UK Diary – Edgeless University

I’ve come across a couple of new reports in the UK since being here – both looking at the impact and use of technology in the higher education scene. The significant one for me is titled “The Edgeless University” (PDF download) written by Peter Bradwell from DEMOS. The thesis of Bradwell’s paper is why higher education must embrace technology, and the logic and presentation of his arguments is very compelling. But the interesting thing for me is his use of the concept of an ‘edgeless university’ – based on the work of Robert Lang who asserts that “Edgeless cities are… cities in function… but not in form.

Bradwell argues that Universities too are experiencing ‘sprawl’, and that the function they perform is no longer contained within the campus, nor within the physically defined space of a particular institution, nor, sometimes, even in higher education institutions at all. Bradwell goes on to demonstrate the critical role that tecnology can play in enabling this philosophical change and the potential of it to be realised.

I’d argue that the same ideas presented by Bradwell in this well researched paper may be applied to our school sector as well, in particular, our secondary school sector where there is a well established need to accommodate a growing diversity of need among students, and a growing realisation that a single institution is unable to accommodate these.

The second paper is titled Higher Education in a Web2.0 world, published by JISC (March, 2009). The following quote describes it’s focus:

“Today’s learners exist in a digital age. This implies access to, and use of, a range of Social Web tools and software that provide gateways to a multiplicity of interactive resources for information, entertainment and, not least, communication. We looked at access to digital technologies and their use from the point of view of level and pattern, purpose, approach and consequences.

The paper is a rather lengthy and well researched tome – but for a quick overview the summary of key findings and recommendations on the JISC website provides useful insights. The list of critical issues is especially interesting.

I found the summary of key ways in which Web2.0 tools are being used in UK Higher Ed fascinating. Again, the list here could easily be applied to what I see happening in the school sector (focus on the bracketed terms beside each tool set)

  • blogs (reflective journals)
  • wikis (collaborative content creation or supplementary lecture information)
  • social bookmarking (expanding reading lists with social references and commentary)
  • social networking (course discussion, initiated by both students and staff)
  • immersive technologies (role playing)

A central issue arising from this list is how the use of these tools implies a change in pedagogical approach (teaching) if they are to be used effectively.

The following quote taken from the conclusion of the report highlights the tension between the future potential and the current reality – which again I believe applies similarly to our school system:

Web 2.0, the Social Web, has had a profound effect on behaviours, particularly those of young people whose medium and metier it is. They inhabit it with ease and it has led them to a strong sense of communities of interest linked in their own web spaces, and to a disposition to share and participate. It has also led them to impatience – a preference for quick answers – and to a casual approach to evaluating information and attributing it and also to copyright and legal constraints.

The world they encounter in higher education has been constructed on a wholly different set of norms. Characterised broadly, it is hierarchical, substantially introvert, guarded, careful, precise and measured. The two worlds are currently co-existing, with present-day students effectively occupying a position on the cusp of change… The next generation is unlikely to be so accommodating and some rapprochement will be necessary if higher education is to continue to provide a learning experience that is recognised as stimulating, challenging and relevant.”

PS – if you still have time to read something more on this topic, the recent report titled “The future of learning institutions in a digital age” (.pdf) by the McArthur group is also worth a read – in particular, the ten principles for the future of learning in chapter three.

After-thought – an interesting point to note is that each of these publications has been developed as a result of collaboration among groups of researchers and educators, and so reflects a ‘connected’ view, rather than that of a single author. 🙂

4 thoughts on “UK Diary – Edgeless University

  1. Hi Derek, thanks for the great summary of how the different Web 2.0 are being used in the k12 sector. I’ve struggled to put it into these words so was nice to have a summary.

  2. Thank you very much. These three documents will be most helpful. Sue Waters pointed me towards your blog, for which I am grateful, and now you have pointed me towards JISC — thanks again.

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