At this year’s ALT-C conference (#altc), Richard Walker presented the following short paper: ‘Ground swells and breaking waves: Findings from the 2014 UCISA TEL survey on learning technology trends, developments and fads’.
The slides for the presentation are available here and as the title of the talk suggests, they cover some of the key messages emerging from the 2014 Technology Enhanced Learning Survey of the UK higher education sector. The full report for the Survey has been published on the UCISA website at: http://www.ucisa.ac.uk/tel
The Technology Enhanced Learning Survey is the seventh of its kind that UCISA has conducted, and offers a longitudinal perspective of TEL developments over a 13-year period within UK higher education, focusing on the provision already in place within institutions and the current, emerging and planned patterns of learning technology use across the HE community. Of particular interest in this year’s Survey were open education provision (the MOOC phenomenon), investment in mobile learning provision and any consequent changes in policies and pedagogic practices, as well as TEL evaluation work going on across the sector – specifically in relation to VLE review decisions. The Survey is typically completed by institutional heads of e-learning and for this year’s Survey 98 out of a possible 158 UK higher education institutions responded – a response rate of 61%.
So what were the headline findings? The key institutional drivers for TEL development remain unchanged since 2003 with a continuing focus on the use of learning technologies to enhance the quality of learning and teaching and meet student expectations, as well as to improve access to learning for students who are living off-campus. Improving administrative processes has risen up the rankings and now sits in the top-four list of drivers. This development may well reflect the drive across the sector to mainstream e-assessment processes – specifically the electronic submission of student work.
On the flip side, distance learning provision has dropped down the list of institutional drivers and distance learning activity continues to account for only a very small volume of TEL delivery, as measured as a proportion of modules delivered across an institution. MOOC activity does not appear to have radically altered that picture, in spite of the considerable government and media attention directed towards open online courses in recent years. The importance of MOOCs is yet to be reflected in institutional TEL agendas beyond a select band of Russell Group institutions, with ‘improving access to learning through the provision of open education courses’ ranked lowest in the list of driving factors for the institutional adoption of TEL tools and services.
How then are TEL tools being used by institutions? The overall picture has changed very little since 2003, with the principal use case focusing on the provision of content to students. Web supplemented TEL delivery for modules predominates, followed by modules which require student interaction with targeted content resources, and overall these combined categories account for two-thirds of TEL activity across the sector. Unsurprisingly virtual learning environments are ubiquitous in their use across the sector and no doubt account for the main way that this content is being delivered to students. The sector is also investing heavily in e-assessment tools, with a particular focus on plagiarism detection and e-submission provision.
The key change since the last UCISA Survey in 2012 relates to the optimisation of institutional learning and teaching web services for mobile devices, which has seen an upsurge in investment activity across the sector. This has been most evident in support of access to library services, email and course announcements and course materials for iOS, Android and Windows devices as a way of pushing out information to students. However, progress is also being made in providing mobile access to interactive tools such as wikis, blogs and discussion boards as a way of developing more flexible approaches to learning and teaching. Overall though, the focus is still on improving connectivity to services as a first step by developing wireless infrastructure and ensuring that devices are accessible to staff and students: institution-wide initiatives to support new pedagogies of learning through the use of mobile devices do not yet appear to have taken root across the sector. Once again, support for mobile technologies was listed as the primary area of demand for TEL support teams and one of the leading challenges for institutions over the coming two to three years.
Finally, what are the key challenges to the adoption of TEL tools and services with higher education institutions? Lack of time and money continue to be leading barriers to the development of TEL, but rising back up the list in 2014 is lack of knowledge of academic staff. Given the increasing investment in support staff – the number of learning technologies is reported to have risen across the sector since the last Survey – this is a surprising finding to see in the Survey report. We may speculate that the knowledge gap is related to the increasing range of technologies and TEL developments that teaching staff are now being asked to engage with as part of their academic practice, moving beyond the uploading of course notes to the institutional VLE platform. This finding underscores the importance of investment in staff development in future years – specifically with the development of digital literacies for teaching staff.
To access the full 2014 UCISA Survey findings, please download the report at: http://www.ucisa.ac.uk/tel