Last Thursday and Friday, I was part of a joint summer school with UCL’s Digital Department project. This was aimed primarily but not exclusively at teaching administrators, who are the focus of the UCL project. Over the two days, we explored issues of learning, teaching and technology in relation to sector-wide changes, developing pedagogies, changing student profiles and patterns of engagement, and also organisational change.
It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience, with great input from the participants. Further information about the event will be made available in the near future, and I’ll link to it once there’s an update.
Update: here’s a link to the Digital Department project’s blog post on this event: https://blogs.ucl.ac.uk/the-digital-department/2013/07/20/summer-school-technology-and-change-in-higher-education/
Last week, we made our first presentation on the curriculum design elements of the staff intervention study. We gave the talk at the Researching Work and Learning conference in Sterling, to a select but very engaged audience. The talk focused on the material practices of curricula work, setting this in the context of wider debates around the curriculum in higher education.
The presentation is available on slideshare.
It’s inevitable, but nevertheless frustrating, that it’s taken so long for formal publications relating to the project. However, two things have now made it to press – a book chapter in a very interesting collection on the Digital University, edited by Robin Goodfellow and Mary Lea, and a short journal paper in the new Irish Learning Technology Association journal, following on from the keynote we gave at the ILTA conference last year. The paper is open access, and so available online. It has also embedded the video of the keynote we gave.
References to both can be found on our publications page.
Yesterday, Lesley and I gave a presentation on the project at Leicester University. This was delivered to a rather select group in the room, but also webcast to a wider audience. We almost made it through without technical hiccup… but not quite! It was very interesting to present this work, which was focused on our graduate students, to an audience that included graduate students at another institution. It also provided a very interesting space in which to discuss methodology in quite a frank and productive way.
We have just completed a presentation on the project as part of the JISC’s online e-learning conference. This focused on the process of institutional change, analysing two parts of the work of our project, using ideas drawn from Actor-Network Theory. This was an opportunity for us to work through (for ourselves, as well as for the audience!) accounts of change that didn’t rely on top-down, imposed, rational accounts of change. We had some very positive feedback, which was reassuring.
The session was recorded and we’re assured that this will be made available in the new year. We’ll provide a link through to this once it’s available.
Here’s our timetable for today:
09.30 – 10.00 Coffee, arrivals
10.00 – 10.15 Welcome (Carol)
10.15 – 12.30 Project updates – 10mins presentation and 20mins discussion
(With a short comfort break 11.15)
12.30 – 14.00 Lunch and networking
14.00 – 16.00 Planning for year 2
16.00 – 17.00 Planning and action points
17.00 onwards ‘cultural hour’.
Last week, we gathered in Birmingham for a programme meeting; as part of this, all the projects presented outputs from their work in a ‘trade fair’ activity.
We offered two resources: a poster, that gives an overview of some of the evidence from our studies and raises questions for institutions to consider; and a guide to using qualitative data about the student experience to inform institutional decision making.
We chose these because between them, they cover both the process and the substantive findings of the work we’ve done to date. We designed them to give people resources to think with, without pre-judging what issues they might be facing locally. Since we recognise that our institution isn’t typical, we wanted to prompt people to think about how these concerns might play out for them.
Congratulations to Jude Fransman & her partner Jeff, who have just had a new baby. Jude is taking a well deserved break from work, although she’s still managing to keep in touch and keep an eye on how Lesley & I are handling the data.
Not quite the first baby of the programme – Sarah Knight beat her to it by a few days – but pretty close!
Following a recent IT Services review, the IOE has constituted a task group of the Information Strategy Committee (which has academic governance of IT services), which is now in the process of drafting a requirements analysis to inform future activity. This review has drawn on various institutional committees’ work, but has also drawn evidence from the early analysis undertaken in this project. In the current draft’s appendix, one page of the three-and-a-half pages of evidence is drawn from our work. Qualitatively, the priorities we’ve identified have shaped the review. For example, “differentiation” – something that the project has shown is important in supporting our students – is now listed as one of the principles against which IT solutions should be prioritised, designed and selected.
This is, of course, an early indication – the report has yet to be approved or enacted – but it does signal how project outputs are starting to influence institutional activity.
Specifically, I think it provides an interesting example of our theoretical frame in action. We can follow material/digital project texts to show how specific actors (in this case, students and academics), who were previously quite marginal in decisions about IT service provision, are able to use the texts to reconfigure existing arrangements in ways that are more favourable to their needs and priorities.
Just completed a presentation about the project at the institution’s annual Learning and Teaching conference. (The slides from this are available on slideshare.)
Turnout was great (a full room) and feedback was very positive – several comments about how interesting the project was, and how important it was to take a position that assumes and builds upon the diversity of student practice. I thought it was particularly interesting how the project’s work was seen as an important part of so many different peoples’ areas of practice. Discussion of PGCE and distance students was particularly lively.
At the end of the session I asked people to think about the students they work with, and how these issues might relate to work there – this sparked off some lively discussion in small groups. I tried to get some of this fed back in plenary, and managed to note the following before everyone rushed off to get lunch:
- That it was good to see the project’s purpose was not to classify whether people are competent or not, but to understand and support people in the alternative ways of negotiating what you have to deal with day-to-day.
- That this contributes in to ongoing dialogue with students about their academic literacies – it was described as intensifying such discussions “in quite a good way”.
- It is important to help teachers find ways to work that recognise this diversity of practice are so are more inclusive than a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. (For example, how should tutors work with groups in classes where some people have connected digital devices and others don’t?)
- There was discussion about how hard it is to get students to collaborate online – they only do what’s compulsory, not what’s offered, but were able to engage when it was made compulsory. It was suggested that what teachers may need to do differently is not just expect use, but to do more to support this and raise expectations about digital participation.
- Students may face important issues decisions balancing having to pay for printing against how they might want to read.
- There were repeated requests to undertake similar work with staff – to understand the diversity of their practices and the challenges they face.
- Memoranda of Agreement and Memoranda of Understanding ask about resources in other institutions – as we use more digital resources, local institutions’ lack of resources may matter less. (Note: we did discuss the differences there may be between offering resources to students and them being able to use them successfully.)
Repeatedly, I was also asked whether we could explore whether these constraints and expectations identified amongst students were replicated for teaching and support staff. This was seen as a really important issue, for several reasons. Firstly, these issues have ramifications for students (e.g. the resources available in classrooms can limit what we are able to model to students during classes). Secondly, there was concern that decisions about infrastructure and IT provision are being made on the assumption that staff are homogeneous, with similar needs and patterns of work; it would be helpful to have evidence that demonstrates this isn’t the case. Thirdly, there are training and support issues that would be identified by doing this: if we have a better understanding of how staff work, we can work with them in more appropriate ways.
It may be worth discussing with the JISC whether any aspects of this could be taken up under the ‘institutional readiness for change’ work.