Universities are being forced to learn how to cater to a generation of students that expects to be online all the time - and government and business had better watch out, because their turn is coming soon.
The students coming into universities now expect everything to be available online on the Web all the time - if it is not online it doesn't exist, says Professor Andrew Cheetham, Pro Vice-Chancellor, research and information management, at the University of Canberra.
"They work that way, they play that way, they are connected socially and professionally through technology, through the internet, e-mail, IM, chat rooms, SMS, mobile phones etc; they are always-on-line. Those. . . who have watched your children grow through this, will know that they develop singularly robust and supportive social networks, always in contact; so much more so than previously."
And as those new graduates filter into government employment, government too will have embrace collaboration through connectivity and communication, in order to find ways to connect this "always online" generation with the "often offline" generation that will manage them.
"The end output, the end outcome is collaboration but the means to that collaboration is connectivity and communication," Professor Cheetham will tell the Government Technology World conference in Canberra next month.
Cheetham recognizes Canberra University's' competitive advantage in the near term will depend on how it uses technology in teaching to tap into student's highly-connected social and work networks. He says it's clear simply providing lectures and tutorials will soon be inadequate, as will simply posting "stuff" up on the University's WebCT - a collection of Web-based course tools to facilitate teaching and learning on the Internet. The only advantage will be in universities' use of IT tools to connect meaningfully with students and colleagues.
That's because the "always on generation" is taking up collaborative much faster than the establishment, and will drive education in new directions that have yet to be determined. While lecturers worry that putting lecture notes on the Web provides no incentive for students to come to lecturers, a better response might be to rethink what is done in a lecture, which is after all just another communication channel with the special feature of face-to-face interactivity. If the student can get the same information and experience by reading the notes, a non-interactive communication channel, then indeed - why bother attending?
Canberra University is thus expending its energies on a Collaboration Suite that incorporates calendar sharing, document sharing, document management, work flow control and information management via a Web based portal accessible from any work station, and which can be personalized to requirements. He says such a tool will not only more easily allow an institution to comply with corporate law, but also, and more importantly, will open new possibilities in collaboration both on and off campus as well as enabling far more efficient access to enterprise information and processes.
"Collaboration in government is just as important as it is in universities and so is communications. "I think (government departments) have got a make sure that the connectivity is there and that the policy is there that will allow significant online working and online collaboration."
Yet so far, the Professor says, there is little sign of any government truly coming to grips to this new imperative. Certainly they are providing e-mail, and the executives have their Blackberries, but government departments are finding it extremely hard to come to grips with issues such as protecting certain information while allowing the use of blogs. If they want to attract new recruits, they can't afford to leave things that way for long, he warns.
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