A little learning technology experiment.

Tomorrow (14th January 2017) I’ve been asked to speak at one of the regular seminars we provide for doctoral students – I have an interest in educational technology, but I am also in general something of sceptic with regard to technology. Don’t get me wrong. I am not at saying that we shouldn’t make use of it, or that it doesn’t have potential. I’m just less than convinced by the claims of those who are trying to sell us the products we need to make it work.

In my view a technology mediated learning experience cannot possibly be the same as a face to face experience. So I thought I would try a little experiment. I only have 20 minutes to speak in the seminar, so I thought I would try and record what I am going to say, and use the PowerPoint slides to make an enhanced audio recording. On the face of it those who are there will get the same experience as those of you who are reading this and decide to click the link and watch the video. But I bet you don’t. If you are planning to be (or were) present at the seminar, I would be interested in getting feedback on which method you preferred and why.  Of course, there is much more to technology mediated learning than this, but I’m hoping this might be the start of a discussion on what is realistic.


Here’s the (rough) transcript of the video.  Doctoral Seminar 14th January 2017_script  (It’s a Microsoft Word version. Please let me know via the comments if you would like a plain text format)

Just as a matter of interest I kept a record of the time I spent on developing this – in terms of the video production it took me about three hours to record, make the slides and edit it in Adobe Premiere.  I used that so I could export it as an MP4 file to reduce the size – Yes, it would probably have been quicker to narrate it directly into PowerPoint, but that, or at least the version I am using, tends to generate very large .WAV files which can’t be uploaded to Youtube. At least you should be able to watch this on a mobile device.


What are VLEs for?

It occurred to me the other day that we I have been working with VLEs (Virtual Learning Environments) in one form or another for getting on for two decades now, and during those twenty years endless articles and books have been churned out on e-learning. I had been going to write something about how technology has transformed educational practice, but actually I don’t think it has, or not, so far, by very much. My role has, historically, been one of “supporting” academic colleagues with this technology, but it was only recently, when I became a programme leader, (with responsibility for my very own module) that I began to think about what kind of support would be useful to me. I’d be the first to admit that I am probably something of a special case. I know our VLE inside out and am very comfortable with the technology. I realise that not everyone shares that knowledge or comfort, so this is inevitably something of a personal take.

Nevertheless, it didn’t take many interactions with actual students to make me realise that the approach to e-learning we had been taking on the doctoral programme I studied, taught on, and am now leading, wasn’t really meeting their needs. (Come to think of it, as a student I hardly ever used the VLE myself). Let me say now, that this is not going to be a normative piece laying down the law about how VLE sites should be structured. I’m sure Lincoln’s doctoral students have their own unique set of needs, and these will be very different from say the needs of undergraduate students in other disciplines and at other universities. That said, to go back to the issue of support I started out with the idea that people needed to get a hold on how the technology works. I suppose they do, and in fairness, that was often the focus of requests for support. (Still is!) And that is what we, as educational developers have, by and large, provided, relying on the creativity of colleagues to do something clever with it. I suppose where we have fallen short is that we haven’t really built on that foundation. Having swapped my educational developer hat for an academic hat, I can see why. It’s really challenging to completely redesign a VLE site to match what the students say their needs are. At a programme board last year I reacted to student criticisms of what was provided for them on the VLE by blithely announcing that I would completely redesign it, thinking it would take a few weeks at most. It took six months, and detracted from quite a lot of things I was supposed to be doing, like, er research. Even now, even though the redesign has been launched, and seems to have been well received I’m acutely conscious that I’ve hardly begun to scratch the surface as far as things like learning activities for the students are concerned. Most of the work I have done so far is simply about providing a structure for the various teaching materials that I and other colleagues have provided, along with a little bit of cosmetic work on the menu and home page.

