All entries for February 2006

February 27, 2006

Consultant Meeting 24 Feb 06

Alan Schofield (our consultant) met with Michael Whitby, Darren Wallis, Julian Moss, Graham Lewis, Hywel Williams, Jay Dempster and Steve Brydges for the first on-site consultancy visit. As John posted in his last entry, an earlier meeting had already decided how to share out the tasks in the Institutional Review Document, and some have already made a start in gathering the statistics and departmental input, so this meeting was more about picking up on any concerns, and a reminder of the wider purposes of benchmarking.

It was a helpful introduction for me in particular, since I had been getting rather tied up in the definition of e-learning, and was concerned that without a reasonably clear consensus about what we were measuring, the statistics could become meaningless. There could even be a risk if we included all sorts of IT infrastructure spend under the e-learning heading (our elearning architecture is well integrated with the range of IT systems, services and networks) and came out significantly higher than the sector average. But that is also true of staff development, and even the curriculum itself. It may even be an attribute of successful e-learning that it is hard to disentangle. E-learning that is easy to identify as a discrete element is probably just a misguided innovation that failed to embed itself.

So that is hard for accuracy in budget attribution, but the good news is thatís further down the road for benchmarking. The Pilot Phase is all about trying to capture the essence of what is happening, in an open and honest manner, and the statistical requirements are simply one measure, to which we can add as many footnotes as we feel worthwhile. Some of the other sections, where we are asked to reflect in a more narrative style, will give us the opportunity to test and document our aspirations and practices in e-learning, and to use that as a basis for sharing, reflection and collaborative improvement.

Of course this comes at a time when the e-learning strategy is being reviewed in any case. I hope departments who recently responded to the request to offer feedback through Information Groups, will be happy to respond again to similar questions for benchmarking. Much of the IRD can be completed centrally, but would be incomplete unless it manages to capture the perspective of the departments, and that perspective must include not only the success stories, which the centre probably knows about anyway, but the smaller, less obvious pieces of e-learning, that may not even be commonly recognised as such. We also need to measure and describe uncertainty, hesitancy and the extent to which other academic pressures hinder e-learning innovation.

February 24, 2006

Progress report

  1. The timetable we're working to is submission to OBHE by 20 April. This is three days after Easter Monday. Therefore we should aim to have the document and supporting documents finalised prior to the bank holiday period.

  2. So we'll aim to have the draft documentation finalised by the end of March for Sections B and C, leaving a few days for Section D.

  3. That gives us a little over six weeks to draw the documentation together and draft the narrative.

  4. The completion of the documentation should be produced with representation from e-Lab, CAP, TQ and the Library. Overall responsibility for coordinating the documentation will rest with Julian Moss.

  5. Named individuals or pairs from the main group should take the lead in the completion of particular sections. This will entail finding evidence/ documentation and drafting the narrative. The main group may wish to suggest other named individuals who could be approached to assist each sub-group in their area, either through meetings or the provision of information.

  6. Work in progress from the sub-groups should be fed back to, and considered by, the main group at relevant intervals. Given the six week period, this could either be by way of three meetings at two-week intervals or two meetings at three-week intervals.

  7. We'll aim to schedule the remaining visits by Alan Schofield to take place two or three days after the meeting of the main group.

  8. Although work in progress on particular sections will be considered by the main group, a wider constituency should be asked to consider the drafts. This would include, for example, Faculty IT committee chairs and e.g. members of our e-learning steering group.

Suggested division of labour:

B1, Environmental Scan: Darren Wallis & Julian Moss

B2, Mission: Darren Wallis & Natalie Snodgrass

B3, Drivers: E-mailed to QEWG/ e-LSHG members 23/02/06 for wider consideration

B4-B5, Overview Stats: Darren Wallis & Julian Moss, with assistance from Academic Office colleagues

B6, Academic Activity: John Dale

B7, Financial expenditure: Darren Wallis & Julian Moss, with assistance from Finance Office colleagues

B8, Estimate of e-learning activity: John Dale

B9, Tools: John Dale

C1, Strategy development: Darren Wallis & John Dale

C2, Management of e-learning: John Dale & Jay Dempster, with support from Library colleagues

C3, E-learning delivery: John Dale & Julian Moss, plus TQ & CAP colleagues

C4, Resources and value for money: Julian Moss & John Dale & Jay Dempster with support from Finance Office colleagues

C5, E-learning and students: Julian Moss with colleagues from the Academic Office, plus Rob Johnson, Roberta Wooldridge-Smith, Jane Abson

C6, E-learning and staff: CAP colleagues and Personnel colleagues

C7, Collaboration: Julian Moss, consulting with CLL and members of CFDLSC, WMG, IoE, WMS, WBS

C8, Communications, evaluation and review: Jay & Graham with Julian Moss & Darren Wallis

D, Commentary and self-review: Julian Moss, John Dale & Jay Dempster. This needs to come after other sections have been completed.

