Wednesday, September 24, 2008

RSS Feed

Well, I have followed all the instuctions and in theory we now have RSS feed set up. Does it work? If not someone better pop over and give me a face to face tutorial!! First attempt saw me subscribe to my own blog!!!!! At least I know I have a reputable reader!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Part 2: the role of IT service departments

Here is the second part of that address to the IT conference. What is not in the address but what I did say at the time is that I believe that teaching institutions like Otago Polytechnic should also be work experience/cooperative education sites in their own right. This would mean that all of our staff would have a direct role to play in teaching and learning. After all, we have some top notch so called "general staff" in our service areas, some with more practical experience than some of our teaching staff! We should be using this expertise more often. Then we could, perhaps, abolish that unfortunate distinction we make between "academics" and "others"!! Or is that too radical?

"It is important to understand the context which has shaped my views on IT, one which 4 years ago had the IT department at Otago Polytechnic focused on the cost effective delivery of a “safe” range of IT services, often better able to tell our staff what they could not do, rather than what they could, or perhaps even should, try.

This was not at all an unreasonable position for our IT team to take: the Polytechnic had been through a financial crisis and IT was a cost – a huge cost – which needed to be contained. But to do this was to waste the considerable IT talent which resided in our staff, and was also a contradiction: we taught IT, did that very well indeed (and still do), inspired others to see the value which creative and future focused IT could add to any business - and yet did not live this belief in our own organisation. And can I say, I believe that this is important: a tertiary organisation that preaches best practice in its training and education programmes should be walking the talk throughout its own business, whether that be best practice IT, HR, accounting, business administration or sustainable business practice. The institution should be a learning resource in its own right!

Today, we have a future focused IT team which is overseeing our investment in IT, and which has goals to (and I quote from our IT Strategic Framework):
· position our graduates at the forefront of IT application in their chosen discipline and work practice
· facilitate teaching and learning unbounded by time and place
· maintain cutting edge IT infrastructure to enhance the effectiveness of teaching and learning and
· enhance the effectiveness and productivity of our staff, and of our planning and decision making.

A key element of this transformation in the role and focus of our IT department was our recognition that IT is of the utmost strategic importance to the success of our organisation and as a consequence that IT should hold a place in its own right at our executive table. I have no doubts at all that we sent a powerful message to both our IT staff and the organisation as a whole when we promoted our IT Manager to Chief Information Officer and a seat at the Leadership table.

So, what is all of this really saying? Simply that an IT Department in our view is not a mere service department, not merely a supplier and fixer of hardware or installer of software or a designer of systems. It is an integral element of our educational endeavours, at the same time part of educational strategy, an enabler of that strategy, and a partner in the delivery of that strategy. And especially so if you see the future of tertiary teaching and learning as we do at Otago Polytechnic.

If the future is to be one of networked learning – learners networked with learners, and institutions with institutions then we must have reliable access to the enabling technology. IT departments will be very much demand driven, responding to customers who are less concerned about issues of security and more about functionality. Our work places and learning places must perform to the standards which our students (and staff) come to expect. So, the technical demands which currently put pressure on our services will be ever present. But the future as I see it will have IT service departments as an integral part of teaching and learning:

Training and developing staff and students; building capability to use the technology and to get the best out of technology
Contributing expertise and specialist knowledge to the teaching function through teaching assignments
Receiving, absorbing and embracing the developments which our academic staff make through research and scholarship.