While I said I haven’t been doing research, I do think this exercise has given me the foundations of a theoretical framework for thinking about the contribution VLEs can make to a course. Clearly, if a VLE is to meet the needs of students, there has to be quite significant engagement with both the students and with the colleagues who are teaching on the programme. That’s not particularly original. Sharpe & Oliver (2007) make much the same point. Secondly, I think there is a need to think about what sort of contribution the VLE can make to students’ learning. Clearly, the best VLE in the world is no substitute for the University library. Yet, in the exercise I have just completed I counted around 400 “learning items” which had been generated over the last five years. These included PowerPoint slides, Prezis, and handouts from teaching sessions and guest lectures, podcasts, videos, and quite a few journal articles that (ahem) didn’t appear to have appropriate copyright clearance. (Those have all been removed now.) On top of those there was a whole range of what might be called regulatory documents such as programme handbooks, ethical approval forms and assignment submission sheets. Clearly that’s a significant and useful resource, but on its own it’s not anything like adequate for doctoral, or even, some would argue undergraduate, study. Even having imposed some sort of structure on all this material, which is really all I have done in the redesign, I’m still not sure where to go next. What learning activities are appropriate? Why? How do I design them? Do I limit myself what the technology offers? (A fairly obvious danger in simply “training” colleagues to use the technology)

So this raises the question, what exactly is a VLE for? Maybe that’s better phrased as “what is it not for?” Students, at least in surveys at Lincoln have often said that they want “consistency” in the way staff use the VLE. Well, yes, but I think there has to be a general agreement about what we can reasonably expect of a VLE. There is clearly a tension between this desire to meet students’ legitimate expectations and the kind of academic freedom that these technologies allow. It doesn’t seem reasonable to me to expect e-learning to take the same form in, for example, modern dance that you would find in chemical engineering. Equally, it could be argued that providing students with material through the VLE detracts from the important skill of literature searching, whether that’s done in a library or through a Google search. Even more importantly, providing them with “all the resources they need”, even if it were possible, is unlikely to encourage them to develop a critical engagement with the literature.

Where does that leave us then? After nearly 20 years of using VLEs have we just ended up with an expensive, badly organised repository of content of dubious value? In some cases undoubtedly, though it would be quite wrong to think that all VLE sites fell into that category. There is some excellent work out there. I’ve been to plenty of conferences where I’ve seen good, innovative and creative practice, and I know from my support role that many colleagues at Lincoln are pushing the boundaries in quite imaginative ways. The challenge is to spread this kind of practice, bearing in mind that such innovation is risky even if the major risk is that academic staff devote more time to their students than to their research. (After all you might not get that grant bid in, or that journal article submitted, and since the teaching grant disappeared in the humanities and social sciences that is by no means a small risk). I do think though that there is a case for more detailed research into what academics actually do in terms of course design with a VLE. But that’s for another post.

Sharpe, R & Oliver, M (2007) Designing courses for e-learning in Sharpe, R & Beetham, H. (eds). Rethinking pedagogy for a digital age: Designing and delivering e-learning. – Routledge, London (pp41-51)

Making a video with PowerPoint

This is by way of a bit of self development. The university library has introduced a new piece of software called Talis Aspire, designed to make reading lists a little easier, and I was wondering how best to introduce it to colleagues who are less than enthusiastic users of technology. I’ve also been thinking for a while that it ought to be possible to make reasonable quality videos using simple tools – in this case PowerPoint 2010.

This is very much a first attempt. I realise the text is very small, and there’s no sound at this stage because I wanted to keep the file size low, and anyway, I didn’t have a lot of time. Depending on how well recieved this is, I may well develop a more accessible version later on. (Any volunteer voice actors out there with a few minutes spare time? I envisage a male/female conversation, but it’s not essential). Anyway, here’s the “proof of concept”

Let’s (not) close all the libraries

A threatened library in Lincolnshire
A threatened library in Lincolnshire (Photo by Richard Croft)

Lincolnshire County Council has recently announced plans to cut its library service to the bare minimum required by law. This means that some 29 libraries will close, out of a total of 44. Now, I’ll be honest, and say that I don’t make a great deal of use of the branch library in my village, (although I do use Lincoln Central Library quite frequently). The reason I don’t use my village branch library is that it doesn’t have the resources I tend to use, and anyway it (mostly) only opens during the hours that I’m at work. I only mention this because the reason that is given for this wholesale closure is that the number of books being borrowed is falling. Indeed the council’s own consultation document argues that only one fifth of the county’s population is borrowing books from the library.

