UK Web Focus (Brian Kelly)

Innovation and best practices for the Web

“Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World” Report Published

Posted by Brian Kelly on 12 May 2009

The CLEX Final Report

The final report of the Committee of Inquiry into the Changing Learner Experience (CLEX) entitled” Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World” has just been published.

The report built on work which began last year included a “Report of the review of current and developing international practice in the use of social networking (Web 2.0) in higher education” (available in PDF Format) to which I contributed the section which provided a history of use of Web 2.0 in the UK.

Article In Today’s Education Guardian

The official launch of the CLEX report has been accompanied by an article entitled  “Time to get with the program” published in today’s Education Guardian. As I mentioned in a blog post on How Is HE Embracing Web 2.0? How Is Web 2.0 Changing HE?” published yesterday I had been interviewed by the author of the article, Anthea Lipsett, last week.

The article in the Guardian begins with a description of a student experience which is at ease with the social web:

The “Google generation” of today’s students has grown up in a digital world. Most are completely au fait with the microblogging site Twitter; they organise their social lives through Facebook and MySpace; 75% of students have a profile on at least one social networking site. And they spend up to four hours a day online.

The article cites the CLEX report ‘s conclusions that although UK Universities are doing “pretty well” there are “major issues to address if universities and colleges are to keep up with these changes in student practice and attitude” since “use of Web 2.0 … is far from systematic in universities” and is “driven by enthusiastic individuals who have embraced the opportunities it offers” .


The CLEX report is very positive in its views on the potential of Web 2.0 in higher education. The report provides a series of recommendation including, for example, the recommendation that that “JISC continues to develop a research and support programme into the use of Web 2.0 for all aspects of university business“.

Should this be regarded by higher educational institutions as encouragement to make more systematic use of the Social Web? After all, today’s Guardian includes, as well as the Education supplement, a University Guide  supplement which contains on the front page an article on “Tweet and lowdown” which describes how “most univerities are so desperate to come across as cool that they’ve joined Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, and are happy to meet you online” and how “a lot of institutions offer free podcasts of lectures and tutorial recordings via their individual websites or Apple’s portal iTunesU“.

Evidence that Universities are successfully embracing Web 2.0 technologies (despite the snide remark about ‘desperation’)?  Or should we be concerned regarding the way in which social networking technologies are being institutionalised to support marketing purposes?

In our contribution to the “Time to get with the program?” article myself and Professor Martin Weller both warned of the dangers of institutions “infiltrating Facebook”. Martin described how “If you ask students: do you want the university to come on Facebook, the answer is no. They don’t want their professor as a friend” and I questioned whether “universities [need] to get involved in … informal learning” which can be supported by social networking environments.

But what if Martin and myself are wrong? After all the CLEX report concluded with a quotation from a student:

I think it’s great to have tutors/university staff on Facebook. After all, it is supposed to be a social community network and I think they [deserve] the right to have their own community or form a network with students (if the students are willing).

The answer to this dilemma should be addressed by another of the recommendations of the CLEX final report: “JISC works with the HE funding bodies and Universities UK to explore issues and practice in the development of new business models that exploit Web 2.0 technologies“.  We haven’t yet identified the best practices for institutional engagement (or not) with Web 2.0. But the report makes it quite clear that we need to be asking these questions.


14 Responses to ““Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World” Report Published”

  1. Robert said

    If Universities do not engage with Facebook competently, they leave a gap in the market. This can then be exploited.

    (eg )

    Brad Ward in the US seems to think that duty of care now means Universities should put an official presence on Facebook, to avoid students falling into the trap of scamsters like the ones mentioned in that discussion. I’m inclined to agree with him.

  2. Robert said

    (sorry, URL seems to have included the bracket somehow. This link should work)

    • ostephens said

      This is a bit off topic, but not being a member of cuwebd I couldn’t post there and didn’t want to join just to say the following – so sorry to Brian for hijacking the comments here. However, I’ll try to link it with the question of student attitudes to the web.

      The various ‘XXXX Uni Freshers 2009’ groups seem to be a front to advertise a website “” – this is linked to from a first discussion post in each group labelled “▀▄▀▄▀▄ TOP TIPS FOR FRESHERS WEEK ▀▄▀▄▀▄”

      Once you have registered with it seems to be basically a website full of ‘get rich quick’ type schemes – gambling with ‘systems’, cash for links schemes – mixed with attempts to sell items like ‘make your own alcopops’ kits etc.

      Of course, there is a problem here in that there are many ‘freshers’ groups that are not ‘approved’ by the institution in question, and yet are a genuine attempt to form an online community – so whereas the group “Sussex Uni Freshers 2009” contains ads for, “NORTHUMBRIA UNI FRESHERS 2009!” does not and looks like a genuine group setup by freshers or students at the university.

