March 30, 2006

E–learning Progress Report: looking for a new job

Follow-up to E–learning Research: Achieving success in e–learning development from Transversality - Robert O'Toole

Time to stop growling and to talk plainly. I am not at all happy with my work as an E-learning Advisor. I'm an ambitious person, and desire worthy results. I have a few significant talents, that need to be fostered and applied effectively in a wider context. So I am looking for a new job - that means either elsewhere, or a change in the way in which I operate within this position.

What are we trying to achieve?

I define the goal quite simply: the adoption of good new technologies by lecturers and students to enhance the teaching and learning process (which at Warwick includes research activities). The effort in adopting the new technologies should be justified by the value that they add, and not negated by any disruption that they introduce to existing practices. The end result should be to contribute to Warwick becoming a world class university.

How can I contribute to this?

Perhaps the best place to start is by asking: what am I good at? That is answerable by identifying what, out of the (far too many) things that I do, people value the most.

Rob Johnson identified something important today during a discussion of a planned skills and PDP development project in History. In response to his description of the project, I raised a few critical questions that need to be answered in considering and planning the project. Without first answering these questions, the project could be undermined. People often tell me that they value this input.

Secondly, I was able to demonstrate how the nature of the project and its deliverables might change in response to these answers. Most importantly I could suggest techniques (pedagogical and otherwise) and technologies that might address the identified problems. These suggestions were based on a mix of experience (they had been used elsewhere) and rational conjecture (they were new ideas that sound feasible).

So to summarise, what I am recognised as doing well:

  1. help people to think and plan critically;
  2. suggest possible solutions.

Note that there are other things that I could potentially do well, but for various reasons beyond my control, I cannot reliably contribute them to e-learning development.

What can I not contribute?

These positive contributions are good and valued. They create specific requirements, including:

  1. helping people to answer the critical questions (through deeper investigations);
  2. the absolutely fundamental requirement to provide a cohesive and complete set of tools and technologies that can be used to meet the requirements to an acceptable extent;
  3. the need to provide good and relavant examples illustrating possible solutions (academics are constantly asking for good relevant examples from real teaching).

Unfortunately, I am finding that I cannot satisfy all of these requirements at the same time, and am not getting sufficient help in doing so. Specifically, I find that:

  1. I do not have enough time and resource to help them to answer the critical questions through deeper invesitgations;
  2. I cannot provide, or source from elsewhere within the University, the required technologies and support infrastructure – we simply do not have provisions to meet the needs that I am constantly encountering;
  3. given that I am having to take personal responsibility for so many of the required e-learning activities, I do not have time available to generate and document the required body of examples – the fact that there are so many gaps in the technology and support provision, also makes this difficult.
Possible solutions?

I am finding that genuine success in e-learning development, or even moderately worthwhile progress, is not happening. These problems cannot be solved by an individual in isolation. They require team work, coordination, and strategy. Without team work and strategy, I am ending up having to fulfill almost every role in the e-learning development process myself (such a diversity as to include building web applications, teaching undergraduates, consulting with academics, project management, writing showcases, testing out new technologies and much more). I conclude that a new way of working is required.

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