Modelling the impact of university ICT strategies on learning

Aczel, James and Hardy, Pascale (2007). Modelling the impact of university ICT strategies on learning. In: Computer Assisted Learning (CAL '07), 26-28 Mar 2007, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland.


This research explores the potential of certain Future Studies techniques (Barbieri Masini, 1994) to provide insight into the question of how developing countries might best exploit Information and Communication Technology (ICT) for higher education.

First, three case studies were examined: the African Virtual University (AVU), the Arab Open University (AOU) and the Syrian Virtual University (SVU). From these accounts, key variables related to the research question were identified, the selection of variables validated by comparison with D–Antoni (2003). Globalisation is seen as a key change driver. Secondly, a model of 'ICT Strategy' was developed, elaborating the well-known concept of distance education 'generations', building on the work of Nipper (1989) and subsequent authors. A model of 'Student Learning' was also developed, drawing on Conole et al. (2004). These models were then coordinated to generate possible scenarios for how ICT strategy might influence student learning, making assumptions about 'typical' usage. There is no presumption of deriving ineluctable scenarios from unproblematic antecedent models; the aim rather was to explore the limitations of the best models currently available as generators of broad-brush scenarios, to try to understand the ways in which such models could be improved.

One interpretation is that if institutions, under pressure for globalisation, adopted 2nd generation technologies alone, the impact on Student Learning would be neglect of Social aspects. Meanwhile, although a mix of generations could in principle provide coverage of the whole Individual-Social dimension, if institutions adopted 3rd technologies alone, the impact on Student Learning would be neglect of Individual aspects. This provides support for the warning by Clegg et al (2003) that uncritical acceptance of pressures to adopt new ICT for education, under the rhetoric of 'student-centred learning', can in fact turn out to have negative consequences for students. Moreover, it should not be assumed that a move to using 5th and 6th generation technologies exclusively necessarily represents a progression. If the AVU chose this strategy without high bandwidth for online video conferencing, the analysis suggests that its students would miss out on Social aspects.

Nevertheless, it is also possible that a move straight to the fourth and subsequent generations could, in principle, provide coverage of the Individual-Social dimension, without the need for face-to-face tutorials or unreliable postal systems that feature in earlier generations.

Four scenarios are discerned, distinguished by the balance between presentation of information and direct experience on the one hand, and the level of student autonomy on the other. None of the case study universities is yet clearly positioned in a single scenario.

Examination of the strength of the analysis suggests that although some testable hypotheses have been generated in relation to diverse pedagogical scenarios, a richer selection of variables, more sophisticated models, and more detailed institutional data would be of value.


Barbieri Masini, E. (1994) Why Futures Studies, Grey Seal, London.

Conole, G., Dyke, M., Oliver, M. & Seale, J.(2004). 'Mapping pedagogy and tools for effective learning design', Computers and Education, 43, 17-33.

D–Antoni, S. (Ed.) (2003) The Virtual University: Models and Messages, Lessons from Case Studies, UNESCO International Institute for Educational Planning
Nipper, S. (1989) 'Third generation distance learning and computer conferencing' in Mason, R. and Kaye, A. (Eds.) Mindweave: Communication, Computers and Distance Education, Oxford: Pergamon.

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