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Editorial: Learning Technology in the 21st Century

Jay Dempster, Centre for Academic Practice, University of Warwick

Wrapping up a century of technological innovation in information and communication covers development from radio, television, video and satellite to telephone, computers, internet, web and integrated digital 'everything'. The concurrent exploitation of ICT has been innovative, empowering and marketable in almost every direction except higher education. What is it that makes us so sceptical about the integration of technology into our curricula?

The article by Professor Chris Clark (History) explores some of the issues from the perspective of a practising academic, but also as Chair of the Teaching and Learning Steering Group for the University's IT Policy Committee. In relation to the difference in political, financial and educational pressures for change, he examines the uncertainty academic staff feel to adapting to new teaching regimes and the role technology can play in meeting learners' needs and supporting educational innovation.

There is a vast array of issues currently facing Higher Education in relation to teaching and learning, including the efficiency and effectiveness of ICT. The list of HEFCE documents received by the VC’s and Registrar’s Offices, provided in Ken Sloan’s contribution, is testimony to that. It is not surprising that the Vice-Chancellor, who had agreed to provide Interactions with a viewpoint on 'Learning Technology in the 21st Century' for this issue, decided not to pre-empt his take on the overall big picture and has delayed a contribution until the next issue. Several consultations are presently taking place on some of these issues, including the University's Learning and Teaching Strategy where your comments are welcomed and encouraged.

The third contribution from Dr Sarah Porter at the University of Oxford explores this issue of harnessing technology in the teaching of literature and cultural aspects of language. Where technology forms a main component, the tutor needs to give additional consideration to their pedagogic methodology and consider the additional guidance a student will require. The full article explores three basic questions within the context of the discipline: 

  • How can technology make a valuable contribution to the teaching of literature and cultural studies? 
  • How does technology affect the relationships between subject matter and teaching methodology? 
  • Are there implications for the traditional boundaries between subject areas?

The Innovations section of this issue looks at using technology to make the true criteria for judging student work as high quality completely transparent. Pilot projects being implemented through the TELRI Project working with departments at Warwick and Oxford use web publishing and discussion as a basis for viewing and comparing work. This process allows the students the opportunity to learn the process of producing high quality, intellectual work.

Academics themselves will bring about and control new developments in the 21st century if properly supported and rewarded. On the educational side, the implementation of learning technology will only be viable if we ask the right questions in the right order about what we are trying to achieve in the courses offered and the methods of teaching employed. These might include:

  • What is the purpose of the course?
  • What parts do each of the teaching and learning activities play within the objectives of the course module and the aim of the curriculum as a whole? 
  • What are the current problems in teaching the course and in the students’ learning process? 

While departments see the merits of specifying learning outcomes, those associated with subject-based knowledge and skills are easier to pin down in measurable terms than some of the more ineffable areas of learning development. This is particularly challenging in research-led institutions, where the development of students' academic skills - or scholarship - is advocated. 

Whether technology can be employed in scholarly practice where the lecturer lies at the heart of the process is still being explored and higher education awaits a big winner. Institutions need to consider how best to support that exploration process in educational development.


Dr Jay Dempster
Centre for Academic Practice
University of Warwick
Tel: +44 (0) 24 7657 2737

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