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Learning technology and institutional strategy
Article Type: Editorial From: Campus-Wide Information Systems, Volume 28, Issue 4
This special issue grew from a series of workshops sponsored by the JISC on institutional strategy which took place during 2010 and which involved around 20 UK Higher Education Institutions. During these workshops, which involved a range of stakeholders from each institution, we found considerable similarities and common patterns of practice amongst the strategic and technological activities undertaken. The workshops aimed to combine discussion of learning technology strategy with deeper thinking about the role of technology in the strategic direction of Universities. As a way of capturing this “moment in time” for UK Higher Education, this journal brings together both a collection of papers representing considered examinations of the strategic importance of technology in Higher Education with some representative “snapshots” of practice illustrated with case studies from four institutions who participated at the workshops.
The thinking behind the workshops is explored in the paper by Johnson and Smyth. The underlying principle expressed in the paper is that technology strategy is not about technology per se, but about the communications within the institution that surround and are supported by technological practice. This is also supported in the findings of the paper by Hardaker and Singh. Based on this principle, the workshops sought to stimulate communication between different stakeholders within and across institutions. This raises the central them of the paper which concerns the possibility of consensus about technology strategy.
Richard Hall’s paper tackles the question of consensus directly by highlighting the political aspects of technology strategy in universities. He argues that informed political debate is a necessary ingredient in forming institutional consensus as a way of dealing with the global challenges faced by society. Related to this broader agenda, Andrew Comrie’s paper presents the case for using technology to transform pedagogy in the institution. Drawing on examples from the Scottish Funding Agency’s TESEP (Transforming and Enhancing the Student Experience through Pedagogy) project, he presents some practical steps where technological consensus can work hand-in-hand with pedagogical innovation.
The link between technology and pedagogy is also a feature in Richard Millwood and Stephen Powell’s paper on the University of Bolton’s IDIBL (Inter-Disciplinary Inquiry-based Learning) project. As with the TESEP project, the IDIBL project aimed to ground pedagogical innovation in the form of Inquiry-based learning in new technological practices. Millwood and Powell identify a challenge in finding ways of making meaningful distinctions which link the rationale behind interventions with understanding the messier reality of their implementation. To address this, they adopt an analysis of their intervention based on systems thinking. This they argue helps to make the link between strategic plans and what happens “on the ground”. Susannah Quinsee and Anise Bullimore’s paper addresses a similar issue. Her solution is to present the “story” of the creation of City University’s “Strategic Learning Environment” and then to analyse the story as a way of identifying the key moments at which the technology strategy took shape.
Academic writing about technology strategy is very valuable, but during our workshops we realised that there was much work going on in institutions which was presented in a less formal way, but which nevertheless was very interesting and merited wider dissemination. For this reason, we have included as “review case studies” snapshots of practice in three institutions represented in the workshops. The University of Dundee presents their approach to institutional communication around technology and learning strategy as a combination of top-down, bottom-up and middle-out strategies. Communication also forms the basis of Edinburgh Napier’s Learning, Teaching and Assessment strategy, and they seek to establish a resource-bank to support staff in new educational practices. Finally, curriculum change is the driving force behind Manchester Metropolitan University’s redesign of their learning environment. They describe their adoption of service-oriented architecture as they undertake a large-scale curriculum review.
We hope that by presenting these papers and case studies we can contribute to the discourse around finding constructive approaches to the daunting challenges faced by UK Higher Educational Institutions. We could not have done this without the support of a great many people. Our special thanks go to all the institutions who participated in the workshops and whose input we have tried to capture in this journal, the workshop facilitators, to David Kernohan in JISC who supported the idea of the workshops, to the reviewers of the papers and to Glenn Hardaker for supported the publication of this special issue of Campus Wide Information Systems.
Mark JohnsonUniversity of Bolton, Bolton, UK
Keith SmythEdinburgh Napier University, Edinburgh, UK