Toni Pearce, National Union of Students vice-president for further education, and one of the candidates to become the new president, challenged the perception that students were increasingly turning to the web for their education, and in doing so overlooking more traditional campus-based learning.
Speaking at the Open Educational Resources conference at the University of Nottingham on 26 March, she revealed some findings from an NUS survey of 2,800 students, due to be published in June, assessing their attitude to online resources.
“Students are actually quite conservative in their use of open educational resources (OERs),” she said. “The students in our sample were clear that while many made use of them in their own learning, they were much more likely to do so when it was part of their course and it had been suggested to them by their lecturer.
“Where lecturers do not value OERs and do not signal that the use of OERs will help in their learning, and in particular where students are not offered technical support in their use of them, they absolutely won’t use them.”
She added: “I was quite surprised to find that students will absolutely defend to the death the lecture – a mode of learning that many of us are getting used to thinking of as an out-of-date method of teaching.”
Ms Pearce also questioned the findings of a recent Institute of Public Policy Research report, An Avalanche is Coming: higher education and the revolution ahead,which warned that established universities could go bust if they failed to react to the proliferation of online education.
“An avalanche? Please. Higher education and the revolution ahead? It sounds terrifying. But the basis of the argument is that students in the future will have no interest in attending formalised education because they can consume content elsewhere, not last online.” Contrary to this, she said, the survey found that students value the sense of community they get from traditional education.
“We can accomplish a great deal more when we’re working in a community than when we’re working alone,” Ms Pearce said.
The survey, produced in partnership with the Higher Education Academy, also revealed that some students were resistant to the idea of free online learning, and the sharing of open resources, because they have to pay for their tuition.
“A number of the students involved in our research expressed a view that people not registered as students should not have access to educational resources. They felt that making educational resources available to the public was unfair,” she said.
“It’s possible to see where this view is coming from and hard to know how to manage it. Within the new fee regime…the idea of openness will sit ever more uneasily alongside the policies of marketisation and competitiveness.”