Disseminating Leicester´s strategy

Las week I was invited to deliver a keynote address at Oviedo University’s Innovation Centre in northern Spain. Elena Barbera, from the Open University of Catalunya, was the other external speaker. The event was attended by about 50 academics interested in learning technology and learning innovation.

The University of Leicester has explicitly decided to lead the way in innovation for learning in Higher Education, to benefit student learning across the entire spectrum of University activity. My address, which generated a significant amount of interest, explained the strategic approach to learning innovation driven by evidence for change, the implementation strategy and the successes so far.

The event, which was a success, gave me the opportunity to further disseminate the work of Beyond Distance and Leicester and to establish links with new potential partners for future projects.

Dr A Armellini
24 November 2010

The Travelator Paradox

Educators, have you got a travelator under your belt?

A travelator is an automated moving walkway. If you think you have never seen one, think again – at some point one must have carried you and your luggage from one departure gate to another at an airport or a train station. There is one at the Bank Tube Station in London and at a number of other locations around the world. The fact is, however, that they feature more in old science-fiction visions of the future than in present day reality. H.G. Wells imagined moving walkways in his 1897 novel A Story of the Days To Come, and Fritz Lang put them in his dystopian 1927 film Metropolis. So did Isaac Asimov in The Caves of Steel and Arthur C Clarke’s Against the Fall of Night. Why did the “rolling pavement” from the retro futurist stories never really catch on and remained a feature of a handful of airports and train stations?

Two separate studies, reported last week by the BBC, set out in 2009 to look for an answer. What the researchers at Princeton and Ohio State universities found out was quite interesting. It turns out that travelator passengers tend to slow their pace or stop walking altogether once they step on the machines, defeating the purpose which the travelators are supposed to achieve – to save time.

People standing on a travellator instead of walking

I think of this as the travelator paradox and the story fascinates me. It has prompted me to think of the possibility of similar travelator paradoxes hidden in our arsenal of learning and teaching practices which we expect to carry us into the future of learning and teaching. It seems to me that part of the reason for the “rolling pavement” to fail is that it changes the role of people from travellers-navigators to passengers. Once they get onto the machine, people are guaranteed to reach their destination, even if they remain passive and put no effort. They do not need to interact with the others around them or even notice them. Also, the destination is unexciting, because the route is predetermined, obvious and uniform for everyone on the travelator – there is neither mystery nor adventure so again, there is no reason for people to be alert or take action.

Once I extended the analogy into the domain of education, travelators started emerging. An e-learning course, for example, can turn into a travelator if all it contains is text, posted online in a way in which learners can go through it without having to engage with the material or with each other, with only a single route leading them to the planned learning outcomes. Students, coming in for a lecture, knowing that their lecturer is going to tell them exactly what he or she has been saying to the students in the previous year and the year before, and exactly in the same way, are in for a travelator – they will get to their destination, but the journey will be one of boredom and dullness.


Students in a boring VLE or passengers on the trottoire roulant at the 1900 Paris Expo?

If I were to find myself 20 years in the future from now, I would want to see which of the learning technologies of great promise today will have remained sidelined like travelators, instead of changing the world of learning. Whichever these learning technologies turn out to be, I think their failure will brought by a lack of supporting pedagogies which could have helped learners to create their own learning journey rather than just be there for the ride.

Sandra Romenska

Creating Academic Learning Futures (CALF) Project

BDRA, 7 October 2010

Announcing the Beyond Distance MSc in Innovative Education and Training

Beyond Distance Research Alliance is very pleased and excited to announce its first degree programme: MSc in Innovative Education and Training. This exciting new course will be conducted by collaborative distance learning. Students will benefit from the tutorial support of our own Professor Gilly Salmon, Dr Alejandro Armellini, and Dr Palitha Edirisingha. The programme will begin October 2010, and can be completed in only 22 months. Study will pursue the themes of learning design, technology, innovation, change, research, and futures. Planned modules include

  1. Learning Innovation
  2. Research to Practice
  3. Looking Back for Moving Forward: Hindsight and Insight
  4. Creating the Future for Learning: Foresight and Oversight
  5. Proposal Preparation and Pilot
  6. Learning Futures Project

Above image is a collage created as an online e-tivity by the international delegates to the Beyond Distance Learning Futures Festival Online 2010

Our goal in this course is to enhance practice and professional development in technology-rich educational environments, giving students the opportunity to consider and critique the developments, likely trajectory and implications of digital technologies for learning. Participants will be encouraged to identify, formulate and debate theoretical and practical insights into education and training at any level and in any country and sector.

