Report shows IT can change university teaching methods.
The growing impact of IT on learning could lead to changes in the structure of universities and the way their courses are delivered, according to a BCS-backed report in response to a government consultation document on the future of higher education.
The report, from the Joint Advisory Panel on IT in Education (Japonite), which consists of the BCS, the Real Time Club and the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists, said these structural changes could help overcome universities' resource problems and open up overseas markets, but that there are human obstacles to be overcome first.
The growth in student numbers means many universities are finding their lecture facilities are inadequate and failing to meet demand, Japonite said.
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To combat this, live lectures could be replaced with video recordings delivered via large, wall-mounted displays.
These displays could include more graphics and film, be repeated at different times to accommodate students' needs, and be delivered to smaller groups at various locations, improving audibility and cutting the need for students and lecturers to travel. Lectures could also be accessed on television via the web.
In science and engineering, computer models are already replacing physical tests, and over the next 10 years it is expected that developments in immersive virtual reality will replace many laboratory experiments.
Books are being supplemented and sometimes replaced by electronic records, which can include graphics and film and be updated easily as new ideas and research become available. Electronic material can also be interactive.
Students are already producing their essays almost exclusively on PCs, with some using desktop publishing packages, Japonite said. The availability of online information and electronic materials also means students do not have to visit university libraries so often.
The report pointed to an "increasing gap" between school leavers' educational standards and university entry requirements, especially in subjects where there is a shortage of good secondary teachers, notably maths. Many universities are starting to use electronic materials to bridge the gap.
The report found no evidence that advanced technologies would affect tutorials, although it did suggest the possibility of videoconferencing. However, there are challenges to this new future.
"University staff are mostly computer literate, but this does not mean they are necessarily clued up on incorporating electronic material into their teaching," Japonite said. "This raises the problem of teaching old dogs new tricks and also the question of who devises the new tricks.
"Some universities now employ a lecturer in teaching methods with a specific brief to research this area."
In addition, preparing and producing a one-hour video lecture can take 50 hours, compared with eight hours for a traditional lecture, the report said. Such lectures could be sold to or bought from other universities.
The report added that the potential of IT to enhance methods of learning means universities would have a competitive edge over institutions abroad for students and teaching materials.
Read the full report at www.japonite.org.uk.