Friday, 22 March 2013

International Perspectives on Technology in Higher Education

In a previous post, I mentioned that I would be asking the students on my Learning English Through Technology course to contribute their own articles to this blog to give them a chance to express their thoughts on technology in English. Most of the students in the class are on their study abroad year from another country, so I thought it might be interesting to get them to compare how technology is used in their home universities with how it is used at Sheffield. I didn't give them any other rubric than that, so what they write is entirely their own opinion and perspective. I hope you find what they write engaging and also I'm sure they would appreciate any comments/questions you might have for them, this can either be in the form of general questions to all of them or targeted questions to individual students. So, here we go...

Anne (Germany) 

My experience with technology at the University of Paderborn in Germany, which calls itself “Die Universität der Informationsgesellschaft” which roughly translates as “The University of the Information-Society”, had a great start as in 2009 all freshers got netbooks for free as a gift from the university because we had decided to got there. This happened only in our year, so we had to cope with other students giving us mocking names and being mad at us for getting presents, but still I have been enjoying my netbook up to today.

Still, there are some issues, e.g. with PAUL, the “Paderborner Assistenzsystem für Universität und Lehre” or “Paderborn assistent-system for University and education”. PAUL is a VLE, which has been especially set up only for our university by university staff. Unfortunately, sometimes it does not work properly, especially if 15,000 to 20,000 students try to access it at 8 am to sign up for classes in order to get a place. The system of “First come, first serve” applies, but only if PAUL does not have a “nervous breakdown”. As PAUL is not always reliable, we have other digital platforms as well - individual homepages for the library, for uploading materials, and for communicating. Also, we have a very good walk-in IT service and the possibility to borrow technical equipment from the Technology Service. There are less options to get access to a computer, like in the Information Commons, and less printing options, but everything still works well because everyone has adjusted to it.

What I would really like as an improvement in Paderborn is the ability to use one UCard and one user-name for everything you access via technology.

Ales (Czech Republic)

I come from Charles University in Prague, Faculty of Science in particular. I am master degree geography student, so I am using technology very often (mostly GIS – geographical information systém – we use them for creating maps, models of surface etc). Because personal licence for this GIS software is usually very exponsive, I have to use it in school – in the computer rooms. In comparsion with Sheffield, I have to admit that here are many more computers, and printers/scanners as well. And they are faster and newer than computers in our faculty, but is getting better in these days. I like the idea of Information Commons building here in Sheffield, we do not have anything similar at Charles University. But Charles Univeristy in Prague faculties are scattered in whole city, University of Sheffield is at one place, so that might be problem when establishing such buiding in Prague (where should it be?). You can borrow there a laptop, or you can get yours repaired there when it breaks, that is very useful – in our faculty is not possible any of these things.

Another thing is WiFi – we use eduroam network as well, but it very complicated to sign in, in here, you just fill in your MUSE username and password and you are done. Speaking of MUSE – at our faculty, we use SIS (Studing Information Systém) and Google Apps as well. SIS and MUSE are very similar, in fact, regardless different look, they are practically same and the have same features. And, of course, they do not work 100 percent and tend to erorrs sometimes. But what I really do not like here, is the UCARD, which uses only barcode, so when you want to go somewhere in the Uni where you have to use it to enter, it never works for the first time, you have to check it again and again, maybe for the fourth – fifth try you are succesfull. In Prague we use ISIC card with microchip, which works perfect and for the first time usually. 

So, in the end, I think University of Sheffield and Charles University in Prague are modern universities which are in general simillar in using technology, at least in approach to it, both schools have the same basic features and options, but Sheffield has more additional features and the basics features are at higher level in here.

Ai (Japan) 

The technology in Sheffield and my home university is at a similar level. In my home university in Japan, we have our own password like Sheffield students and can use the university computer system by typing in the password. But at the same time, we can see several differences between the two universities. Today I'll introduce the differences below:

1. Computer room

In our Japanese university we have a large computer room where there are some technologically knowledgeable people sat waiting to help us with any computer issues. So everybody in the room can do their work smoothly. If you want to learn about the usage of computers, there are many books related to computers there. We need our own ID card (UCard at Sheffield) to enter the room.

2. Other places available for us to use computers

In the room for job hunting, the library, the literature studying room and the magazine room, we can use a university PC. Or if we bring our own laptop, we can use it in one of the LAN areas which lie hither and thither about my university.

3. Free printer

Although there is only black ink, we can use printers freely if we are in the computer room or job hunting room. It is very helpful when we write a thesis or essay.

4. Technology classes

To keep up with the IT era, our university has several classes related to computer usage. There are around 5 levels and students can choose the level depending on their level of knowledge. These classes are quite popular, so if the students wish to take them, they always have to be decided by lot. Fortunately I could take two classes before and they were really nice to learn how to use Word and Excel stuff.

Blanca (Spain)

First of all, I must make a distinction between the University of Granada, my home uni, as a whole and the Faculty of Translation and Interpreting, which is the one I belong to and also one of the oldest and, let the truth be known, most beautiful.

In spite of its beauty, the fact that it’s really old leads to suppose that the facilities are not exactly up-to-date.