      Some signs of the ‘faststudentcash’ setup groups seems to be:

      Use of a generic ‘freshers’ logo rather than the institutions logo
      Some generic introductory text opening with the line “This group is for all the new people starting or hoping to start our Uni in 2009.” (note the omission of the name of the University here)
      The presence of the TOP TIPS FOR FRESHERS WEEK in the discussion forum
      No real people as ‘Admins’ – just the name of the institution (don’t expect the spelling to be perfect) e.g. “Robert Gordan Universities”

      Now to try to make this comment vaguely relevant to the post :)

      Several of these groups have a reasonable number of members (e.g. 200-300) – and generally the TOP TIPS post seems to have been ignored in favour of simply posting information and comment to the group Wall. Some of these groups really seem to have an active fresher population. What is interesting here is that by use, the students have essentially made the group there own anyway – you are sharing with peers, rather than with companies. Now obviously the people at FastStudentCash could seed the group with people to promote their site – but so far I can’t see any evidence of this. In a sense the more genuine people who sign up (i.e. people who are going to be freshers at the relevant university) the more the group becomes what it says it is.

      There is some evidence that the ‘freshers’ don’t take the postings promoting faststudentcash at face value. In the “Bangor Uni Freshers 2009” group there is a student/fresher response to the TOP TIPS post questioning what FastStudentCash is, and suggesting the student is rightly wary of it – but also suggesting confusion about whether the links are being promoted by the University or not.

      There is the question of whether setting up ‘official’ groups would in anyway stop the unofficial groups also appearing – I found at least 13 groups that were related to Sheffield Hallam Freshers 2009 – presumably a maximum of 1 is ‘official’. I can’t see why some of these are more popular than others (ranging from 2 members for the least popular to over 1100 for the most popular) – although it doesn’t seem to relate to ‘officialness’ or indeed content.

      • Robert said

        Sure, the social interactions on these groups may cement them now. However, the group admin still has the ability to message all members. That means some company somewhere can soon claim to be able to send FB messages directly to 1000s of 18 year old freshers – something which they can make money on, all the while trying to give the impression to the students that it is their university contacting them. I find this worrying.

        I have nothing against unofficial groups – but when external companies notice Universities not setting up anything official, and step in, impersonating the universities – that, I would suggest, is problematic.

        Does that mean universities always appear “desperate” by setting up uni-maintained groups? My view is that Universities would be reacting to a demand. Sure, some students will find the idea of official groups lame. But evidently others are looking for those, and finding Fast Student Cash, dressed as their university. If there is demand an an expectation for these groups to exist, the expectation should be met, and better met by the University itself than some dodgy company. (It may be Students’ Unions who would be in a better position to create semi-official groups than Universities themselves, though.)

        With regards to actual person-to-person social interactions (rather than mere creation of an official social space online), I have found that some of my students have found me, and “friended” me, to my surprise. They are a minority, but it was a bit baffling when it first happened. It seems that, just as Facebook is eroding boundaries between personal, social and professional relationships in many offices, so it is also eroding the boundaries in some student-teacher / lecturer relations. Facebook seem to be aware of this, and are constantly adding new filtering tools to respond to this increasingly confusing situation. I’m just not convinced that most people are really using the filters yet…

      • I agree that just because the students are using the ‘fake’ groups for a genuine purpose this doesn’t make the use harmless, and I also agree that it is a concern that the ‘admin’ for the group can send FB messages and the students may mistake this for some type of ‘official’ communication.

        I’m also not arguing against universities having an ‘official’ space on Facebook – and I agree that there is also a possible role for Student Unions here. What I’m not sure of is that this in anyway will stop the ‘fake’ groups appearing or being mistaken for something more official. (as an aside, my bank has a policy of not communicating to me by any online channel except a secure messaging system I access via my online banking service – they make this clear to me and allow me to dismiss any emails etc. as spam or phishing)

        I absolutely agree that Facebook (and other social media) are breaking down those boundaries between the personal and professional. This goes both ways – I know academic staff who won’t appear on Facebook under their own name because of not wanting to be found and friended by students.

        Something that is perhaps missing from the report is more consideration of how people manage their online identity. It seems to wrap this up with Information Literacy – which isn’t quite how I’d see it, although they are linked a bit.

  3. […] here to read the rest:  “Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World” Report Published « UK Web Focus Bookmark […]

  4. […] here to read the rest: “Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World” Report Published « UK Web Focus Bookmark […]

  5. Wocial Web ? You may have accidentally coined a neologism.

  6. Looking forward to reading the report, but think that with this line “Most are completely au fait with the microblogging site Twitter” that the grauniad has confused students with ed-tech bloggers…

  7. […] I’m  indebted to SLED lister, Dr Bob Hallawell,  of Academic Lead Learning Disabilities,School of Nursing, Midwifery and Physiotherapy, at the University of Nottingham,  for the heads-up on this interesting report. Education Guardian comment here and UK Web Focus report here. […]

  8. Jane said

    We have to change with the times. As it says in the article, we are the “Google Generation” Many of the ways that we communicate today are via web 2.0 sites.

  9. […] Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 9 November 2009 Back in May I wrote a blog post entitled “Not Your Father’s IT Innovation!“. My post referred to Andy Powell’s thoughts on “The role of universities in a Web 2.0 world?” in which he suggested that “if Web 2.0 changes everything, I see no reason why that doesn’t apply as much to professional bodies and universities as it does to high street bookshops“. These posts were written a few days after the “Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World” Report [was] Published“. […]

  10. Also looking forward to the recommendations of this report. Any idea of an ETA?

  11. […] The “Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World” report (52 page PDF document) which was published by Committee of Inquiry into the Changing Learner Experience (CLEX) in May 2009 and summarised in a UK Web Focus blog post.” […]

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