It's almost impossible some days to pick up a magazine or newspaper without coming across an article on the Internet and its real - or imaginary - impact.
There's no question that information and communication technologies have taken on a pervasive role in today's economy. But while the media may focus on the development of the Internet and World Wide Web, recent statistics suggest that the change is more fundamental.
More than 60% of those employed are engaged in information creation or processing activities of some form. Electronic mail and document exchange, together with just-in-time order processing, have changed the face of business communications.
The fears that computerisation would carry high unemployment costs have proven unfounded. Start-up companies flourish and the demand for skilled professionals continues unabated.
Why then are executives and managers around the world expressing concern? Investments in ICT equipment and infrastructure, especially staff development and training, do not appear to be showing a return.
Systems don't meet business needs and applications are frequently delivered too late and over budget. The life cycle of products is ever shortening and there is considerable pressure to upgrade and replace.
Where then do the real problems lie? The IT and Society course (THD204) was developed by an inter-faculty team at the OU, to address such questions.
Intended for a wide audience, the course requires no special prerequisite knowledge other than the basic operation of a personal computer and the study skills of a Level 2 course.
The course explores the social and technological issues surround ICT, using the technology itself to provide a rich and interactive learning experience.
It also recognises the importance of transferable skills, often practical, which are developed through the various course assignments.
IT and Society was the university's first large scale resource- based learning development using new technologies. Multiple CD-ROMs provide each student with a personal library of fully indexed journal articles, newspaper extracts, and audio-visual material.
Almost 400 articles were scanned and prepared for the course, including 80 publications derived from the first eight year's research of the ESRC (Economic and Social Science Research Council) Programme in Information and Communication Technologies. The CD-ROMs also contain software demonstrations, interactive learning materials, and video interviews.
Computer mediated communication (e-mail and computer conferencing) facilitates collaborative activities, such as group discussions and assignments and on-line tutorial support. It also offers invaluable support for disabled students.
Many students on the course who are experiencing the electronic learning environment for the first time comment on the sense of 'belonging' to a learning community.
Students are introduced to the Internet and the World Wide Web, the latter facilitating the distribution of updated learning materials through the course's own home …