Learning in an age of digital networks

Jones, Chris and Sclater, Niall (2010). Learning in an age of digital networks. International Preservation News, 55 pp. 6–10.

URL: http://www.ifla.org/files/pac/ipn/51-august-2010.p...


The final years of the twentieth century and early years of the twenty first century have been marked by the rapid rise of digital and networked technologies. Some have even called it a paradigm shift and suggested that it will lead to a dramatic change in the way young people learn (Tapscott and Williams, 2010). As with all commentary on new technologies we should beware of being carried away with the excitement of the new. There is a recurrent innovation cycle beginning with over excitement followed by disappointment and once the reaction has set in against the new it is followed by a move away to yet another new technology, often before a proper assessment and evaluation of the previous cycle can take place. Equally we must be careful not to ignore the profound changes that are taking place and how they may affect universities and learning in society more generally. A recent description by a UK based think tank Demos characterized the kind of university that is emerging from the engagement with new digital and networked technologies as the 'edgeless university' (Bradwell, 2009). The term edgeless is borrowed from work on the city that suggests edgeless cities have the function of cities without being organized in their classic form. In the same way the Demos pamphlet suggests that the university retains an identifiable function but the functions of the university are no longer confined to a single institution nor are they confined to higher education institutions more broadly. Over a decade ago Brown and Duguid (2000) identified the core functions of universities as the capacity to grant degrees, to accredit students and to provide the warrant that guaranteed the credentials obtained by the students from the university. They also suggested that the introduction of what were then new technologies would lead to an increased focus on these core functions. The core role remains in the edgeless university but the boundaries to these may alter. This article tries to provide a way of thinking about new technologies that manages to balance these two conflicting needs. It identifies some current ways of thinking about the changes taking place in universities that are related to digital and networked technologies and to assess their impact. It then goes on to suggest the kinds of choices we may have to make in relation to new technologies at a variety of levels, the personal, the institutional and in terms of society in general. The edgeless university is associated with broad technological change but whether such change is inevitable is still an issue that needs to be discussed.

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