On 3rd November, Alan Southern, Lisa Anderson, Craig Marsh and Debbie Prescott visited Leicester University to meet with Prof. Gilly Salmon and her Beyond Distance Research Alliance team. The meeting was motivated by the “Benchmarking Project” that Alan is working on with Gilly, but it was also a good opportunity to find out what the team there is doing.
They have developed the concept of the Media Zoo. The idea behind this is to much like that of an animal zoo. It is a “safe” (i.e. the animals are in cages) place where staff can go to find information about, gain experience of, and get support with e-learning tools and concepts without fear of the “scary animals” (or e-learning) biting back! Without meaning to be rude, this concept seemed a little uurm, “basic” at first so we asked about how the concept is perceived by staff at Leicester. It seems that it is very well received and very successful. This is backed up by the discussions I have heard at different network meetings and relevant journal papers and the simplicity of the concept is definitely one of the Media Zoo’s strengths! Keeping an idea and concept simple clearly has advantages and something we should recognise at Liverpool.
Like all good simple ideas though there is usually a significant substance lurking in the background and this is certainly the case for the Media Zoo. Each “part” (pets corner, breeding area, safari park and exotics house) of the zoo is backed up by either research projects or case studies which make the zoo an excellent resource. Access to these resources and support from the team really seems to help to give staff the confidence to try different e-learning approaches.
Another of the initiatives from the team at Leicester is the Carpe Diem process. Here a programme team takes part in a series of learner-centred e-learning design and assessment activities (a pre-workshop meeting, a two-day workshop and a follow up meeting). It seems that the Carpe Diem approach is also well received and successful and we are currently investigating how we can adopt aspects of this approach at Liverpool.
The team at Leicester have more staff than we have in the eLearning Unit at Liverpool but this is because they have built up the team by successful research bids and clever “marketing” of their activities. Plus, the appointment of someone like Prof. Gilly Salmon to lead the developments has had an enormous impact. Where they are now in terms of the projects they are involved with and their strategy for e-learning is where we are aiming to be soon – I suspect they are a number of years ahead of us in terms of the development of these e-learning activities.
All in all it was a very useful day and good to make contacts over in Leicester. There is a lot that we can learn from the Beyond Distance Research Alliance and I look forward to further discussions they might have.