Operating as a cooperative education worksite, offering opportunities and supporting students to gain practical experience
Innovating and researching, and publishing and presenting their experiences

Are we trying to make our service personnel academics? No, not at all. Rather, we want them to be genuine partners in our business – teaching and learning.
And to finish let me quote again from our strategic framework for IT. Our priorities include the establishment of a wireless campus, strengthen mobile learning and maintenance of appropriate hardware, software and systems – as you would expect, but also include, and I quote:
-ensure our students are IT savvy users actively using and seeking new and emerging technologies
-Nurture a culture of staff with a “thirst” for IT technology which enhance their personal effectiveness and productivity
-Foster a culture of staff who use and seek new and emerging technologies to position their discipline at the forefront of curriculum development, delivery and research
-Introduce provocative new software and software tools which challenge traditional ways of learning

These are not the usual priorities of an IT service department, but then the future is not business as usual. "

Reflections on the future and the role of IT service departments

Yesterday I had the privilege of opening the 26th IT Conference for polytechnic and university IT service departments. My brief was to share my views on the future of tertiary education in NZ and the role of IT service departments in contributing to organisational strategy. It was a really interesting topic to prepare for, and I got a lot out of an indepth reflection on just where our ISS fitted into th OP picture and what it could /should do.

I have cut and pasted some extracts from that address about the future as I see it. I will share my perspectives on the role of IT service departments in the next post:

"I would like to talk about three aspects of the future as I see it : blended delivery, collaborative provision and open educational resources.

From a technology perspective the future is here now, and will merely be characterised by more, more sophisticated and more persuasive communication technologies, with more and more people capable and willing to use them. The challenge for educationalists is not to focus on the specifics of technology but how to use that technology wisely and effectively in the interest of enhanced outcomes for learners. And such outcomes may come in the form of more accessible learning, more relevant learning or more “useful” learning.

Neither our tertiary institutions nor the vast majority of our teachers have yet to appreciate let alone embrace fully what this future of learning is likely to be: a paradigm shift! A paradigm shift from supply driven learning (our knowledge, our place, our time, our resources) to demand driven learning (learner constructed knowledge with learning occurring when and where the learner prefers); from taught learning to flexible learning; from single institutions to networks, from formal learning to informal learning.

Many tertiary institutions, including Otago Polytechnic, have embraced blended learning, or flexible learning, as an underpinning educational delivery strategy, and I have no doubts that this is our future. The blend is currently and inevitably dominated by on-line learning and video conferencing, but now enhanced by mobile learning which will undoubtedly grow in importance. Also in the learning blend will increasingly be the use of social networking tools which open up powerful new ways for learners to communicate and interact as an integral part of their learning.

We have embraced blended learning primarily to improve access and to respond to the demands of growing markets which cannot easily access traditional face to face learning.

And what are these markets? We still have the traditional distance market i.e. people who live in rural areas or who have work lives or personal circumstances that prevent participation in face to face education. E’learning in all of its forms offers a vastly enhanced learning experience over traditional paper based distance learning (although there is still room for this option), an enhancement primarily through greater interactivity and connectivity with “teachers” and other learners.

But this traditional market is not a good enough reason to adopt a blended learning strategy. Rather, two other trends are making their presence felt. The first is workplace learning. More and more people want to learn in their workplaces – on-the-job/in-the-job learning – or from their workplaces. And we are not just talking about narrowly focused skills training to meet current employer needs. We are also talking about the acquisition of qualifications which are traditionally gained through attendance at tertiary institutions. Remember, work places more often have the technology, especially broadband, which individuals may be lacking at home. Also, more and more employers recognise that supporting staff in their educational development is good for business.

But the third market for blended learning is that wave of learners coming through our system who have only ever known a world with the internet – the so called millennium generation. I do not need to labour the point, as we all know that our kids are more likely to be IT savvy than not. For today’s generation of primary and high school students connectivity is a given, social networking is a norm and instant access to information an expectation. Some of you will be aware that progressive preschools are now using the internet, digital cameras and blogging as an integral part of early childhood education. It will only be a short 15 years before these children are our students, and what else will they have learned on the way that we do not currently envisage?

Is anyone in any doubt at all that what we teach and how we teach it in tertiary institutions must and will change? I see a future, not too far away, which will see the most important role of the academic as a designer of learning, and the facilitator of learning journeys – increasingly personalised to the individual learner. We will need more academics with high end educational capability than we do high end discipline capability – as we see a world where subject/discipline expertise is no longer confined within institutional boundaries. If I am not being too provocative, does every polytechnic business school require its own legal experts, economists, strategic management specialists? And we can ask the same question of most qualification areas, and especially as we focus on more specialist knowledge and experience.