If you have been looking for a masters programme that will not only prepare you for the future of learning and training but also to be a leader in this field, this is the course for you!

For more information and to inquire further, visit http://www.le.ac.uk/beyonddistance/miet.

Terese Bird, Learning Technologist

First off the blocks? Implications of the revised approach to HEFCE’s strategy for e-learning (2009)

As the University of Leicester transits from the implementation of its first e-learning and pedagogical innovation strategy (2005-2008) through to the final phase of consultations and approvals for the new learning innovation strategy (2009-2012), HEFCE has recently published a document entitled Enhancing learning and teaching through the use of technology: A revised approach to HEFCE’s strategy for e-learning (2009).

This post scans the ‘2009 approach’ document and highlights some areas of variance from the HEFCE’s earlier strategy for e-learning (2005) and how these variances might impact on our work in e-learning and learning technologies – both the R&D work that we do from project to project, as well as for our strategic function in charting courses for the use of technology in learning, teaching, assessment and research within the institution.

According to the (thankfully, brief) publicity material and (unfortunately, limited) media coverage accompanying the launch of HEFCE’s 2009 approach, the document ‘focuses on enhancing learning, teaching and assessment through the use of technology’. Some of it draws upon the published 2005 strategy but also reflects on ‘how technology can support individual institutions in achieving (some of) their key strategic aims’.

No surprises there … as the focus is exactly where it was in the 2005 strategy (i.e. on enhancing learning, teaching and assessment through the use of technology), but what is new is the ‘also reflects’ bit.

Renewal of the cycle of any strategy is crucial and this reflection comes at an opportune time. Consider this – whilst the 2005 strategy did not attempt to define e-learning, the 2009 approach acknowledges that e-learning is used as shorthand for the ‘array of technological developments and approaches’ in use throughout the sector.

The 2009 approach also takes specific cognizance of the great diversity of uses of ICT. New and emerging technologies, according to this approach, clearly provide exciting opportunities for enhancement and innovation in learning opportunities on the campus, within the workplace or at home.

HEFCE thus aims to build the revised framework to focus on the broader opportunities offered through the use of technology, rather than solely concentrate on specific issues like distance learning.

The 2009 approach also commits HEFCE to continue working with partners, particularly JISC and the HE Academy, to support institutions in enhancing learning, teaching and assessment through the use of technology. This appears to be a clear vote of confidence in the research-support function enabled by JISC and the HE Academy and as beneficiary of funding for research and development projects, augurs well for the availability of future funding for researchers in the field.

The 2009 approach – in a pluralist vein rather than as a prescriptive blueprint – while explicitly acknowledging that technology has a fundamental part to play in higher education, also emphasizes that individual institutions can have different strategic missions and could (nay, should) perhaps also use technology differently and innovatively – in ways that are in synch with their institutional contexts and in pursuit of their own strategic goals. The key implication here is that ‘institutions need to consider how to invest (HEFCE’s) block grant appropriately’.

A ‘block grant’, as readers would be aware in HEFCE-speak, is the means of distributing funding for learning and teaching which HE and FE institutions can use to support their aims and objectives. The block grants contain targeted allocations, which are designed to recognize the additional costs of priority areas such as widening participation and part-time provision.

This is over and above the ‘capital funding’ for learning and teaching, research and infrastructure that HEFCE distributes by formula as conditional allocations to be used by HEIs to invest in supporting infrastructure. HEFCE normally announces the capital funding for learning and teaching, and research together so that institutions can plan their buildings and equipment spending requirements effectively.

How then, does the University of Leicester’s soon-to-be-published learning innovation strategy (2009-2012) sit within HECFE’s ‘2009 approach’? The strategic imperatives that Leicester enshrines (e.g. of ‘leading the UK in terms of innovation in teaching and learning through the application of e-learning’) do appear to be the basis for the learning innovation strategy (2009-2012), with its stated aims of:

  • continuing the promotion of pedagogical innovation,
  • increasing the deployment of technologies in pursuit of enhanced student learning experiences, and 
  • enabling research into e-learning in a way that directly addresses business opportunities and imperatives.

Fulfilment of the learning innovation strategy’s other aspirations – viz. providing equivalent and enhanced learning and support experiences for all Leicester students, and the framework that develops and extends the range of services and approaches already in place to deepen the understanding and deployment of learning technologies within the University – would however necessitate a serious substantial investment from the institution. Surely a targeted intervention from the University’s block grant would successfully enable implementation of specific aspects of the strategy.

Over to the powers that be… or the powers that ‘block’, as advantage lies with one who is first off their ‘blocks’!

– Jai Mukherjee / 8 April 2009

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