Build it and they will come!

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I recently attended a one day ‘engaging hearts and minds’ workshop run by UCISA designed to show case best practice in supporting e-learning staff development. I often go to events like these and they can be a little bit of a ‘groundhog day’ with very similar presentations wondering what the best format is for getting academic staff to participate in e-learning staff development! There tends to be very similar discussions around the format (short ‘bite sized’ events vs. short courses), timing (when in the term, which days etc.), and integration between practical support to use different e-learning tools with case studies and pedagogy, online, blended or purely face to face.

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It’s certainly useful to go to these type of events to check that we are not doing wildly odd things in this area, or not missed something which we haven’t thought of that is really successful. My general observation from this event was how well I think we do within our staff development support within the University in providing a range of flexible ways staff can lean about e-learning, and how well it is integrated with pedagogy and case studies.

The event showcased a series of different approaches to staff development across a range of HEIs in the UK and Ireland – many of which we do at Liverpool, but there were some interesting approaches that might be worth developing here. For example:

  • E-learning summer schools which combined practical ‘how to sessions’ with sessions by academic staff explaining how they have developed technologies, plus lots of inter-disciplinary networking and peer support. Sort of a cross between out CPS and e-learning summer schools and our learning and teaching conference. (Dublin Institute of Technology e-learning summer schools).
  • Short ‘bite sized’ online ‘webinar’ type sessions by academic staff showcasing their work. Different times of the day were used (including evenings!) to provide flexible access as many staff could not make Wednesday afternoon slots etc. Online numbers increased over equivalent face to face events. (Salford University teaching and learning conversations events).
  • Using BarCamp events and other networking techniques, to support the development of effective communities of practice. (London College of Communication)
  • Using short (3 to 5 week) online short course for e-learning staff development. (Middlesex University)

For more information about each of these and other case studies:

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UCISA engaging hearts and minds best practice guide

It was very surprising to learn how some institutions have e-learning support in very different units to general educational development, often with no input with learning technologies into accredited programmes such as PG Certs or other learning teaching staff development  A number of participants were also noticing some reductions in the number of academic staff attending e-learning related events and short courses. The discussion moved onto the idea of developing new forms of staff development which are much more integrated to support staff to deal with the complexity of issues associated with improving their learning and teaching. Learning technologies are only one part of an increasing number of issues for staff to understand and implement into their learning and teaching – widening participation, inclusion & diversity, research-led teaching, improving feedback, increasing student numbers etc.  Technology is only there to support effective learning and teaching, and not there for its own sake.  I think our emerging strategy in EDD & the eLearning Unit to move towards more holistic and integrated staff development, which builds on staff need at department or programme level etc. is potentially a more effective approach. It would be interesting to evaluate staff perceptions of this approach through our curriculum review and other support activities.

Nick Bunyan

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