Last week Sally and I visited Birmingham’s ICC for the first day of Talis Insight 2015, a two day event bringing together a combination of learning technologists and library staff in higher education to explore how learning and teaching is being transformed by technology. The first day featured Sussex’s own Kitty Inglis and Suzanne Tatham as well as much talk of digital identities, ebooks and learning analytics. However, what stood out for me was the idea that the digital is transforming the geography of learning.
Loss of landscape
Kicking off the event was David White (@daveowhite), Head of Learning Technology at the University of Arts, London. He spoke of the loss of landscape – how the digital has dissolved the sense that geography defines where we can learn. This idea is highlighted particularly, and most simply, by the ever increasing availability of WiFi. In the past we were physically required to be situated in a certain place in order to access content and resources, however now that these resources are so easily available geography has become less significant. David highlighted that as we move forward, in order to develop we must be careful not to replicate the geography that assumes that certain learning takes place in certain locations. The blurring of these lines, driven by the increase in digital content and how readily available this content is due to digitisation and WiFi, suggests that there is a need to recognise the impact that technology is having upon the ways in which we learn and to react accordingly.
Libraries in a digital age
Kitty Inglis (@KittyI), Librarian at the University of Sussex, further highlighted this geographical shift by her mention of the move from the card catalogue to the digital search engine.The fact that we do not have to physically search for and through resources completely alters the way in which we collect information, not least because our search does not have to be in the physical space of the library. However, Kitty stressed that the footfall in Sussex’s library continues to increase, making it essential to continue to provide spaces that reflect the needs of the students. This again suggests that we must design spaces that reflect how people now learn allowing students to adjust their learning to their preferences.
Social media shift
Complementing this shift in the geography of learning was the discussion of social media apps for learning and teaching from Eric Stoller (@EricStoller), Higher Education Consultant. Eric mentioned Periscope and Yik Yak, both of which may prove to be powerful tools for learning and teaching. Periscope is the new live-streaming app from Twitter which allows users to broadcast and watch live video from around the world. He suggested that this tool shifts the control of teaching into the hands of everyone creating many possibilities. On the other hand is Yik Yak, the social network characterised by anonymity. This app provides users with comments from other Yik Yak contributors within a 10 mile radius and has become extremely popular in U.S. colleges. We were told that the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications has teamed up with Yik Yak to create a customised feed named ‘Swap Juice’, a space for journalism students to post news items in an alternative way. Both these apps present a possible geographical or temporal shift in the way in which we access learning and contribute to the dialogue around learning and teaching.
It was great to see the positive ways in which technology is shifting perceptions around the geography of learning and is allowing individuals to alter how and where they learn. Going forward it will be interesting to see how apps such as Yik Yak and particularly Periscope emerge to provide alternative ways in which to access information and learning.