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The importance of the virtual world over bricks and mortar

Kenny Nicholl asks, are bricks and mortar the best way to enhance and expand the learning experience?

Posted by Rebecca Paddick | June 03, 2016 | Technology

The Russell Group is planning significant investment in new land for campus buildings, but Canvas' director of higher education, Kenny Nicholl, asks whether bricks and mortar is the best way to enhance and expand the learning experience.

With record numbers of students looking to attend university each year, there is huge pressure on institutions to attract and retain the best students. This has lead to the creation of a global higher education marketplace, where the competition is increasingly fierce. 

The latest THE World University Rankings shows that it’s those universities who are able to adapt and provide cutting-edge technology who are those that excel. Over the past few years we’ve seen Asian universities, such as the University of Tokyo and Peking University rise up through global rankings, while technologically advanced North American universities, such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University consistently impress and attract the highest calibre of student.

In order for UK institutions to compete on a global scale, it’s crucial that they prioritise the technology they offer to students, and cater for the digital native who expects the latest tech in the lecture theatre and beyond.  However we’ve seen recently that the Russell Group of universities, which represent the top performing universities in the UK, are instead focusing investment on land and new campus buildings - which could be viewed as a backward step in this new, digital-first, world.

This question of space, or web-space, is one that many universities have to face. Bearing in mind the pressing need for HE institutions to think about their revenue generating capabilities, from commercialising research to ‘sweating assets’, the decision to expand universities physically, to cater for more students, is understandable. But investing in the digital world - and the endless capacity that internet based learning tools brings should not be overlooked. Through online courses colleges and universities particularly can attract, and deal with, bigger student populations than any physical building ever could - offering more courses to more people  and generating more income. 

Through online courses colleges and universities particularly can attract, and deal with, bigger student populations than any physical building ever could - offering more courses to more people  and generating more income

The ability to offer the latest tech to students, and cater for more of them with online tools, has been realised by the University of Leeds. The forward looking university recently launched an of offering online courses by promoting ‘try before you buy’ programmes that count towards a degree programme in an attempt to attract students.

The way students will learn at university is also rapidly changing. More universities are offering students condensed courses and often this involves work placements to help students get on the employment ladder. More students are also looking to combine studying with full or part time work, meaning that they need the technology to be able to access their course, anytime, anywhere and from any device.

This is coupled with the changing role of the lecturer. No longer is it the teacher’s role to stand at the front of the lecture hall, while students passively ingest the information they present - they’re instead taking the role of a guide - to help students through their learning and apply their knowledge to real-world situations. 

As a result, the modern day student doesn’t necessarily have to be ‘on-campus’ to be learning. With universities looking to attract talent from all over the world, institutions should be investing heavily in technology to bring learning to their students ‘off-campus’ if they want to future proof their place in the ranking tables.

W: www.canvasvle.co.uk

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