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

DIUS @ Media Zoo

Trusted readers of my contributions to the Beyond Distance Blog may have noticed that until now my blog posts have not mentioned my work in the Media Zoo. Well I thought it was time to include a piece…

Those of you who are familiar with the Media Zoo and the approach taken will know that it has proven to be an important mechanism for disseminating the cutting edge research undertaken by the department to both internal and external markets. So we were pleased to welcome Martin Williams and John McLaughlin from the Department for Innovation, Universities & Skills (DIUS) to the Media Zoo for a discussion on how to successfully integrate learning technologies into teaching practices and how these may impact upon the student experience in the immediate to long-term future – which coincides nicely with our newer research projects – CALF (Creating Academic Learning Futures).

Following an interesting discussion with some student representatives that highlighted some positive and negative aspects of the institution (which may be reflected upon in later posts), the focus of the discussion changed to technologies, our other research projects, but maybe more importantly, our strategies for institutional change.

External visitors are important if we are to continue to raise the profile of the Media Zoo nationally; the visit from DIUS follows on the back of other important visits from the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA), the Royal Air Force (RAF) and recently a visit from the Joint Information Systems Council (JISC).

So what is next for the Media Zoo? You’ll have to wait until I write again on Sunday 5th April!

Keeper of the Media Zoo

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