Meeting the Needs of the New Learners

Wednesday, December 3rd, starts with a workshop on the Google generation in higher education. The seminar, held by Dr Judy Hardy, Prof Simon Bates and Dr Hamish Macleod from the University of Edinburgh, UK, will discuss the widespread but problematic assumption that young adults universally possess sophisticated information skills and digital literacy. It will present the outcomes of a recently completed project on the utilisation of learning technologies by first-year undergraduates from a variety of academic disciplines. The focus is on “critical moments” – the impact of learning technologies on learners’ transitions to university and their progression through the first year. In particular, the seminar addresses learners’ expectations regarding the availability and use of learning technologies at university, their approaches to e-learning during their first year and the key factors that influence learners’ choices of e-learning strategies.


Tienie Crous, Dean of the Faculty of Economics and Management Sciences at the University of the Free State (UFS) in South Africa, wonders how school leaders can create an environment within which teaching staff and students can tackle today’s problems. The reality in South African universities shows that there is a generational and cultural gap between teachers and students, which adds to the challenging diversity of the higher education arena in the country. Crous will outline some approaches that South African universities use to teach the younger generation.


The Blended Learning Unit (BLU) at the University of Hertfordshire, UK, has been observing its students over the last three years. One focus was the students’ usage, expectations and experiences of technologies such as the internet, e-mail, text messaging, wikis, blogs and interactive whiteboards. There has been a major increase in the use of social networking sites, such as Facebook, MySpace and YouTube, according to Yoeri Goessens from BLU, who will present some of the findings at OEB 2008. Studies that he and his colleagues have conducted at BLU indicate that technology really has become an embedded part of learning processes and students’ social lives, as exiting students are far more confident with technology than those just entering the university. Goessens invites participants to share BLU’s real-world experiences at OEB 2008.


Sue Myer from the University of Teesside thinks that today’s students need support as they struggle with managing all the information that is out there in the digital world. They might feel confident in accessing the information but they often fail to manage it properly, she opines. Greater access to knowledge finally requires greater critical thinking skills and learners spend less time evaluating what they find, according to Myer. At the University of Teesside, a JISC-sponsored project develops learning objects that can be used to train critical thinking skills in novice researchers. At OEB, Myer will evaluate how useful this project could be for other universities in a dialogue with participants.


Different students have different learning styles, says Dr David Sabiston from Mount Royal College in Alberta, Canada. Economists at the Department of Policy Studies recognise these different learning styles as important and have created various types of learning environments to accommodate the differences in courses. All courses have an online or e-learning component, as integrating technology into post-secondary education is one of the core principles of the college. With the advent of the Millennials, technology in teaching and learning has become even more critical, stresses Sabiston. At OEB 2008, he will focus on the use of online assessments and the learning components of the courses, examining how the technology part has evolved over time. “We started with a rather static approach in the early days”, Sabistin explains, “and nowadays offer a highly interactive learning tool with instant feedback. In my presentation I will also look at how students’ expectations – particularly the Millennials – alter the classroom environment, both pedagogically and physically.”


A recent study into the “digital natives” carried out by the centre of excellence in e-learning at KATHO University College, Belgium, showed rather surprising results. At least that is what Filip Vervenne claims, who coordinated the research. He and his colleagues wanted to find out if the label of “digital natives” is correct or rather a myth. They founded their analysis on three essential topics and asked: Are they 1) multitasking, 2) demand-based and 3) collaborative learners? Five secondary schools and 106 students were involved and responded to a questionnaire. Above all, they were challenged to design an ideal distance-learning course for Dutch. Vervenne wanted to find out what the students perceived as a real fitting and comfortable learning environment.


The sessions “Getting Ready for Generation Y I + II” will take place on Friday, December 5th, 14:15 – 16:00 and 16:30 – 18:00. The workshop takes place on Wednesday, December 3rd, 15:00 – 18:00.


October 2, 2008

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