That is not a figure I dispute. What I do dispute are two things. First that the number of books borrowed is in any way an accurate measure of library use, and second that a service that is regularly used by one fifth of the population is in any way underused. First, let’s deal with what libraries actually do. Personally, even though I do use Lincoln Central Library quite regularly, I can not remember the last time I borrowed a book. I regularly call in to read publications such as the Spectator, the New Statesman the Times literary and education supplements, and a variety of special and local interest magazines. I would argue that this is a profoundly valuable service, (after all, politicians are always bleating that no-one is interested in politics, so you would think they would want to encourage people to read these things). I presume I am not the only person to use the library service in this way. I certainly see others leafing through these periodicals quite regularly (Usually when I want to read them, but never mind that for now). My point is that I, and presumably my fellow journal readers would not buy all these publications if the service were to disappear. Even if it were financially viable, I would not wish to fill my house with what would eventually become waste paper.

Of course, I don’t only go to the library to read free periodicals. I occasionally consult reference works (It may come as a shock to younger readers that not everything is on the Internet, and further that not everything on the Internet has been subjected to the quality control that a publisher would apply.), and sometimes, I pick up the leaflets about local services that are displayed in various racks, or left on the tables. I would argue that all this makes me a better informed citizen, aware of what is going on in my city and county. Yes, I use the Central Library, which is not under threat, but I am reasonably mobile, and I am not fool enough to imagine that circumstances might one day arise in my personal life that would severely restrict my mobility, and this why a network of branch libraries is so vital so that people out in the villages can tap into its services. Finally, if I may indulge in a personal reminiscence, and a brief virtual trip across the Pennines I am still grateful to Oldham’s excellent library service for the contribution it made to the development of my imagination and curiosity in my formative years. (It’s still excellent, in my view, and the new (ish) Central library and art gallery building is the first thing I’d direct a visitor to the town to see. Actually, it’s probably the only thing, but that’s another story.). I do not believe for one minute that any technological environment can replicate a child, even a pre-reader running from one book to another, and turning the pages to see what happens next. You just don’t see the same delight on their faces when they press the buttons on a Kindle. You certainly can’t measure it.

Which brings me to my second point. This claim that only one fifth of the population of Lincolnshire uses the library service. Even if we equate book borrowing with library use, which I think we can conclude is absurd, that is still pretty impressive. I suspect any other media in Lincolnshire would kill for that level of penetration. I read somewhere that Radio Lincolnshire is listened to by about 5% of the population, and I don’t know what the Lincolnshire Echo’s sales figures are, but the fact that it has gone from a daily to a weekly paper in the last year, suggests that it may not be enjoying the most robust of circulations. Further, the numbers argument can be applied anywhere. I personally am no longer related to any children of school age. I don’t know how many people are. Probably a minority of the population of Lincolnshire.. Shall we cut the schools then? Or perhaps school transport? As I go to work each morning I regularly see a fleet of buses shuttling through my village each ferrying what appears to be a single child to school. (Yes, I know they’re probably just starting their journeys and I’m exaggerating for effect, though not by much.)

To get back to the point though, it doesn’t seem to have occurred to the council that the reason people might not be using libraries (in the way that they can measure – as I demonstrate above, their benefits are not so easily measured as their costs), is that they’re not open at times when people might want to use them.

Actually, I’m sure it has occurred to them. I thought I’d finish with a second hand account from a colleague who was able to attend the Council’s executive committee when it met to discuss the closure plans. I quote

“It confirmed all my prejudices. If you can imagine a room full of puce-faced Tories, gleefully cutting everything for the sake of it, without any thought for the social consequences, then you pretty much have it. It was all ‘How soon can we cut this, or that? Isn’t this great?’”

Now I wasn’t there, and that’s a second hand account, and an admittedly partial one. But a careful reading of the consultation document really does lend credence to the idea that that is how it might well have been written.

