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Tech enhanced learning in universities 'far from the mainstream'


Mark Say Managing Editor

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Universities need to raise their game quickly in the field of online and learning and teaching, according to a new report from Jisc.

The not-for-profit digital solutions provider to higher education has published a paper on its early work – along with Universities UK, Advance HE and Emerge Education – on how universities have responded to the need to ramp up the use of technology in response to the coronavirus lockdown.

It says that, despite a willingness to support national efforts and share best practice, many are starting from a low level of digital maturity and there is a long way to go to provide high quality teaching.

“With physical restrictions likely to remain in place in university facilities for the foreseeable future, and many universities starting from a low digital base, there is a long way to go to secure high quality provision that meets rising student expectations,” the introduction says.

It adds: “There is widespread awareness and experimentation in technology enhanced learning and it remains far from mainstream.”

Uncertain outlook

Among the findings is that students entering university this autumn have mixed feelings about online learning, and may not have the necessary digital skills, with digital inequality being a barrier for some.

A similar situation applies to staff, with many showing an appetite to learn quickly but training classes being over-subscribed and many hampered by never having received technology enhanced learning. This may make some more comfortable with simply automating their established styles of delivery and content.

As with the delivery of most online services, teaching needs a real transformation which may take many staff outside of their comfort zones and lead to a rethink in the role of a lecturer. There are also worries about staff fatigue and anxiety after an intense summer.

But there have been good signs in the high take-up of collaboration tools, in particular Microsoft Teams, and indications that universities can make rapid progress when necessary. This applies to the move to digital assessment, which is a highly complex issue with a wide range of approaches.

Audit and survey

Among the report’s recommendations is that universities should conduct a skills audit and survey students’ attitudes towards learning through technology, invest in building staff digital skills, ensure they have strong design capabilities to support content creation, and develop strategies for student motivation and engagement.

It also urges them to follow Jisc’s five principles for technology enhanced assessment. These place an emphasis on it being authentic, accessible, appropriately automated, continuous and secure.

Neil Morris, dead of education at the University of Leeds, writes in the report: “The months to come are the critical test for educational technology. If we get this wrong, then we could set this whole area back years because if people take away the perception that this is what we've been talking about in terms of online learning, and it goes badly, you can't recover from that.” 

Image by rawdonfox,CC 2.0 through flickr

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