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E-Learning – Revolution or Evolution

Interactions was founded as a web-based journal nine years ago to support exchange of experiences of using technology in teaching and learning. Its aim was to recognise and share developments in ‘e-learning’ taking place across the University and beyond and to raise the profile of Warwick’s expertise and initiative in this area.

I believe Interactions has been successful in its aims to recognise and share e-learning developments taking place across the University. When I founded the journal in 1997, the use of educational technology - it wasn't called e-learning back then of course - across the University were patchy to say the least. I recall writing HTML code to produce a set of web pages and ‘gluing’ together various (rather clunky and unreliable) stand-alone tools in order to create an integrated learning environment. The most memorable was the online resource to support the "North American Women Writers" module in the Department of English – needless to say, it fell over a few times! However, the number of academics interested in using online tools was growing and this was apparent in the small innovations taking off in departments and an increase in the internal readership of Interactions over the years. External awareness of Warwick’s e-learning activities through our websites has always been extremely high and I strongly believe that Interactions played a major part in this building our profile in this area.

It is true to say that much has changed over the period, reflected across the chapters in this publication. The world has altered dramatically and students must be prepared differently to survive and thrive in the new environment. The advances in computing, communication and content have driven rapid changes in society, yet we appear to be learning about how people learn (and want to or need to learn) on a much slower time scale. Two main shifts stand out, which some might consider as ‘revolutionary’, others might argue ‘evolutionary’.

Firstly, in terms of embracing e-learning, there has been an abundance of development opportunities. Nationally, there have been a whole host of funding programmes and initiatives, professional e-learning accreditation schemes, institutional benchmarking for e-learning and growth and maturation in learning technology as a field of research. At Warwick, the last five years have also seen considerable investment in e-learning through e-strategy funding for development of a high quality technical architecture and through a focus on e-learning in the use of Teaching Quality Enhancement Funds. More recently, we have emphasised the need to move from dealing with e-learning as a separate set of ‘centre-stage’ activities towards the backdrop of broader pedagogical aspirations. The new 2006-09 Learning and Teaching Strategy addresses areas of educational development concerned with creativity and innovation; diversity and skills; and linking research and teaching with learning.

Secondly, there is an obvious shift in culture and acceptance of information and communications technology, driven by a change in leisure activities, such as the web surfing, use of search engines, video games, mobile phones, Chat, etc. The opportunities to harness such everyday practices for educational purposes are only just coming to light, raising issues around integration of new kinds of learning activities and “e” pedagogies. Technology has certainly made possible pedagogical innovations that were not driven by technology but that are indeed enabled by technology.

E-learning may well have been the catalyst for some staff to explore and develop new methods of teaching, learning and assessment, fostering a growing community of staff at Warwick. Many academics undertake to make improvements out of professional pride or because they are simply curious or wish to be innovative in this area. This may begin with asking questions about ‘how best to’ do something and lead to a small project that explores a problem or underpin a new initiative. Last year, Vice Chancellor announced a £1 million fund to draw out educational innovation from across the University. Such work may end up pushing the boundary of what is known, thus contributing to pedagogic research in the subject discipline.

In supporting this, we took the decision to expand the journal to cover educational development in this wider sense and 2005 saw the move to a new format, including a peer review system for selection of articles. The move coincided with the launch of a Teaching Enhancement Awards (TEA) scheme. This scheme aims to recognise and celebrate the achievement of academic staff who engage in educational development and share their ideas and experiences through case studies and conferences. Both Interactions and the TEA have proved a valuable to authors venturing into pedagogic evaluation and research into the teaching and learning of their discipline. The new Interactions aims to help focus this activity providing an outlet for scholarship and a base for a University wide community of practice in educational development.

On the tail of the University’s 40th anniversary celebrations last year, it seemed timely at this juncture to reflect upon our ‘e-learning’ journey in a special publication drawing out changes in thinking and practice in e-learning based around past articles from Warwick staff over the years.

However you engage with Interactions now and in the future, as a consumer, reviewer, researcher or author, I hope that it proves as stimulating in the years ahead as it has over the last decade.

Dr Jay Dempster

Interactions Editor

Deputy Director (Head of Educational Development & E-Learning)
Centre for Academic Practice