NUS ‘Technology in Higher Education’ Charter

The NUS report Student Perspectives on Technology  was released last year. Out of the findings has come a neat little Charter called Technology in Higher Education containing ten recommendations for the adoption of digital technologies within higher education.  

It’s interesting how the impetus for change is coming from the bottom up. The NUS is calling for a modernisation of teaching and learning practices in order to take advantages of the affordances of virtual learning technologies. What is reassuring is that in place of the sector’s initial determinism of early promises of transformation, the Charter recognises the need for investment in staff development and practical support for both staff and students in order to make the most effective use of digital ways of working. The calls for accessibility and inclusion, a regularly revised ICT strategy and holistic management of expectations with regard to the use of the technology are equally welcome. The ten recommendations can be found below. Here’s hoping there are enough open doors and signposted routes onto the relevant decision making processes for the NUS to ensure they can all be adopted.  

  1. All institutions should have an ICT strategy that is regularly revised
  2. Institutions should invest in staff development and should give recognition to the effective use of technology in learning
  3. All staff and students should receive comprehensive and appropriate training and support
  4. Institutions should consider the accessibility and implications of technology-enhanced learning for all student groups
  5. Innovative use of digital technology should be supported by the curriculum design process
  6. Administration should be made more accessible through the use technology, including e-submission, feedback and course management
  7. Institutions should understand and highlight the link between technology-enhanced learning and employability
  8. Using technology to enhance learning and teaching should be a priority when making investment decisions
  9. Institutions should conduct wider research into student demand and perception of technology
  10. Digital technologies should enhance teaching but not be used as a replacement to existing effective practice  

Universities must rethink their approach to student digital literacy…

Universities must rethink their approach to student digital literacy in the Guardian Higher Education Network puts digital literacy training and critical reflection together in the same sentence.  The word ‘training’ is a bit Pavlovian but applying critical thinking to Internet content and behaviours is an increasingly essential requirement.  I’ve worked in higher education since 2000 and witnessed a growing need to be more proactive in addressing the digital literacies of students and staff, for example in the development of both graduate attributes and teacher education programmes.

When the first virtual learning environments arrived, the sector focused primarily on embedding technology rather than investing in the management of the cultural shift to virtual pedagogic practices. Today, the user-generated content and file-sharing nature of Web 2.0 style technologies, has increased the broader social impact of the Internet, while higher education is currently subject to market forces creating increased interest in online learning, for example the Collaborate to Compete Report to HEFCE. Research findings have raised concerns about levels of digital competence as in the JISC/British Library CIBER Report into the Information Behaviour of the Researcher of the Future at and the NUS report to HEFCE Student perspectives on Technology.  Key areas are still missing like enhanced quality assurance with regard to digital learning (covered in this blog post)  and the means of ensuring the appropriate digital literacies, including awareness of the parameters of inclusion, are embedded into both the student and the staff experience.

From face-to-face to face-to-screen

Recently I spoken to several people who’ve been asked to create an online version of an existing course but without additional resources or support. This suggests something is still missing from strategic approaches to digital teaching and learning. Over a decade ago, the VLE came in on the back of promises of transformation of teaching and learning while increasing efficiency and cutting costs. In 2011, it seems nothing much has changed. The recent report to HEFCE by the Online Learning Task Force (January 2011) Collaborate to Compete  continues to associate quality and cost-effectiveness with engaging, flexible interactive online resources although there are two noticeable differences between then and now.

The first is the student voice which is suggesting early promises of elearning have not yet been realised. Comments in Student Perspectives on Technology  (October 2010) include concerns regarding ICT competencies of teachers, variation and inconsistency in use of ICT and lack of attention to digital literacies as a whole institution approach. For those who have been bridging the gap between the technology and the pedagogy over the past decade this comes as no surprise. Attention has always been paid to embedding the technology within the systems rather than investing in appropriate training and support for those who will be using it on a day-to-day basis. Moving from face-to-face to digital delivery involves significant shifts in skills, attitudes and practices not least because teaching and learning are social activities. To achieve a successful online equivalent is perfectly possible but requires investment in human computer interaction. The problem with technologists leading technological innovation can be lack of empathy for the non-technologist. This barrier has to be overcome if digital education is to achieve its potential for inclusion.

The second difference is a notable shift in the HEFCE document from VLEs to OERs.  Open Educational Resources have taken the VLE’s place as catalysts for change, ensuring cost effectiveness, high quality content and quality, flexible engagement. The only word which is new is ‘mobile.’ However, OERs remain the preserve of the technologist – the person with confidence and competence with working in digital environments – and therein lies concern of the gulf between the early and late adopters as well as those who have yet to get to grips with education in a digital age. Nevertheless, the report is hopeful. It concludes with recognition of the need for investment in greater engagement with the technical and pedagogical aspects of online learning. We have been here before and failed to cross the gulf between the technology and the pedagogy. Hopefully this time round those lessons will have been learned and appropriate and lasting bridges can be built.