Ewan McIntoshEwan McIntosh at launch

By Bob Harrison

Pupils’ expectations of how they will use digital technologies to learn are putting additional pressure on colleges and universities to keep up with the “Google Generation” according to a new report, Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World.

It was launched last night by Professor David Melville, chair of the committee of inquiry set up in 2008 to conduct an independent probe into the strategic and policy implications for higher education of the experience and expectations of learners of increasing uses of the latest technologies.

“The online experience of young people going into higher education was inescapable, and those working in it had sensed a clear change in their students’ pre-entry experience,” said Professor Melville. “Today’s learners exist in a digital age and this implies access to, and use of, social web tools and software that provide gateways to a multiplicity of interactive resources for information, entertainment and, not least, communication."

The key findings of the report do not just apply to higher education. They transcend all sectors of education and resonate with some of the recommendations of Jim Rose’s report into the primary curriculum. And they definitely chime with the transformational messages emerging from Partnerships for Schools and the Building Schools for the Future programme.

They could also provide a useful benchmark for the forthcoming White Paper on 21st Century Schools expected in the summer.

Ewan McIntosh, fom Channel 4 (4iP), reinforced some of the implications of the report when he reminded policy makers at the launch that the challenge is about workforce development. He believes staff are “disenfranchised” and that we should “listen to people… and then go further” as we are now “contemplating change we should have sorted long ago”.

However, the National Union of Students, also members of the committee inquiry, sounded a note of caution. The NUS’ Wes Streeting appealed for a partnership: “Students do not want a few summative assessments at the end of their course; they want more conversations with tutors. But we must address the real digital divide which is between students and academics… a partnership is needed”.

The report has identified critical issues which include; the digital divide; information literacies; tradition; environmental factors; diversity in the learner population; a richer educational experience; practice in schools, open source materials and online universities; skills development.

The most fundamental issue highlighted in the report, however, is the changing role of the tutor and this issue resonates across primary, secondary and all tertiary education.

Finally the report makes a number of recommendations, which again could be superimposed on all the other stages of education and include the areas of: learner skills; staff skills; infrastructure; inter-sectoral relationships

This is an important and much-needed piece of work which could compensate for the lack of this perspective in so many of the policy and strategy reports on employability and skills such as the Leitch Report and  some of the gaps in the Digital Britain report,

The key messages apply across all phases of education and this report should be compulsory reading for all those involved in leadership in all schools and colleges, and all age groups. Let’s hope the recommendations can reach out beyond the “walled gardens” of academic institutions and permeate the reality of all learners lives.

More Information

The full report, Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World, can be downloaded in pdf form


Bob HarrisonBob Harrison is an education consultant who works with the National College for School Leadership, the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency and Toshiba UK. He gave evidence to the committee of inquiry.
Bob Harrison's blog is on the Futurelab Flux website

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