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Long overdue thoughts on HEFCE Online Learning Task Force event

Ho hum been meaning to blog this for aaaaaaaaaaaaggggggggggggggeeeeeeeeeees. Nevermind, better late than never.

In June the HEFCE online learning task force held an event at the British Library to get some consultation on their ideas and to feedback to people on their work so far.  I have to admit that I did go to the event with some trepidation as I was not really sure what it was going to be all about. But I was pleasantly surprised! It was a very good day, well organised and with some thought provoking presentations and I felt I had a much better sense of where the taskforce was/is going by the end of the day.

All the presentations can be found online on the HEFCE website.

Lynne Brindley opened the day giving an overview of the work of the taskforce so far. Engaging with students and commissioned a baseline report from TALL at Oxford which will be published soon. Main recommendations will be around consideration of new markets; encouraging students into HE; public-private partnerships; how to target investment; cultural challenges (including staff development). Will report back in the Autumn 2010.

Next presentation was from Stuart Hamilton, Open Universities Australia on how public-private partnership working in Australia where the AOU works as a broker for University online courses.  Really interesting model which mitigates the risk for institutions and gives students maximum choice to take modules from different institutions. They manage all the admin and support, Universities just do the teaching. Raised important questions about what students actually come to campus for – this is what we should all be thinking about – why would a student want to come to the campus? What is the value of campus-based education? What is the role of the lecturer? These shouldn’t be easy questions to answer and we need to think radically.  He used the phrase “imaginative education design” – not thinking about technology but thinking about what we want to do with it.

In the following panel discussion, issues around cultural change and staff development were touched upon. Two elephants in the room were UKeU and the support and development needed for staff to embrace new models and modes of learning (teaching). Key message was don’t dabble in this stuff, if you are going to offer online learning you must invest and do it seriously with clear objectives and vision, as well as thinking about processes, people, technology and culture, otherwise you will get your fingers v burnt.

After lunch, Roxanne Stockwell, Group Innovation Director, BPP, talked about the models of delivery they have developed at BPP. All students are online students at any point they can shift between full time and part time; f2f, online asychronous or online synchronous (which is more than just discussion boards).  Message again was around flexibility and encouraging delivery of learning when and how students want it. Interesting models and clear message that BPP (who are now run by Apollo who run U of Phoenix) think UK is ripe for more online learning.

We then had some good breakout groups where we discussed challenges of introducing more online learning from different perspectives and discussed collaboration – or not – between institutions.

Martin Bean finished the day with an overview of what they are doing at OU – and a nice technique of just starting his keynote whether or not you were seated in the room or still outside nattering over tea! His key things to think about for online learning – or anything with technology – pedagogy, culture, people, processes then the technology. Discussed how students today do not see their online life as separate from their life! Need to get good technology out there otherwise will alienate academics.  With  pedagogy – think about mobile, don’t replace traditional teaching methods online, create engaging content, use media, assess participation, use asynchronous when apart, engage with students!  Education needs to be learner centric and the best teachers will rise to the top.  Technology should be used to add value to campus education.

So roll on September/October when the final report will be out!


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