The new Learning with Technology Masters will be delivered entirely online from next September and we are currently struggling with decisions about what technology to use. The Institute for Educational Cybernetics where I work is also home for the CETIS service (funded by JISC), one of its aims being to contribute to future thinking in the field of learning technology.
The challenge for the IDIBL project is trying to implement a learning technology solution that takes advantage of this thinking, but that also contributes to the development of the University of Bolton’s strategic development of e-learning provision. In this exercise, we are not concerned with information systems and processes that contribute to wider management of learning activities such as recording of results, admissions, collection of fees, etc. There is an argument that these two dimensions cannot be separated, but for now we want to focus on the learning experience and not allow other factors to restrict choices.
In my mind we face a three way conundrum of trying to enact the CETIS analysis of the likely developments of learning technology in HE, the practical issues facing the ‘real world’ position of the University of Bolton, and an approach that will provided a great learning experience for students based on past experience, but with little or no chance of being widely replicated elsewhere.
What is certain is that our approach will be informed by the overarching principle of personalisation and choice wherever possible within the constraints we find ourselves under. Possibly the three positions can be characterised as:
1. Are we inquiring into the extremes of what may be possible? Web2.0 zealots might argue that we shouldn’t be using and university hosted software at all, paid for services, or proprietary software of any kind. Internet services that are readily available can provide all that is required; all it takes is a movement in mind-set to achieve this;
2. Are we plotting a possible route forward for the University of Bolton? Current Bolton learning and teaching provision is based around WebCT with supporting technology such as SITS. Although few would argue for this to be the only approach, there is a strong support for platforms such as Moodle which offer some of the advantages of a Web2.0 in that it empowers staff and learners, but could be characterised as a development or second generation VLE rather than a new approach;
3. Are we developing a low risk approach that we are confident best supports the learners? This would be based on the successful experience of the Ultraversity project and would use ‘free’ web services, open source, as well as proprietary software – this blueprint already exists!
Our difficulty in plotting a way forward has, I think, being compounded by not agreeing our primary purpose to start with. Once we do this, then the technological choices will be constrained by that choice and our key requirements are pretty simple:
• hold community discussions between staff and students
• have collaborative, private and public work-spaces
• provide course resources – published to the www is good
• submit work that can be verified for date and completeness
• monitor participation and ‘attendance’ – for the purpose of making interventions for those experiencing difficulties