Saturday, 12 April 2008

Engaging senior management with e-learning

It is an absolute truism that the best curriculum innovations emerge when academic staff are enthused and driven to change their current practice. However, this is rarely (if ever?) enough in its own right. Back in the mists of time (2000ish) we asked staff what were the main barriers to change, in this case, to make greater use of technology in LTA design. They gave us five "wishes": time (of course), confidence in a robust and reliable infrastructure, institution provide appropriate support ie put money where mouth is, provide technology that they can "own" (putting the door back on the classroom and putting the emphasis on their relationship with the students) and, very importantly validation that this is a valid thing to spend time on ie clear executive sponsorship. There are so many conflicting demands on staff time and we needed to make it clear that this wasn't something you were expected to do in your own time as your hobby but was a legitimate..(maybe some day soon even essential) part of academic life. One of the things I really like about my own institution is the high level commitment to supporting innovation.

Fast forward seven years and we are experiencing a lot of success in e-learning and the senior managers are still supportive but asking questions like "what's it all about?", "where are the benefits", "is it value for money?" "what will the future look like?" It's easy to see the dilemma - governors ask questions about costs...and benefits, students really like it and expect it, but are also wanting more contact time, staff are all progressing at a different pace. The, not soultion...our approach was to run a "future of e-learning engagement" for the senior management group - a traditional discussion paper, a 6 week Bb course and a highly participative workshop. There is a LOT more information about this at

Was it worth it - definitely - it enabled us to get a few things back on the radar at the senior level as well as a commitment to support growth rather than cut back. The important message (not rocket science for people reading this, I'm sure) was that to get the best out of the technology it isn't the technology that needs the investment but the people... the birth of our digital fluency initative. Other follow-ons have included the importance of expectations (students and staff), the tower and the cloud debates and how we might better join up e-supported LTA and how technology supports the broader student experience. Solutions? no. Challenges? yes....but at least something to get our teeth into ;-)

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