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Are you ready for transformation? Day 2 at Innovating e-Learning 2007

Ros Smith
Last modified 14 Jun, 2007
Published 14 Jun, 2007
The second day of the JISC online conference maintained its focus on the theme of institutional transformation – but with the words ‘learner’ and ‘learning’ dominating discussions.

Throughout the day, delegates explored the challenges of implementing transformative approaches to learning in an institutional context and addressed the lessons to be learnt from externally funded transformation projects.

Themes of reconceptualisation and empowerment were recurrent. In the first keynote discussion, Groundhog Day Again, delegates debated with Professor Terry Mayes how to enable learners to become experts in their own learning when their expectations were of a more traditional delivery mode of learning – and how to facilitate learner empowerment in contexts in which control is more frequently a predominating factor. This degree of change requires reconceptualisation of the nature of learning (by tutors), perceptions of what learning entails (by learners), and the support and direction offered to both (by institutions), plus a preparedness to implement change systemically.

The second keynote, Institutional Transformation through the Use of ICT, provided the perspective of a senior manager, as Dr John Guy, principal of the Sixth Form College, Farnborough, outlined the problems of leading a transformation programme, when the systems available commercially do not meet the needs of the institution. Maintaining belief and confidence in an MIS (or any ICT-based system) is of critical importance to its acceptance and integration into the daily routines of learners and staff. Once the college had developed its own system, it had been able to move swiftly and creatively in response to change.

In Session 1, delegates debated transformation through – and beyond – assessment, including how to disseminate the outcomes of effective transformation projects to the wider community and whether the most effective strategy for bringing about change is to use available funding to generate convincing data. The supporting paper by David Nicol, University of Strathclyde, and Steve Draper, University of Glasgow, compared and contrasted approaches taken in the Pew-funded National Centre for Academic Transformation Program in Course Redesign (PCR) in the USA [] with those used in the SFC e-Learning Transformation Programme - REAP project [] in the UK.

Models of transformation were also the theme of the second day of discussions in Session 5, The TESEP []and CeLLS [] project teams outlined their collaborative approaches to generating and embedding transformation. How to sustain transformation beyond the life of a project and the role of funding bodies and managers in ensuring the longevity of transformative initiatives were key points in the debate. But for presenter, Jane Plenderleith, what is emerging from two major transformation initiatives, the SFC Transformation and Higher Education Academy Pathfinder programmes, is a reconsideration of what we mean by "course redesign":

“Through these change processes, practitioners and strategic managers are coming to reappraise what institutions do and how they do it, in a holistic way, using technology to support all aspects of the institution's business because that - paradoxically perhaps - is now the natural thing to do, not imposed, not peripheral, but integrated and ecological.” Jane Plenderleith (Glenaffric)

Running like a thread through many of the sessions was the excitement generated by Web 2.0 technologies – not yet, it seems, integrated into all institutional systems. Debate over the different ways in which these tools might empower learners, and the issues they raise for practitioners and institutions, produced some powerfully expressed views.

For Mark Childs, University of Warwick, in Session 4, blocking technologies because they support activities not associated with learning was counter productive, since learning is just ‘as likely to happen on someone's whiteboarding space in Bebo as it is to happen sitting in a lecture theatre.’ However, in Session 3, Rebecca O’Rourke, University of Leeds, queried:

"where substantive knowledge – disciplinary and / or practice- based – sits in this new world of learning? And how is this tracked through in depth by learners whose control of the technology might be greater than their understanding or application of that knowledge?"

In Session 2, delegates debated the use of multiple profiles, some staff and students preferring to keep separate the public and private areas of their life by using different profiles. However, an emerging trend was for students to use institutional systems in conjunction with MSN, Skype, YouTube and other tools and technologies of their choice, leading to a reconsideration the institution’s service provision.

A telling comment on the theme of transformation came later in the day from Christine Davis from RSC Wales:

“If professional development of educators does not embrace new technology, does this mean that progress in personalised learning (or just learning!) will be slowed down? Or does it mean that the educators will be by-passed?

Perhaps after all, transformation is more of a necessity for institutions than a short term project on the periphery.


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