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Virtual University

Claire Tupling

A Virtual University?
Raschke (2003) has argued that digital technologies represent profound,
revolutionary, change to the nature of the University while Pfeffer (2012) discusses
how developments in technology are leading to the increasing virtualisation of Higher
Education. Cornford (2000) draws on a powerful visual reference in imagining a
future virtual university, which is a university without walls [having] torn itself free
from the geographical confines of the campus (p. 508).
As well as the potential for demolishing institutional walls, digital technologies are
associated with shifts in the cultures of learning and teaching in higher education (Lai
2011) including online learning.

However, virtualisation is also associated with

the increased use of social media to support communication among students and
staff on campus based programmes. So, space may matter, if technologies are to
mediate new relationships within existing spaces. The use of mobile technologies in
these and other spaces may be implicated in

possible new spatial

practices (Bayne et al., 2013: 572).


However, Cox (2011: p197) observes a recent intensification of building projects by
UK Higher Education Institutions.

Arguing that despite increasing virtualisation

space still matters. Similarly, Cornford (2000) considers how the virtualisation
of universities has resulted in new forms of physical, concrete presence.

Cox's

(2011) study into student experiences of space revealed that the spatial aspects of
the University remain relevant to their student experiences, notably this included
an acceptance of traditional learning and teaching spaces, such as lecture
theatres. However, the materiality of space shaped students abilities to make use of
mobile technologies outside of University learning spaces. For example, housing that
provided inadequate amounts of space, or distracting noise from the night-time
economy often prevented students studying at home. Kirkwood (2000) similarly
raises the limits that material space (as well as time) place on opportunities to engage
in learning. Observing that [l]earning at home entails fitting study periods into the
times and spaces available. (p. 251) highlighting how the time and space available
for each learner may differ according to the space available, the time that it is
available, the technology that is available and other commitments the student may

A Virtual University

Claire Tupling

have.
Virtualisation of the University does not, therefore, make space, or place less
relevant. The idea that digital technologies would render the campus obsolete are,
perhaps, rooted in enthusiastic claims that technology has the power to [negate]
barriers of geography and time and offering anytime, anywhere educational
opportunities to learners (Selwyn et al, 2001: 255-256). Such claims have been
contested by social shaping approaches which have highlighted that technology, far
from having the capacity to transcend these barriers are, in fact, shaped by them (See
also Lefebvre, 1991).
Imagining a virtual university
Punie (2007) identifies a number of key features which should form part of any online
learning space. These include:

Social space
Personal space
Flexible types of engaging with learning

As a matter of course learners need also to have access to mobile technologies which
can be used in diverse spaces in order to access learning spaces. But, there may be
as many elements in a wish list as there are learners wishing to access such spaces.
References
Bayne S, Gallagher MS and Lamb J (2013) Being at university: the social
topologies of distance students. Higher Education, 67(5), 569583.
Cornford, J. (2000) THE VIRTUAL UNIVERSITY IS . . . THE UNIVERSITY MADE
CONCRETE? Information, Communication & Society, Taylor & Francis, 3(4), 508
525.
Cox, A.M. (2011) 'Students Experience of University Space: An Exploratory Study',
International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 23(2): 197-207
Kirkwood, A (2000) Learning at home with information and communication
technologies, Distance Education, 21(2): 248-259
Lai, W. (2011) Digital technology and the culture of teaching and learning in higher
education, Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 27(8): 1263-1275
Pfeffer, T. (2012) Virtualization of Universities : Digital Media and the Organization of
Higher Education Institutions, London:Springer
PUNIE Y (2007) Learning Spaces: an ICT-enabled model of future learning in the
Knowledge-based Society. European Journal of Education, 42(2), 185199.

A Virtual University

Claire Tupling

Raschke, C. (2003) The Digital Revolution and the Coming of the Postmodern
University, London: RoutledgeFalmer
Selwyn, N; Gorard, S. and Williams, S (2001) The role of the technical fix in UK
lifelong education policy, International Journal of Lifelong Education, 20(4): 255-271