E-learning opportunities in Higher Education – and ways institutions block them.

These so-called Web2.0 opportunities are sometimes hard to reconcile with IT Services departments whose imperative – often in the face of unreasonable expectations and desultory resourcing – is to offer and support a secure robust service.

Our IT Services department does a wonderful job on a shoestring, but has a bad track record on consulting and imposing rules and restrictions. The idea of people setting up their own services seems really threatening to some of its members. Personally, I feel I could have a better understanding of these pressures – implying that there needs to be excellent links between learning technology and IT Services departments so that the former well equipped to represent the concerns of the latter – especially where these are to do with network security or performance – and also so that the former can feed back requests to the latter and help the service to progress.

From where I’m standing, though, it’s important to say yes as often as we can when we get a request to use a piece of online software (that’s assuming we do get a request) – to foreground any institutional software which the teacher may not have been aware of, to arm him or her with the existing regulations about what they are obliged to do or not to if they are acting in a professional capacity (i.e. learning, teaching, research) under the auspices of their institution, discuss their plans and opportunistically promote good learning / teaching / research practice, reinforce the importance of testing the software before going live, emphasise that IT Services is unable to offer support beyond the stated institutional provision, and then send them on their way with a blessing, praise for their initiative, and an open invitation to feed back on their experiences. What I’m absolutely sure of is that we shouldn’t try to nail down this e-learning business.

A bundle of quotes and links, which I’ll add to over time:

“Technology is constantly re-invented and repurposed to support learning activities and there is a complex co-evolution of tools and their use resulting in significant changes in the way students are learning, which we need to take account of in the way we support learning and the institutional environments we provide. “

Conole et al (2006). JISC LXP. Student experiences of technologies. Final report.

“Control and choice were key themes throughout and related to many aspects of the e-learning experience, such as how and where learners studied, the types of technology they used, personalising their virtual and physical environments, and in their approach to learning activities. This sometimes subversive type of behaviour was reported as being mostly invisible to tutors. “

“Personal technology and social networking are fast emerging issues for e-learning and are issues which came through strongly in LEX. JISC may wish to consider giving these priority in the design of future studies of the learner experience.”

Creanor et al (2006). Learner Experiences of e-Learning. Final Project Report.

“There are several dimensions in which such Web 2.0 technologies can interact with the more formally managed operations of universities, for example, in a blended pedagogy developed by a tutor, in innovative student approaches to resource discovery and use, and in an integrated institutional access management policy.”

JISC (2007). Invitation to Tender: Use of Web 2.0 Technologies.

“So what happens when users (students and staff) find that institutional policies or lack of provision can’t provide? On the one hand the answer is fairly simple. There are now a multitude of free services which, with relatively effort, provide alternative platforms for communication and sharing, e.g. Blogdigger, Bloglines, Blogger. On the other hand it would be a great pity, however, if the only way the needs of users can be met is from outside their institutions; a process once started which will surely grow. Here, surely, is an opportunity and stimulus for an institution to try-out/test/prototype the technology in a delimited area of activity? It’s hard to contemplate an IT team turning down a request from the leaders of the prestigious teams taking part in our e-learning benchmarking pilots.”

“And if all else fails, and your IT team won’t play ball, and you don’t want to go the ‘free’ service route? …”

No named author – sounds like Derek Morrison, but I wouldn’t like to say (2006) What happens if my institution won’t provide a weblog? JISC / HEA E-learning Benchmarking Weblog.

“Use of technology is richer outside institutions”

“Does the institution need to own all technology?”

“Not a hardware provider, an ISP, a database provider, but consultancy, system design and integration, support”

Oleg Liber (2006). Presentation for Initiatives & Innovation: Managing Disruptive Technologies Joint UCISA/UKOLN/CETIS Workshop 2006

Loughborough University’s Skype policy is based on JANET’s Acceptable Use Policy. It explains the issues Skype poses in something approaching plain English, and allows its use as long as it does not place too much of a burden on the network, or compromise the firewall.


University of Herts allows Skype, providing it doesn’t compromise network speed, according to someone from their Blended Learning Dept.

“We can’t have personalised learning without allowing for personalised technologies – without recognising and engaging with student choices. “

Traxler J (2007) Technologies Update. HEA/JISC Innovative Practice Workshop – m-learning. London Met, 7 March 07, 10-4.

“Institutions have invested a great deal of resource in Virtual Learning Environments. But we increasingly see not only students but teacher as well bypassing institutional systems to experiment with new applications for learning.”

Graham Attwell, Questions and Answers about PLEs, 19 March 2007, http://www.knownet.com/writing/weblogs/Graham_Attwell/entries/8598257735

“This tale’s been told before. Technology coordinators who are more concerned with disabling than enabling. Technology personnel that we would hope would be progressive, forward thinkers regarding digital technologies but instead are regressive gatekeepers. Teachers and administrators that try to move into the 21st century but run into the brick wall of supervisors or support personnel. Superintendents that allow such situations to occur rather than insisting that their district figure out how to make it work (like other districts have). Educators that fail to understand that the world around them has changed and that their relevance to that world is diminishing daily.”

Scott McLeod, on the blockage of his Prinicipal Blogging project – http://www.dangerouslyirrelevant.org/2007/05/principal_blogg.html

The entire May 07 article by Scott Wilson at http://www.edusite.nl/edusite/columns/17465 – to exerpt a few choice morsels:

“It also argues for a different approach to managing complexity: rather than reducing the variety and capability of services to make maintenance more affordable, institutions should instead encourage more self-management and self-organisation by students in their use of technology, and offer complementary supporting and co-ordinating services.”

“On a more basic level, the use of commercial third-party services has risks, such as a change in charging, or even services disappearing completely, and so there could be a role for universities in offering a free secure archiving service to that students would never lose access to things they have published. It is also increasingly on the agenda of universities to make access to basic administrative processes and information available through multiple channels and devices, such as using mobile phones, iPod, and RSS feeds.”

“This is hardly a new idea – the radical educationalist Ivan Illich proposed such a technique in 1967 – but potentially opens up new ways of flexible working. Especially as not only do students enter university with their own technology, they also enter with their own experiences, knowledge and skills – maybe they have something to teach, too?” (Duh-uh!!! Of course… It’s called ‘peer learning’ – you may have heard of it).


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