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Editorial: Educational Dialogues for Technology-Enhanced Learning

Jay Dempster, Centre for Academic Practice, University of Warwick

While the learning and teaching describe the 'why' and the 'what' of our educational mission, it leaves the 'how' very much open.

A central issue in developing the use of C&IT in learning and teaching rests on co-ordination of the University's support provision for this area. There are several ways in which teaching staff have access to IT facilities and training as well as support in staff and educational development. If these are to offer maximum (or at least cost-effective) benefit to the University in terms of outcomes, it is necessary to improve the nature and regularity of dialogue between support providers. This is no more so than in the implementation and evaluation of our learning and teaching strategies, particularly with respect to C&IT where there are a number of disparate departments lending support to staff and students. A separation and distinction of roles and expertise would be helpful here.

Distinguishing where one department's contribution ends and another begins is useful, but this should not lead to a stepping stone approach. There is potential in the overlap for highly productive and effective co-operation and collaboration. Indeed, many have argued that "educational technology", as a field of study and practice, falls essentially in the 'no mans land' between one support provider and another. Convergence of departments or reorganisation of roles in many HE and FE institutions is testimony to the fact that this area has been hard to compartmentalise. All too often, the area of technology in learning and teaching has become an 'all mans land' and departments can fall foul of issues of ownership and empire-building. 

Establishing a shared sense of ownership in ensuring the outcomes of our learning and teaching strategy are met is essential. A form of co-ordination for individual and departmental initiatives and projects should be set up as a matter of urgency. The responsibility for achieving our strategic goals can then be owned jointly by all involved, with shared ways of debating issues, considering requirements for resources, dealing with problems, making decisions and acknowledging achievements. Evidence that this is happening at Warwick include the Teaching and Learning Steering Committee (a sub-group of the IT Policy Committee), the Learning and Teaching Strategy Working Group, the E-Strategy Working Group (chaired by the VC) with the recently-formed sub-group specifically looking into issues of E-Teaching. However, much of the ground work discussion is done on an adhoc basis with a need to develop more formally recognised forums for debate made up of those working closely in the field.

A good pilot for this would be to consider how the proposed C&IT-related TQEF initiatives might be best managed. This includes the extended Teaching Development Fund, the proposed E-Learning Lab in IT Services and the support post in the Centre for Academic Practice (Academic Development Advisor for "Innovations").

In this issue of Interactions, dealing with educational dialogues involved in technology-enhanced learning, the three articles triangulate pertinent issues. the first article provides an evaluative summary of the experiences of using web-based email discussion and publishing of students' critical analyses from work carried out in the Department of English & Comparative Literary Studies here at Warwick. The second looks at the issue of plagiarism, clarifies the various types of plagiarism, looks at ways of preventing and detecting, and finally reflects on whether there is any real problem at all in the transparent world of the web. The third item links to a interesting conference paper that I came across from Indiana University that is hugely relevant to the kinds of discussions going on in UK institutions for developing distance education strategies in the UK. The paper considers the training needs of those teaching or learning through web-based courses, both in terms of the cutlture of the online environment and complexities for novice users of the computer and software. Moreover, it sets out some vital considerations for those developing web-based instruction, dealing with issues "not so much as a matter of setting standards and practices, but rather as a matter of defining a process that increases learners' comfort level and involvement." A key point is that this process ultimately determines effective models in designing courses that move away from instructor-centred, passive learning towards adopting more self-directed and collaborative learning approaches. This is heartily welcomed! 


Dr Jay Dempster
Centre for Academic Practice
University of Warwick
Tel: +44 (0) 24 7657 2737

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