Embedding your digital repository.

Just for a change, we hosted one of the SUETR workshop events at Lincoln, and in spite of the weather we had a reasonably good turnout of about 15 people from across the sector.  (And, I have to say it was a nice change to go to one of these events and NOT have to drag myself out of bed at some unreasonable hour prior to trudging to some distant location!)

Anyway, the event started with a presentation from me about what we’d been doing with our repository at Lincoln – Modesty forbids that I review myself of course, but I’m hoping to try and make the talk as available as a podcast, which I will post just as soon as I’ve worked out how to do it.  But my theme was about the challenge of building and maintaining a dual purpose repository  (i.e. one that has both research papers and learning objects in it) – We started out trying to build a learning object repository that could handle research, and have ended up with a research repository that can handle learning objects.  I won’t bore you with those issues here, (I’ll bore you with them in the podcast instead!) but go on to the rest of the day.

Next we had Sally Rumsey from the University of Oxford who talked about using the repository to develop a global brand – Obviously Oxford already have quite a powerful brand, and they have taken a rather different approach to their repository. They base their repositories on Fedora which in fact as a sort of base database that can feed data to to a variety of repository interfaces. Sally, perhaps not surprisingly was very insistent on the importance of having good technical support. She admitted that as a librarian she had had no idea how far she could push the boundaries of what could be done when you started to work with a software developer.

In the afternoon we had presentations from Lucy Keating of Newcastle University who rather than talk about Newcastle’s repository gave us a thought provoking overview and raised a lot of questions about how we might persuade colleagues to start depositing their research into our repositories  by adding value to the content that was already in the repository. The final speaker was Mary Robinson from Nottingham, who has been working with the Repositories support team. I’ve run these together, not out of any disrespect to either speaker, both of whom were excellent, but because one of the things they talked about was the importance of ensuring that the data in your repository could be harvested by other services. There are a number of services such as OAISTER, ROAR, INTUTE and OPEN- DOAR that bring together data from multiple repositories, thus allowing repository users to search across repositories and indeed to allow repository managers to share knowledge about improving the infrastructure.

Interspersed through the presentations was a great deal of useful discussion about promoting repositories among colleagues, develop statistical analyses to show researchers who was accessing their work, how we could promote open access as a public good.

I’m afraid time and pressure of work has prevented this being a very long post, but I’d welcome additional comments from those who were present if they feel I’ve missed anything.

More thoughts on Educational Development

Just finished reading Ray Land’s 2004 book “Educational Development: Discourse Identity and Practice” which covers a lot of the same ground as I’m covering in my doctoral thesis. (Wish I’d found it a bit earlier!) Anyway, if I’ve grasped his argument his theory seems to be that educational development is extraordinary complex and multi faceted activity and there are orientations to educational development, which rather than being personal attributes of individual developers derive from a combination of stances towards change in organisations which in turn is heavily influenced by the strategic terrain in which they operate. That’s echoed by the work of David Gosling too, and does form (pretty much) the basis of what I want to say in my thesis. Though I am rather tempted to part from Land over the exact nature of some of the orientations he identifies. At the risk of being overly picky I don’t really feel that a “managerial” orientation and a “professional competence” orientation as he describes them are all that different. That shouldn’t be taken as implying that the orientations are not valid. I think my own unit has moved from a very managerial orientation to a much more entrepreneurial approach.

Further, my own findings, (and I accept that this is still a little tentative) suggest that educational development is much less of a modernist project than it might have been when the book was written. I found most of the developers I met were quite comfortable with the idea that there are shifting cultures within the organisation, and had become quite adept at playing organisational politics, and moving through shifting cultures. They also seemed to be quite comfortable with the ideas of liminality and troublesome knowledge, accepting that they were working near a border across which (to parphrase mediaeval cartographers) “there be dragons”. It may be that there is a thirteenth orientation, which I am tempted to call “pragmatic-holistic”, which seems to derive from a much more post-modern attitude to the University as an organisation. To some extent, I think that’s my own orientation so I’ll have to go over the findings with a fine toothcomb to ensure it’s not just coming from my own personal preference.

There is a theme running through the book which seems to see developers as primarily responsible for innovation. I found that they certainly saw themselves as an important locus for innovation, but they also saw themselves as playing other roles, for example a bridge between the respective cultures of the senior management and the faculties, but they also took their support role very seriously (Land’s “Romantic” orientation). In fact if anything they saw themselves as supporters of innovation by others rather than innovators themselves.

A great deal of food for thought anyway.

