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Editorial: Harnessing Technology for Teaching Efficiency Gains

When I am asked, through the Educational Technology Service, to present a departmental seminar for raising awareness of the opportunities offered by "new technologies" to teaching and learning processes, a high priority is often given for "how to save us teaching time". The theme of this fifth issue of Interactions, addresses this need. The answer is not straightforward. There are always gains to be made in teaching efficiency through non-technological solutions such as time management, dealing with large student groups etc. in which the Academic Staff Development Office aims to assist. However, computer-based solutions are associated with the appropriate combination of the exploitation of productivity tools (word processing, spreadsheet and database usage, email communications) and resource based electronic materials with sound educational objectives. Rethinking the way we teach to take advantage of some of the benefits of technology-enhanced learning methods and materials involves considerable time and energy. The efficiency gains are not always obvious when the "start-up" time in becoming familiar with technological methods and rethinking curricula can appear overwhelming. There is an initial uphill journey to be made after which these redesigning and reflecting activities can become second nature.

The role of the ETS aims to make this journey as straightward and efficient as possible. Your thoughts and feedback on how best we can achieve this goal are always appreciated. Please email ETS to make any recommendations. By providing a source of information, advice and implementation and evaluation assistance, the ETS aims to work with individuals and departments to explore opportunities and get ideas for solutions off the ground.

Quite often, the teaching efficiency gains are achieved by using the technology to maintain current quality of teaching and learning rather than only to enhance it. Two pressures on today's teaching arise from the increased intake of students and the increased diversity of courses offered coupled with students' prior knowledge and understanding of the subject. A third pressure is seen in universities needing to equip students with "graduate" skills that enable them to be effective and efficient learners within their degree study period, in their employment following graduation and in lifelong learning and continuing professional development throughout their lives and careers. It is a challenge of technology-based education to assist in developing both the academic and the broader capabilities of our students. The Teaching Quality Assessment (TQA) process goes some way to pushing us to develop clearer strategies for harnessing technology to meet the challenges of our educational objectives for delivering quality learning experiences and quality students.

The first article is contributed by our own Adrian Boucher from the Centre for Education and Industry. Adrian has provided a valuable summary of some of the issues facing Higher Education in terms of harnessing national pressures and activities in learning technologies. He outlines some overall perspectives and assumptions from some of the national ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) initiatives and programmes and discusses how these have impacted on institutions and uptake of technology-based methodologies and materials in terms of effectiveness and efficiency gains. Adrian also points out some of the opportunities for Higher Education in exploiting the distinctive competencies of universities that offer sustainable competitive advantages in overseas markets. He wraps up by providing a useful set of questions as a framework for the search for defensible objective measures of the efficiency of ICT in teaching and learning.

The second article is contributed by Gordon Doughty from the University of Glasgow. Dr Gordon Doughty is responsible for the ITTI project Establishing Multimedia Authoring Skills in Higher Education (EMASHE), Glasgow University's Teaching with Independent Learning Technologies (TILT) project in the Teaching & Learning Technology Programme (TLTP), and the Glasgow Centre of the Teaching & Learning Technology Support Network (TLTSN). His work on evaluating cost-benefits of learning technologies is well-known and we are grateful for his insight in this issue. Gordon's article discusses some of the issues facing academics and departments in making decisions about the use of technologies in teaching and learning processes as well as in individual implementation interventions. Some useful outcomes of their institutional TLTP project over the last 5 years are presented. The project's aims included gaining benefits and reducing costs, focusing on the use of the concepts and language of costs, benefits and value-for-money to help teachers evaluate and negotiate their cases for investment in changing teaching methods. Since the investment in the reorganisation as a whole brings the benefits, all aspects of a change require consideration.

The third article is contributed by Jonathan Darby, Director of the Technology Assisted Lifelong Learning (TALL) Programme at the University of Oxford (Department of Continuing Education). Jonathan is also President of the Association for Learning Technology, a national and international membership of academics and practitioners interested in promoting, supporting and using learning technologies. Jonathan brings a historical perspective to the theme of this issue in his article entitled "Harnessing the Printing Press for Teaching Efficiency Gains". He offers an insight into the way that Higher Education responds to new technologies and proposes that efficiency gains are apparent in the delivery of Universities' teaching and learning - today and in the future.


Dr Jay Dempster
Head of Educational Technology
Centre for Academic Practice
University of Warwick
Tel: +44 (0) 24 7652 4670

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