What can we learn from the 2018 UCISA case studies about technology-enhanced learning developments in UK higher education?

As a follow-up to the 2018 Technology-Enhanced Learning Survey, the Universities and Colleges Information Systems Association (UCISA) has just published a companion report (2018 TEL Survey case studies), showcasing different institutional approaches to the management of technology enhanced learning services within UK higher education. A sample group of 11 institutions from the 108 which completed the 2018 UCISA TEL Survey were selected for case study interviews, and were drawn from different national HE sectors and mission groups. E-learning managers and service leaders from these institutions were interviewed over the summer of 2018, and were asked to comment on their strategic outlook approach to the management of technology enhanced learning (TEL) services.

The case study interviews have been conducted by UCISA’s Digital Education Group on a biennial cycle since 2010, serving as a sense-check to the main TEL Survey report findings. They offer an interesting insight into institutional priorities for TEL, addressing organisational context, culture and structure which all inform the development of these services. The 2018 collection highlights the progress that has been achieved across the sector in the embedding of TEL services. As an indicator of the maturity of these services, the interviews revealed how institutions are incorporating TEL concerns within information and learning and teaching strategies and moving away from stand-alone e-learning strategies. This was reported by some service leaders as being part of the ‘new normal’ of teaching delivery, offering students a seamless learning experience based on an integrated digital campus approach. This approach is perhaps most clearly articulated in The University of Northampton’s active blended learning (ABL) curriculum, which eschews conventional lecturing methods in favour of group-based learning for cohorts of 30-60 students. This has led to large-scale curriculum redesign with the use of TEL ‘instrumental and critical to the delivery of this pedagogic approach and the institution’s overall strategic goals’.

The case studies confirm one of the key findings of the 2018 Survey Report, that the composition and range of technologies is no longer a distinguishing feature of the ‘offer’ that higher education providers are making to their students. The 2016 Survey Report noted the increasing investment in TEL services that was taking place across the sector (see corresponding 2016 blog post), and this has now reached a level where a common set of tools is being supported by most central TEL teams. This portfolio includes the usual suspects of the VLE, text-matching software, reading list and e-assessment tools, dedicated to the delivery of learning resources and the management of digital assessment activities. However, the 2018 case studies show that interactive lecturing tools such as electronic voting systems, document sharing and lecture recording services are all now part of this toolkit and no longer niche services offered only by well-resourced institutions to their students, as previously reported in the 2014 Survey Report (see corresponding 2014 blog post). The emergence of cloud-hosted providers has clearly had an effect in helping institutions to adopt these tools in a swifter fashion, taking away many of the challenges of running in-house versions of these systems.

The key message from the 2018 case studies is perhaps then an obvious one – it’s not what you offer but how technologies are applied to transform the student learning experience that makes the crucial difference. The portfolio of centrally supported tools is of course important on one level in meeting students’ expectations of what will be made available to support their learning on their study programme, and no doubt will remain a feature of the marketing ‘offer’ made by institutional admissions teams to prospective applicants, but this does not guarantee their effective use in programme delivery. Indeed, optional uses of the VLE by students to access course notes and resources still reflect the most common way in which technology is being employed across the sector (see blog post summary of 2018 TEL Survey results). For transformational outcomes, the use of technologies needs to be purposely designed in to programmes and this requires a step-change in thinking on how learning technologies may be deployed to support active learning. (See the York TEL Handbook for guidance on reconceptualising the use of learning technologies in support active learning.)

Northampton’s statement on ABL captures this point well, stating that modules which adopt technology as a supplement to the campus-based learning experience do not conform to the aims of their ABL curriculum in offering an integrated learning experience  that delivers that difference in learning outcomes. The Glasgow Caledonian case study makes a similar point in highlighting the support that learning technologies can provide for engagement-led and authentic problem-solving, which are distinguishing features of their programme design and delivery. But how is this all achieved, and how are academic staff supported in active learning design through the use of learning technologies?

The cases reflect different institutional approaches to addressing these challenges, many of which reflect ‘top down’ change management strategies. Glasgow Caledonian and Anglia Ruskin University have developed templates for technology usage, which encourage teaching staff to adopt appropriate digital learning design principles and practices. The York St John case study highlights how clear criteria have been established through a TEL quality framework for instructors to follow, offering clear standards to measure technology usage against. The University of Derby has followed a similar approach by developing a digital practice programme baseline linked to TEF and NSS metrics, but interestingly this is presented as a tool for programme teams to use for a process of self-review on their use of technology in support of teaching, rather than as a ‘top-down’ quality measurement.

Staff are supported in their use of these templates and frameworks by dedicated learning technologists at the school / departmental level, and there is a strong focus in all of the case study institutions on improving and developing the digital capabilities of their academic staff. One emerging practice worth tracking though for the future is the engagement of higher education institutions in collaboration arrangements with commercial partners. This involves bringing in external instructional design expertise to support this transition to active-learning design. This year’s Survey and case studies indicate that such arrangements are starting to emerge in support of programme design for distance learning initiatives, but could develop further to influence the full spectrum of online programme delivery. One development to watch for the future!

To access the case studies, please download the publication at: https://www.ucisa.ac.uk/publications/tel_casestudies2018

For a commentary on what the 2018 UCISA TEL Survey data tells us about technology adoption trends and educational change within UK higher education, please download the full report at: https://www.ucisa.ac.uk/bestpractice/surveys/tel/tel

One response to “What can we learn from the 2018 UCISA case studies about technology-enhanced learning developments in UK higher education?

  1. Pingback: E-Learning Newsletter: February 2019 Edition | Programme Design and Learning Technology Team·

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s