How Will Students Live and Learn in the Future? #HEFutures

Last week, I attended the launch of “Living and Learning in 2034” [PDF] about the future of higher education. I was part of the project team, so I didn’t want to miss the event!

The report looks at how the student experience could change in coming years and considers the future wants and needs of students under a number of scenarios.

Visions of the future. Not quite like this... (photo by seemann)

Visions of the future. Not quite like this… (photo by seemann)

There was loads of great discussion on the night, including a great question and answer session that you can see highlights from below.

Student Living

Mark Allan, Chief Executive of UNITE Group, kicked off the evening by explaining why student living is at the heart of HE. Why not simply the student, as the government’s 2011 White Paper suggested? Because the experience is broad and all-embracing. Allan said that it’s important to try to understand and interpret future student interests, especially since students are not all the same.

While there is a current trend of seeing university as a necessity for employability and future success, that doesn’t mean everyone looks to higher education in this way. It also doesn’t mean the future will play out this way. However, this document does recognise current trends coming into play and uses them as a base (ten key trends are described in the report).

Study Patterns and Ethos

Paul Harris, Group Strategy and Commercial Director at UNITE, then talked about the prospect of new stakeholders making a huge impact on the higher education sector in coming years. It is not clear where that will take matters, he explained, because there are already fundamental uncertainties that will make an impact on HE futures.

He also questioned whether shorter and more intensive study patterns were on the horizon. Three year degrees may be the norm now, but shifting needs may speed development of 18-month and two-year courses.

Harris concluded with a strong point on ethos. While general attitudes within society are not always the most obvious consideration, they are a key issue that can make a huge impact, both nationally and globally.

We respond to each other and are aware of opinions that are forming. As such, a local economy could be booming or busting, but the final say on how that is perceived could be down to how the public react and respond to the circumstances. Even a bleak economic outlook can be played positively, so it would be wrong to ignore the ethos in society.

Ruled by Technology

One highlight from the event was one student’s dystopian vision of what could occur if technology pushed our minds (and our time) further away from our control. Does technology drive people or do people drive technology?

An abridged version of the student story can be found in the report. I told Cameron, the author, that I found his portrayal vivid and amusing. However, I continued, I’d stop laughing if his story became a reality.

Continue the Discussion

The end of the evening saw some brilliant questions from the floor. It helped the idea that the document is very much a living discussion. Among the questions and subsequent answers on the night were:

Might students in the future want to study in more than one place in the world?
Climate change may force people to stay closer to home in the future, forcing the hand on this one. But if travel continues to happen as it is, some students may prefer to get a range of experiences nationally and even around the globe. What we see as modular today may expand to single modules in several different institutions, but all part of a particular qualification.

Which scenario is currently most likely to play out?
We have no reliable crystal ball. Even as the report was being researched, opinions on the most likely scenario seemed to be changing. In addition, there’s nothing to say that different parts of the country could see different scenarios based on local circumstances.

These scenarios each impact attitudes to education and lifelong learning. Will universities plot out possibilities based on each scenario?
The hope is that the conversation will continue and expand. We must be prepared for many outcomes and it would not be sensible to assume a single course, no matter how obvious it appears to someone. Ignoring possible risks is a risk in itself.

Students discussing accommodation on TheStudentRoom focus very much on value for money and location. How will this change in the future, if at all?
If environment can bring more success, value will be drawn out and noticed. Success means different things and that can be drawn out from a person’s environment. That hasn’t been cracked yet in this country and there are many opportunities.
With £9k fees, students are now looking much more closely at what type of experience they want. Is it employer based, international, lifelong and learning focused, or something deliberately unique to a person? Universities in the United States are focusing on the student experience a great deal at the moment and some pointers could be taken from there. However, with spiralling costs, it is important to also be careful.

Your Thoughts?

A blog has been set up for the report, which will feature more ideas and content, over at hefutures.wordpress.com. There is already a graphic showcasing four of the possible students of the future.

What is your vision of the future? Leave a comment here or tweet your thoughts with the hashtag #HEFutures.

The Best Places for News Overviews and In-Depth Writing

News and current events can get in the way of your learning, your spare time, and even the bigger issues. But that doesn’t mean you want to keep away from an entertaining read on what’s going on around the world.

