Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Chris' Jones post on the 'Digital University'

[This is the text of the comment that Chris added to the 'Slot Reserved' created for him below, since he wasn't able to post it himself]

I recently wrote a draft paper for a visit I'm making in February to the OU Japan. Part of the paper examined the term digital university and I thought I'd share it here. I think it is a thin term that isn't commonly used, but it might have its uses as I mention below.

The term Digital University suggests a binary distinction between new information and communication technologies based on computing and analogue technologies up to and including television and telecommunications. The analogue world covers many epochs and a variety of technologies but the use of the term digital marks the shift from the electronic world of TV and early international telecommunications based on analogue systems to the world that emerges from the pervasive application of digital technologies and computing. In this regard it is perhaps worth remembering that the idea of the global village and the information society largely preceded the spread of personal computing and widespread digital networks.

Whilst mainframe computing was beginning to have an influence by the 1960s most of the ubiquitous technology prior to the late 1970s was analogue in form. There are few academic references for the idea of the Digital University. The most prominent is the edited book of that name published as part of the Computer Supported Cooperative Work series in 1998 (Hazemi, Hailes and Wilbur). The book is very much a creation of its time and focuses on the use of the World Wide Web (WWW) and collaborative methods in all the areas of work involved in a contemporary university. These areas are identified as research, teaching, support and management. The book contains little theoretical development concerning the term digital university, indeed the term itself, although the main title of the book, only appears three times in the book’s index.

Digital University is therefore a term that needs some further development, and the elaboration of an adequate working definition, for it to be useful for our purposes. The digital university is undoubtedly a recent phenomenon, related to the widespread deployment of computing and digital communications technologies and their integration into day to day university procedures.

Early terms used to discuss the changes taking place often focused on the computing aspect of the new technologies, making use of terms that are still current such as Computer Assisted Learning, Computer Supported Collaborative learning etc. These were supplemented by new terms when the balance of technologies shifted towards the new communication technologies associated with the Internet. The idea of Asynchronous Learning Networks, Networked Learning and the ubiquitous term Information and Communication Technologies belong to this period. In turn they were followed by the deployment of the WWW and the widespread use of e-learning to cover all aspects of the introduction of digital and networked technologies.

More recently the focus has moved to Web 2.0 (Sclater 2008) and the use of new networked communication technologies such as Social Networking Sites (SNS), blogs and wikis. Without labouring the point the argument being made here is that the idea of the Digital University encompasses some significant developments in terms of the available technologies and the ways in which we have thought about the technologies themselves and the kinds of educational affordances that they enable.

Part 2 to follow ...

1 comment:

  1. Good idea to take the term 'digital university' at its face value - I've always thought of it as mainly metaphorical, like 'digital age'. But one of the things that has come out of discussions in these seminars is the need to pin down some of these labels and their associated concepts. 'Digital university' is overdue for a grilling!