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November 09, 2010

Student perspectives on technology in UK universities

Lawrie Phipps of the JISC has written a nice response to the recommendations of the report to HEFCE by the NUS (the UK National Union of Students), Student perspectives on technology – demand, perceptions and training needs [PDF], which makes a number of recommendations around ICT strategy, staff training and so on. Lawrie's contention is that the:

challenge arising from this report is not how to use more technology, nor how to integrate it into practice. The challenge is articulating our existing practice in ways that act as both an exemplar to students (and Support their own digital literacy), and enhance our practice by sharing the exemplary work that is already there.

From my perspective, the difference between "you're not using ICT effectively" and "we are using ICT effectively but nobody recognises that we're using ICT effectively" is somewhat moot. I prefer to see the report in terms of its findings not in terms of its recommendations (which, it seems to me, are really for universities to make anyway).

The point is that where the report indicates fairly fundamental issues, such as student "dissatisfaction that the type of technology used in HE is increasingly outdated" and that a "lack of staff engagement with the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE)" is frustrating for students, we either have to show those things not to be the case (I don't know, maybe they aren't) or acknowledge that whatever it is we are currently doing isn't working well enough? It seems hard to do the former in light of this report?

As a result, I'd tend to read the combination of the report and Lawrie's response as saying, "there are problems with the way ICT is being used to support teaching and learning in universities but we're already doing most of what the report recommends and therefore we need to do something else". Would that be unfair?

As an aside, I was struck by one of the themes highlighted by the report:

Participants expressed concerns over “surface learning” whereby a student only learns the bare minimum to meet module requirements – this behaviour was thought to be encouraged by ICT: students can easily skim-read material online, focusing on key terms rather than a broader base of understanding.

It seems harsh, to me, to lay the blame for this at the door of ICT. If there's a problem with "surface learning" (again, I can only go with what the report says here) then it presumably might have other causes... the pedagogic approaches and/or assessment strategies in use for example?

Me? I love skim-reading! I thought it was a key-skill? I got about 10 paragraphs past that point in the report and stopped reading! Surface learning FTW :-)

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