(photo by Entrer dans le rêve) (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

(photo by Entrer dans le rêve) (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Whether you want to sink your teeth into some beefy journalism, or you simply wish to catch up as quickly as possible on what’s hot in the press, here are the sites and services I use for in-depth articles and brief overviews:

In Depth

Longreadshttp://longreads.com/ – Extensive articles on all manner of topics. A daily feed of writing that goes into several thousand words a time.

Arts & Letters Dailyhttp://www.aldaily.com/ – Three articles a day with searching articles and interesting ideas. Under the headings “Articles of Note”, “New Books” and “Essays and Opinion”.

Longformhttp://longform.org/ – More choices of lengthy articles. There are lots of ‘best of’ lists from 2013 picked for you to enjoy.

The Browserhttp://thebrowser.com/ – The website that brings you “writing worth reading”. Enjoy the main feed, or drill down on the Literary and Tech sections.

Overviews

Top 5 Newshttp://top5news.co.uk/ – Dedicated to showing you the most read articles on various UK news sites. An easy way to see what’s top of the tree all in one go.

AllTophttp://alltop.com/ – With a broad range of subjects on offer, AllTop allows you to find out what news agencies and blogs are writing about on a single page. Simple to use.

Popurlshttp://popurls.com/ – News sites, videos, bloggers, specialist subjects…Popurls covers all sorts of feeds on most things you can think of. Equally good for catching up and finding inspiration.

Feedlyhttp://www.feedly.com/ – A slight cheat, this one. You’ll still have to find the RSS feeds that suit you. But once you subscribe to the relevant feeds in your areas of interest, the articles come to you. No more time wasted seeking stuff out.

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As a bonus, get reading quickly by pushing your articles through Spreeder or Readfa.st and watch your reading speed grow as you go. In no time you’ll be reading lengthy journalism in the time it used to take just to catch up on the headlines!

Where do you go for in-depth stories? How do you catch up on recent news? Let us know in the comments.

Will You Benefit From a Quantified Self?

I’m not a number. I’m a lot of numbers…

I’m glad Steve Wheeler had a look at what it means (and could mean in the future) to live a more quantified life as I was also considering future issues after the release of the Horizon Report on Higher Education [Full report / Preview summary].

Number Garden (photo by Grafixar)

Life-logging to me is about accessing an ever-increasing amount of data relating to your day to day behaviour.

How far did you run, what was your heart rate, how many words did you write, how many times did you smile, what food did you eat and how quickly did you eat it, how long were you browsing websites for entertainment, how many hours of TV did you watch (including Internet video), when did you get exposure to sunshine, what music did you listen to, who did you spend time with…?

The point is, so much of what you do can be measured. The data can be used for educational purposes, making lifestyle decisions, finding efficiencies in what you do, staying fit, reaching goals, learning languages, and pretty much anything you like.

Overwhelm

It’s another opportunity for information overload. The data comes in useful until it becomes an overwhelming issue that needs so much time to organise and understand that you just don’t have the time to make use of it in an effective way.

A big issue could revolve around a single data set, but when you’re faced with many of these in your life, their individual simplicities becomes a mess of difficulties that you’re forever trying to juggle.

Yes, even when everything is apparently done for you. Why? Because we start to rely on the data. And the data gets used to push you in other directions when you least expect it. Perhaps.

How important is it to track absolutely everything you do? When you try to action something or develop a new habit, access to this information will be potentially wonderful. However, would you be able to take things one step at a time? As with any learning, the more focused you can be, the more dedication you can give to the matter at hand. When you’ve got loads of things on the go at once, it’s all jostling for position and giving you a headache.

Baby steps

The more data being amassed about your experiences and behaviours, the more you can take small, manageable steps towards goals, but the less likely you can isolate things while ignoring the rest of what you do.

There are many occasions when ignoring the rest would be preferable, and yet even this rarely attainable desire has its downside. For instance, all the things you do are related to everything else when you least expect it. So ignoring the bigger picture may be just as damaging or confusing in a number of cases.

You can’t win. Quantifying yourself is brilliant and will result in all sorts of developments and discoveries. At the same time, it will cause just as many difficulties and disasters.

