Future at their fingertips (or in their pockets, anyway)

Students have so many devices: sector must be smart and tap them, says expert. Chris Parr writes

September 27, 2012

Harnessing the power of the technology that students already have in their pockets could revolutionise the way universities teach - but more research into how best to do so is needed first, a technology expert has said.

Richard Noss, director of the UK's Technology Enhanced Learning Research Programme and professor of mathematics education at the Institute of Education, said he knew of universities in the US that were encouraging students to bring their own smartphones and tablet hardware to lectures.

Such an approach could ultimately mean that universities would "no longer have to buy technology", thus saving them millions of pounds while creating a more direct technological link to students.

"The machines that everyone enters their educational lives with in their pockets are much more important than just a way to access Facebook," Professor Noss told the Association for Learning Technology's annual conference, held at the University of Manchester earlier this month.

He said there was a need to explore "how formal learning will change as a result of informal interactions taking place...using cheap and accessible devices", adding that "harnessing the collaborative potential of technology...is something we need to research more avidly".

Speaking to Times Higher Education, Professor Noss said it was the responsibility of the research councils and the mobile technology industry to conduct research into how devices such as smartphones could be better employed. He added that mobile devices were already being used in a variety of ways, such as students accessing e-learning platforms including Moodle or Blackboard "while they are on the bus".

"But considering the massive investment in technology, that's not a very innovative way to use it. It shouldn't stop there," he said.

Elsewhere at the conference - which was held on 11-13 September - the Universities and Colleges Information Systems Association unveiled the latest Survey of Technology: Enhanced Learning for Higher Education in the UK.

The survey, which has been published six times since 2001, found that universities are working to improve the range of services accessible via students' mobiles.

"There has been notable progress towards the optimisation of services for mobile devices by institutions, particularly in support of access to library services, email and course announcements for iPhone, iPad and Android devices," the report says.

It adds that staff knowledge is considered less of a barrier to technology-enhanced learning (TEL) than in previous years, indicating greater progress in training and awareness.

However, the top two barriers remain the same, the survey concludes: lack of time and insufficient financial resources.

"The economic climate appears to have had an impact on institutional services, with just under half of respondents reporting changes made in TEL support staff provision, with just under a quarter reporting a reduction in the number of TEL staff and [10] institutions reporting the restructuring of their departments since the last survey," the report states.


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