The practice of writing

Writing is a habit I have let myself neglect since completing my doctorate, and that is a very bad thing. One of the things I am always telling my students is no matter how short of ideas you are, sitting down and writing is a brilliant way of organising your thinking. My own preference is (well, all right, was) to try and force myself to sit down and write for an hour (0utside my normal work activities) at least 5 days a week.  I also believe that you should always keep at least one day a week free of any work, and I think it’s a good idea to keep one evening a week free too. I suppose that makes me a sabbatarian. Good Heavens! That had never crossed my mind before which just goes to show that writing can help you think about yourself  in new ways.

A policy of writing regularly though, does raise some questions. One, of course is what should you write about. For anyone working in an academic department, that shouldn’t present too many problems. There are lots of research questions, and given the “publish or perish” atmosphere of many universities most academics spend their evenings beavering away on some worthy treatise or other anyway.

Blogging, as with my post about attendance monitoring yesterday serves a dual function, of disciplining your thoughts and, of publicising what you’re doing, which might help you network with colleagues working in similar areas.  Another question is that of where you should write. I don’t mean physical location here, but rather should you blog, write word documents, use a tool like Evernote, or just scrawl in an old exercise book. I suppose  you could even spend your writing hour contributing something to Wikipedia. All options have merit, but I do think there’s something to be said for publicly sharing your writing. If nothing else, there’s a potential for a kind of putative peer review, although I think you have to accept that most of your blog posts will never be read. (Come on now, how often do you read your old posts?). That said, it is quite nice to be able to have all your ramblings accessible in one place, so when you do come across an idea or a concept that you remember having talked about before you can at least see what you thought about it last year. And if you really don’t want to write in public there’s always the option of a private post.

The final point I want to make here – and this is really a post to myself, is that writing is hard work. It’s physically demanding, and that shouldn’t be underestimated. I can feel my eyelids beginning to stick together, even as I write and there’s a much more subtle demand it places on the body – that of underactivity. Once the flow does start it’s tempting to sit and bang on for hours. That’s not a good thing, either for ones health, or for one’s readers. So I’ll shut up now.




Notes on Freire, Pedagogy of the oppressed chapter 1

For a reading group at our forthcoming study school we’ve asked the students to write a half page summary of chapter 1 of Paolo Freire’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”. But as I don’t believe in asking students to do things and not doing them myself, here’s my go. (And if you happen to be a Lincoln doctoral student, please don’t read this before the group meets. It contains spoilers!)


A great many people are oppressed, not necessarily through political repression (although that is too often the case), but through the economic and political situation in which they find themselves. In many cases the oppressors would be shocked to realise that they are playing the role that they are in fact playing. The problem is that even where they do realise it, they cannot liberate the oppressed, because they themselves are oppressed by their own situation, which also defines their understanding of the world. To put it another way, freedom from oppression is defined by what the oppressors have achieved, so that revolution is seen simply a matter of the oppressor and the oppressed simply exchanging roles, which is no true liberation. Freire’s argument is that freedom can only be achieved through action based on critical reflection by both the oppressed and oppressors on the objective situation in which they find themselves, so that they understand the nature of oppression. Rather than aspiring to the material status of the oppressor classes, the true objective of revolutionary pedagogy is to respect and value the knowledge of all. Only when the oppressed realise that their knowledge, (which arises from their experience and not from the didacticism of the oppressor), has value equal to, if not greater than that of their oppressors, can any sort of revolutionary transformation begin.


