Thursday, 30 January 2014

Technology in Libraries: don’t throw out that PC – yet

Where old computersAny news article on technology today, talks about tablets, mobile and wearable devices.  Attending a major exhibition on education and technology, I expected to hear about learning taking place through the use of teleports and hover shoes.  However, one session I visited, on learning in universities urged us to take a more cautionary approach.

At the BETT Show 2014, there was a session called “Creating Flexible Learning Spaces for the Future Student”. I went along hoping to get some tips and ideas for one of my libraries which will soon undergo redevelopment. The emphasis was upon HE libraries but they obviously have a relevance further education and even more so if we are expected to support more HE courses in the near future.

The first part of the session was delivered by Dr. Graham Walton of Loughborough University who surveyed students at his own university as well as York University.  They asked learners some simple questions such as:

What technologies do you bring into the Library?


Conclusions from the survey were:
  • Tablets seem to be the preserve of staff rather than learners in universities.
  • Learners prefer laptops because of the Microsoft Office applications.
  • Security and weight are important obstacles for students wanting to bring in laptops to University.
  • Learners prefer to use their smartphones for social media and fixed PCs for work. This balance is expected to change over the next few years as students learn to use their smartphones for educational purposes.
  • The demand and need for fixed PCs shows no signs of slowing.
The second part of the session was delivered by Liz Waller of the University of York. Liz looked at the results of SCONUL statistics from 23 universities over a 3 year period. Her conclusions were:

Learning Spaces
  • Learning space has to be totally integrated with teaching and learning strategies.
  • Create open spaces don’t create rooms.  The flexible approach can be managed with portable screens etc.
  • Good redevelopments don’t stop when the redevelopment finishes.  Learning spaces should constantly evolve to meet students’ changing needs and demands.
Technology in Learning Spaces
  • Wireless spaces MUST also be with power. Wherever you place wireless (libraries, common rooms, canteens etc.) you must make sure that power points are also numerous and readily available.
  • Network connections without fixed PCs are dead.  There was a fall in use of this service by about 77%.
  • Laptops are still important to learners because they offer a full range of functions not available from mobile devices.
  • Students still demand fixed PCs even if the “battery hen” approach to fixed PCs is not always desirable.
I was surprised at these conclusions: learning spaces in HE don’t sound exactly cutting edge but this is where HE learners are at the moment.  Perhaps younger learners currently in FE will soon make different demands on HE services and space but for the moment it may be important to take a more measured approach to planning our learning spaces whilst at the same time incorporating flexibility to ensure we can meet that change.