The use of learning technology has been closely related to the general advances in computer technology. During the 1990’s in the UK personal computers became more affordable and the Intranet more accessible. By the end of the decade most communication by lecturers had moved to a digital format and students were increasingly expected to word press their assignments and most engaged with some form of virtual learning.
The drivers for the greater use of technology were two fold. First, there was a ‘bottom up’ movement from teachers, lecturers and practitioners using a broad range of communications, information and related technologies in their teaching. Like myself, these staff were willing to try out new types of technology for pedagogical reasons. They wanted to experiment with new ways of teaching and the intranet opened up new possibilities both inside and outside of the classroom. Alongside this desire to innovate with new teaching methods grew up the ‘Open education’ movement. ‘Openess’ is a broad umbrella term to describe educational resources that can be shared and distributed freely (with an appropriate acknowledgement). ‘Open Educational Resources’ (OER) are freely accessible, openly licensed documents and media that are useful for teaching, learning, and assessing as well as for research purposes OER’s and the concept of ‘openess’ have received a great deal of publicity recently with the discussions surrounding the advent of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)(Weller, 2014).
The second driver has been a more ‘top down’ institutional push towards elearning. Throughout the 1990’s and into the new century Universities and HE Colleges began to invest heavily in new technologies either centrally or at a departmental level. In this respect the investment with biggest impact has been the establishment of the Virtual learning Environment (VLE). A variety of them emerged over the 90’s at a departmental, faculty and institution wide basis. Some were built ‘in house’, others used open source software (such as Moodle) and others used proprietary systems hosted outside of the institution (such as Blackboard) so that, by 2003 86% of higher education institutions in the UK had a VLE (Browne and Jenkins, 2003). The trend has continued so that according to the Universities and Colleges Information and Systems annual survey of 2014 this figure had increased to 100% and that 88% of respondents either used Blackboard or Moodle as their main VLE (UCISA, 2014).
Outside of the VLE, although often integrated into it plagiarism detection and e-submission tools have now become mainstream in most Universities now. Most students submit their work online and lecturers are expected to retrieve and increasing grade and give feedback to their students in a digital format. Also, “E-portfolio, blog and e-assessment tools are also well established, along with personal response systems….Podcasting tools have declined in usage since the 2010 Survey and appear to have been replaced by lecture recording and media streaming solutions. Social networking, document sharing and blog tools are the most common non-centrally supported tools in use across the sector” (UCISA, 2014 p.2).
Browne, T. & Jenkins, M. 2003. VLE Surveys: A longitudinal perspective between March 2001 and March 2003 for Higher Education in the United Kingdom. UCISA Report. Retrieved September, 1, 2004.
UCISA. 2014. 2014 Survey of Technology Enhanced Learning for higher education in the UK [Online]. Available: http://www.ucisa.ac.uk/~/media/groups/dsdg/TEL%20Survey%202014_29Sep2014.ashx
Weller, M. 2014. The Battle for Open. How openess won and why it doesn’t feel like victory, London, Ubiquity Press.