Lincoln Teaching and Learning Symposium

I attended (and presented at)  the University of Lincoln’s Sixth Teaching and Learning Symposium today. As always it was quite an intense day, but lots of good ideas got an airing. It’s a bit different from the traditional model of conference in that there are no keynote speakers, and most of the day is taken up with what we call “dialogues”. Basically everyone breaks up into groups and each group discusses a theme, suggested by the organisers. Then there’s a morming plenary, in which the discussions are condensed into action points for further discussion in the afternoon.  Before and after lunch there are elective presentations which people can choose to go to. (of which mine was one – you can see the slides here – http://www.slideshare.net/jbeckton/the-iportfolio)  I was slightly disappointed that there were only four people there, but on the plus side that’s four people who know more then they did before. And one or two others told me they had wanted to come, but it clashed with other electives they wished to attend. After the electives, delegates go back into their dialogue groups, and ultimately feed back to a plenary. The ideas are all fed onto an “ideas wall” (Really that’s  just a lot of flipchart sheets stuck together!) , which is used to compile a report for circulation to all delegates, and which also contains ideas for taking the dialogue forwards. Which is really the point of the exercise!

Anyway the dialogue theme I chose was on “student expectations”, and as I suspected there was some dissatisfaction among the group with the notion of students as “customers”.  The problem is of course that our capitalist economy tends to socialise everybody into thinking of themselves as customers in all sorts of contexts, and there are some aspects of university provision where that is not inappropriate. Students clearly do have cause for grievance if lecturers don’t turn up, the library isn’t open at reasonable hours. But if a student doesn’t make the effort to understand a discipline, can’t be bothered to learn how to use a library, then the idea that the “customer is always right” becomes rather less credible.

That raises further issues though. Is it reasonable for a student to expect that they be given a reading list?  The view was expressed at one point that we shouldn’t do that, or post digitised readings on Blackboard, because that limits students’ exploration. (Why explore and criticise if they’ve been told that this is the “good stuff”?)  But not to do so is to take a risk that students will complain, and in a customer oriented culture, the act of complaining itself  acquires a spurious validity, which, in the current economic climate can prove a threat to an academic’s position. At best, it certainly adds to their workloads!  This issue arose in the other elective (the one that I didn’t present) which was about enterprise in learning. Clearly, enterprise involves risk taking, but who is going to take risks when the stakes are high?

There was so much more to report on, but as I’ve said before brevity is the soul of blogging, and it is a pretty tiring format, so I’ll sign off for now

Reality Check: Do you know how good your Blackboard modules are

Kate Boardman, University of Teeside


Looked at what Teeside’s staff were actually doing with Blackboard in the light of minimum standards that they had set up, their e-learning framework and they found that the results were in fact “quite scary”.


She started by asking the rhetorical question “If you were asked by one of your Pro Vice Chancellors about the state of e-learning across the campus, what would you say?”  You might, um and ah and say, well we’ve got so many modules on Blackboard – for example, at Teeside  80% of modules have a Blackboard site. But of course, “having a Blackboard site” doesn’t necessarily mean that e-learning is taking place. If this hypothetical PVC was to then ask you to be more candid about the exact nature of the e-learning that was taking place, how would you describe that?  Kate mentioned a survey that had been done that said 98% of students said the most useful thing that could happen with Blackboard would be if their other lectures used it. That suggests to me that the students do actually use Blackboard, but that not many of the modules are actually used.



Teeside have set up minimum criteria for their Blackboard sites. They must have


  • A clear navigation menu
  • Staff details
  • A module guide
  • An overview of how the module will be delivered
  • Content organised in folder
  • No empty areas
  • Delivery schedule
  • Assessment information
  • Submission instructions
  • Assessment feedback
  • Copies of all teaching materials
  • Regular announcements
  • Link to current reading lists


Setting minimum standards is to invite the obvious question of whether modules actually meet them. It was time for a reality check. The evaluation team employed a Peer observation and review methodology, which basically employed 20-25 students in each school to review the modules with a brief to look at e-quality (which I imagine means whether the sites meet the minimum standards) across schools, levels, subject groups, and staff. Kate also suggested that presentation is important creating and interesting online module presence and reported a finding that students frequently comment adversely on sites that are difficult to navigate, This makes some sense because presentation is part of the communication process with students. She reported that only 26% of Teeside’s sites had changed from the default appearance provided by the University. It would be quite interesting to conduct a similar survey here, although I’m not convinced that this is quite as important as Kate seemed to think. If the default appearance provides adequate navigation, then there seems to be little value in changing it for the sake of aesthetics. Another aspect  of communication is the obvious one of how many announcements have been made in the site? Over 60% of Teeside’s module had none.