The most used technological devices are the projectors, most of the teachers use them to illustrate their lectures.

We, the students, are not provided with netbooks - nor any kind of personal computers - by the University, but we are meant to bring our own material to work, either the classic notebook or our own laptops. Nevertheless, those who choose to use laptops will have to cope with an important problem: there are very few sockets per class. So you can either fight your way to one of them at the start of the class or carry an adaptor around the faculty, which is not the best plan, is it?

As well as Sheffield, in Granada we also have our own VLE or “Campus Virtual” (no need to translate, I assume) and it’s also the official communication link between the lecturers and the students. Through this platform we can book sport facilities, check our examination results or apply for courses and grants apart from sharing work related to the modules. Depending on the lecturers and on the nature of the module, the assessments must be handed via this “virtual campus”, the official university email or in person.

Other features:
  • The university, as a whole, is not equipped with interactive whiteboards, and I don’t think it will be in a near future either.
  • You can access to the University's official WiFi in any of the faculties by typing your credentials.

Misato (Japan)

There are some similarities and differences in how the technologies are being used among The University of Sheffield and Hosei University, my home university in Tokyo, Japan.

I think there are two key points which affects the use of technologies in Sheffield and Hosei. One is the campus size. Sheffield’s campus is big, covering one whole area of the city itself. On the other hand, since Hosei is located in the centre of Tokyo, the campus is very small consisting of only four buildings including 31 floor tall building. Another key point is the amount of money two universities can spend for technologies. Since Hosei is a private university with expensive tuition fees, they can put more money on technologies at the university.

In Sheffield, it is almost necessary to use email to make a contact with university offices and teachers. However, due to the size of the campus, it is very easy for Hosei students to go and see university offices and teachers in person, making fewer needs to use email to make contact with them.

Due to the campus size, the computer room in Hosei is very small compare to Information Commons. However, Hosei lends out two different types of laptops to support students’ studies. One is the one-day laptop, literally lending the laptop for a day, which students are only allowed to use in the campus. The other one is the short term laptop, which lets students keep for up to one week. For short term laptop, students are allowed to take it back home during the borrowing period.

Borrowing laptops are free but there will be penalties to those who returns late or breaks the laptop. As well as free laptop lending, there are free Wi-Fi and free printers in the campus.

Audrey (France)

Technology is used very differently in my own country, and more specifically in my own university of Versailles St Quentin, than the way it is used in the University of Sheffield. Of course, they do share some similar aspects, such as the use of internet to check information, the existence of the official University webpage or the use of email address to contact teachers …

However, the technology is nowhere near as important in my university in France as it is in Sheffield. Our teachers send us emails very rarely (most of the time, only to tell us that they are absent or that a class has been canceled), our homework are given in class, and our essays must be written on paper. Also, the relationship with the teachers, students and technology is quite different: in comparison to British Universities where teachers are very open and easily reachable, in France we don’t feel quite as comfortable to send a simple question to a teacher by email. Most of the time, it is preferable to wait and ask them in person. We do use internet as a source for certain of our background work for essays, but we definitely don’t have as much internet related work or debates (most of the time the discussions in class are based on essays or books given during class). The importance of the university website is also radically different: in Sheffield, the university site is at the center of most courses, it is very developed (with different parts likes Muse and Mole2), and there is a lot of content and useful information posted on it (many teachers post texts or links on their course’s Mole page). However, In France, we very rarely visit our university website (except during exam periods when our grades are posted on it), and we can easily spend our whole university years without ever really using it … Most students bring their own laptops in class, as the university has a free wifi access, and our library has many computers that can be used.

Jesús  (Spain)

Here I am going to compare the University of Sheffield and the University of Granada. However, being a second year student, and living in England this second, my experience in my home university is short and I can only talk about my faculty. My faculty is placed in an old building and is used mainly for language students so technology doesn’t have to be very present.

One thing that is similar to Sheffield is that in every class we have projectors so teachers can use presentations or technological tools. However, we don’t have smartboards, which are quite used here. In Sheffield there are many computers available in every faculty. In my city you can find a few of them in the libraries of the faculties. Speaking of library, we don’t have a building like Information Commons, full of computers and so much space where students can do self-study, group work, print things or have their personal computer fixed (in Granada that would be almost unthinkable). Besides, here you can see many students in class with their own laptops or tablets. In Granada, people take notes using paper and it is not usual to take your laptop to class, unless a class requires it. Another difference is that in Sheffield teachers prefer if you to email them with your concerns whilst in Granada it’s more normal to ask for a tutorial. The MUSE service is something that I really like here. You can access your email from there, as well as the material from your modules (MOLE), or important links related to exams or timetables, fees, or revising your personal details. In Granada we have a similar service, but it’s not this advanced and you can’t access all the important services for a student from there. Moreover, we don’t use that much Google Apps. Another difference is the UCard. We also have a UCard but, although it can be used there as a bank credit card, is much more useless than here.

Denitsa  (Bulgaria)

I am currently studying English language, Culture of the English speaking world and translations in the University of Versailles and Saint Quentin-en-Yvelines, France.

