Thursday, September 18, 2008

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."


Sarah Stewart said...

Phil: Before you look to international collaboration, how are you going to support OP staff to embrace the OER movement?

David McQuillan said...

It seems so obvious to the converted that inter-institutional collobaration is clearly the most efficient model for learning facilitation & knowledge construction. It can be somewhat frustrating to talk to those who don't quite get it (I'm talking about other institutions here), so it's fantastic that you're so supportive of this whole OER movement.

I'm interested in the International Centre for Open Educational Resources that you mention. Are you going to post more info about this in the future?

This paradigm shift that you talk about is going to require quite a bit of sustained effort on the part of individual teaching staff. The supports which are already in place (EDC and their staff development training, and the open IP policy) are a good start, but we've certainly got a long way to go. I'm finding that the skills and understanding required to be an effective teacher online are in some areas quite different to those that I've developed for F2F teaching. These skills are taking time to develop, and I consider myself to be a fairly competent computer user.

Anyway, I'm sure you recognise this, and at least we've started on the journey.

DaveB said...

You may be right Phil, that as the current primary school students grow up, they are more comfortable learning online. But I don't think so.

Individual learning has been around for quite a while. The US celebrate their President Lincoln being largely self-educated. The only difference between then and now is the easy access to bulk information. Most of which is still written and not unlike the books which most people in the Western world have had easy access to.

I believe that there's something in-built, at a deep cognitive level (rather than learned) which has us learn better in a social environment with other people learning the same stuff and lead by someone who's already made that journey (call them guides, facilitators or even teachers if you like).

Online delivery will always be necessary for those who cannot make it to the the group learning activities (ie class) and a few people may actually choose that as a preference. But - I believe that the vast majority of people will always prefer learning amongst other learners in a face-to-face environment.

When faced with any crystal ball gazing, I start with the assumption that human nature doesn't change. I guess it all boils down to whether learning in a social environment really is just due to a historic requirement (although alternatives did exist) or whether it really is part of being human.

We may find out - but we'll both be old men by the time we can spot that kind of major change.

David McQuillan said...

Hi Dave,

you're post implies that you believe that socialisation occurs in the F2F environment, but not so much in the online context.

These days there are plenty of ways in which socialisation can occur online, and there's plenty of evidence to show that learners learn just as effectively, and are just as satisfied with online learning as compared with F2F. In addition most of the evidence also shows that students in blended programmes are more satisfied and achieve more highly than those in either F2F or online programmes.

"Tang & Byrne (2007) found that students involved in blended delivery programmes were more satisfied by them than either purely online or purely face-to-face programmes. Interestingly, they also found that there were no significant differences in actual learning between the three delivery methods. This finding is supported by multiple studies comparing online and classroom-based learning (Bryant, 2003)." Student satisfaction and achievement in an online context

DaveB said...

not really Dave. I spent a fairly large chunk of my life on IRC and various other things. I know of the kind of online socilisation that you are talking about. And I have engaged in some pretty significant online socilisation myself.

But there is a whole world of difference between that and real face to face interaction.

Another example to consider is the difference between face-to-face and telephone (which is far richer than online text). Audio communication has been around for a while now with several generations growing up with it.

But even with that familiarization, senior business people are willing to spend quite a chunk of money in getting face-time with partners directs and even competitors. Video-conference saves the need for physical meetings being as regular, but successful business owners are still willing to invest in getting people together. This isn't done on a whim - there's value in it.

Socialization in an online world exists. But it is a pale alternative to the real thing.

Sarah Stewart said...

Here is a great blog post from Sue Waters on how to add RSS and email subscription widgets to your blog.

phil said...

Interesting discussion about socialisation - that human trait that makes us....human! It is highly likely that most people prefer face to face socialisation, but the reality is that an enormous number are engaging on-line, and this does not look like a fad. But face to face and on-line interactions are not mutually exclusive (obviously) in "real life" so surely it is sensible to design both into our educational programmes. Blended learning is about that, is it not? It is certainly a moot point whether learning will occur best in the face to face environment. I for one completed my masters degree by distance, and I certainly do not feel I was deprived (the opposite, actually) by not having regular face to face engagement with my "teachers". What made the learning great for me was the relevance of it to me, and the fact that the "teachers" had designed an excellent learning journey for me to embark on. I did not need to turn to teachers who were the "fonts" of knowledge. Rather, I was guided to a vast array of learning resources and provided with a frameworks to make sense of the information and expertise available to me. Now, I am not so ego driven to make my personal case study the exemplar for tertiary education. But my story is told over and over again. And another story told repeatedly is that of bored students subjected to being told what they need to know, and often the same stuff is covered in the powerpoints as in the textbook. My point? Good learning will follow good learning design!
Why do I see a future that is blended learning, acknowledging that this blend will also include face to face experiences? Because I think in the end good learning design will prevail,and good design will enable learners to tap into knowledge and expertise where ever it may be.