February 08, 2006

E–learning predictions

So, two reports containing predictions about e-learning futures. Do they agree, differ or cover completely different ground?

Report one is from the New Media Consortium, an international group of about 200 colleges, universities, museums and corporations who, they say, are "dedicated to the exploration and use of new media and new technologies". What do they predict?

The New Media Consortium

  • Social computing tools and processes are becoming more widespread and accepted. As the tools have matured, the practice of online communication and collaboration has increased.

  • Mobile technology, specifically MP3 players and mobile phones, as a delivery platform for services of all kinds.

  • Consumers are increasingly expecting personalised services, tools, and experiences, and open access to media, knowledge, information, and learning.

  • Collaboration is increasingly seen as critical across the range of educational activities. As the ways in which researchers, students and teachers can collaborate with each other increase, knowledge is becoming a community property, and the construction of knowledge is becoming a community activity.
  • Peer review and other academic processes, such as promotion and tenure reviews, increasingly do not reflect the ways scholarship actually is conducted.

  • Information literacy should not be considered a given, even among "net-gen" students. The skills of critical thinking, research, and evaluation of content, not to mention creative demonstration of mastery or knowledge, are needed more than ever; yet these very skills are underdeveloped in many students.

  • Intellectual property concerns and the management of digital rights and assets continue to loom as largely unaddressed issues.

  • The typical approach of experimentally deploying new technologies on campuses does not include processes to quickly scale them up to broad usage when they work, and often creates its own obstacles to full deployment.

  • The phenomenon of technological "churn" is bringing new kinds of support challenges. Clearly support needs are increasing; each new technology comes with its own requirements for support, of course, while the support needs of established technologies also remain.

Hmm. How about report number two? The Alliance for Higher Education Competitiveness (isn't an alliance to foster competition a contradiction in terms?) have produced a report called What's next in Learning Technology in Higher Education?.

What's next in Learning Technology in Higher Education?

Their predictions include:-

  • Continued growth in Course Management Systems such as Blackboard and WebCT, in distance learning platforms, and more Internet technology on campus and in classrooms. (I'm hazy as to what's meant by "internet technology" or "distance learning platforms".

  • Tools intended to help students be more productive, such as note-taking aids, course materials organisational aids, aids to interacting with academic staff, e-portfolio tools to capture student accomplishments, and search engines optimised for academic content.

  • Pedagogical tools for faculty that can be used by the majority who do not wish to be "e-learning course developers", since taking the time to acquire specialised skills to deliver e-learning makes no sense for academics given their tight time constraints, their interests, or expertise.

  • Tools which assume that classroom or lecture theatre delivery will remain at the centre of the higher educational experience, and seek to provide benefits within that context.

  • Ways to better link students, faculty, and the administration. For example, tools to help faculty to monitor student study interactions to determine which materials are most difficult and why, tools that help faculty to self-assess their teaching, tools that help determine which courses, under what conditions, are having retention or other problems, and tools that allow students' attainment of learning objectives to be better tracked within the context of a course or a curriculum.

So our two predictors are really working different sides of the street. One of them is thinking about devices and technology, the other is thinking about ways to support the educational process. Of course these two things blur into each other, but the emphasis is clearly different. If this is your area (and if it's not, what on earth are you doing here?), both reports are well worth a read.


The University of Warwick is participating in an e-learning benchmarking exercise organised by the Higher Education Academy. From the Academy's benchmarking home page :-

The exercise has three aims:

  • to provide institutions with the information to make informed plans for future development
  • to allow institutions providing higher education to identify their current progress, on embedding e-learning, in relation to similar institutions
  • to provide a picture of the sector as a whole in order to identify areas of strategic importance to inform the work of the JISC, the Academy and the Funding Councils.

The other institutions participating in the exercise are:-

  • Coventry University and Warwickshire College
  • Institute of Education, University of London
  • Oxford Brookes University
  • Staffordshire University
  • University of Bristol
  • University of Chester
  • University of Hertfordshire
  • University of Leicester
  • University of Manchester
  • University of Strathclyde
  • University of Wales Institute, Cardiff

The participating institutions have been divided up into three groups, and each group has been assigned a consultant to facilitate the benchmarking. Our group contains:-

  • University of Warwick
  • Oxford Brookes University
  • Institute of Education
  • University of Coventry / Warwickshire College

and our consultant is Svava Bjarnason from the OBHE.

There's also a benchmarking blog provided by the HE Academy.

February 2006

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