My faculty is based in two relatively new buildings. I can`t talk about the way technology is used in general in my university. However from what I have experienced in my faculty I would rather say that technology is not used as much as in the University of Sheffield.

First of all, in my Home University we have no smart boards- a tool which is used quite a lot here- we just have white boards. If most of the seminar rooms are equipped with projectors then back in Versailles the teacher has to bring a projector from the reception if he/she wants to use it for a presentation.

Secondly, we don`t have a library as The Information Commons-opened 24/7(a very important aspect in my opinion), with so many computers, printers and scanners. Our library is opened only from Monday till Friday from around 9am till 8pm. However we have a big area with computers-not as many computers as in the IC in Sheffield but it is still something. Moreover in my Home University almost no one is taking notes on his/her lap top because teachers are not always happy with it. Therefore we take notes on paper.

I have never exchanged so many e-mails in my Home University as here in Sheffield. As a student in Sheffield most of the work I had to submit was to be directly submitted on MOLE. This is definitely not the case in my Home University where you have to hand every paper in class or to the office of the teacher.

Something in common between the two universities is the online internal system MUSE which in my Home University is ENT. The two systems are functioning almost in the same way- having your university e-mail, student record, exam results… Except the fact that ENT is out of use much more often. We also have an equivalent of MOLE called E-campus which is used by teachers to share various documents, materials or lectures with students.

Michal (Czech Republic) 

Regarding the differences in the use of technology here at the University of Sheffield and the Charles University in Prague, I think there are not significant differences. At Charles University exists internal system SIS, which is quite similar to the University of Sheffield system MUSE. Within this system it is possible to log the exams, view test results and find out information about the courses. When I compare the interface of these systems, I have to say that the system MUSE is clearer. I think it's due to properly chosen colors that do not distracted as well as the overall structure of the system is clearer. System SIS at Charles University uses a combination of several colors, such as blue, red, which in turn makes it difficult to orientation on this system. One aspect is common to both systems, both systems do not work sometimes. At Charles University exists ISIC card as alternative to Sheffield University student card - UCARD . Within this card, you can copy, borrow books in the library and go to lunch. Here I must mention the great quality Sheffield University library. Selection of books here is very diverse. It is possible to borrow books concerning various subjects. 

Another positive aspect is opening time - 24 hours a day. Even here it is not so cold as other people warned me. I like the opportunity to sit here and look at the book. That's a pity that rental period is only a week. Especially for foreigners is hard to read a book a one week. When I compare other technological systems at the University of Sheffield and Charles University, I will mention two software programs: SPSS (statistical program for creating analysis) and GIS (for creating maps,cartograms). Both programs I use very often. As in Prague, there are computer rooms with computers that are available to students. The only difference in this respect is that the rooms there are probably greater with multiple computers than computer rooms at Charles University. Regarding performance of computers, I think they are comparable.

 In conclusion, I would like to say that in terms of the technologies used are the University of Sheffield and Charles University in Prague similar. The only difference is probably some higher level University Sheffield, which is due to higher financial resources University of Sheffield. I think computer technology is a useful feature that facilitates the work of not only students but also tutors and other university staff.


  1. Thanks to everyone for a really interesting snap-shot of IT services and approaches in Universities around the world. I work as a Learning Technologist and I am always interested to hear about how people are using technologies to engage in teaching and learning activities.

    I have a couple of questions:

    1. Audrey mentioned that there weren't many discussions online and these mostly took place in the classroom. Is this the case for everyone? Do students sometimes have to write blog posts like this for their courses, or use online tools to do group work?

    2. Do your universities have help and resources on how to find and evaluate online resources, how to cite these in academic work so you don't get accused of plagiarism? (This is sometimes called 'information literacy')?

  2. Thanks to all of you for sharing your comparisons between the University of Sheffield and your home universities. I found your posts very interesting. Ales's mention of the Ucard lacking the microchip technology found in cards at the Charles University in Prague surprised me as Sheffield seems to make great use of technology overall.

    Perhaps I should say that I am an ESL/bilingual teacher of K-12 students in Texas and have never gotten to visit the U.K., though I would very much love to do so. The Information Commons sounds like a great resource for students at the university. It's fantastic that it is open at all times to provide services to students!

    Thanks again for the great posts. You all have done a excellent job of comparing and contrasting not just the technology services of your respective universities but myriad aspects of university life.

  3. Dear Friends from ELTC,
    thank you for sharing your experiences with us. They make very interesting reading indeed. I think also the fact that you can write so confidently for our blog is a fantastic testament to your efforts in learning English, and also a great reflection on our English language Teaching Centre. It really is an honour for us at the University to be able to share in our academic endeavours with you and enjoy our truly international community together.

  4. NICE BLOG!!! Education is the process of bringing desirable change into the behavior of human beings. It can also be defined as the “Process of imparting or acquiring knowledge or habits through instruction or study”. Thanks for sharing a nice information.
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  5. This is such a great information. It is really helpful for me.

  6. These are all very important perspectives in education that a student must have to be aware of it. This seems to be more interesting subject that students must have to learned as well, in order for them to be successful in their study.

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