BDRA and Janus

Janus, the Roman god who gave his name to January, looked in two directions at once. The same is true, in more than one respect, of BDRA.

First, although it is a research alliance and has a particularly strong research record, BDRA is also a teaching group, through its Carpe Diem workshops and dissemination of its research findings. Its teaching activities, based in part on its research, will be very much enhanced by the MIET programme soon to be launched.

Second, BDRA faces both into the University of Leicester and outwards, well beyond it. Through its staff collaborating with other departments and units in carrying out research and teaching, BDRA has a greater impact internally than is usual for groups of its size and character. Beyond the university, BDRA has become well-known through bidding successfully for research funds from national bodies such as JISC and the HEA, as well as through conferences and publications. But it has also entered into partnerships involving other universities keen to upgrade their students’ e-learning.

As a Visiting Professor in BDRA, I’m aware of the wide range of BDRA’s activities and the heavy workload of its staff. This blog displays some of what’s going on, but there is more, much more, if you visit BDRA’s web site.

Janus is sometimes regarded as the god who looks forwards as well as backwards. BDRA staff can look back with pride at their achievements. As for the future, BDRA is at the forefront: it looks ahead, like Janus.

David Hawkridge

The Little Boy

Many of us involved in teaching will be familiar with this poem by Helen Buckley. If you know it, I invite you to revisit it. If you don’t, then please read it. All of it.

The first time I read the poem was many years ago. An inspirational teacher I had during my MEd used it years later. Today, in the world of  Web 2.0, iPhones, Second Life, Twitter and ‘GoogleLife’, The Little Boy seems to me as current as ever. I invite colleagues to ‘read’ this poem having perhaps replaced the setting, the characters and the technologies involved. Maybe we can come up with a version of this poem called ‘the little lecturer’?

Alejandro Armellini

Memories Made of Web

Last week’s edition of The Economist (14th March) had a full-page feature (p83) on the world-wide web on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of Tim Berners-Lee’s paper on “Information Management: a Proposal”. It is interesting to reflect on what learning technologies were available to us when we all started our careers and how far we have come since.

In 1990, when I first started teaching, blackboard (lower case ‘b’, please), chalk and talk in the classroom had been largely replaced, but whiteboards were by no means universal in the venues that the distance-learning university I was teaching with used. Acetates with overhead projectors and the ubiquitous flipchart were the norm for a few more years yet.

Online, my first encounter with electronic technologies for teaching and learning was a dial-in, mainframe-based asynchronous messaging system (definitely not conferencing, as we know it today). After a couple of years of rather ponderous ‘conversations’ online with fellow tutors and students and relatively simple online activities backed up with telephone conversations, a Windows interface arrived which began to change everything in terms of ease of use, flexibility and responsiveness.

And then, in 1995, a move to the FirstClass system opened up so much more in terms of online facilities – weaving, threading and summarising made simple; setting up small group areas quickly and easily; synchronous text chat; tracking users from their ‘footprint’ online etc etc.

I wonder what other people’s first memories are of teaching and learning online some 20 years after the Web made so much more possible?

Roger Dence, 18th March 2009

The value of good teaching

The value of good teaching

Half-way down this page from the THE (19 February) you’ll find a sub-section entitled GENIUS VALUES TEACHING, SO SHOULD THE REST OF US, in which David Eastwood, HEFCE’s CEO, shares a few insightful comments about teachers and teaching in HE. I’d like to invite readers to reflect on some of his thoughts in the context of what we do at Leicester and at Beyond Distance. For example (please read carefully):

Lives transformed by university teachers, some great, some humble; some intellectual leaders, some accomplished synthesisers. Students anxious to take a particular person’s course; graduates aspire to “study with” – not to have their higher learning in some desiccated way “facilitated by” – a supervisor of repute and standing. […]

[…] a mechanistic language that suffused debates on “learning and teaching”. I thought, symbolically and actually, we lost much in the subtle inversion of “teaching and learning” as it transposed into “learning and teaching”.

Slowly, though, we are revaluing teaching. Teaching and university teachers are better valued: by teaching awards, in promotion and reward procedures, through the work of the Higher Education Academy, and through an acceptance of the legitimacy of student evaluation, partly through the National Student Survey, partly through more locally sensitive processes at institutional, departmental and course level.

Some might want to dismiss the above as backward-looking, as an attempt to castigate learner-centred methods, as out of touch.

I don’t think so. Talking about teaching neither removes nor devalues students or their learning – quite the opposite. In this world obsessed with learners, learning, learner-centredness, learner-facing, learner focus and even ‘designing and delivering learning’ (which I find a most peculiar concept, assuming it actually means anything), it is actually refreshing that the rediscovery of teaching is creeping back into the agenda. Let’s make sure that journey continues.

Alejandro Armellini

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