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Head, Learning + Teaching Unit
Flexible Learning within MMU:
Working smarter not harder
When it comes to teaching and learning within MMU there is no shortage
of challenges facing us across the whole student life cycle. They range
from those presented by the widening participation agenda – raising
awareness and aspirations to anticipating the special educational needs
of our students, from improving retention rates to career progression,
from ensuring the quality of our teaching to conducting pedagogic research.
Amongst these challenges is flexible learning – combining conventional,
face-to-face teaching techniques with those used in open and distance
learning contexts to provide the most effective and efficient teaching
methods – methods that a growing proportion of learners increasingly
expect. In terms of flexible learning I’d suggest we are faced with
a cluster of questions; they are along the lines of - how do we:
- identify and satisfy academic and professional development needs?
- engage in curriculum design and development?
- explore the potential of the new teaching technologies (and exploit
the strengths of conventional teaching methods)?
- encourage our learners to be more independent learners?
- share examples of good practice?
In particular, how do we create time and space to assemble flexible learning
materials and give our learners responsibility for part of their own learning?
How do we work smarter and not merely harder?
If you are expecting a simple panacea I’m afraid you are going
to be disappointed. However, if you are interested in considering ways
in which we may be able to secure some time and resources, benefit from
the experience of colleagues, explore some of the above questions and
put ideas into practice read on.
Expectations in Faculty Learning and Teaching Plans
All faculties within MMU have identified eLearning and Flexible Learning
as a priority [see
a collection of all Faculty Learning and Teaching Plans]. I interpret
these aspirations to mean that colleagues wish to use the most appropriate
techniques and media in their teaching – be this online or in a
workshop or laboratory, be it in large teaching groups or small tutorials.
Some, like the Faculty of Science & Engineering and Faculty of Humanities
and Social Science have actual set targets for the proportion of staff
they expect to be teaching online by 2005 – 2006; 40% and 50% respectively.
If this expectation is matched across the university it means a three-fold
increase in the number of staff teaching online. How could it be achieved?
Well, a costed project proposal
has been submitted to the Training and Development Unit, Human Resources
as part of the work of the VITAeL Task Group. If this is supported the
university can provide the briefing and training required. Other faculties,
like C+A Faculty, have constituted an eLearning Task Group, charged with
the task of realising faculty aspirations.
Identifying and satisfying academic and professional development needs
A recent survey of academic and professional development needs, conducted
within C+A Faculty (Artess and Byrne, 2001) provided baseline data of
expressed staff needs; the survey is to be replicated by the Faculty of
Humanities and Social Science. More specifically, the Audit
of e-Learning in CSLE, currently underway, and which will be replicated
by C+A Faculty, will provide a basis for the contribution that Visiting
Scholar Professor Som Naidu, University of Melbourne will make to flexible
learning within MMU. This evidence will be supplemented by that provided
from other sources – such as the NATFHE
Questionnaire on Online Learning and Models of Technology and Change In
Higher Education: An international comparative survey on the current
and future use of ICT in Higher Education and the DOVILES
Project - The development, validation and use of a Distance and Open
Virtual Learning Environment Scale – being undertaken with the Open
University of Hong Kong
It is hoped that the evidence currently being collected will inform
any revision(s) of the briefing and training programme in WebCT, that
Rachel Forsyth has developed and which will be offered to colleagues and
the training associated with the new high tech lecture theatres, being
promoted by the Promethean Centre, and conducted by Robert Ready.
Curriculum design and development
There is no shortage of published advice available from MMU colleagues
on the production of flexible learning materials (Lockwood, 1994, 1998),
on innovations in learning and teaching (Lockwood, 1995, Lockwood and
Gooley, 2001) or on staff development in open an flexible learning (Latchem
and Lockwood, 1998). By the end of 2003 there will be 40 books in the
Kogan Page Open and Distance Learning
Series and over a dozen in the Studies
in Distance Education Series published by Routledge with no shortage
of paper based and online
journals in the field.
However, a little assistance can be better than a lot of advice. In an
attempt to provide a combination of advice and assistance on Alternative
Methods of Producing Teaching Material [see http://www.celt.mmu.ac.uk]
the Learning + Teaching Unit has assembled a programme of seminars and
workshops, games and simulations designed to enable colleagues to transform
existing materials into flexible learning materials using the most appropriate
media. The programme seeks to explore the strengths of conventional teaching
practices, the potential of the new teaching technologies and to encourage
our learners to be more independent learners.
The intention is to work with colleagues in a number of departments to
transform a small amount of teaching materials into flexible learning
materials. This small amount representing a cluster of learning objectives
that relate to formative or summative assessment materials in the course.
During 2003 – 04 it is expected that accounts of these transformations
will be Showcased in a university wide seminar; illustrating how it is
possible to work smarter and not merely harder.
Potential of the new teaching technologies (and strengths of conventional
At the present time there is an explosion of flexible learning courses
and particularly elearning courses nationally and internationally. The
International Centre for Distance Learning (iCDL) has assembled and
maintains a database of over 35,000 distance learning courses from over
1000 institutions in 100 countries. There are courses available from Accountancy
to Zoology – and numerous subjects in between. Subject areas that
were once thought could only be taught in a conventional seminar, laboratory,
workshop or clinical setting are now delivered in other ways. It is possible
to follow a distance learning course in Perfumery or Acupuncture and flexible
learning courses in Sport and Exercise Science or Midwifery – the
scope is enormous.
