Where did they get that idea from?

Last month we published a report which investigated incoming students’ expectations of the digital environment and how these were formed or influenced by school. The report can be found here. At the time I blogged about the study and report on the main Jisc website and then later on my own site under the title “Disconnected Learning”.

Below are a few highlights from both posts:

Jisc post

When students enter HE they already have reasonably clear expectations of what technologies they are entitled to, which is usually focused around access to the web, provision of software and hardware, and availability of digital content. These expectations will largely be a mirror of their experiences in school – which tend to be limited in learning and teaching terms – but with a sense that technical and content provision will be ‘better’, because HE is seen as bigger, more grown-up or ‘professional’.

Schools of old were designed to deliver a tightly organised curriculum using an abundance of face-to-face time with students. For better or worse, this approach in a highly didactic form still remains today. The incorporation of technology is subservient to that, usually applied with hopes of efficiency gains rather than aspirations for improving learning and teaching.



My post on

I’ve spent the last few years discovering how students go about learning now that the Web exists. Given that I was fascinated/bemused by the apparent disconnection between the classroom and how homework gets done. It’s truly strange that homework is set by schools with the assumption that the Web will be used complete it but without admitting this fact institutionally. This is to the extent that many students don’t even receive textbooks for key subjects.

So on the one hand the Web is talked about as a place where you have to be wary of the quality of information and on the other it’s absolutely integral to successfully undertaking your studies. This feels to me like the start of The Learning Black Market for students and in theory puts them in a dissonant situation as they attempt to bridge the divide between the classroom and the way they complete homework. I say in theory because the quality of information to be found online will be very high and because they won’t be required to cite sources for much of their school career. So in essence the system works but not by design – it’s disconnected and I don’t see much evidence of it being brought together.

Historically the connecting lines that evolve ‘information’ to ‘knowledge’ (I’d use the term learning myself) were partly formed by the process of information seeking -the effort required to piece together understanding by locating and trawling through books. The connections that build an ontology of information were a side effect of this relatively inefficient process. Or, in a lesser way, they were implicit in the structure and layout of your textbook. Now that information seeking is all but dead these lines are less likely to be formed, especially when doing homework. Wisdom isn’t my specialty but I’d argue that deep understanding comes from making connections and not simply discovering scattered answers.

This is the central disrupting effect of the Web on formal education, a disruption of pedagogy and epistemology. Our response should be to bridge the disconnect between the classroom and homework by designing curricula that explicitly accepts the Web is already central to how education operates and is a legitimate source of information.


The overarching finding was that schools tend to use the technology they own within existing pedagogical bounds. For example, the frequent use of, non interactive, PowerPoint by teachers which mirrors the blackboard in many ways. So incoming students have very low pedagogical expectations of technology but do expect high quality digital access and resources:

HE institutions need to make it clear that access to the latest technology and a cornucopia of digital resources are not the only ingredients in becoming a successful learner. Alongside ongoing improvements to infrastructure led by IT induction programmes, course teams need to challenge incoming students assumptions about the nature of learning and the role digital technology can play in their studies.



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