And we will need more genuine facilitators of learning – staff who have the skills to guide learners as they tap into the vast range of resources available to them, including expertise which they currently do not access.

So, blended learning, enabled by communication technology is a future which will expand exponentially.

So, too, is collaborative provision of that blended learning. I believe we are on the cusp of a new approach to how we organise the provision of tertiary education – one which will see institutions collaborate in not only the development of educational programmes but in their delivery. I have just alluded to this with my question about whether or not every institution will need to hire its own discipline experts in every area of specialisation. The question will be, are we willing to sacrifice the sacred cow of institutional autonomy and embrace a collaborative delivery model? We have the means, but do we have the will? And this is irrespective of the current regulatory context in which TEC is urging and government is expecting more collaborative behaviour. We also have one of the most basic of reasons to collaborate – to save costs in a world where we can never expect our institutions to be adequately funded.

So, I do see a future where institutions increasingly collaborate in the interests of learner access and organisational sustainability – collaborations which include shared services, co-ownership of qualifications, collaborative development of programmes and co-delivery of programmes. We have the technology and are facing an increasing market of learners who are willing and able to embrace blended learning options. We can share our discipline specialists as well as our support personnel. Learners in Dunedin can be taught by teachers in Tauranga and counselled by counsellors in Greymouth. This future is here now in a limited way. Otago Polytechnic is currently engaged in a co-delivery pilot with five other institutions. It is not easy, it is a paradigm shift, but in my view it is the future. Will we embrace it?

And this brings me to the third element of the future as I see it – open educational resources. MIT foreshadowed that future some years ago when it put all of its course materials on line – with restrictions on use by other providers, but none the less a good start. Of course, the internet is open, and innovative teachers are already constructing programmes around the information and tools which are freely available. The future , however, is the purposeful sharing by tertiary teachers and institutions of learning resources, assessment instruments, courses and even whole programmes. We already have wiki books, I Tunes U and many institutions making podcasts freely available from their websites. We also have the likes of wiki educator through which teachers can collaborate on line in the development of resources and courses. The potential here is huge, but it will require institutions to shift deeply entrenched attitudes to IP and copyright. At Otago Polytechnic we have taken this leap and adopted a Creative Commons attribution licence as our default position, and we will be anchoring and coordinating an International Centre for Open Educational Resources to facilitate collaborative developments. This future is a must for a small country like New Zealand."

