Keeping Britain’s future leaders interactive

Technology is a tool which should be used with set objectives in mind and not replace good old fashioned teaching, says Gary Morrison

The role of interactive technologies and social media in amplifying societal voice has never been stronger. As we ride out the ramifications of one of the most democratically poignant decisions Britain has ever made, it is critical that we support and help shape the ways our future leaders studying in universities today, express and share opinions through technology.

From in-class technologies such as audience response systems, which enable students to share their opinions anonymously as a collective, to the world of blogging and social media where their thoughts are shared with the world, it is up to us as educators, to help students embrace technology and conduct themselves professionally online.

Just last year, the Jisc revealed that over a quarter of higher education students contact their tutors using social media. The survey also highlighted that over 30 percent of students say technology plays a part in their choice of university, and that more than a quarter use their smartphones to edit university essays. A further 20 percent wanted to see more mobile devices provided on campus to make studying easier. I particularly like this Jisc quote: “Students need a flexible environment that lets them experiment, learn from each other, and create their own blend.”  

The rise of social media has also opened huge opportunities to young people looking to start their careers, as prospective employers can get a feel for organisational fit and specialist skills before the two parties even meet. However, whilst forming educated opinions and sharing these with your cohorts is a life skill we encourage as educators, public platforms such as Twitter, LinkedIn and even Facebook can land students in hot water should their posts offend.

Hundreds of UK universities are incorporating audience response systems in the lecture theatre to encourage opinion sharing in a safer environment, where responses are not only kept private from cohorts through anonymous voting, but most importantly, from the world. The ability to debate and conduct passionate conversation is a key life skill honed in higher education. Where tutors and lecturers also need to focus is guiding students in their keenness to share their opinions through technologies and social platforms. Using voting technology, whether it’s a free app on student mobiles, or a professional audience response system, enables lecturers to identify extreme opinion and teach in more depth around the topics they are most passionate about. Being able to identify which students have formed which opinions is also invaluable as it gives educators a chance to speak 1-2-1 with that student if they feel concerned.

The rise of social media has also opened huge opportunities to young people looking to start their careers, as prospective employers can get a feel for organisational fit and specialist skills before the two parties even meet

Whilst the pedagogical benefits of technology use in the classroom are well proven, an interesting headline caught my eye recently on Telegraph.co.uk following a study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and I quote: “Students using laptops and tablets in class perform worse in exams, study says.” The results ‘suggest that computer devices have a substantial negative effect on academic performance,’ said the MIT researchers. ‘Our estimates imply that permitting computers or laptops in a classroom lowers overall exam grades by around one fifth. I think this is a case in point for appropriate use of technology in the higher education environment. Having students working from laptops and handheld devices all the time is not the way forward. Selecting best of breed technologies which meet specific learning objectives is the route to go. Technology is a tool which should be used with set objectives in mind and not replace good old fashioned teaching. In a world where students are using technology around the clock, knowing when to switch it off is crucial.

As BESA-accredited suppliers to the HE sector, we understand that the fall out to shrinking EU funding, is forcing universities and technology companies alike, to tighten belts. However, for Britain to continue to compete globally, we must churn out a workforce who embrace and are keen to develop new technologies and methods of communicating.

So what advice would I give to universities and higher education institutions feeling concerned about keeping up with the fast-paced technology world whilst balancing the books? Encouraging students to bring their own technology into the lecture theatre can be very cost-effective, however, you’ll struggle to apply your university’s online code of conduct on personal devices. From an inclusive perspective this does allow you to focus spend on students most in need of technology.

If seeking technology suppliers, my biggest bit of advice is to only work with reputable organisations that have a solid investment in the UK HE sector. Look for industry accreditation and ask for references and case studies of other university customers. Any supplier worth their salt will have this splashed proudly across their web site, but it is always advisable to check.

Whether you’re a lecturer, head of purchasing or a technology supplier, we all need to work together to deliver engaging learning and equip our entrepreneurs, politicians, academics to be the driving force behind the UK’s globally competitive workforce of tomorrow.

Gary Morrison is Vice President, International Division at Turning Technologies

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