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Can HE keep up with the Web 2.0 world?

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The rapid increase in the use of Web 2.0 technologies such as twitter, Facebook and blogs have been a subject of discussion at JISC for some time as we help colleges and universities promote the use of innovative digital technologies.

We are well placed to monitor the success of social networking sites and the creation of education environments, where information is readily and freely available. Such observations have led us, and other principal bodies in UK post-compulsory education, to question what impact this has on the way students access and use information for academia.

Students exist in a world where instant communication, collaboration, information creation, participation and sharing is the norm, and this must be reflected in their learning activities.

Such observations indicate that a change was required in the UK’s education system if it was to continue to deliver the standard of education and learner experience expected by those using it.  With this in mind, an independent committee was tasked to translate what had previously only been observations into a coherent story of both where we are and where we are going in the issues of the potential for Web 2.0 in the academic context.

‘HE in a Web 2.0 World’ was published in May by the Committee of Inquiry into the Changing Learner Experience (CLEX).  It reveals that today’s teenagers and primary school children are indeed craving a different learner experience to those of previous generations, on which the current HE system is based; a learner experience that is fast, interactive and influenced by both those delivering education and those participating in it.

As well as access to instant answers, the report also warned of a generation where  the need for critical evaluation, citing references and information ownership is not fully appreciated. This demands attention from the UK higher education system as much as entry level education, where learning behaviours are first developed.

The report makes 21 recommendations to UK universities and colleges, as well as to strategic educational bodies, aimed at ensuring that higher education continues to provide an up-to-date, challenging and relevant experience for students.  As an organisation, JISC has an important role to play in this.  By continuing to deliver a world-class infrastructure to support the use of Web 2.0 technologies in education, we will be giving access to secure online resources to over 18 million people across education.

Likewise we must build upon our work in giving training, advice and guidance on how learners and academics can re-use and re-purpose online content freely while respecting and recognising intellectual property rights - all of which will help to develop a digital and knowledge-based economy.

As a first step this report is a key driver for change in the education system; this is particularly timely given the pressure higher education institutions find themselves under to deliver better value for money and meet increasing student demands.  Whilst we still have a lot of work ahead of us, our programmes are already helping many higher education institutions understand the true value of Web 2.0 technologies in meeting these pressures.