I attended the opening of the Social Learning Zone at the University of Bolton last week. Everyone was impressed by the exciting œone stop shop facilities for students in the campus which brings together a traditional library, 24 hours access to a computer room and a cafÃ©. In the social learning zone, students are able to bring books in from the library, have access to wireless technology to use their lap-tops and mobile phones and can discuss projects with fellows or tutors in a relaxed environment. As the Vice Chancellor, Dr George Holmes, stated in his opening address: ˜Students at Bolton are the very heart of the university¦ Academic staff develop their understanding and critical thinking that expands the minds of students to create new knowledge. But without the facilities and infrastructure, the pulse is less quickened. The Social Learning Zone that we are in today provides that environment.
The social learning zone is another step forward for the university to shift from an institutional approach to a more learner centred approach to learning and to take into account how students like to work nowadays. To me, this initiative is in line with another two ongoing technology related projects at the University of Bolton.
One is PLE project in which learners can configure different services and preferred tools to develope their personal systems (Personal Learning Environments) in order to bring together informal learning from the home and the workplace, as well as more formal provision by education institutions.
The other is the newly funded JISC curriculum design project which adopts a ˜cooperative model to develop a that meets the needs of the learner and their organisation and supports work-based learning and inquiry-based learning.
It is clear all these programmes are designed with the intention of changing methods of traditional teaching and learning in the university and exploring different ways to increase the effectiveness of teaching programmes. In particular, they aim to enhance the learners learning experience. However, the learning environment, technology and even new curricula do not really bring changes on their own, so what is necessary for desired changes to take place?
Given the complexity of educational change, this will be a much longer and more complicated process and needs to consider organisational, cultural and pedagogical issues within an institution. For example, how do we define knowledge and learning? How do we assess outcomes of learning and in what way do we acquire accreditation? It also needs to take into account wider economic and social change. As Graham Attwell in his article suggested, œit is not educational technology per se that will shape the future of education but wider usage of technology in different spheres of society including in production and work processes and in changing processes of knowledge creation and development that will challenge traditional models of teaching and learning. Thus it is the way we use technology which will shape the social interaction of learning and may lead to profound changes in educational processes and institutions.
Technological innovations have not revolutionised educational institutions yet. However, the current trend towards social learning and personalised learning through networking, social software and tools in higher education has meant that the emphasis has shifted away from promoting effective teaching towards developing an improved understanding of how students learn. There is no doubt that the universities which will thrive are those which treat students more like consumers and adapt to the new just-in-time technology with student-centredness and on-demand approaches to the delivery of education..
I am really interested to know how the social learning zone will be used by students and lecturers at Bolton to develop new learning opportunities and skills and create new knowledge.