Your future

As with so many things, you have to find out what works best for you and make many stumbles along the way. There is no simple answer. What looks crazy to the rest of the world may be perfect for you. And when you’ve completed everything despite everyone else’s protestations, it turns out your choice is no longer crazy and appears to be in fashion.

That’s just one way things can turn out. There are plenty other scenarios. Take your pick.

The quantified self is set to be awesome and awful. It’s bound to be both. And everything in between, of course. We can’t work on extremes alone!

In conclusion, a quantified self is probably not a bad prediction in the Horizon Report. This year’s predictions are all relatively sound in my view. But–as with the rise of MOOCs–how it benefits and impacts the world and individuals is never clear cut. Stuff happens and we deal with it.

So you’d better be prepared for what’s to come. Not because you know what’s going to happen, but because you can make best use of the technologies and developments for your own personal gain. And if you can help others along the way, that’d be fantastic.

All the things

I haven’t mentioned medical health, privacy and a whole host of other issues surrounding intimate data and life-logging. Seriously, read Steve Wheeler’s blog post and the links he provides for a start on that.

And read the Horizon Report too, so you can have an idea of the other things you may see in the coming months and years.

That way, you can look into your future not as a given, but as a guide.

How Do You Value a Degree?

What does your degree mean to you?

Your answer will depend on where you are in life right now. A first year, a final year, a recent graduate, halfway to retirement? How you view your degree changes over time.

Another influencing factor is why you chose to study in the first place. Was it to further a chosen career, in hope that you could earn more with a degree, or was it simply a subject you had a deep interest in?

It’s no surprise that many students have at least a passing interest in better career prospects from a degree. This angle comes under question all the time.

Frank Field MP has obtained data from the Office for National Statistics, finding that more than a quarter of graduates were paid less than the hourly gross wage of £11.10 paid to non-graduates with an apprenticeship.

From one perspective, it suggests that a degree isn’t the only route to the best pay. You may even think it represents bad value.

But that’s not the full picture. Money is not the only goal people strive toward. If money was all you cared about, university may have felt a waste of time in the first place. Several years without moving explicitly toward cash? It’s a long game that you may have run out of patience over.

(photo by ashley rose) (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

(photo by ashley rose) (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The huge focus on tuition fees leads to much discussion on value for money and subsequent returns on investment. It’s understandable.

For some, a degree is a necessary hoop to jump through before moving on to something else. However:

“The value of paper degrees lies in a common agreement to accept them as a proxy for competence and status, and that agreement is less rock solid that the higher education establishment would like to believe.” – Harvard Business Review, The Degree Is Doomed

That is the view of Michael Staton, a partner at education-focused venture capital firm, Learn Capital. Staton argues that employers will find “more efficient and holistic ways for applicants to demonstrate aptitude and skill”, which will subsequently lead to devaluation of the degree.

I don’t think this will happen across the board, but I expect some firms to find new methods of selection. Many graduate programmes already invest in their own selection processes, so their reliance on a good degree is potentially more a filter than anything else. If selection processes can be made more cheaply and without the need to filter by degree results, it will no doubt be considered as a viable option.

The world changes and things move on, but the degree is not dead. It’s not doomed any time soon. Higher education will need to change with the times, but I can’t see a game-changing revolution putting a sudden stop to HE as we know it.

So despite claims over earnings and employers, I still champion university life. I have long said that your experience shouldn’t be solely about gaining that piece of paper.

A basic attitude misses too much. It’s crucial to focus on the bigger picture to make an impact. The degree is no longer standalone; it’s one part of what shapes you. The resources and connections available at university can help you achieve so much, even when it has nothing to do with the academic side of uni life.

I’m happy people have alternative choices to university, barring some specialist and technical careers. The degree is not doomed just because aspirations can be realised in other ways.

What does your degree mean to you? When I asked at the start of this post, I said that your answer can change. Perhaps it’s changed between then and now. In a matter of moments your view can move as a result of reading a blog post, or having a conversation, or being selected for something unexpected.

University provides many moments that can open your eyes. That’s why I’m not about to throw my hands up in defeat.

And, as Tom Hay says here:

Weigh up the pros and cons and make the most of your decisions, from major choices like whether or not to go to university, to small choices like which social event to go to. You’ll have ups and downs, but we all do. Don’t dwell on how things could have been in an alternative universe.

Look forward, not behind. Seek value now.