University

Free EBook – Fresher Success

In the next few weeks, universities around the country will welcome a new intake of students.  Freshers’ Weeks will kick off and a whole new chapter in life will start for many thousands of people.  Maybe you’re one of them.

So what does a full-time student, living away from home (probably for the first time), expect from uni life?  Many of you won’t have a clue.  Why would you?

That’s why I spent last week putting together a free ebook for new students.

Fresher Success is my new guide to help students get to grips with university life before even setting foot on campus.  The book talks about some of my experiences as a Fresher and offers advice on preparation for the big day and settling down socially.  There are tips on lots of Fresher-related topics, including:

  • Packing;
  • Relationships;
  • Organisation;
  • Money;
  • Homesickness;
  • Getting to know others;
  • and more.

Fresher Success has 34 pages of goodness, split into three main sections:

  1. Tips for before you start university;
  2. Tips for when you start university;
  3. More than 90 tips from past Freshers who have been through it all before.

I’m giving this ebook away for free.  Feel free to pass it on to others who may find it useful.  And let me know what you think in the comments!

Fresher Success

Fresher Success [PDF file: 1.6Mb]

To save the ebook, right-click and choose to ‘save link as…’

I wish you all good luck for the future.  You’re gonna love it!

Online learning fund to benefit both online and off?

Universities are being asked today to work together to bid for money to develop new e-learning projects.  David Lammy (Minister for Higher Education) is hoping to help ensure UK universities are at the forefront of online distance learning.  Lammy announced a £20million learning innovation fund to allow better access to online learning.

Among other things, a new taskforce is hoping to, “work to increase the quantity of learning resources freely available for all institutions to use”.

photo by jaylopezFor you, as students, the more quality information available for free online, the better it should be.  That’s even if you live on campus and aren’t studying online as such.

You can already access a huge number of wonderful resources for free, but much of the content originates outside the UK.  For the UK to retain a world-class status, more effort is required to increase the amount of quality material placed online.  Better scope to promote lifelong learning and the constant updating of skills is also required.

Now more than ever, we want to find material that speaks to us. It’s not good enough to find a particular resource dry and difficult to study from, yet have no option but to carry on regardless.  More content available in different formats means we have more chance to effectively digest information in whichever way suits us.  And generally at our own pace too.

Lammy said, “Education must be increasingly personalised to meet the needs of the student as the student requires it and wherever the student requires it.”

David Lammy

David Lammy

At the same time, a new report, supported by JISC, has been released.  Called “The Edgeless University“, the report calls for universities to embrace technology and make the most of the tools available online in order to be at the forefront of Web2.0, social networking and communication.

Online study activity is becoming more important for students, as is easy access to material and content online that is openly available to all.  I know not all students are happy to interact online in the same way they check Facebook and chat with mates, but the game is changing fast.

The ‘Edgeless University’ report mentions Dr Michael Wesch, who has worked wonders at the University of Kansas with his Digital Ethnography programme.  Wesch says, “What I need to do is inspire [students] and give them the tools to harness that information and harness the skills of other people to do the things they want to get done. And that transforms the way you approach the classroom.” (Page 37)

And there really is a transformation.  Not all academic material need come from the confines of a university, especially as online collaboration becomes more common.  However, since the greatest amount of research can take place in HE institutions, it’s sensible to see the uni as the best place to make as much world-class information accessible as possible.  This is where the new learning innovation fund hopes to come into play.

Interactivity is a big deal too, which the ‘Edgeless University’ report supports.  When students see a tutor who is open and available online to talk to students, the demand to engage with that tutor face-to-face actually grows. So students demand more exposure face-to-face as opposed to less.

And face-to-face learning is so important, especially for those who have just left school.  While distance learning should be embraced as a good thing, I still see the student experience of 18 (ish) year olds spending three or so years on campus as a worthwhile and fulfilling encounter that should not be ignored.  Living on (or around) campus is important for the social element, the extra-curricular element, the lifestyle element, and so on.  Do everything online and you could miss out a great chunk of what’s possible.

Nevertheless, the ‘Edgeless University’ report states:

“We are having to reassess the stereotypes associated with ‘being a student’ as something that teenagers do after school and before they start work. It’s a three-year experience – you arrive with a suitcase and leave with a degree. In fact this model of higher education – residential, fulltime and pre-employment – now only reflects the experience of a minority. Two out of five higher education students are currently studying part-time; 59 per cent are mature and almost 15 per cent come from overseas; and there is every indication that the student population will continue to grow and change.” (Page 18)

It’s clear that things are changing, but I hope the ‘stereotype’ remains a big deal, even if student numbers overtake in other modes of study.

Whatever the future holds, the materials that should arise out of the new learning innovation fund would hopefully be of use to each and every student, regardless of their circumstances and the materials they already have access to.

Do you want Web 2.0 help for your educational development?

Brian Kelly, of the great blog UK Web Focus, has recently been reflecting on the different approaches that universities have in using Web 2.0 tools (I’ve commented on the matter there too).

Institutions obviously want to know how they can reach out to students effectively and maintain quality contact.  They want to make sure that the right information and help is there for each and every student.  They would like to succeed in making their lives a little clearer and a little easier.  In the process, they hope that your lives will also become a little easier.

In recent years, it’s obvious that the end-user (i.e. YOU) calls a lot of the shots.  If you’re not publishing blog posts, you’re updating your Facebook profile.  If you’re not Tweeting, you’re sharing photos for the world to view (and possibly even reuse).

No longer is the Internet just a bunch of static views and specific functions.  Now you can create mashups, specialise on YOUR terms, and personalise to your unique and individual brand.

For us as ‘Generation Y’ (as it’s known), we’ve grown up with the Web and all the exciting developments that we take for granted.  It’s led to this:

  1. Students don’t want specifics imposed upon them (who wants – or needs – that now?);
  2. Students don’t appreciate the changes from what they see as a platform for personal and social interaction, to a platform that’s been hijacked by educators and officials as a method of contact and coming closer.

It doesn’t matter that your uni is developing new tools to make your life easier.  Firstly, you may disagree that it helps your individual circumstances.  Secondly, it clouds the boundaries between personal/social life and educational/study life.

With so many Web 2.0 tools out there, the point is that you can pick and choose the services you want/need. It’s mainly up to you, as an individual, to decide what’s important.  That’s an essential component of the Web 2.0 idea.  It’s a fluid, changing space.  To an extent, you help to create the rules.  Once the fluidity is taken away, much of the ‘Web 2.0’ badge may as well be gone.

So the big question is, in what ways can universities achieve a solid base that you – as users – can embrace, but then further develop yourself?

Has your uni helped to give you more control of your educational pursuits online?  Do you make use of social networking and Web 2.0 tools to further your education/career, or do you see these functions as purely a tool for entertainment purposes?

[Update: I’ve found that new research by JISC has found that nearly three quarters of those students who use social networking sites (which is almost every student) use the sites to discuss coursework with others.  Over a quarter do this frequently.  But does this mean that students want a social networking connection to their tutors, or is it better to keep the discussion between peers as another way to do group work…?]