Friday, 30 October 2015

Policy Drivers for Significant Change using eLearning

Please download the Report entitled 'ICT Leadership in Higher Education: Selected Readings, edited by Sanjaya Mishra from the website
Have a look at the Table of Content page and select a chapter that you find interesting and is related to ICT policy perspective. Read the chapter with a view to examining the key policy drivers that may have an impact on implementing technology-enhanced learning initiatives in your work context. Try to draw on from your professional experience. After you have read the chapter, please write a blog post elaborating your ideas.

The article I chose (perhaps a risky choice considering the likely readership of this blog) was CHAPTER - 3, ICT and eLearning in Higher Education: Policy Perspective by Palitha Edirisingha

I found the chapter fascinating when comparing the landscape presented for Higher Education with my own experience working in the schools sector, and touching on policy whilst at the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust. Rather than follow the chapter section by section I'd like to present a few themes for comparison.

From 0.1 to 1.0 to 2.0

I had never seen table 3.1 presented on page 19 (originally from Laurillard (2006)) and found it a useful way to set out the way tools have replaced each other. The author suggests changes since the last decade could usefully be added - but perhaps as a new column rather than a continuation down the page? Many tools developed in the last decade themselves will go on to replace the predecessor 'immature' technology. For example "cloud storage of documents, available anywhere" replaces the new technology of "local hard drives" which itself replaced "paper." That may well be a useful future exercise.

One of the hardest policy challenges an institution needs to face is recognising when a mature technology, in which it has invested heavily and drawn good results from, is no longer the best possible approach.

For example the school that implemented Moodle a decade ago. They no doubt will have battled with it to make it work for them, to get staff using it and to get to a situation where many of their courses, and business processes were structured around it. Consider the tensions between continuing to invest and develop that system versus abandoning it and instead using simpler, more modular, multi-vendor but inter-related tools instead.

From Funding to Practice

We now operate in a world where technology without a doubt is having a profound impact on learning and the culture of learning. The question must be, has that change happened primarily as a result of strategy and policy, or as an unintended consequence of a massive societal transformation brought about by the adoption of low-cost computing and communication technology?

The chapter sets out some changes in the wording of policy documents from HE, and I was struck in particular by the move from terms like embed and transform (as a consequence of the policy one supposes) to appreciate the potential and make a normal part of. This is very similar indeed to the schools landscape in the same years in the UK, and reading the narrative presented helped me to consider that.

Consider the proposition that an agent within a network of organisations wishes to get significant funding to support an eLearning initiative. A vision statement along the lines of "we will use this funding to continue with the same approach to pedagogy but we will make some incremental improvements thanks to using new technologies" would be far less likely to prosper than one aimed to "transform pedagogy and shift the whole learning paradigm."

Yet the reality is that the project will take technology that is predominantly designed for a consumer or business setting, project manage its implementation with considerable effort, risk and expense, and then present it to an audience of practitioners who are still being expected to deliver essentially the same programmes against the same accountability framework. That audience is not seeking transformation they are seeking improvement.

Real change requires system redesign (Hargreaves et al) - reconfiguration of the underlying building blocks of how learning is managed and organised, and technology (whether as a result of planned and funded development, or a necessary response to context brought about by technological development)  provides a uniquely powerful tool to do just that.


Similarly, I had not seen the 4e Model to promote Leadership Innovation before (Salmon). Previously I had used the Growth Share matrix to think about how different approaches within an institution could have a life cycle, and need different approaches to management and evaluation at different points in that life. 4e, if I understand it correctly, is a useful tool to do something very similar, but to engage leaders in thinking strategically about change both in tools and approach.

It may not be what Salmon intended (and with apologies to the author if I'm misrepresenting), but my reading would be

This may not be how it was intended to be used, but as I plan for a conference in my own organisation for December, I find this way of presenting some of the changes we could plan for a useful one to help use consider how to best focus effort, mitigate risk and plan for scale.

Within the University of Leicester story, it was the simple things like ensuring all staff would have a consistent experience in every teaching room, lowering the pain threshold to adopt core technologies in their daily work that were most likely to have the greatest and fastest return on investment. I wonder what mine need to be for the next 5 years as technologies go through a period of deep change making things like computer laboratories, previously a mainstay, look quite quaint.

Key Policy Drivers

I've managed to respond at some length to the chapter without perhaps engaging with the question - the key policy drivers. From my reading of the article, translated to my own experience that would be:
  • Change as something we set out in a vision and drive towards versus change in response to unstoppable external content. That isn't necessarily a negative - adapting intelligently is both a necessary survival trait and, when the values and vision for the institution are at the heart of it, a more pragmatic approach.
  • Recognising the core tools and investing to ensure they deliver, so reducing the thresholds for change for the organisation to engage. 

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