Students go native as they log on, download and tune in

11th June 2010 at 01:00
Adam Smith College joins the elite ranks of Oxford, Yale and MIT as it signs up to iTunes U

You may not be one, but chances are your students fall into the category of "digital natives".

As defined by Kevin Clark, director of CREATE (Creating Equal Access to Education) at Adam Smith College, Fife, "digital natives are the generation born with a mobile phone in one hand and an electronic mouse in the other. And the challenge for education today is to harness their technological skills and inquisitiveness and make a virtue out of this".

This is the principle which lies behind the college joining iTunes U earlier this year. A dedicated area of the iTunes Store that offers free audio and video content from leading higher education institutions, the site allows users to search, download and play course content just as they do music and movies on their computer, or on-the-go on their iPod or iPhone.

As one of the first FE colleges in the UK to join iTunes U, Adam Smith is rubbing shoulders with some of the world's leading universities such as Oxford, Yale, Stanford and MIT. It has even had some of its content featured on the main page, normally reserved for internationally prestigious institutions.

Video clips from last year's Adam Smith Lecture, delivered by former UN General Secretary Kofi Annan, is a case in point. "We had thousands of downloads in one week after the Kofi Annan clips, of all sorts of educational material. This put us on the map in a big way," says Mr Clark.

But good PR is not the main objective.

"It's about access and inclusion. We are uploading learning and teaching video material with high-production values. Lecturers in any course can video and edit their lectures, which can be accessed by students anywhere, anytime. On the college website we have user-generated content where students can share their ideas and experiences," he says.

Anyone can access the external site hosted on iTunes, while registered students can log onto the internal site to access course materials - pdfs, word documents, video and audio materials and blogging areas, including an "environment" for each class with a collaborative area.

"This blended approach overcomes the traditional limitations of educational institutions. It's wider ranging than a VLE (virtual learning environment), because it allows free access. Students can access internal course materials but can also visit other relevant college and university sites.

"Podcasts and videos supporting the college's courses, from engineering and science to hair and beauty, are available to students to download free through iTunes U, giving them an enhanced learning experience," says Mr Clark.

This "decentralises learning", he says, and will change the role of the lecturer, moving towards a more collaborative approach which involves the learner more.

Does this then diminish the role of the lecturer?

"No. It won't erode the role of the lecturer. It's just another tool in the box. Years back there were fears that VLEs would mean the lecturer's role would become redundant but that didn't happen. And it won't happen now. This is about adaptation. It's not an end-game in any sense."

The college's launch on iTunes also ties in with other eLearning developments at the college, notably its interactive TV station, the first UK college channel on YouTube's recently-launched education network EDU.

"We believe our approach is groundbreaking for the FE sector. As digital technology becomes cheaper, the more widespread this approach will become, and we are in the forefront because we have a dedicated unit in the college which can record, edit, upload and maintain the sites which are open to all teaching departments and to any projects which they want to create," says Mr Clark.

As "digital natives" live in an interactive world, a world of information on demand, it seems that education must meet this demand and plans are already afoot at Adam Smith to deliver educational content to every "red button" television in the land.

"We are negotiating this at the moment. It can be done if the big satellite broadcast providers come on board. We hope this will happen within the year," says Mr Clark.


Rheann MacLaren, student, HNC Radio course

"Most students know iTunes and how to use it. It's free and accessible and you don't need expensive software, which most students couldn't afford anyway. I've certainly used it from home to access course content, which is really useful.

"For example, there's a video showing you step by step how to use a specific audio recorder. The video is typical in that it's informal and fun. It's more like hints and tips from a friend than a set of instructions. So it's approachable.

"The site enhances communication between students who can upload materials about their experience of college or courses to share with others.

"It helps communication between home and college because it keeps you up to date with so many aspects of college life and work. It doesn't feel like work but you are learning all the time.

"And it also helps with communication between colleges because you can access stuff about similar courses at other colleges and it's always good to compare your experience with others and see what you are gaining.

"There's still room for improvement. I think the site could have every aspect of every course available. I think one day it will. It's still quite new and it can only get better."

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