The way people communicate, interact and share experiences with one another has been completely transformed by Web 2.0 technologies which allow people to become active participants in creating and sharing content online. The era of using the Internet for simply retrieving content is long gone, interactive information sharing and collaboration anywhere anytime is the new trend.
Methods of teaching and learning in higher education have evolved rapidly over the last two decades to keep pace with changes in information and communication technology (ICT). Higher education institutions are adopting key elements of Web 2.0 technologies to service their various constituents as well as facilitate collaborative and self service learning environments. Specifically, students can access technology that enables communication, collaboration, participation and sharing within their campus portals just as they normally do on Facebook, Wikis and blogs. In addition, Web 2.0 provides capabilities for podcast or vodcast, which involves delivering audio visual content like lecture recordings to students directly on their computers and hand held devices using RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feeds.
By and large, the move towards Web 2.0 technologies in higher education is yielding significant returns as the reach of higher education is being extended beyond what was traditionally possible. The use of e-learning applications incorporating Web 2.0 supports non-traditional learners such as part-time, distance and work-based students by allowing them to become contributing members of a learning community. Furthermore, Web 2.0 technologies in higher education help create time-saving efficiencies that allow college and university staff and students to concentrate on their core roles within the campus. Being able to submit assignments, check grades, get faculty advice and participate in group work from remote locations saves critical time. Students will have more time to focus on learning while faculty members can concentrate on teaching. Other benefits of Web 2.0 include the ability for students to interact beyond the boundaries of their classrooms, campuses, and countries. Such cross-campus collaborations provide scope for sharing ideas, experiences and more importantly, knowledge, as they build social skills which are essential in workplace environments. Using Web 2.0 technologies can lead to development of a new sense of communities of interest and networks.
While some universities are very experienced with technology-driven learning environments many others are just beginning to experiment with Web 2.0. In the Middle East, Gulf countries are spearheading the drive for excellence in education and are investing substantially in the use of information technology. Statistics from O’Reiley Research have shown that the highest age demographic of Facebook users in the Middle East and North Africa are between the ages 15 and 25. Many of those within this bracket are in higher institutions of learning; they expect and demand academic environments that allow interactivity and collaboration—just as they get on applications such as Facebook, YouTube or MySpace.
As the Arab world races towards knowledge economies, critical success factors will be ‘political will’ and ‘technology’ as recommended by the United Nations Arab Human Development Report. Higher education administrators across the GCC have realised the opportunities available when IT is included in learning and teaching. Despite the challenges of the global economic situation, the Gulf has maintained a steady approach to investment in education, with focus on increasing access to provision as well as improving quality and infrastructure. Saudi Arabia recently announced that education budgets in 2010 will be about 13 per cent higher at $ 36.7 billion, representing over a quarter of the entire budget expenditure for the Kingdom. The ‘political will’ to develop future knowledge capacity has been demonstrated by GCC countries, but how this translates to the business creation, innovation, research and exploitation of ideas by young and educated people in Gulf is just starting to take effect. Such investments are a commitment to the future and as such the benefits will accrue long-term in the shape of knowledge economies.
Mathew Boice is Vice President EMEA and India, SunGard Higher Education
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