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February 11, 2008

16 ways to make an excellent university

As part of the application process for a major award, I am currently reflecting upon the reasons why my work as Arts E-learning Advisor has been successful. Part of the answer is that the ‘e-learning’ initiative is facilitating a more widespread and comprehensive development of the ‘Warwick experience’. I have begun by listing 16 factors that I believe contribute to an excellent university; that is, 16 things that we can focus development upon. I can then investigate the means by which technology might be contributing to these 16 factors.
Firstly, a word about how this list was constructed. I have simply talked to many of the people who are responsible for creating an excellent ‘Warwick experience’ – not just the student experience, but also the researcher and teacher experience. Some of the ideas are developments of official teaching and learning strategy. Others are based upon my first hand experience as a student, researcher and teacher.

Here’s my list. It’s not intended to be exclusively complete, but rather to give a basic framework.

  1. Create, promote and review many diverse opportunities and resources.
  2. Reduce the burden of admin and bureaucracy.
  3. Enable and encourage enterprise.
  4. Provide space, tools and resources for creativity.
  5. Support managed risk taking.
  6. Support deep-learning and specialisation, within an understanding of wider contexts and connections.
  7. Establish a range of alternative channels of expression and collaboration, to be used intelligently, with purpose and discretion.
  8. Create and sustain meaningful communities at the appropriate scale and of the appropriate form.
  9. Facilitate international and local perspectives and connections as part of all activities.
  10. Form mutually beneficial collaborations that bring together diverse people (varying status, age, skills level, intellectual and cultural background etc).
  11. Develop, communicate and use appropriate and well defined values: benchmarks; standards; competencies (assessment).
  12. Enable and encourage the critical reflection, planning & action cycle.
  13. Identify and reward individual contributions, capabilities and achievements.
  14. Share examples, testimonies, methods and stories.
  15. Communicate and celebrate success.
  16. Provide an enjoyable, caring and friendly experience.
How then does technology fit into this? Clearly the intelligent and well designed use of new technologies may assist greatly with each of the points. I plan to explore this more thoroughly. But we should also consider what might be a prerequisite for technology having an effect in such fundamental and powerful processes. I argue that there are core competencies that are necessary pre-conditions for success: the core competencies of a digital native. It is in supporting the development of these core competencies, as much as the provision of actual technologies, that the most vital work lies.