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A nationwide inquiry was recently launched in the UK to look at how the use of new technologies such as Google, Wikipedia, networking sites and chat rooms affect the learning experience and behaviour of the contemporary student generation, and the issues this poses for Higher Education institutions. The bodies backing the study are Universities UK, all four funding councils, the Higher Education Academy, the Learning and Skills Council, university computing service JISC, and Lifelong Learning UK, who hope to produce the final report by the end of 2008.
The main question posed by the bodies is if the use of new technologies and online social networking also changes the way students learn, and if universities can take advantage of the change in the process of self-directed learning. The main focus is on the way students access information. The use of internet is considered as an opportunity as well as a threat in Higher Education. The usual suspects are Wikipedia and Google; a professor at Brighton University recently banned their use in her courses, claiming that the use of search tools stops the students from using their own brains. Manchester University has taken a step further and launched its own research database, Intute, in order to provide subject-specific information to students and researchers.
Nevertheless, the articles in the specialised search engines are still to be scrutinised as critically as the information found by googling. Perhaps it would be more fruitful to teach the students some critical thinking instead treating the internet as a threat. As the saying goes - if you can’t beat them, join them.