Thursday, 2 August 2007

JISC Inquiry into Learner Experiences

JISC have announced a Committee of Inquiry into the changing experiences and expectations of learners coming up to the age where they may enter Higher Education.

Young people's perceptions and expectectations of what HE might be like can sometimes be at odds with what they experience once they walk through the door.

Today's 17-year-olds have never known a world without the Internet. They were born in 1990, so their perception even of the Millenium is "something that happened when I was a kid"... "Star Wars" means Ewan McGregor, not Alec Guinness; for many of them TV will have always meant dozens of channels, vinyl records are antiques, even CDs are in danger of becoming quaint. They may have never had to take a film in to be processed.

Their experience of Information Technology, encompasses a far wider remit than just computers. Digital TV, digital cameras, mobile phones that take photographs, video, record audio and playback music in high quality. Internet use that includes new Social Software like MySpace and Facebook allowing groups of friends to share ideas and create networks globally, other web 2.0 sites such as Flickr and YouTube where photographs and videos can be stored, shared and accessed, blogging sites that allow anyone to be an author, a diarist, a philsopher, a critic.

The natural tendency is for youngsters to use these sites for friendship and other informal uses. It is important to understand the uses made of them in the more formal settings of schools and sixth forms.

The potential is huge for craft workers, or tradesmen such as carpenters to use a blog and perhaps Flickr to showcase work, to hold references from satisfied customers.

Do youngsters recognise this type of use for social software sites? Do schools make use of such technological advances? Is the demand for use so strong that the networks and connection capacity of schools and colleges become swamped and unable to cope with demand? Do institutions see only the negative aspects to such sites and ban their use?

Do youngsters see access to IT as a right? Will they want to bring and use their own laptops on the university network, disdaining the institution's own computers? Will they want to store their work and have it assessed on the university Virtual Learning Environment, or on an Internet-based wiki? Where will they want to store things like e-Portfolios, so that they can access them during work interviews from employers' premises and showcase both university achievements and other non-university achievements?

The Committee of Inquiry will be asking these and many more questions I am sure. They are currently seeking members from the Education Sector and Employers. The JISC announcement, by Dr Malcolm Read, JISC's Executive Secretary, is given below.
JISC will be running a Committee of Inquiry into the changing learner experience. The Inquiry is to address the implications for Higher Education Institutions of the experience and expectations of learners approaching full-time higher education both in the light of their increasing use of Web 2.0 technologies and other factors affecting the student experience. The focus is to be on young learners since their experience and expectation is immediate and also indicative of that of future entry cohorts. The consequences for other learners who may not be as familiar with new technologies will also be considered. The Inquiry is to extend over a period of approximately 9 months from autumn 2007, and its findings are intended to inform senior management discussions at the strategic level will and provide advise to universities and colleges about how they might wish to respond to the issues raised.

The committee is likely to comprise a group of perhaps 12 members in order to accommodate a spread of perspectives - senior management in HEIs and FECs, institutional technical services staff, schools, student as well as the research community and employers. The Inquiry and its committee will be supported and facilitated by a small secretariat

The Inquiry and committee will be headed by a Chair. The Chair will need to be credible in context, effective in that capacity and, ideally, prepared to be involved in the work and process of the Inquiry. Rather than being, for instance, an e-learning expert the chair should ideally be interested in the widest possible issues relating to the student experience and able to direct the Inquiry on this basis

Suggestions of potential candidates for the role of Chair are invited, as are suggestions of possible members for the committee itself. Suggestions should be emailed to Robert Haymon-Collins, JISC Director of Communications and Marketing,, and copied to Emma Charlick, as soon as possible and in any case by 24 August 2007.

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