The implications of IT for the 16-19 age group in the United Kingdom: In the past three years in the United Kingdom, institutions offering education and training to the 16-19 age group have undergone a triple transformation, with important implications for how information technology can support the buildings and facilities used by students.
Status of colleges: The further education sector (around 500 colleges) has become increasingly responsible for its own management, starting with its taking over financial management for recurrent expenditure, and culminating with individual colleges' being instituted as independent corporations, no longer under the control of local education authorities. Powerful college based management systems are now required, to deal with personnel, finance, property and other tasks.
More students: The UK Government has set a target of a 25% growth in student enrolments over three years: as capital resources are limited, the use of existing staff and accommodation has to be made as efficient as possible, an improvement which can be encouraged by the use of computer based scheduling systems.
New teaching methods: New qualifications, known as National Vocational Qualifications, require students to acquire competences in a given subject. Practical competences are taught in real work environments as far as possible but since these are expensive in accommodation and staff time, there is an increasing need for open access, student centred resource areas, well stocked with computer based learning materials.
These colleges, over the past three years, have been subject to an escalating process of decentralisation starting with their becoming responsible for their own recurrent budgets (Local Management of Colleges), and ending up in April of last year with their becoming independent corporations, set free from their local education authorities.
In addition the Government has become aware of the need to strengthen the competitiveness of the British workforce, both in Europe and in the world, and is encouraging a dual shift in the provision of education and training for this age group: first, colleges are being asked to enrol 25 per cent more students over the first three years of their independent existence (around an 8 per cent increase each year) (see Figure 1) and, second, the existing plethora of qualifications and courses is being streamlined, over time, to fit into a new, national framework, designed both to make the path through further education simpler, and to enhance the status of further education itself.
A recent publication, Getting your college ready (Touche Ross, 1992), suggests three main areas of activity where colleges need to provide services which were formerly often provided by the local authority; these are financial management, personnel management and premises management. Staff now have to be available within the college to provide these services, and other services may be provided either within each college or from an outside agency. The choice depends on a college's particular circumstances (eg size, geographic location and so on). See Figure 2.
Most of these activities require computerised systems, especially if data are having to be provided in a standard format for national statistical information gathering. There are several initiatives in this area of educational administration in the UK. There is a pilot study under way, for instance, whereby colleges are providing information on teaching staff directly to the Department for Education's pensions section in the North of England (EDI, or Electronic Data Interchange). As administrators become more confident in using these systems, they are more anxious to keep complete control of their operation, and as long as in house technical support can be relied on, more and more colleges are withdrawing from using bureaux.
In addition, many of the staff who are involved in preparing publicity and information material in the new era of competition and marketing are also turning more to the use of in house desk top publishing and presentation systems, and these staff are increasingly straddling the traditional boundaries between support and teaching and administrative sectors. Even students, under strict supervision, can be involved in such college support activities, as part of their exposure to real working practices (see Section 4).
Briefly, the system operates as follows. There are two basic sets of input data, the first describing the nature and availability of staff, students and rooms, and the second describing the activities which have to be scheduled and accommodated.
For the first set the following information is provided for each student group (where a student group is the smallest group of students timetabled together regularly, and which at the limit might consist of only one student), for each staff member and for each space used for teaching:
To summarise, the objectives of the computerised space allocation and timetabling program are:
For Engineering, "a 50 per cent reduction in staff delivery time over the "traditional" lecture based delivery for the same learning outcomes and comparable examination results; 20 per cent reduction in student formal contact time with a shift in emphasis from a predominantly "low quality" one to many lecture environment to a predominantly one to few (with technology) "high quality" tutorial environment; a flexible, self paced, self guided delivery with computer material available 24 hours a day; a rich, interactive learning environment in which the student is centrally involved in the learning process" (Cartwright, 1994).
For Politics, students can use computer based cases: "For example, if only two cases, each lasting for a seminar (or one case lasting two seminars) are incorporated in the structure of a typical ten week seminar course, there will be a 20 per cent staff time saving per seminar" (Leftwich, 1994).