Other databases, such as Distance
Learning Course Finder have a record of 60,000 elearning courses offered
by 131 countries. The database reveals that one can study for an MBA from
the University of Athabasca or Indira Gandhi National Open University,
from Monash University or Harvard
– or an online business course from the 2700 currently on offer.
In terms of exploting the strengths of conventional teaching methods
the university is fortunate to have an Institute of Education that provides
Post Graduate Certificate in Education courses; courses that provides
advice and assistance to colleagues on teaching methods and student learning.
It is also fortunate to be a focus for innovative work within the Promethean
Centre – exploiting the communicative power of the new lecturer
theatres and the opportunities these provide.
More independent learners
The revolution in the actual delivery of teaching materials in higher
education over the last thirty years has been accompanied by a similar
revolution in teaching methods – from exposition, typified by the
Sage on the Stage to constructivism typified by the Guide on the Side.
The technology and teaching methods have enable learners to take a more
active role in their learning, to reflect upon their learning and take
responsibility for it. The increasing use of formative assessment material
(Lockwood, 1992, Tessmer, 1993) have sought to involve the learner more
in the learning process – getting them to monitor their progress,
check their understanding, think for themselves.
The introduction of Personal Development Planning and Student Progress
Files (required for all accredited courses in 2005/06; see
also the article in this issue by Trevor Williamson) will mark another
significant milestone in this movement. Pilots in Faculty of Art &
Design, Faculty of Science and Engineering and in the Business School
are showing encouraging results and serve to confirm those noted by David
Gough, Head of the Research Team commissioned by the LTSN to address the
question: What evidence is there that processes that connect reflection,
recording and action planning improve student learning? The team reviewed
published research in the area and Gough stated that a
“wide range of positive outcomes were reported including: improved
practical and cognitive skills, attitudes to learning and reflection,
knowledge of learning styles and improved autonomy and achievement.”
(THES, 14 March 2003, p9)
Sharing examples of good practice
There is no shortage of Good Practice within MMU – the problem
is being made aware of it. The work of faculty Learning and Teaching Committees
in mounting workshop and seminars programmes is to be applauded –
as is the mounting of Faculty Learning and Teaching days. The most recent
Business School Learning and Teaching day (or rather two days) was devoted
to elearning and flexible learning. The forthcoming C+A Faculty learning
and teaching conference will have a theme of elearning and flexible learning.
The Annual Staff Development programme offers an array of events. This
issue of Learning and Teaching in Action is devoted to Flexible and Life
Long Learning. The MMU Research Data
Base will document all published research by staff and the associated
Pedagogic Research Data base will record both published and ongoing work
in the field. In the last academic year four books The Open Classroom:
Distance Learning in and out of schools (Bradley, 2003), Delivering Digitally
(Inglis, Ling and Joosten, 2003), Reusing Online Resources (Littlejohn,
2003) and Supporting Students in Open and Distance Learning (Simpson,
2003) were edited at MMU and published by Kogan Page, London. We are getting
better at sharing and disseminating our good practice.
There is growing expertise within MMU in the design and delivery of flexible
learning materials. It’s my hope that the current surveys of training
needs will provide us with the evidence of those needs and that we can
draw upon the expertise within the university to satisfy them. The small
scale transformations of existing, conventional teaching materials into
flexible learning materials, are designed to provide colleagues with the
skills to extend this transformation to other parts of their course. It
is hoped that this will lead to a progressive move to more efficient and
effective teaching – and to a realisation of faculty Learning and
Teaching Plans. In this context, my goal is to help colleagues meet the
same learning outcomes but to do so with less direct context thus releasing
them to engage in other scholarly activities. I believe this to be an
achievable goal and one that would enable us to work smart not merely
Artess, J and Byrne, N. (2001) A Survey of Academic and Professional
Development Needs, C+A Faculty, Manchester Metropolitan University.
Bradley. J. (ed) (2003) The Open Classroom: Distance Learning in and
out of schools. London: Kogan Page.
Gough, D. (2003) Personal Development Planning. THES, 14 March
Inglis, A., Ling, P. and Joosten, V. (2003) Delivering Digitally.
London: Kogan Page.
Latchem, C. and Lockwood, F. (1998) Staff Development in Open and
Distance Learning. London: Routledge.
Littlejohn, A. (ed) (2003) Reusing Online Resources. London: Kogan
Lockwood, F. (1992) Activities in Self-Instructional Texts. London:
Lockwood, F. (1995) Open and Distance Learning Today. London:
Lockwood, F. (1998) The Design and Production of Self-Instructional
Material. London: Kogan Page.
Lockwood, F. and Gooley, A. (2001) Innovations in Open & Distance
Learning. London: Kogan Page.
Lockwood. F. (ed) (1994) Materials Production in Open and Distance
Learning. London: Paul Chapman Publishing
Simpson, O. (2003) Supporting Students in Open and Distance Learning.
London: Kogan Page.
Tessmer, M. (1993) Planning and Conducting Formative Evaluations.
London: Kogan Page.
telephone: 0161 247 1610
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