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Editorial: Distance Technologies for Teaching and Learning

"There's an e-learning battle ahead - only those armed and ready should enter the fray ."

Peter Scott, Vice-Chancellor of Kingston University

The quote is taken from a article, that is well worth the read, entitled Universities should resist e-imperialism first published in EducationGuardian.co.uk (Tuesday November 13, 2001). In this, Peter Scott reminds us that Higher Education brings the best research and the best teaching together in the spirit of "freedom of knowledge" - and asks is learning a commodity in that culture? Have universities bundled research and teaching together for a convenience based on physical buildings that is no longer relevant? Overall, Peter Scott dwells on the difference between developing on-campus, or near-campus, e-learning, and venturing into the global e-learning business. The first does not challenge the core purposes of the university; the second may. 

There is still a considerably underdeveloped wisdom in HE of the potentials and pitfalls of E-learning. Tasked with developing the use of ICT in teaching and learning across the University, I am continually faced with at least two misplaced conceptions that restrict our capacity to harness the potential benefits of e-learning across all aspects of higher education. These are (1) that e-learning is only for distance learning and (2) that its usefulness in campus-based courses is limited to web-based materials, tutorial packages and possibly computer-marked assessment. There is growing exploration of the use of online discussion tools to support students' in critique and debate, but a long way to go to develop appreciation and understanding for the role of such tools can play in supporting and enhancing student creative and collaborative learning activities. These activities are at the heart of our overarching strategies for research-orientated teaching and learning approaches evident in the University's mission, the Learning and Teaching Strategy and the more recent e-Strategy. Moving forward in our strategic, educational, and cultural aims requires us to reflect continually on purposes and evaluate the outcomes of potential investment. This has been the task of the new e-learning strategy, currently under consultation, which attempts to move the University into a position whereby these aims are achievable and perceived to be desirable.

In this issue of Interactions on the theme of Distance Technologies for Teaching and Learning, the articles outline and describe the experiences in three departments at Warwick of developing new approaches to delivery of teaching and learning (or some components) online. 

The first article is by Laura Quigley in the Warwick Business School MBA Distance Learning development team. She asks is the technology actually distancing us from the objectives of teaching and learning? The Learning Resources Development team is making some progress for the MBA by distance learning. The technology is providing additional communications and delivery tools for those students who in the past have been isolated from the University and each other. 

The second stems from work currently being undertaken in a joint nationally funded project, ANNIE (Accessing and Networking with National and International Expertise), in the School of Theatre Studies with partners at Kent's School of Drama, Film and Visual Arts. The project aims to bring together student collaborative performance work with access and networking with expert researchers and practitioners in remote locations. A range of distance learning approaches are being piloted, including videoconferencing, web-based desktop communications, and online software support. The experiences of the first round of case studies is presented by Mark Childs, educational developer on the project based in the Centre for Academic Practice.

The third article is by Professor David Overton who describes course developments in the Warwick Manufacturing Group for independent learning and tutor support approaches for students studying in remote locations. The tboll® on-line learning platform designed in WMG was built to deliver action learning type modules. David describes the ways in which the environment supports the course design and learning activities and discusses these in relation to the benefits to both tutors and students.

The Innovations section outlines the projects supported under the second run of the Warwick Online Course Construction (WOCC) programme, drawing on teaching developments by lecturers from a range of departments across the University.

The Resources and Links sections follow the theme of further information and guidance on the development and use of distance technologies for learning and teaching.

The theme for the Autumn term issue is Staff Development Experiences - all contributions gratefully received, particularly for departmental approaches and outcomes.


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