Inquiry into impact of Google on HE
A UK-wide independent inquiry that will look at how the use of new technologies by the “Google generation” will shape higher education was launched today.Prof Sir David Melville, former vice-chancellor of the University of Kent, is to chair the inquiry, which will consider the impact of the newest technologies – such as social networking and mobile devices – on the behaviour and attitudes of learners who are approaching or have just arrived at university, and the issues this poses for universities and colleges.
Huge advances in the quality and availability of technology have been charted and changes in learner behaviour noted, but the bodies backing the inquiry – Universities UK (UUK), all four funding councils, the Higher Education Academy, the Learning and Skills Council, university computing service JISC, and Lifelong Learning UK – want to find out more on the significant policy and strategic challenges these present.
The committee, with university, college, school, student and employer members, hopes to produce a final report by the end of the year.
Melville told EducationGuardian.co.uk: “We know students have different attributes and expectations – particularly in the first and second year – in the way their interact with each other and universities when they come in.
“It’s a lot to do with social networking sites. We will focus on those newest technologies and the way the web enables students to take part in whatever they are involved in.”
Melville said the arrival of students with different experiences and expectations has far reaching implications for institutions of higher education.
He said: “The interesting question is whether this attitude to social networking changes their expectations in the way they might learn.
“Students used to sit around late at night and set the world to rights. Now they can do that on a global scale as part of a discussion group in chat rooms.”
The inquiry will look at whether universities can use the new technologies to help in the process of self-directed learning.
Diana Warwick, chief executive of UUK, said: “UK universities are already leading the way in the use of new technologies to enhance the learning experience.
“Over the last 10 years or so, the internet in particular has transformed the way students access information. These technological developments present a major opportunity for higher education.
“This inquiry will certainly help inform universities about the likely trends and challenges ahead.”
The inquiry comes in the wake of criticism from academics that students rely too heavily on sites of dubious accuracy such as Wikipedia.
Last month Tara Brabazon, professor of media studies at Brighton University, banned her students from using Google and Wikipedia, arguing that students were not using their brains and churning out “banal and mediocre” work.
“The education world has pursued new technology with an almost evangelical zeal and it is time to take a step back and give proper consideration of how we use it,” she said.
Manchester University also launched an internet search engine to rival Google in January.
The free service has added thousands of documents to the university’s “Intute” service, which allows academics, teachers, researchers and students to search for information relating specifically to their subject area.
Researchers can automatically access research papers from research databases within universities and other institutions.
The £1.5m per year collaboration between seven UK universities and partners enlists a team of full-time specialists to scour the internet, which executive director, Caroline Williams, claimed made it more discriminating than Google, which uses robots to automatically index web pages.
She said the service would provide more “accurate and sensitive subject retrieval so it is a safety net for those students who haven’t acquired the skills of evaluation”.
Author: Anthea Lipsett, Education Guardian, 29th February 2008