The theme for this issue is Staff Development Experiences.
The first phase of an engagement with learning technologies is an infatuation with the tools themselves. They’re quick, they’re fun, they do nearly everything you want and, next year, there will be an even better version. Governments as well as individuals have been seduced by learning technologies. UK government funding of innovation has worked on the basis that use of learning technologies is necessarily good – the more the better. Project teams have laboured to show impact: numbers of staff inducted into the technology, numbers of courses involved; the level of happiness engendered in learners, generally on a 1-5 scale. Project evaluation has tended to focus on whether the objectives were achieved, and rarely whether they were worthwhile.
Fortunately the worst is over. We realise that in this brave new world, remarkably little has really changed. Beyond the apparent newness lie some age-old questions about learners and learning. What exactly are we trying to achieve? What learning gains do we expect will accrue? How much of the expenditure on learning technologies is really warranted? We realise also that, despite the reassuring presence of almost identical hardware and software on our desks the world over, learning technologies are not neutral in their effects on learning and teaching. Some things become easier, and others, in consequence, are neglected. Some of us can afford learning technologies; others must do without.
We also realise that the process of engaging staff in changing their practice is rather more complicated than at first appeared. Project teams often find that academic staff are sceptical about innovation, reluctant to become involved, highly aware of the barriers that would face them if they did. There is nothing new here either. The problems of organisational change are as old as organisations themselves. Evangelical fervour is simply not enough, particularly when we have such unsatisfactory answers to some of the questions above.
There are encouraging signs that we are now beginning to apply what we know about organisational and individual change to the embedding of learning technologies. This issue of Interactions takes up this theme, and examines what works in developing the expertise of academic staff in the use of learning technologies.
In the first article, Martin Oliver and Jay Dempster look at institutional strategies and approaches for developing e-learning practices in HE, drawing on their experiences working within forward-looking yet traditional universities as well as contributing to national development in change management and professional development in learning technology.
In the second article, Graham Lewis looks at staff development at the level of supporting academic staff using a collaborative group approach. Academic staff from a range of discipline areas and at different levels of ICT awareness and competence are supported within a targeted, yet informal, programme of course development (dare I say) "projects", focusing on a particular aspect of e-learning development (in this case creating online course materials).
In the third article, Mike Wray, the Project Co ordinator of the Demos Project (which is funded by the HEFCE under its disability initiatives), looks at delivering staff development on policy related issues of practice.Teaching staff are under increasing pressure through new legislation in the UK (the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001) to ensure that their courses are accessible to disabled students. Mike discusses some of the approaches to delivering successful staff development in an area of teaching and learning policy that lecturers must comply with rather than buy into - that is to promote learning rather than adoption. Whilst the article focuses on ensuring accessibility of web-based learning for students with special needs and disabilities, the staff development approaches presented are equally viable to the generic challenge of engaging staff with teaching and learning issues.
The Innovations section outlines some of the recent outcomes in e-learning at Warwick along with some interesting developments the world at large. The Resources and Links sections follow the staff development theme by collating relevant information and guidance on specific aspects of developing e-learning.
Dr Paul Blackmore
Director Centre for Academic Practice
University of Warwick
Tel: +44 (0) 24 7652 4673