It is no use lamenting the golden age of universities (or record companies). The goals of the two ‘industries’ remain the same, but they must refocus on how to achieve them. Society’s aspirations for the sector remain the same. The challenge for institutions is to find the way to do it.“
The need to understand changing student expectations: The report quoted an interviewee who said “Technology is part of people’s daily life in a university, I would say everywhere except in the classroom” in order to illustrate the need for institutions to “get better at understanding exactly what it is these students need” .
New tools to support teaching: It was interesting to note that the report, in a section on how social media tools can support collaborative teaching described Michael Wesch’s work at the University of Kansas in the US in using using online tools for collaborative and team-based student coursework including tools such as sites such as Netvibes, Yahoo Pipes and Diigo. Although I’m pleased to see Web 2.0 tools being highlighted in the report, it was somewhat strange to see a US-based example of use of these fairly mainstream tools. Aren’t there similar examples to be found in UK HEIs?
“A renewed commitment to openness“: The report includes a section with this title. The opening quotation for the section “Science is as much about conversations in corridors as it is about papers in journals” strikes me as summarising the benefits which the Social Web can provide for the research community. However this section seems to focus more on the ease of access provided by tools such as Scribd and iTunesU rather than the issues of open access and open data.
“Experimentation and investment“: I was particularly pleased to see that JISC Developer Happy Days’ (Dev8D) being mentioned as an “event brought together communities of coders and users from educational software and beyond” with the aim of “mix[ing] people interested in civic society with those who have the skills to develop tools to encourage social change“. Dave Flanders (now of JISC) will be pleased to see that his work in bringing together a set of developers has been appreciated in this report.
A few weeks ago the “Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World” report was published. And today we see another report which provides a similar top-down view on the importance of Web 2.0 in higher education. If you encounter resistance to change from senior managers in your institution I’d suggest you beat them over the head with these two report until they realise that Web 2.0 is changing the higher educational environment.