For Surgery, "The resultant economy in individual teacher's time, the elimination of wasteful repetition of the same or almost identical teaching to small groups of students, and the ability to maximise gains from the patients who so devotedly permit their cases to be used for teaching should result in worthwhile educational gains.... Greater efficiency in clinical teaching might enable the course to be shortened, and this would have significant advantages in terms of the public purse" (Jameson, 1994).
For Accountancy, new software will "replace workshop/tutorials rather than lectures - because it is tutorials that soak up staff time and thus give the biggest potential for savings" (Wilkinson-Riddle, 1994).
An NVQ is defined as a "statement of competence", which describes the performance required to do a particular job to the required standard. These statements are defined by employers themselves. The detailed specification for an NVQ does not define the training program or topics of study necessary to demonstrate competence. In the case of NVQs offered in FE colleges, it is for the college to design a suitable course, taking account of the existing levels of knowledge, skill and understanding of the individual students.
Two key features of NVQ provision are, therefore:
See Accommodation for changes in Further Education (Gibberd et al., 1994).
At Oldham the buildings incorporate some 700 outlets, and accommodate some 200 computers, both Macs and PCs. Every single student and staff member can access the whole network, with certain administrative and all personal files remaining securely locked. Each teaching staff member has a "drop folder" and a "read folder", so that students can deliver their completed work electronically and can find out, from anywhere in the college, what new assignments have been set and whether there are any messages for them.
Another corollary of the new framework of qualifications in the FE sector is that potential students will be encouraged to access courses at any time, in a roll on, roll off mode. This is leading to an increase in the modularisation of courses, and the feeling is that it is going to be difficult in the future to provide courses in both a modularised, and a traditional form; the modularised method will prevail. This will be another push in the impetus to provide open, flexible, permanently available teaching and learning support, which, to be economically viable, will have to be provided electronically. There is considerable evidence that students welcome this approach, where, with adequate and suitable training and monitoring, they can work at their own pace. "Domination of the timetable by the one hour lecture slot may fade away" (Doughty, 1994).
Simplicity and reliability are appropriate to an organisation where the users are going to lack confidence initially, and where usage is going to be sustained and heavy. It may be that the large computer companies will not be the best ones to provide these appropriate and customised attributes. Certainly in the case of Oldham, it took some time to find a company which was willing to provide what the college wanted to receive, and not what the company wanted to provide.
There is a knock on effect when students realise that state of the art technology has been provided for them. In this sector, where expectations need to be raised, the provision of such technology, preferably in a new building such as at Oldham, raises the status of the establishment and instils a feeling of confidence and self confidence. At Oldham for instance, although the college has been open for two years, there have been no instances of vandalism, and there is open sharing of experiences, both professional and social, between staff and students, in the open, shared, learning and social areas.
At the same time, the administrative and support staff are part of this interactive network, to the extent that they share in offering advice and real work experience to appropriate students.
Cartwright, T. (1994). Pause for a sharp intake of breadth. Times Higher Education Supplement, No. 1123, xii.
Doughty, G. (1994). Heading for independence at full tilt. Times Higher Education Supplement, No. 1123, ix.
Gibberd, J., Jones, A., Kenny, G. & Lenssen, P. (1994). Design Note 50, Accommodation for Changes in Further Education. London: Architects and Building Branch, Department for Education.
Jameson, G. (1994). Cutting edge of the net. Times Higher Education Supplement, No. 1123, xiii.
Leftwich, A. (1994). Developing a strong constitution. Times Higher Education Supplement, No. 1123, xii.
THES (1994). Synthesis, Multimedia for teaching and learning, Times Higher Education Supplement, No. 1123, i-xvi.
Touche Ross (1992). Getting your college ready: A handbook of guidance. published by permission of the Controller of Her Majesty's Stationery Office, London: HMSO.
Wilkinson-Riddle, G. (1994). Emulation as a form of flattery. Times Higher Education Supplement, No. 1123, xv.
|Please cite as: Kenny, G. (1994). The implications of information technology for the 16-19 age group in the United Kingdom. In J. Steele and J. G. Hedberg (eds), Learning Environment Technology: Selected papers from LETA 94, 135-140. Canberra: AJET Publications. http://www.aset.org.au/confs/edtech94/ak/kenny.html|