More significant , I thought, was the issue of construction – in  a higher level module it is not unreasonable to expect students to demonstrate a higher level of knowledge and understanding of the subject matter by constructing relevant information. Blackboard provides tools such as blogs, but the trick is to ask what students are doing, not whether or not the Blackboard site has a wiki.  Although, again according to Kate, 89% of the sites at Teeside did not provide any opportunity for students to produce or publish the results of their own work.  


I suspect that a similar review conducted at Lincoln, or pretty much any university  would probably produce similar results. On the plus side, any intervention makes people think about their teaching. Kate echoed Andy Ramsden’s keynote with her suggestions about how Teeside proposed to tackle the situation. She basically advocated a return to sound principles, including the encouragement of contact between students and teaching staff, the development of on-line activities, the production of self test assessments, which importantly provide the students with feedback, and the provision of media rich content. That of course raises the question of how you do this. The old idea of providing staff development workshops, she thought, (and I agree) doesn’t work, because they are not immediately relevant to most people’s needs. (Which actually raises the question of why we still think the lecture meets students’ needs, but I digress). Instead we should be focussing on small steps taken by individuals. When people do raise an issue we should be working with them, on a one-to-one, and just-in-time  basis if necessary. We should then write up the case study and publicise it as widely as possible. The more case studies we have, the stronger our understanding of what e-learning is going on in the University.


Towards a conceptual framework

I seem to be getting back into the swing of things a bit. I’ve just read three articles, one about the importance of working with the departments in universities (TROWLER, P., FANGHANEL, J. and WAREHAM, T., 2005) by which argues that working with departments is as important, if not more so, than working at the institutional or individual level because it is at that level that there are established working practices which is where the changes need to be brought about. (Bit of an echo of Wenger’s communities of practice notion there too.)  They introduce the important concept of “Teaching and Learning Regimes” or what the department does. From my point of view this raises the important question of where the EDU directs its efforts, which I think I will have to build into the case studies.

The second article was a review of the roll out of the Blackboard VLE at York University.  (BEASTALL, L. and WALKER, R., 2006) The relevance of this to my research is that VLEs are something that EDUs are inevitably going to be involved in. (Although, as far as I can tell, York doesn’t have an EDU as such – the article refers to a small “e-learning support unit” and I can’t find any evidence of an actual organisational unit on York’s web site) But whether it does or it doesn’t is beside the point for my research. What was interesting about the article was the emphasis that they have put on departmental readiness in terms of meeting the University’s teaching and learning priorities. They claim to have taken a mixed bottom-up and top down approach, although their description of “bottom-up” seemed to imply that this was mostly delivered through departmental working groups. I suppose that is bottom-up in a sense, but it also got me wondering about “in-groups” and “out-groups” Are there those who are aggressively not interested? Are there those who are interested but can’t get involved because of other priorities? Which sort of reinforces the question Trowler et. al. are asking. What constitutes a practical working group, and how do those outside it work with it to change its practices?

The third article was quite different in that it dealt with the idea of threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge (MEYER, J. and LAND, R., 2003) A threshold concept is a concept that students need to acquire to be able to work effectively in a discipline. Without a proper understanding of these concepts, a student will at best be able to mimic the discipline and reproduce very limited answers to questions (There’s something of an echo here of the notions of deep and surface learning). I do find this a fascinating topic, and not only because the examples they give are inherently very difficult for me to understand, but sort of explain what they’re getting at. It’s highly relevant, because I think the notion of liminality – that is being at the boundary of understanding in a subject – might go a long way to explaining how educational development units go about interacting with the subject? Do we really understand what teachers in (say) physics, biology, history, or sports science are trying to do. Can we get across the threshold? If we do what do we lose? I liked Meyer and Land’s analogy with the Adam & Eve myth. Once you’re out of Eden, there’s no going back, no matter how comfortable the illusion that you didn’t have freedom, autonomy and responsibility might have been. Is it possible that EDUs will have to abandon any long held values?