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

e fest and an ethical dilemma

Here I am pecking away in a somewhat sumptuous room at Sky City hotel in Auckland – assured that the organisers of this year’s e fest have negotiated a great room rate. I sure hope so!
Anyway, I came to e fest to co-present with my TANZ colleagues Pamela Simpson and Keith Tyler Smith on the experiences of TANZ with collaboration in the ITP sector, and e learning collaborations in particular. My part was to talk about why TANZ has been so successful ( relatively speaking) with its collaborative activity, and where we saw things developing in the future. Pamela provided the background to the TANZ collaboration, and Keith outlined our current project which is a pilot in co-delivery of the NZ Dip Bus through our “My Learn” interface.
I was a bit disappointed with our presentation, which was conducted as a plenary session, because it did not spark the dialogue I was hoping for. Of course, it could have been that we were down right boring and the conference attendees were anxious to move on to the next session!
After the presentation I spent some time “networking” ( the real reason we come to conferences, of course) and it turned out that there was some interest in what we had to say. Or were people merely being polite? I was asked if my notes could be distributed, but these were a barely legible scrawl penned during my nearly three hour journey from Dunedin to Auckland – with lots of thought, of course! I must say, I would rather have stepped off the plane in Rarotonga or Melbourne or anywhere else other than Auckland that a three hour journey can get you to. Have you ever reflected on how Air New Zealand scales down the size of the plane so that any sector you choose to fly takes at least an hour. I am sure there is a strong economic justification for this, but how I long for a Lear jet service!
But I digress. I resolved to post my notes on this blog ( cleaned up a little) and to email the link to those who were interested in the TANZ experiences. First of all, I backgrounded where TANZ had been and where it was going – pretty much what I wrote about in my last blog posting. In short, TANZ is moving from a project oriented approach to collaboration to one which will embrace shared services, a common programme portfolio, co-development of programmes and co-teaching/co-delivery. Of course, this will not happen over night, and not without a lot of energy, focus and compromise. More importantly, it will not happen if we do not get a high level of buy in from our respective staff. That is the essential difference from our project driven approach, whereby projects could sit alongside our core business, rather than being an integral part of how we operate.
I then outlined why TANZ has been so successful (relatively speaking) with our collaborative efforts to date. Collaboration is simply not easy – it costs in terms of time, energy and resources. In my view our success can be attributed to:
-shared values. Whilst each TANZ organisation has its own organisational culture we all believe that we will all be better off from collaboration rather than competition .And so will learners! Some ITPs just do not see it this way!
-a willingness to give up some institutional autonomy, and to compromise on our preferred ways of doing some things. Our academic harmonisation project is an example of this, and a specific instance is our approach to recognising prior learning. At Otago Polytechnic we are prepared to accept that someone could have learned all that we have to teach in a particular vocational area through their various life and work experiences. Others do not currently accept our view and place limits on the proportion of a qualification that can be gained through RPL processes. In a collaborative model we will find common ground, which means someone has agreed to give up their position. Not easy!
-an openness and transparency about what we are each doing and what we are planning on doing. This means sharing our organisational strategy – not a smart thing to do if you are competing.!
- and this means that there must be a very high level of trust –trust that information shared will not be misused.
-a willingness to share. The TANZ creed is “ what is mine is yours, and what is yours is mine”. We willingly hand over our programmes, courses and resources to our collaborative partners. The benefits are obvious.

There is a point to all of this, of course ie our policy makers need to take on board that we are not going to create a “network of provision” over night. Collaboration is not a quick route to some efficiency nirvana. The chance of some mega sector collaboration are about zero. What we need is a policy and funding framework that supports multiple collaborations like TANZ, and which facilitates the sharing of what such collaborations learn, and the benefits which accrue.

My final points were about the future of TANZ in a world characterised by more and more e learning – whether that be through pure on line learning approaches, or those involving various delivery blends. Currently we have a policy nonsense in my view – one which seeks to restrict e learning to regional delivery. The simple truth is that ITPs are not permitted to enrol learners for on line delivery if they are not resident in the particular ITP’s region. Surely this misses the point about the value which on line learning can bring to tertiary education? I ask how a learner’s choice to enrol with a provider in another region is any different from that same learner packing his/her bags and moving to another region to study?
Putting aside whether or not the policy makes sense, it is none the less TEC policy. The TANZ approach is not to compete with each other and to work within policy where we can. To that end we are evolving a shared delivery model whereby we agree either to support a partner institution delivering in our respective regions because that makes sense eg if total volumes of learners are low, so it is efficient for there to be only one provider; or to share the enrolment. Our model is based on sharing revenues according to the value which different players add to the delivery value chain. This chain has three broad components: teaching (approx 60% of value), enrolment and admin ( approx 20%) and learner support ( approx 20%). An approach like this allows for two or even three providers to be involved, and to be rewarded for their particular contribution. Of course, where the e learning market is of sufficient volume our TANZ protocols may well see each partner delivering exclusively in their own region.
There is much food for thought here for our policy makers to contemplate, which brings me to my final point – about how policy is formulated. Right now we have officials in the central agencies devising policy and putting it out to the sector for feedback. Unfortunately that approach inevitably comes with a high level of central agency ownership of what they have developed, with a reluctance to change. How good would it be if we developed policy collaboratively? This would require quite different ways of working than we have now, but worth a try I believe.

