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The e-Learning Programme is showcased at the JISC conference

Christina Smart and Sarah Holyfield
Last modified 21 Apr, 2005
Published 21 Apr, 2005
A report from the JISC conference held in Birmingham on the 12th April 2005

Over 700 delegates descended on the International Convention Centre in Birmingham last week to hear about the vast array of work that is funded by the JISC. Delegates included, IT Managers, Project Managers, College Principals, Lecturers and Library Services Directors amongst others.

The e-Learning Programme was represented in several of the sessions. Abstracts of all the sessions are available on the JISC web site . Notes from some of the sessions we attended are provided below


In the keynote Roger McClure, the joint Chief Executive of the Scottish Higher Educational Funding Council (SHEFC) and the Scottish Further Education Funding Council (SFEFC) highlighted the scale of the JISC’s work. He discussed the main challenges of FE and HE, the importance of collaboration, Scottish distinctiveness and the role of ICT

Of these he emphasized the need for collaboration between institutions at all levels. He recognised that while collaboration is essential, it is also difficult and time consuming. Institutions should pursue collaborations on a variety of levels, beginning with subject level, where the allegiance of most lecturers lies. Institutions should also look towards shared sovereignty and begin to think of themselves as networks connected to each other.

He also highlighted some of the developments now underway in Scotland where participation in post-16 education is now 60% of 18-30. One of these developments is a merger between the FE and HE funding councils in Scotland, it will be interesting to see whether this will lead to greater cross-sector collaboration which is needed to support learner progression.

Information and Communications Technologies play a role at a number of levels, but we should focus on where they can be used to make the most impact. We should also be focussing our efforts on achieving interoperability.

A vision for e-learning

Sarah Knight, JISC Programme Manager, introduced a session looking at where e-learning is heading over the next few years. Three different perspectives were given by the speakers. John Stone the Principal of the Ealing, Hammersmith and West London College discussed the work of the Programme from an institutional perspective. He said one aim of the Programme was to look for technologies that already exist and see how we can exploit them for the future. His college is 70% wireless, and all the staff have laptops. This has created an atmosphere of spontaneity in meetings and lessons, which is changing the classroom dynamics. There has also been a focus on supporting students and giving them a personalised learning space.

Alan Staley, Head of the Learning Technology Development Unit at the University of Central England looked at the Practitioner perspective. He discussed how e-learning was beginning to shift the way we teach students, away from using technology to support traditional methods of delivery, such as presentations, to start to explore using e-learning for problem-based and experiential learning. As we become more used to the technology our use of it becomes less "clunky". He showed examples from UCE where they had used a problem based approach for staff development. Alan suggested that templates for case studies could be shared between institutions to spread the cost of their development.

Finally Professor Gill Tucker former Vice-Principal of Napier University looked at e-learning from the learner perspective. She discussed how Higher Education had changed over the last 30 years from a very elite activity to 60/% of the population in Scotland attending. This has had a huge impact on the student experience. And yet in that time the modes of delivering courses has not moved on, we still use Lectures, Seminars and Tutorials. Gill presented case studies of two very different students, one traditional and one at risk of dropping out. She suggested that it wouldn’t take great developments in the e-learning systems and support we have already in institutions to give better support to students, especially the vulnerable ones.

Meeting learner needs through regional e-learning

Paul Bailey, programme director for the e-Learning programme introduced this discussion session on the issues for regional e-learning. Sarah Davies, programme manager for the distributed e-learning regional pilots presented some of the reasons why it is important to think regionally, including recognising that learners are part of a community and have lives and jobs that are tied to a particular area. She also highlighted some of the issues being addressed in the 21 new regional pilot projects in the English regions.

The next part of the session was a stimulating panel discussion in which panel members discussed solutions to some of the common problems of working between FE and HE institutions. The panel members were Lawrence Hamburg, Head of e-learning, HE Academy, Liz Franco, Regional Consultant for South West, HEFCE, Marion Miller, Manager RSC Yorkshire & Humber, and Amber Thomas, FERL project manager, BECTA. Some of issues that were raised by the audience included the need for collaboration and the obstacles that lie in the way of this, such as competition for students and funding models; the role of e-learning and the question of cost-effectiveness.

There was also a demonstration of some of the e-learning tools developed in the Distributed e-Learning strand that support the personal learner.

Developing an e-learning framework with open standards and open source

Tish Roberts, Programme Manager for the Frameworks and Tools Strand began this session by explaining the e-Learning Framework (ELF), why open standards were fundamental to the work of JISC, and why it was important that this work should go in the direction of Open Source.

Sam Easterby-Smith, the Standards Implementation Officer for CETIS looked at the range of technical projects that have been funded so far, in both the Frameworks and Tools Strand and the Distributed e-Learning Strand (DeL), and the programme of projects commencing in 2005. These can all be related to one or more specific services in the ELF diagram, and the aim is that all these services will eventually have standards and specifications associated with them. The DeL tools are building on this work, and one of the areas of interest will be to explore joining up open source systems with proprietary systems. It was stressed that ELF is not an architecture but provides a "common way of talking between systems".

This e-Learning Focus site was launched at the conference.


Supported by JISC Supported by CETIS
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