Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Session on Benchmarking and PAthfinders - blogged live so no links and perhaps gaps. I may try to tidy up later

Just where are institutions going with e-learning? Or the smoothest paths lead nowhere...

Terry sets the scene of Benchmarking and Pathfinder – for more see the HEA website –

On the panel are Terry Mayes (HEA), Derek Morrison (HEA), Veronica Adamson (review the whole programme), Richard Trigg (FE activity in programme), , Gilly Salmon (Leicester pathfinder participant – Carpe Diem), Irene Anderson (Hertfordshire pathfinder participant - CABLE), Each introduced themselves and their role in the HEA project. As I’ve been keeping up to date with the pathfinder blogs I was aware of the roles and projects discussed, but it was useful to set a context for the discussion.

There are lots of Benchmarking/pathfinder people in the room e.g. Peter Chatterton, Paul Bacsisih, Mark Toole, Richard Parsons, David (Derby), I guess I should include me and Mistry too.

Q 1- Are funded programmes like benchmarking/pathfinder the right way to facilitate development?

HEFCW pushing e-learning back to institutions. This is an exocet question – low flying and with a sting in the tale.

Question becomes: Do benchmarking/pathfinder encourage a kind of dependency culture in institutions?

To turn this on its head:

Do programmes like Benchmarking and Pathfinder contribute to the enhancement/improvement of learning and teaching within HE institutions or do they contribute to a culture of dependency in that activities cannot be sustained beyond the lifetime of the funded project?

Not dependency but inter-dependency a network of nodes of the HE committee as a whole. A culture of communities of network of heterogeneous entities.

The message early on in Benchmarking was that this was owned by the institutions not ‘big brother’. An opportunity not a compulsion. Institutions can compare their institutions if they choose to. Pathfinder definition is also about enhancement of institutions and HEA is providing the opportunity.

The tyranny of the project can lead to time-scales with bags of innovation but very little change – Benchmarking seems to have avoided this, it will be interesting to hear what Pathfinders say. Derek suggested the project does not finish when the funding does. A catalyst not a completed project.

Gilly confirms Derek’s description from within the Leicester context – however the validation for the institution comes from bidding and receiving funding. Need to plan sustainability from the first month. This was confirmed by Hertfordshire. The FE rep focussed on the value of Benchmarking to them, while unfunded (supported by consultants) it had a big effect. I would say this echoes our case, where benchmarking drove us to focus on a wider institutional view and comparisons with our partners TVU, Bradford and Brighton.

An interesting debate followed – where should we go in Wales – pump priming for all the institutions, centres of expertise developed to share experience across the other 11 institutions? I guess this is the question for the November HEFCW meeting, certainly a competitive bidding process doesn’t seem the best approach as it advantages good bid writers not good projects.

How embedded in organisations? – It really need to be, says Gilly, but getting that right is a real challenge and is a


Question 2. Is the educational landscape in the UK so fragmented that it makes little sense for Pathfinders to speak for anyone but themselves? Different

institutional missions require radically different strategies. Is it sensible to

conduct this debate at the level of the ‘sector’? The Pathfinder programme is

characterised by significant variation in institutional ‘mission’: are different

paths are being created?

Veronica address this question and indicated that while not all Missions are accessible those that are show a variety of missions but evidence of reasonable coverage from Russell, 1994, coalition of modern universities - the post-92 institutions. So there is not one dominant form of University in the context.

Some common themes in them all, posit of education, learning and research –social benefit of education … with a variation between emphasis on research or learning innovation, but all the institutions are in it for education. SO the sectoral mission is pretty well understood.

Student support/experience

Staff development. Efficiencies in staff

Change of policy at institutional level

Technology can be in mission

Curriculum itself – focussed on enhancement and education transformation. Curriculum through course redesign – this is the key issue for the future

Timing matters – right time for them is a common theme in benchmarking and benchmarking.

Different paths yes, but they are all up the same mountain.

3. Should e-learning development be delegated entirely to the discipline

level? Should institutions even attempt to have an institutional e-learning

strategy? This argument acknowledges that subject experts have their own relearning communities, and their own distinct pedagogical approaches. But if

we follow that line, is it sensible to ask each subject within each institution to

develop its own approach? The Pathfinder pilots are taking different positions

on this and the ‘open educational resources’ issue.

Gilly responded to this question. Adele is looking at this in Leicester. What has worked is ‘structured intervention’ to support course design with groups of people who have a common purpose. Working with people looking to change their courses but looking from assistance. They are often from a similar subject-area, but it is not the discipline but shared goals which seems to be at the heart of the success – what do you want from your students. Academics have very little understanding of learning technologies, the pedagogies are so normalised many academics don’t have a language to articulate them. What we do in the centre – shared institutional goals, clear pedagogy and understanding of the use of technology is needed if we are to help people change.

Learning support needs to offer leadership from front, back or side. Shared goals visions and expectations of pedagogic layer, institutional layer, sector layer to create an intervention which provides direction and a sense of where to go which the academics can then build on and develop. Framework of what is offered is the same, so this can be done by the team, and become scalable. After the two day intervention we give the academics tools which they can enhance and subvert into their own subject area.

Generic models and principles are the way forwarded to enhance the overall institutional value with discipline variation.

Paul Bacsish outlines some of the issues which have emerged from subject slices. He feels it is interesting

Mistry asks about groupings which might be country based contacts – Scottish Benchmarking group and the possibility of developing a Welsh Benchmarking group. Derek responds about the Scottish example in ad-hoc they decided they wanted to explore the approach in a particular Scottish context. Derek notes seven Welsh institutions have engaged with the Benchmarking process, even though it was HEFCE funded. The Scottish group have explored methodologies some have decided to do one of the existing methodologies and others have moved into other different approaches. Mistry was wondering whether a Scottish model would work in Wales. Derek is part of the process and will be at the HEFCW event and looks forward to continue to work with us.

Q 4. Should institutions focus their efforts not on further development of resources and environments but rather on the empowerment of their users to exploit the learning power of the Internet for themselves? ‘Beyond Control’may be thought to point to a kind of demand-side approach, where the role of institutions changes from an emphasis on provision to one on empowerment.

A University might do no more in learning technology than ensure that all its users (learners, both staff and students) are skilled in using Web and Web 2.0 resources to the maximum. Empowerment has implications very different from ‘support’.

Terry sets the question George Roberts (Oxford Brookes) says yes this is the answer, the focus is on what students can do and less what we do for them. However we tend to create difference as a way to market our institutions, so it is meaningful to speak of the sector but the individual institutional context remains important but so does the individual context itself. In cycles of change there are many interacting stakeholders. So the focus can be on the place in the cycle and how we can use that interaction of people and cycles in the development of change.

An excellent session – with lots of implications for us.


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