In 2017/18 the status of ‘technology-enhanced learning’ (TEL) at Birkbeck, University of London moved up the organisational agenda from its usual position under the radar, to a new level of ‘under review’. Like the Open University, Birkbeck’s mission has been to create opportunities to study for groups who are usually excluded by conventional modes of provision. However, where online (‘distance’) mode teaching acts to take location out of the equation, Birkbeck opens access primarily through its timetable. The fact that our students give up the semblance of a normal life, dedicating many of their evenings to the classroom, has perhaps obscured the extent to which student life is increasingly the life of the computer, as well as of the mind.
While the option of studying an entire degree via evening classes has proven a robust and popular model, the appetite to integrate the use of digital technologies into learning and teaching at Birkbeck has steadily grown since the introduction of its first virtual learning environment or VLE, WebCT, in 2003. Subsequent VLE migrations, first to Blackboard in 2008/09, and later to Moodle in 2011/12, appear to have both accelerated and slowed the pace of adoption; but in any case, some degree of modular presence on the VLE is now far more normal than exceptional.
Evening, face-to-face mode teaching, while seen to a great extent as our ‘USP’, is only one element of our ‘student experience’ and digital practices have quietly gone mainstream. Although the question of whether blended learning is well-understood or well-defined remains unanswered (Oliver and Trigwell, 2005; Dziuban et al., 2018), it can nonetheless be described as the new normal. The typical blend at Birkbeck makes use of learning technologies to deliver learning materials and also usually to manage assessment and feedback processes including online marking, and increasingly to record lectures or create other audiovisual content. In spite of this, a narrative of the primacy of face-to-face (as well as budgetary concerns) has tended to overwrite past calls for more resource and development in the digital space. This appears set to change with the initiation of an institution-wide Student Experience Review in 2017, one strand of which focuses specifically on reviewing institutional provision, support and development of TEL.
Session content: evaluation and reflection
The proposal to review the current use of TEL came about in the light of an ’emerging appetite and opportunities for its enhancement’ (to quote the initiation document), and explicitly including both ‘people and technology – both the software solutions provided, but also the supporting arrangements in place to embed and facilitate their use’. Current usage and support structures, as well as an outward strand considering good practices across the sector, would be considered in order to inform the future vision and strategy. The review thereby identified a direction of travel, but not, at its outset, a destination, although an internal model of good practice might be proposed as a template (Havemann et al, 2013; Havemann, 2017; Havemann, in press).
The TEL review consisted of two research strands:
1 Internal strand
Existing use of TEL, including review of current support, taking the form of:
Interviews with key academic staff
Online surveys for (i) staff and (ii) students
User testing for (i) staff and (ii) students
2 External strand
What is being done in other institutions? Pull together aggregated data from known surveys (such as UCISA and HeLF) and reach out to contacts at other HEIs.
This session therefore proposes to review the review. We will discuss what data has been collected and examined and outline the main findings. Through this process we were able to identify where we want to go – the session will conclude with the discussion of whether we are finally getting there.
Dziuban, C., Graham, C. R., Moskal, P. D., Norberg, A., & Sicilia, N. (2018). Blended learning: the new normal and emerging technologies. International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education, 15(1), 3. http://doi.org/10.1186/s41239-017-0087-5
Havemann, L. and Johnston Drew, L. and Barros, J. and Leal, J. (2013) Special blend: developing a model for technology-enhanced, flexible learning. Can We Do It? Yes We Can: HEA/SEEC Conference 2013, 22-23 Jul 2013, London, UK. Retrieved from: http://eprints.bbk.ac.uk/8710/
Havemann, L. (2017) Formative assessment for postgraduate academic skills development in arts. In Havemann, L. and Sherman, S. (eds.) Assessment, Feedback and Technology: Contexts and Case Studies in Bloomsbury. London, UK: Bloomsbury Learning Environment, pp. 49-51. Retrieved from: http://www.ble.ac.uk/ebook
Havemann, L. (in press). Open in the evening: openings and closures in an ecology of practices. In Conrad, D. and Prinsloo, P. (eds.) Ecologies of Open. Athabasca UP.
Oliver, M., & Trigwell, K. (2005). Can “Blended Learning” Be Redeemed? E-Learning and Digital Media, 2(1), 17–26. http://doi.org/10.2304/elea.2005.2.1.17