Monday, March 30, 2009

The future of learning: starting now

The journal and the book, suggests Professor Timothy O'Shea, will not die but will inevitably mutate as we find new modes of knowledge sharing and use - and ownership (individuals up to open collectives).

Technology is changing learning and research in universities - centralised systems, e.g. for authentication or records management; distributed software that's installed and used by random academics regardless of whether they are supposed to or not. All sorts of innovative uses of technologies for students e.g. audience-participation style clickers for lecturers to take quick polls during lectures (does this add much value over the old hands-up method?).

Dead horse of the week
Students are very at ease with technology and "view ICT in education positively and confidently". Interesting applications in veterinary sciences - virtual sick cats, dogs, cows - virtual "dead horse of the week" (first big audience chuckle of the day). Vet students also construct their own virtual subjects ("imaginary sick dogs") to support their own studies. Virtual sick animals are archived and can be reviewed in later years.

Vicarious learning
Vicarious learning happens by watching other students in action - even when the student is not actively participating in a discussion. YouTube is a great mechanism for organising vicarious learning and has been used for example in computing science lessons. Elearning students use Edinburgh's "best of breed" platform for elearning (Virtual University of Edinburgh - VUE) - they use Wikis, Second Life (constructing exhibitions within it) and "assess co-created artefacts". VUE is used by all sorts - staff, students, alumni - for awareness, e-learning, PhD projects etc. The people using it may never meet but share virtual spaces - often in hybrid form (real people in real offices connecting in a virtual shared space).

Speckled computing
Speckled computing is also changing research; it's based on specks: "miniature programmable semiconductor devices which can sense, compute and network wirelessly". These are e.g. placed all over a person to track their movement and reflect it in an avatar - enables a person to teach a robot how to dance. Tim also gave a good example of using specks in capturing movements of shy, nocturnal creatures like badgers - place the speck and it will wake up and start to monitor activity when it senses some movement.

Collaboration
Through collaborative activities like SAGES, we're seeing academics across a range of institutions (with different computing sources and sources of money) engaging in research which could not be done without the computational facilities their technical collaboration enables - intensive and large-scale data analysis that requires massive computing power. This is akin to the Large Hadron Collider, the data from which could not have been analysed prior to the super-computing era.

Innovation
Procurement is increasingly innovative and driven by the needs of learners. Scholarly communication is also evolving with Open Access presenting challenges as well as benefits - how do you motive researchers to engage, control versions, respect copyright - etc. Libraries are evolving as universities around the world invest in library spaces and move away from "librarians roaming the corridors shouting 'silence in the library'!" - Seriously, the library is a good place to remind students they are in the university; even if they're not using the resources they like to come in and soak up the atmosphere (particularly non-science students, who don't get to hang out in labs, and those not living in halls of residence). Edinburgh keeps its library open till midnight and still has to hustle out a few hundred students at that point - recognises the importance of "not having silly signs stuck up" and pointless legacy rules; using zones to allow for different work styles from vibrant to quiet. "Obviously, one has to support mobile computing" and recognise how many people will want to bring their own laptops - allow for enough workstations.

Conclusions
Student learning has changed - group work and digital assets. Research has changed, using technology to drive achievements that would not have been possible in the past. Technology's not just changing how people produce things but how people own things (more collective ownership). Libraries have changed and are continuing to change - mostly for the positive. More social learning - and considerable social benefits from learning and teaching with computers. Computers have not dehumanised learning just as email has not dehumanised communications. We'll see more research-led learning - because research is expressed in digital form and students have very easy access to the research output of the academics around them; research is published on websites, conference supp data etc - don't need to wait for it to be published in a journal now.

And the next 10 years will see even more dramatic change than the last 10. Eeeep.

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