A while ago, I was asked to select an e-learning policy and critique it. Ever since I’ve done this, I’ve pontificated about the e-learning strategy of the University of Warwick, and earlier today thought what a good idea to post my discussion posting about the policy on my blog so that those who are interested can take a further look.
The original document has been removed from the universities web site, but thanks to an internet archive (The WayBack Machine?) it can be viewed here:
Warwick University elearning Strategy Document, May 2002
Subject: University of Warwick - e-learning policy. Message no. 783 Author: David Callaghan (10133721) Date: Monday, October 23, 2006 9:43am
The policy I have selected is by the University of Warwick Information Technology Policy Committee, e-Learning Steering Group (2002).
The strategy bowled me over in many aspects, in particular:
- University centric – looking at e-learning in the context of teaching and research at the whole university;
- Suggesting lobbying of funders to help with funding and steering their policies;
- ‘Soft’ targets, not the standard tick boxes I have been led to expect;
- Extensive realistic expectation embedded throughout the policy, especially with reference to encouraging staff to adopt the technology.
1) How was the strategy formed? Who was involved?
The strategy was formed by the e-learning steering group of ITPC at the University of Warwick. It appears to be a result of meetings of the e-learning steering group supported by wide consultation with many university departments; there is no mention of policy or guidance from any external agency.
2) What does the strategy set out to do? What are its aims?
The document articulates a framework for extending e-learning in ways consistent with the University's overall strategy and the e-strategy produced in 2001, and outlines the provision that the University would need to make to facilitate its implementation.
It is extremely comprehensive, covering an extensive field of e-learning issues, addressing positive aspects and problems, and suggesting ways of overcoming them. For example, from section 5.3 that is addressing how to encourage staff to develop e- learning in their departments: The rewards for staff and departments involved in this work should be tangible to encourage it, and might be collective (in the form of enhanced teaching research rankings, recognition by peers, etc.)
3) How practical is the strategy? Is it mainly a set of guidelines; or are there specific recommendations?
The strategy addresses a multitude of specific issues with recommendations or suggestions for most of the practical problems envisaged in enhancing the e-learning experience at Warwick. All of the suggestions seem eminently practical and reasonable.
4) Are there resources available to back up and develop the strategy?
As recommendations are stated, existing funding streams or resources are identified that to some extent financially support each recommendation. One of the exceptions is the financial provision for support staff is referred to in 5.1.2: Appropriate plans and bids would need to be developed.
5) Can you make a judgement as to how helpful the strategy is for:
(a) managers and (b) staff
It puts clearly into context what the universities desire for e-learning is and what activities the university would support to meet those aims. Managers and staff would be able to create their own priorities and policies in their areas to support the overall strategy. It clearly indicates technical issues, funding streams, and new areas to explore, such as the sale of lectures via streaming technologies.
Students may not find the strategy especially useful since they have a relatively short career at the university and the policy is addressing a 5 year + timescale. However, medics and other students envisaging a longer stint may look at this to support lobbying for this at later stages.
6) What is your overall feeling about ‘strategies’?
I am suspicions of ‘strategies’ as they can be used as a fig leaf to hide poor practice and reluctance to change (Collinson, Knights, and Collinson 1990). They have been used by many organizations to pontificate about what they do or are going to do, and then get on with the status quo, or even use the policy to enable them to do differently. Notably, in the university sector this can be done with great style and flair.
However, I have to say I am very impressed with the Warwick strategy, and having read this one would suggest that this be a first port of call for anyone thinking of developing their own. I have read many policies from the DfES which are embedded with rhetoric and hard targets seemingly plucked out of the air. The Warwick document is, in my opinion, vastly superior because:
* it contains little rhetoric;
* its recommendations are founded in a pedagogical view of learning combined with a realistic expectation of staff;
* targets are soft – such as
'Widespread' (used by >50% of staff);
'Medium' (used by 25- 50% of staff);
'Low' (used by approx. 10% of staff);
Further reading: The Edge Hill e-learning strategy. I know there is at least a draft in existence which is being championed by M Schofield, but that’s where the trail ends. Can someone post this please?
Warwick University, Information Technology Policy Committee, e-Learning Steering Group (2002) elearning Strategy Document Version 2.1 [20.5.02] http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/insite/forum/archive/elearning/stategydocument/ Accessed 22 October 2006