Learning 2.0 harnessing technology to enhance education

Author/Producer Eddie Gulc, HEA Senior Advisor
Published in Newsletter No 10
Date Published 28 February 2008
Pages 3


Editorial piece for Spring 2008 newsletter


Learning 2.0 - harnessing technology to enhance education

Eddie Gulc, Higher Education AcademyThis is a special edition of the ESCalate Newsletter given over to explore some of ways technology and e-learning are enhancing the way we teach and our learners learn.

It is difficult to argue that technology isn’t affecting all aspects of our everyday lives: the way we carry out business, go about our shopping, our banking, buying holidays, booking travel; it even affects the way we meet new people and maintain our relationships with family and friends. The pervasiveness of computers, access to broadband and the use of mobile devices are all driving these changes around us, and education, in all its forms, is not immune from this.

In the UK we should be proud to be at the forefront of developments in e-learning and be in a position to harness the potential of technology in our schools, colleges and universities. This is in part due to the Government and funding agencies being pro-active and acknowledging that transformational change cannot be achieved by our educational institutions alone and that coordinated activity is more likely to succeed. With this strong steer and investment, we have seen the establishment of organisations like the JISC (Joint Information Systems Committee) and Becta (the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency), the coming and going of initiatives like and the ‘Computers for Teaching Initiative’ (CTI) and the ‘Teaching and Learning Technology Programme’ (TLTP).

Campaigns like ‘Laptops for Teachers’ and strategies, for example DfES (2005) and HEFCE (2005), have extolled the virtues of learning technologies. Through these we have been asked to embrace technology and make it work for us in our own contexts. We have been encouraged to see how it can make education more exciting and engaging for learners and how it might help create a more personalised learning experience for students.

What difference has it made? Is it easy to quantify? It is difficult to measure in terms enhancement of learning, though Becta suggest that ‘evidence shows that technology significantly improves results for all learners’ (Becta 2008). However, Becta go on to say that in spite of the evidence, ‘technology is fully exploited by only 20 per cent of schools and colleges’ and it might be difficult to argue the figure for HE is very different.

The most serious users of technology tend to be younger people who feel utterly at home with it and are confident users of their games consoles, iPods, smart phones, chat rooms and online personas. These are the very people who are coming through our schools and colleges now and are entering our universities - they are ‘digital natives’ (Prensky 2001a and 2001b) living in a digital world.

How are we as educators responding to the challenge? Do we see technology, computers, the internet, Web2.0 applications and mobile phones as threats or opportunities? We know that education faces many challenges ahead and depending on our sector, in education we face growing class sizes, issues of accessibility and diversity, the diminishing unit of resource as well as concerns over standards, quality and retention. We might want to consider our response to these changes and new technologies. Are we ready to embrace them and be receptive to exploring how learning technologies might support us in our work both pedagogically and administratively?

Going forward the issues are not in the main about the technology, as most tools, hardware and software systems which have been developed are robust and will ‘do what it says on the tin!’ The biggest challenge still facing us is how we can encourage more and more staff to see how technology can play a creative, empowering role in making learning more accessible and exciting for learners, be they two or eighty-two.

To help us to reflect on these developments, I have brought together a series of papers which reflect current and emerging issues in embedding e-learning into our practice. They include, amongst other topics, collaborative online learning, technology-rich learning space, Web2.0 technologies and social software, mobile technologies, e-assessment and virtual worlds.

One topic which I have left out of this issue is e-portfolios, though there has already been a paper on their use in Issue 6 of the newsletter Autumn 2006. e-Portfolios may also feature in future issues since ESCalate, using funding from the Higher Education Academy and JISC, are undertaking an investigation of existing e-portfolio models and their use within the field of Education (for more information go to http://escalate.ac.uk/eportfolios).Finally, what we witnessing here in education? Is it transformation or transition, revolution or evolution? Perhaps, as we are now entering a time when A-level examinations will be based partly on work submitted by podcasts (Guardian 2008) the revolution is starting ;- )

References and Resources

For more information about the Higher Education Academy’s e-learning work, including the Benchmarking and Pathfinder Programmes and the e-Learning Research Observatory, visit:http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/e-learning.htm

Becta (2008) Get Onboard Next Generation Learning www.nextgenerationlearning.org.uk

DfES (2005) Harnessing Technology: Transforming learning and children's services www.dfes.gov.uk/publications/e-strategy/ (accessed 17 January, 2008)

Guardian (2008) Podcasts replace essays in revamped A-level media studies, 4 January, 2008

http://education.guardian.co.uk/alevels/story/0,,2235512,00.html (accessed 17 January, 2008)

HEFCE (2005) HEFCE strategy for e-learningwww.hefce.ac.uk/pubs/HEFCE/2005/05_12/ (accessed 17 January, 2008)

Prensky, M. (2001a, September/October). Digital natives, digital immigrants. On the Horizon, 9(5), 1-6.

Prensky, M. (2001b, November/December). Digital natives, digital immigrants, part 2: Do they really think differently? On the Horizon, 9(6), 1-6.

Eddie Gulc Senior Adviser

Eddie has been with the Higher Education Academy just over three years and is working on a variety of initiatives with the JISC, including a distributed e-learning programme which engages with all of the Academy’s 24 Subject Centres. The Centres are carrying out a range of development projects which meet or explore the needs of their practitioner communities, including for example the use of shareable and reusable resources, e-portfolios and staff development/training/support needs. Prior to working at the Academy, Eddie spent four years as the e-Learning Adviser at JISC Regional Support Centre (RSC) Eastern, based at Anglia Ruskin University.