Great Expectations of ICT – JISC report 2008

Just read this very interesting report on what students expect in terms of ICT provision when they arrive at university.  I did think the methodology was a little questionable in that an on line survey and discussion groups is, by default, going to pick up on students who are inherently more enthusiastic about IT, but bearing that in mind there were some intriguing findings. Not least that

  • Students are fine with Web 2.0 tools as long as they are in control of the environment – they don’t in general want lecturers leading their use of these tools.
  • Students generally are very comfortable with VLEs which do pretty much what is expected of them.
  • There is not much apparent interest in mobile learning
  • Students place very little value on virtual worlds (so my trip to Nottingham last week might have been a bit of a waste of time!)
  • There seems to be a desire for universities to provide training in thinking about the implications of different technologies, than just providing access to different technologies, and training in how to use them.

None of which is all that surprising I suppose. In some ways I think the first finding is the most interesting because it raises some issues about control of the learning environment. When you think about it it fits with the way of thinking that argues that learning is better when the students produce their own learning, rather than consume it.  Although another interesting finding was that relatively few students knew what a wiki was, let alone how to use it, which rather supports the argument that there is a need to think about what you do with information, rather than just how to retrieve it. Haven’t got time to write a longer post about this now, but I might well return to this topic – For the time being the full report is at

Click to access jiscgreatexpectationsfinalreportjune08.pdf


Writing the thesis seems uncommonly hard work tonight, so I thought I’d indulge in a little bit of stream of consciousness writing, trying to theorise about the educational development unit.  This entry probably won’t make much sense to anyone reading. But comments would be most welcome.  

When I think about the educational development unit I see a small unit that sits at the centre of a large organisation – yet, that is probably the way I see it because of the undeniable fact that we are all at the centre of every life experience we ever have. We see everything from our own perspective because we don’t have another. None of us can actually BE somebody else. Following that logic, everyone else sees their own experience as being central to their world, because it is. But we can’t all actually be at the centre. So we have to try and have an “out of body” experience as it were and see the EDU as others see it.

And yet… I do think the EDU is often caught between extremes and so it is central in that sense. It’s just not central to everything.  For example, there is the need to deliver a teaching and learning strategy without necessarily getting involved in the thinking that informs teaching in different disciplines. There is the need to deliver national initiatives, (PDP, some of the work that is being done in the CETLs around the “skills” agenda, managing the NSS,  or at least managing the responses to it). There’s an issue around technology where at one extreme there is pressure to ensure that colleagues have a basic level of competence to deliver the curriculum to students via say a VLE, and at the other to push the boundaries by doing things like creating open access repositories, building islands in second life and so on).  There’s pressure to bid for funding for projects, and then of course to deliver those projects, while still maintaining the unit’s own workload.  There’s also pressure to develop an academic portfolio, both delivering courses, often a PGCE, but quite commonly Masters courses, and occasionally doctoral level courses. There’s also a tension between what you might call learning development theory and the political and environmental realities that we all work within. You can bang on all you like about student centred learning, but there are still very few classrooms where the student is actually at the centre of the action. 

But, then I suppose what all those tensions do is create fairly pragmatic staff, who tend to have a holistic view of the organisation. – Well, more holistic than most colleagues who are based in faculties I suspect. But one of the big drawbacks for many educational development units is that they tend not to work with students very much, and this is something that tends to take them away from the centre, because there is another tension, this time between student expectations and learning theories. I don’t want to sound cynical here, but it is a perfectly rational strategy for a student to work out a way of getting the highest number of marks for the least possible effort. So, students might reasonably resist our efforts to involve them in activities, saying “We’re paying fees – it’s your job to teach us”. And they do have a point. All of which makes our work as educational developers more difficult because we are saying to academic staff – well, to make your students learn more effectively, you need to make them work harder. Persuading others to work harder is hard work in itself – another source of tension.

So, where does all this leave me? Well, I think we, as educational developers do need to work with as many colleague as possible, which I think may well involve us getting out of our comfort zone, and teaching ourselves. The problem is what do we teach? Or more accurately, how much do we teach?  I don’t think the odd lecture on PDP or study skills cuts it, because those are ongoing activities. But neither can we become physicists, sociologists, historians or whatever, because if we did we wouldn’t be educational developers any more. I’m coming round to the idea of academic literacies again -I think we might have something to contribute on how to be a sociologist, a linguist, or a dramatist in HE.  Perhaps the Educational Development Unit should be seen as a sort of cell, surrounded by some sort of permeable membrane which ideas can and do pass through in both directions.

There’s also the vexed question of technology. What approaches should we take to the development of colleagues. Supportive? Didactic? Challenging? Actually that last one isn’t as aggressive as it sounds. I’m thinking of the example of Turnitin, where I do think we should be challenging people to stop seeing it as something that catches people out, but to use it in a much more positive way as a teaching aid. There again there’s the challenge of getting people to stop using PowerPoint (at least in the thoughtless way that it is often used.) There’s another issue, which is that EDUs are using technology to help colleagues to do things that they would rather not be doing. A VLE for example can faciliate the teaching of much larger numbers of students than a technology free environment – but is that a good thing? “Teaching” here might mean exactly the delivery of “learning materials” to students. But are we losing that middle of the class type student who could, with a little individual attention develop his or her talents. I don’t know, of course but it does seem a possibility that they would simply collect their electronic resources, digest and reproduce them and go away with a mediocre degree.

