We had a meeting this morning in the department to discuss the CLEX report - Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World. It was an open invite to everyone to come along - about 30 people turned up with a good spread across the department - people from technical areas, business areas and customer services, and people who used Web 2.0 technologies and people who didn't. It was a lively discussion, and we still had a lot to say after and hour and a half when we had to stop. So, the discussion is continuing on our own Web 2.0 environment, uSpace - where else?
I will be writing up some conclusions, but here are some first thoughts of comments made.
There was a general acceptance of the conclusions of the report which was that Universities need to change, and that change will be driven by students and what they will demand. However, there was some opinion expressed that the report was an exaggeration of the change that web 2.0/social web will make in students. There was also a concern that we could be in the situation of using technology to cut costs - to deliver more with less - to the detriment of what a University education means.
Face to face and personal contact with staff was seen to be extremely important and that Web 2.0 technologies mustn't be used to replace this, but should be complementary to it.
Although the report concentrated on learning, there were many other areas where Web 2.0 will have an impact - in research, in administration and in student support.
In terms of the role of an IT Department in a Web 2.0 world there was general agreement that we need to become facilitators - of people using services which we might not be providing, on a multitude of devices. We also need to be educators - trusted to give advice on technologies and accepting that we will have to listen much more to our users.
We need to make sure our infrastructure is robust, resilient and scalable for these technologies to become usable and ubiquitous. For example our wireless network is already struggling to cope with current load.
We need to engage and use the technology if we are going to support and help students - but even if we use it, are we going to use it the way that the current generaton of teenagers will? And if not, what do we do - employ students?
What do we do about academic staff and their skills - we must not forget that they will need to be comfortable and confident with the technology. I found an interesting quote this afternoon (unfortunately after the meeting) :
“If a teacher today is not technologically literate and is unwilling to make the effort to learn more it's equivalent to a teacher 30 years ago who didn't know how to read and write.”
We talked about the importance of "New Media Literacy" and who will take on the role of promoting it in the academic community. "Information Literacy" is very clearly being handled by the Library community. Is New Media Literacy part of an IT Department's role? The answer from this morning was a very clear yes.
In terms of how we go forward, we asked whether we want to lead or follow. Our vision says we will be leaders in the sector, so that answers that one!
We also talked about avoiding being saddled with white elephants. Things we might continue to run because we've invested so much time and money in them, but they are not fit for purpose because they've already been overtaken by new technologies. This really struck a chord with me - if we decide we need a system for something we set a project group up, write a specification, go out to tender, evaluate the tenders, go on site visits, deliberate, and come up with a preferred solution (or decide to develop something ourselves). We them move into implementation phase, and by the time a system is live it could be 2 years later (or more in some cases). By then the market has changed dramatically, as have the user requirements. In contrast, we will implement a new mail service for students in about 10 weeks by outsourcing to a innovative company.
So lots of stuff to think about and a number actions. One immediate one is to set up a small group of those of us who are already using these technologies to report back to the rest of the department on their benefits and uses - for example to try and answer questions like "What is Twitter all about, I just don't get it?". This group will also be expected to explore new Web 2.0 technologies - to register as developers and become alpha and beta testers of products such as Google Wave.
We're also going to start finding out more about the current generation of 11 to 15 year olds as well as talking to existing students.