Enough of e fest – time for the ethical dilemma. At Otago Polytechnic we have a requirement that our lecturers get feedback on their teaching from students each year. Ours is a development focused model, which leaves the lecturer in charge of the feedback data. Our belief is that our staff are professionals and they will take on board “negative “ feedback, and act to improve their practice where it is apparently wanting. I like this model!
Our process is centrally supported ie we use standard on line feedback questions which are automatically summarised and analysed . Staff are guaranteed confidentiality. But recently the administrator of our on line service came across feedback that was dreadful to say the least – a lecturer with poor skills but apparently terrible attitudes to learners. He raised the case with his manager, taking care not to reveal any details which would identify the lecturer. The manager has discussed the situation in principle with me. Hopefully the dilemma is apparent. Should any action be taken? Two principles are in conflict – the rights of the lecturer versus the rights of our learners. It is probable that the lecturer is doing harm to the classes he/she is responsible for! The case has exposed a flaw in our model, and I am inclined to adjust our policy to allow action to be taken – not retrospectively of course. I am interested in hearing what others think about this one.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Refreshed and ready ...

A week is a long time in politics, as Winston and Helen will certainly testify, And so it can be in education! Last week just seemed frenetic, but when I look back I am not sure why. Anyway, I managed to rest up on the weekend with my family at our house in Cromwell. We just love it there, and most reluctantly headed for home on Sunday afternoon. I have added a photo showing the view from our deck (taken 2 weeks ago - no snow this weekend) - it is a staggeringly beautiful place! More important, it is an easy place to unwind - a jog around the lake shore, a cycle into Cromwell ( 8 kilometres each way) and dinner at the Bannockburn pub ( our kids' favouite eating place). Even managed to lay some cobblestones - therapeutic to say the least, although a tad hard on the back!

So another week about to unfold, starting with our annual spring breakfast. I really do enjoy cooking for our staff, and I know the rest of our Leadership Team do as well. There was a good turn out and I hope staff enjoyed the opportunity to forget about the pressures we work under - even for an hour or so.

I spent a couple of days last week at a TANZ meeting in Whangarei, mostly discussing where to next with our TANZ collaboration. If you have not heard about TANZ, it is a collaboration of like thinking polytechnics committed to collaborative rather than competitive action. There are six polyechnics involved: Otago Polytechnic, NMIT, CPIT, NorthTec, UCol and EIT. Anyway, we came along way towards agreeing a vision for our future - one that will involve co-development and co-ownership of programmes and will evolve into co-delivery as well. This is a significant advance in thinking about the future of TANZ, which up until now has been a collaboration around discrete projects - mostly programme developments, but also the academic harmonisation project. With this latter project we are working towards common academic processes and a common set of academic regulations.

I am personally looking forward to co-delivery, because I can see some really good benefits for all if we go down this track, especially for learners. However, co-delivery will require all players to move to a blended learning model of delivery for the programmes to be co -taught. The challenge will be not to confine ourselves just to e learning, but to use the full set of options. All of the TANZ partners are advancing down the blended learning pathway, so some coordination of development will be called for.

Interestingly, the topic of "digital literacy" also came up in our TANZ discussions - it seems we are all concerned about the issue I raised in my last posting. NorthTec have resolved to set minimum standards for digital literacy, which will initially be a requirement for all new staff, and will serve as a signal and guide to existing staff. These standards are still under development and will probably be available in a couple of weeks. I must say that I rather like the approach! By the way, I did appreciate the comments from Sarah and Leigh on this topic. I agree with Sarah that we do need to focus on more than just using internet tools and technologies per se. Rather, we need to use them appropriately; and to heed Leigh's warning that this will take some time - no quick fixes here>

I did not achieve my self imposed target of posting an audio clip, but will try harder this week!