Monday, 17 November 2008

DIUS reports: On-line Innovation in Higher Education

So, I had an e-mither about the DIUS reports that John Denham commissioned on the future of HE. There is also an accompanying HE Debates blog on which you can comment. Once you have read the On-line Innovation in Higher Education report, you should also read Tony Hirst's OUseful blog posting. However, my thoughts follow.
  1. Now don't get me wrong, content is important, and I'm a fan of open-learning, open standards and re-use, but the whole report confuses me about content and e-pedagogy - are they, in fact conflated here, or is e-pedagogy the servant of open content? The stall for the whole thrust of this is set out in the Executive Summary that states: "We lag behind in generating and making available high quality modern learning and teaching resources." The report argues (p. 9) that "To exploit ICT it follows that UK HEIs must be flexible, innovative and imaginative" (whatever that means - e-pedagogy or epistemology are barely fleshed out in 3.27/3.29 (p.15) and Annex a, iii. How ICT can Support Improved Pedagogies), and it goes on to argue that "effective, imaginative, widespread and critical use of this infrastructure, which crucially includes a critical mass of very high quality open learning content." A link is appearing here between information management structures and e-research strategies that will enhance the provision of open-content. Moreover, it appears to be argued that if we hitch innovative e-pedagogies to this wagon, then UK HEIs will corner more of the market. I wonder whether this captures the power of good curriculum design, highlighted in-part through the JISC Curriculum Design and Delivery programmes, to be more tha simply tutor-driven and content-based.
  2. This brings me to my confusion about the report's link between e-pedagogy and content. The report focuses upon (p.14) the institutional control for content: "real costs related to establishing an appropriate legal framework to address IP/rights management issues, sustainability and ensuring high quality and compliance with agreed technical standards." It predicates pedagogic innovation on content, but doesn't think about the impact, writ-large in all areas of the curriculum (and not just within creative industries), on the role of students, or non-professionals, in the co-creation of knowledge. The work of the TESEP project stands out in focusing attention upon pedagogies that extend, enhance and empower learners to create. The report does mention (p. 24) "[students] in the role of active, skilled and collaborative creators of knowledge", but the focus is on technology and not pedagogy or epistemology. I can see that the flexible availability of content that can be repurposed might enable this to happen, but will students as creators of knowledge want to present their work beyond the open-access institutional repository? Our Music Tech student do so on MySpace, our Game Art students do so on Facebook. If we move towards controlled places for open learning materials what do we risk losing? The beauty of the read/write web is its ability to enable people to be fleet-of-foot. Quality control risks squashing this agile presentation.
  3. This, in turn, brings me to the possible disconnect between pedagogies that see formal and informal work as separate, and those that fuse those spaces. This report appears to work towards a separation of concerns. How will the processes we put in place enable us to deal with the dichotomy or links between formal and informal learning? Mash-ups don't just exist in content, they exist in the use of specific content in time, place and space.
  4. There is another, large elephant in the room, which is the power of research-led universities. The document mentions these HEIs 3 times, and doesn't mention resources to enable WP or transitions into HE once. The alternatives offered are HE-in-FE or distance learning. It's almost as if they don't know what to do with the rest of us, other than place us in extended networks of excellence.
  5. One of the report's key thrusts is on "the UK must have a core of open access learning resources organised in a coherent way to support on-line and blended learning by all higher education institutions and to make it more widely available in non-HE environments. This needs to be supported by national centres of excellence to provide quality control." So no place for trusting academics to do the right thing? This final, big, bald statement focuses the discussion and roots it in a discourse of QA rather than enhancement. How will this impact onteh HEFCE's Opening-up resources for learning theme?
  6. Centres of Excellence seem fine in principle, but what about the networks that exist of Pathfinder and JISC teams? Is this yet another chance for the lucky few to get more funding? Will these be pedagogically- or content driven? How are they to define excellence? Who will chose them? Who will lead them? How do we know they will actually be used by staff?
  7. Allied to this, for whom will the "Review to identify key players in HE elearning" take place? Will this identify those key players who make a difference to local students? Or just those who make the biggest noise nationally and internationally?
The report rightly mentions (p. 23) reward and recognition as a key issue to address. Along with a discussion of what is meant by excellence in e-learning, for specific stakeholders, perhaps the impact on students and staff of this report's recommendations is the place to start.

1 comment:

Martin Oliver said...

Really nice response to the report - glad it isn't just me that things good textbooks don't automatically make us good teachers, let alone make our students good learners... Which isn't to say that good textbooks are bad, just that they're only one part of a much more complex picture.