So the EDU is a site of challenge and of struggle between ideas then? Isn’t that what is at the heart of a university?  It’s a sort of academic department with a very heavy service emphasis. Yet working in such a unit doesn’t feel like that because it has to survive in a difficult political environment, and seems to do that best by being as supportive as possible. Even if that support isn’t always aimed at the right target.

Thesis Tutorial

Just had a very interesting 90 minute tutorial with my two supervisors, which took the form of a very lively discussion and this entry is really just a brief note of some of the concepts that I can remember.

  1. I should use this blog to record concepts as they occur to me, even they don’t make a lot of narrative sense at this stage. It’ll be a useful mine of information for the final chapter
  2. The Educational development unit is a site where negotiations between the university and the outside world are conducted
  3. I need to have a sense of why EDUs were set up in the first place as well as where they have gone.
  4. Adding an international dimension to the literature would be valuable – the issue of nomenclature I noticed in the literature survey is an interesting example.
  5. Other issues, such as sustainability, widening participation, globalisation should be mentioned, even if I am focussing on technology.
  6. There’s a contradiction between the driving force role and the quality control
  7. EDUs hold quite a lot of power, especially where technology is concerned, but by training colleagues in that technology they risk losing it.  But they also need to be able to communicate what they are talking about to prove their value to the wider community.
  8. Support services are very important clients of EDUs.
  9. I need to make some suggestions about appropriate external examiners.

There was a great deal more than this, and I dare say it’ll come back to me later on. However, what did come out was a committment by me to have a first draft ready by the end of October (gulp!)

Learning Spaces and EDUs

I picked up quite an interesting blog post here, responding to JISC’s “Designing Spaces for Effective Learning – A guide to 21st century learning space design” and making a point I’ve been banging on about for ages which is that we still haven’t got away from the traditional paradigm of the teacher standing in front of the class. There are certainly attempts to get away from that, not least at Lincoln, but I wonder how far people are actually buying into it.  It would be interesting to evaluate how the new rooms are actually being used once people have got used to them.

I think there will be experimentation at first, but when the pressures to respond to student expectations start to bite I wonder if people will settle down into a more conventional form of delivery despite the physical environment.  Things like the NSS, and other accountability measures, do, I think have a very powerful effect on academic practice, but I think it’s too early to say what that will be yet.  What the blog post picks up on, and I confess I’m not sure about, is how far those teachers who will be using the rooms have been involved in the process of designing them.  But then, how do you involve a whole University? Now, there’s a challenge for an Educational Development Unit.

Actually, I think we can meet it. The research I’ve been doing shows that staff in EDUs do tend to hold a very collegial model of the University, even though they are at the same time under considerable pressure to deliver a very instrumental agenda. They’re quite good at picking up some aspects of each of the disciplines they’re working with. (Rather like Flann O’Brien’s atomic theory of the bicycle, they do slowly exchange characteristics with their clients,  but you’ll have to read the Third Policeman for the details of that theory!)

Collegial or Corporate

Well, I’ve been going through the data again, and I think actually that EDUs try and work in a very collegial way – the more successful ones seem to listen to what their client groups want and try to meet their needs. That’s not to say they don’t challenge outdated practices where they see them. In some cases, I found they can take quite sophisticated approaches to this “challenging” -Well, they have to because laying down the law about what colleagues should and shouldn’t be doing would never work anyway. But I remain convinced that they (well, we, I suppose) have to get out into the disciplines. I like the notion of a permeable membrane through which developers and academic staff feed off each other while remaining separate. You need the separation because Educational development seems to be  becoming a discipline in its own right, and developers can’t take on every aspect of every discipline, otherwise they’d be physicists or historians or whatever, and not ed. developers.

While on this theme though we had an awayday yesterday and one of our principal teaching fellows made the (I thought) quite telling observation that we, as a development unit were doing a fantastic job in helping the academic department do the things that it didn’t really want to do. That wasn’t a criticism of CERD but I think of the external pressures on the University – for instance we were doing a great job in helping them deal with large classes. But they’d rather not be teaching large classes at all. It’s a good point and something I need to work into my own research somehow. Anyway I’m breaking my own rule about not working after 9 p.m. now, so that’s enough for today.