I think I’m still some way from finalising my conceptual framework, but if anything, today’s experience has taught me the value of reading. (As if I needed to know!) Sometimes, when you feel you’re getting bogged down, some different perspectives can really get you going again. Unfortunately the work I am being paid to do is shoving its nose in and I’m going to have to leave the Ed D. alone for today – But I think I know my next steps. Firstly I must reread my first draft of chapter 1 and see if these ideas can be incorporated, and secondly I think I can do quite a lot more work on developing my case study protocol, now that the conceptual framework is beginning to form in my mind.

Quite a good day really! Oh, and here are the references

BEASTALL, L. and WALKER, R., 2007. Effecting institutional change through e-learning: An implementation model for VLE deployment at the University of York. Intellect, 3(3), pp. 285-299.

MEYER, J. and LAND, R., 2003. Threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge: Linkages to ways of thinking and practices within the disciplines. Occasional Report 4. Edinburgh: ETL Project.

TROWLER, P., FANGHANEL, J. and WAREHAM, T., 2005. Freeing the chi of change: the Higher Education Academy and enhancing teaching and learning in higher education. Studies in Higher Education, 30(4), pp. 427-444


Well, the holidays and conference season is firmly over, and it really is time I got back into the Ed D. So what I plan to do is to review where I am so far. The trouble is working out where to start. Probably as good as idea as any is to re-read the defence document, so let’s start there and make a list of the issues I discuss

1) Some doubt about what constitutes knowledge in HE. Distinction between propositional and performative knowledge. Importance of developing critical thinking skills

2) Then there’s a list based on Gosling’s work, of what it is that EDUs are actually doing.

  1. Activities that work towards the improvement of, or innovation in practices related to university teaching
  2. Research into the nature of these activities
  3. Involvement in attempts to influence policy with regard to teaching.
  4. Areas outside the EDU’s immediate remit – teaching spaces, QA activities (for example the work we’ve done with regard to the NSS – but could that be part of 3 above)
  5. Providing support to non-teaching colleagues

I also wondered about the extent to which EDUs were directly involved with students – in fact, I think they’re mostly concerned with staff

Some thoughts about the location of the EDU within the organisation – they aren’t usually public facing and this may mean that they can take a fairly informal flexible approach to their work, but also that they can be forgotten about, and are an easy target for cuts.

Then I reviewed the issues facing EDUs

  1. Difficulty of engaging with the “tribes” (and danger of becoming a “tribe” themselves)
  2. Vulnerability due to external funding
  3. Need to respond to external agenda (demands of “politics”, “business” and other stakeholders who see the University as having a very instrumental role)
  4. Need to respond to a pedagogical agenda. Imposition of particular practices – notably PDP and challenge of getting others to embed these into the curriculum. Also difficulty of pinning down “University teaching” in a time when new courses and disciplines proliferate, there is a growth in delivery methods, rapid development of new technological tools (perhaps I should add “technological practices” here, by which I mean things like web 2.0, which some argue are leading to new ways of students engaging with learning.)
  5. Growth of other new ideas not necessarily related to technology. e.g. those around PBL and peer assisted learning.

I then reviewed these themes in the light of the literature – something I very much need to develop for the next chapter of the thesis. But all this leads to my main research question which is “To what extent are the actvities of educational development units driven by pressure to meet corporate and managerial goals, and to what extent are they responses to developments in pedagogical theory.” Actually, though this needs quite a bit of unpicking. Firstly the “to what extent” bit will need to be re-phrased. It implies that this is something that can be measured using quantitative techniques, which is only true if I could devise a set of variables that can actually be measured. Secondly, I think I have to make a convincing case that “corporate and managerial goals” and “developments in pedagogical theory” don’t always coincide. If they did, then there wouldn’t be a problem. (But I think I might also have to acknowledge that they sometimes do coincide!)

Perhaps I should now go back and have a look at what I’ve written so far in terms of draft chapters – Important because the research question must drive the methodological approach I take.,