OPINION: NeW Space to embrace techno-teaching

THIS week, the University of Newcastle, and the wider community, celebrated the news that the Australian government was backing the development of an education precinct in the heart of our great city.

Together with the $25million committed by the NSW government and the university’s investment of $40million, the federal government will provide $30million for our NeW Space learning and teaching facility.

It will be a $95million landmark precinct that will harness the latest in technology and innovation in teaching and learning to deliver a world-class student experience.

New technologies are reshaping and transforming how great universities are approaching teaching and learning, and these new technologies are challenging and exciting for educators as we look to deliver a ‘next generation’ university experience for students.

Today’s students not only want but also expect that their learning experiences will be as dynamic and enabled by technology as every other aspect of their world.

The 2012 Study of Undergraduate Students and IT by the EDUCAUSE Centre for Applied Research in the United States found that two out of three students reported thinking technology elevates the level of teaching.

The study also found that open educational resources and game-based learning were at the top of the list of what students wished their teachers would use more.

MOOCs – or massive open online courses – are one example of initiatives that are opening access to knowledge for students across the world.

These courses  have stimulated much debate and are just one example of how technology is driving the move to a “democratisation of knowledge”.

 However, a great education is based on more than access to knowledge – it requires access to great teachers.

Fostering innovation through an array of teaching modes to deliver a world-class student experience is a key feature of the university’s NeW Directions strategic plan. 

One of the many challenges ahead is to be clear about what we should build ‘in the cloud’ and what we should build ‘on the ground’ to support our future education and research aspirations.

Before we build large lecture theatres and standard tutorial rooms, we need to pause and consider the types of teaching and learning spaces that are required to accommodate the next generation of learners in the decades to come.

As well as offering our business and law programs, digital library resources and information commons in the city, our vision is to develop the NeW Space Precinct as a technology-rich site available to all staff across the university.

Here, our staff would have access to the support they need to develop and test their new ideas for teaching and learning that engage students in new and exciting ways.

While this has been a week of celebration and hard-earned achievement, it is also the case that next week we will begin coming to grips with the harsh reality of significant foreshadowed funding cuts to the higher education sector by the government.

Without doubt, there will be tough times ahead for all universities, but we are clear that at the University of Newcastle a first-rate education and student experience must remain our top priority.

Professor Caroline McMillen is the Vice-Chancellor at the University of Newcastle