Writing up

Spent 4 hours this afternoon wrestling the literature review chapter into some sort of shape – it’s still far too long, but I’ve lost about a third of it. I think it does read rather better too. One of the strange things about thesis writing though is that you can’t really do it in a linear fashion. In a funny sort of way I need to know what the data I’ve collected tells me before I can really bring the literature review chapter, or the methodology chapter in. That’s not the way you’re supposed to do it of course – the literature review is supposed to inform the methodology, and the research questions, which are then answered by the data. Of course reality isn’t exactly like that. I’m not suggesting you fit the questions to your answers – You don’t. But you do have to do something a bit like that to make the thesis read coherently.

Where I’m at now anyway, is an argument that there are quite strong structural pressures on EDUs to deliver – but that these pressures can lead to them doing the wrong thing. One thing I found interesting was that they do tend to like putting on workshops and training sessions, but that these only work if the client groups actually want them.  Seems obvious, but the pressure to be seen to “doing something” means that there’s a possible that the EDU can be hitting its performance indicators, by providing workshops that nobody goes to!  Actually, most of the interviews reveal that they actually offer quite innovative forms of support – assisting with teaching in other disciplines being one of the most striking, but also working with staff to meet student demand, or trying to see how e-learning might fit into completely new disciplines (New to the developer I mean). The problem is that these are “expensive” – they tend to be one to one,  time consuming and add greatly to the developer’s workload. But they’re exactly the sort of model that teaching and learning theorists advocate. Which does suggest that the theorists might be right! So in spite of an implication I found in the literature that educational developers don’t practice what they preach, I’ve found some evidence that they sort of do!

Early findings?

Possibly. I’m in the second phase of data analysis at the moment, by which I’ve mean I’ve coded the data into large themes and I’m now trying to break those down into smaller themes. By far the biggest of the “big” themes was to do with technology, and attempts to promote “technologically enhanced learning” (A much more accurate phrase than e-learning, I think, and while we’re on the subject of accuracy I think I’m going to start using the phrase “digital technologies” rather than “new technology, or ICT”)

Anyhow. I’ll be frank here and admit that I do find this a very tedious process. I much prefer to be writing, but I can see that it is necessary to sift through all the data, even though I’ll only end up using a small fraction of it.  I suppose it’s bit like prospecting for gold, because ideas do pop up during the process. One of the things I think I might want to pursue is the idea that the different models of the University, for example, functional models (the research university, the teaching university) and structural models (the bureaucratic organisation, the collegial model) do not so much guide the work of Educational Development Units, as they frame resistance to the sort of innovation that EDUs are trying to build in. I’ve gone through the data several times now, and I really haven’t found much evidence of a committment to one model or another, but I have found quite strong evidence of pragmatism. There is awareness of resistance to innovation, but virtually everyone I have spoken to so far seems very optimistic that they have ways around it, and that their chosen approaches are working.  There again, in an interview with someone from another university, they’re not necessarily going to talk about failures.  I think the thing to do is to try and identify what is going on when they do talk about resistance.

Of course, I haven’t really started on the documentary evidence I collected yet – That I think might well show a leaning to some model of what the university is because of course that’s the public face of the unit.

Starting to write.

Well, not actually starting. I’ve been doing it for some time, but I am finding it very difficult to come up with a conceptual framework which I can hang the analysis on. I’ve done four of my interviews, and I think I only need another two. (I must chase up access to the pre-1992 universities I’ve already contacted. And perhaps find some others if I can’t get participation)  And the fact that my book chapter is now officially “In press” might help with getting further participants. But I’ve got quite a lot to be going on with so I can at least start writing.

The trouble is of course, ordering my writing. My first idea was to use Nvivo to code all my notes that I’d taken from the literature, which did generate a set of concepts, and in that sense that has been quite valuable. But I think I may have fallen into the trap of stopping generating codes and tried to force things into nodes where they don’t belong.  I will probably have to unpack each of the 35 nodes I’ve already created and re code them. Actually, I doubt I’ll have to unpack all 35 of them – one or two of them only have a few references so I’ll have to think hard about whether I want to continue with them.  I’ve also melded the interview data in with the literature review, which might also have been a mistake, because I am going to want to highlight the differences between that data and the literature review. Still, they do appear separately in each node, so they shouldn’t be too hard to unpack.  I’ll be a bit more careful when I start on the documentary and photographic data which is next.

The other thing I’ve begun to do is a much cruder analysis technique, but I think it may have some potential. Essentially I’ve just created a document for each interview question, and am importing the respondent’s answers into those. Because the questions themselves were generated from the literature review they should reflect large themes which might contribute to a conceptual framework. On the bright side I have some holidays from work coming up, so I plan to use the first week or so of it to really crack on with it. And I shouldn’t get too frustrated. I just attended one of our regular study schools and in one of the sessions on “How to write the perfect thesis” I was relieved to be told that very few doctoral students know what they are doing when they start out.  – The trick is to make the thesis look like you did!