This post is a reaction to one of the parallel sessions at the 2011 Durham Blackboard Users Conference. As Learning Technologists (LT), we often run the risk of being stuck between ensuring sound pedagogical practice and accommodating the wants of senior managers. None more so when distance learning is presented as a solution to addressing problems of over-crowding, over-working, and over-expenditure. Online learning, though removing the physical building constraints, does not alleviate over-working nor over-expenditure. In fact, if poorly planned, designed and implemented it could result in quite the opposite.
As LTs we really need to work with our senior managers to ensure that top down directives of ‘we want distance learning but within a short timescale and few resources’ are not pushed into action, as this can only result in further difficulties. If you intend to create a wholly online module for delivery, a turnaround of under a year is pushing things. If you outsource content authoring, 18 months or more may be needed for editing, repurposing and structuring to match existing module or course designs.
We can however learn from the negative perceptions staff may have, and consider how we can show discussing the strengths and weaknesses of elearning in an honest way will challenge these perceptions. For example, staff perceptions include that elearning objects could be ‘spoon-feeding’ and pitch at too low a level for HE, however we can justifiably say that elearning allows students the flexibility and control to move beyond what we provide, with tools to find new resources and virtual spaces to discuss with their peers. As LTs we can convey the importance of designing courses with learning technology and that elearning is more than just providing ‘pretty’ resources.
Jen Gutridge, from Teeside University, presented ‘Campus, Classroom, Cooperation’ which was in one respect a sobering reminder that without dialogue between ‘stakeholders’ (and I use that term with gritted teeth), implementing elearning can be very challenging. In course planning it is important to discuss: time allocation for work, ongoing commitment, expectation management, copyright issues, student support, ownership of courses and associated responsibility. Above all those considerations though is that everyone on the project supports it, and supports it from a teaching and learning perspective with quality standards and sustainability.