JISC question time: Student experiences of technology

The panel:
The student’s perspective: Sue Beck, Student, University of Northampton
The lecturer’s perspective: Rob Howe, Head of Learning Technology & Media, University of Northampton
The senior manager’s perspective: Professor Jeff Haywood, Vice Principal Knowledge Management, Chief Information Officer, Edinburgh University
The policy perspective: Sir David Melville, former VC of the University of Kent and Chairman of the Committee of Inquiry into the Changing Learner Experience

“I’m a mother of seven, a grandmother of three and I’m 50 years old,” began Sue Beck. “I only achieved Level Four CSE French. I’m now in my third year of a French language degree, I can watch French films without subtitles and watch French television and understand what’s going on.”

A question time session on student experiences of technology without a student on the panel would be missing a trick and this afternoon’s session certainly benefited from hearing Sue’s very positive experience of learning technology.

She explained how she enrolled in a beginners’ adult education French class after going over to France with her motorcycle club and feeling embarrassed at her lack of language skills. Her tutor pointed her to Friends Abroad, an online penfriends website and within an hour of creating her profile she had over 100 friend requests. Sue now corresponds with many of them by email or IM on a regular basis.

“They help me with my French, I help with their English. I write to them in French, they correct it and reply in English and I correct it. Nobody is the student, nobody is the teacher. The internet is my main form of learning now as it’s something I can do any time I want. If I can’t sleep at 2am I can go down and switch on the computer and do my learning in my jimjams.”

Sue’s experience reinforced the point made by Professor Jeff Haywood, another of the panellists, that the stereotypical “young UK adult” is not the typical learner in HE and FE in the UK and that students come from very diverse backgrounds with technology running across all age groups and types.

Panellist Sir David Melville has, however, been mainly focusing on young people in cialis 5 mg his  role as Chairman of the Committee of Inquiry into the Changing Learner Experience. He pointed out that we have now had two years of entry into HE of people who have been significantly immersed in new technology and Web 2.0 tools. An interesting snippet he mentioned is that the number of hours a 16-17 year old will spend watching TV and online has now swapped over so it is one hour of TV to five hours online. 13 year olds are where 16 year olds were a year ago. The most obvious way in which technology has changed attitudes is through participation, the characteristic of Web 2.0 tools, and the assumption that one can be part of it. Sir David also mentioned plagiarism, and the fact that we “cannot turn back the tide” but must find ways to work with it and develop new forms of assessment and new ways of asking questions.

The ‘cutting and pasting’ issue was familiar to Rob Howe, who brought the lecturer’s perspective to bear on the panel. He said that he has changed his teaching style to accommodate different learner experiences. Instead of criticising his students for taking information from Google searches, “I use it as a development tool to help them learn how to reference properly and recognise where information comes from.” On the participation front, he uses social bookmarking to encourage his students to add to resources and be participants in the course as well as consumers. He pointed out that it is a challenge to find the time to do any of these things and to keep up to date and innovate. There are lots of different guidance notes to e-learning from different sectors which could well be brought together into one place for easier access.

Social networking site featured heavily in the Q+A section of the session. Sue was, perhaps surprisingly, vehement that sites like Facebook can be a distraction as they take the student away from the subject in hand, and pointed out that the sites she uses, although still social networking, are geared to one specific subject. Jeff added that students have expressed dismay when their lecturers appear on Facebook, while Rob commented that he has noticed students setting up Facebook groups for study-related discussions and that his institution encourages that by providing an RSS feed so that students can pull some course content down into their Facebook group if they want to.

The effect of new technology on face-to-face teaching was also a hot topic. Sir David said that students value face to face teaching and there is no real evidence that this pedagogical approach and new technology is mutually exclusive. He added that podcasting can provide something that’s intermediate, a freshness and immediacy that you don’t get with other materials already on the computer. Rob warned that if tutors use technology to reduce the amount of face-to-face teaching but do not change students’ expectations at the same time then they will face a backlash. Sue approved of the use of webcams for ‘international language exchange’ with counterparts overseas. “It makes learning fun,” she pointed out, “and if it’s fun, students will do it!”