OER! I will pick up on this later in the week, and explain what it is we are setting up.

Leigh Blackall said...

Dave is right (of course) face to face is better for those who socially develop their learning through social motivators and information. But as McLuhan pointed out before the Internet in his work on re-cognition and self awareness, new media is about recording everything and instant replay. Those recordings enable us to make cognizant, but to also re-cognize and that, combined with hypertext and social networking makes for something more than passive text that supports face to face classes.

With that same new media becoming socially networked then that cognition to recognition through recordings will assist learning and relevance to go deeper. Face to face has a one off potency now (while the majority feel that online interaction lacks the richness of interaction they have learned face to face), but recorded and socially networked media has something evidently engaging and useful in it, now and in the future, over and over again.

If any of you have an hour spare (skip the news tonight hey), I wonder what you'll make of the US Anthropologist Michael Welsh's presentation to the Library of Congress on his research into Youtube. Just something I've been thinking about that might relate a little to this discussion.

DaveB said...

What are you trying to say Leigh?

That the media will change the very nature of human social interaction? I think McLuhan had a point in his message - but one which was vastly over stated and over sensationalized.

I'm picking that in 5, and 50, years time - most people will (if we give them a chance) prefer learning in groups - physically in groups, face to face.

I worry that we will work on removing that choice.

Leigh Blackall said...

Certainly Dave we shouldn't remove that choice, especially in NZ where access and use of the Internet is only really for around 37% of the NZ population. But unfortunately there are plenty of projects that are replacing face to face with online, but as much as we know that to be a mistake, it seems unavoidable that other teachers need to make that mistake also.

To my thinking, the development of online information and communication channels for education was always about widening access and choice and making it possible for people to connect with other people where as before they could not. With that widening of access and an increased people networking, I reckon face to face group learning will be enhanced, occurring more informally and in more diverse settings. And of course the traditional classrooms would be enhanced as well.

Leigh Blackall said...

Sorry, a reference to that 37% figure.

DaveB said...

>But unfortunately there are plenty of
>projects that are replacing face to face
>with online

Yes Leigh, I agree that is unfortunate.

Online information and applications can add enormously to face-to-face learning. And it does allow access to people who can not attend regular classes (distance time etc).

But I really do expect that a typical student's engagement in learning will continue to be proportional to their physical presence in a class-like environment. There will always be outliers (especially at the higher education all level Phil) - but in general I will expect preference, which will be reflected in things like enrollment and completion-rates, to be be proportional to the physical social contact with other people.

We're gathering data on that now with some experiments in this place. The outcome will be interesting. Some of the results may reflect the current generation but my expectation is that this will continue in the future.

I might be wrong - 50 years will show it. But the actual data I see now for fully online delivery is pretty weak in comparison with on-site. The only really successful programmes seem to be those which rely on an employment requirement or which only publish data from courses which are towards the end of the programme (after the vast majority of early enrollments have dropped out).

Having said that - it is very important for those who can't participate in any other way.

Sarah Stewart said...

It will be interesting to see how we get on in Midwifery where we are taking a blended approach to our new undergrad program. I am sure people would prefer 100% F2F but the reality is that that approach is preventing women coming into midwifery because they cannot uproot their families to come to Dunedin for 3 years. We think this approach will prove to be popular for that very reason.

DaveB said...

Sarah, with my computer technician programme, I have tried to offer every possible delivery style. Traditional courses for those who want and can attend them, high-contact blended evening classes for working people, and distance delivery (usually with some workshops) for those who can't or don't want to attend on-site.

Your situation is no doubt very different to mine. But I will try extremely hard to keep the live classes available for those who want and can attend classes. Providing the numbers mean that the on-site class is viable, I'd resist pushing people into a more blended, less 'live', approach.

As it turns out - the numbers of enrollments are pretty much in line with the amount of F2F contact. The fully online being less popular.

I think it is vital to keep the f2f options where it is possible so that students really can choose a learning and delivery method which they prefer.

Sarah Stewart said...

@Dave: we'll still be having 'intensives' when everyone gets together in Dunedin F2F for instruction. The groups of students will also meet F2F in their locale with a preceptor, so they'll still get lots of F2F as well as their online course. And of course, they have their clinical experience as well, so I think we've covered as many bases as possible. A lot will then be down to the student.

DaveB said...

@Sarah Sounds interesting. And an excellent approach if the number of local students makes normal classes non-viable. The clinical section of course will definitely enhance the students engagement in the courses.

I wish you the best and look forward to hearing the results and seeing if there's any gems which you discover that I can apply.

Sarah Stewart said...

Thanks for that, Dave. Sally Pairman, Rae Hickey and Terry Marler are the people to contact if you'd like to know more about what is being planned for next year.