Thursday, 8 July 2010

H800: Weeks 21/22 – Activity 1d – The impact of technologies on organisations

Undoubtedly, Web 2.0 technologies have had a significant impact on me personally since I have been working in higher education. The most obvious example is the use of the Blackboard VLE. There is an expectation that every module at the University of Westminster is supported by a Blackboard site but, as I think I have mentioned on several previous occasions, the extent to which Blackboard is used by academic staff varies considerably.
I have a Blackboard site for each of the modules which I teach. For example, here's a screenshot from the Blackboard site for one of my final year undergraduate modules: Building Adaptation & Conservation.

The Blackboard site is first and foremost a repository for all the learning materials associated with the module. This includes the module handbook, copies of lecture presentations, handouts, links to relevant websites and so on. I also use it for the digital submission of coursework, and for maintaining assessment records. I think students value a well organised Blackboard site and appreciate having access to course materials online. However, I would be the first to acknowledge that, up to now, I have not exploited the full potential of Blackboard in supporting my modules, since I have not made sufficient use of collaborative tools such wikis or discussion boards, nor have I made full use of some of the other tools available.
The use of Blackboard has in some ways caused my workload to increase, because in addition to preparing for lectures each week I now have to ensure that weekly module materials are uploaded on to Blackboard. This can be a tedious process, since Blackboard is a bit 'clunky' to use and does not allow bulk uploading. Nevertheless, I think it is worth it for the benefits which students gain, and it does save me having to deal with queries from students who have missed lectures, because I can simply refer them to the Blackboard site.
From an institutional perspective, my perception is that the University did not have a very clear rationale or strategy when it introduced Blackboard. I strongly suspect that it was introduced mainly just to keep up with other universities. I don't believe that the University fully thought through the implications in terms of student expectations, server space requirements and a long term approach to dealing with Web 2.0. Now the University finds itself rather stuck with Blackboard, and is looking around at the options available.
There is certainly resistance amongst some staff to more widespread use of technologies. This is driven in part by the factors that Conole (2009) identifies, including lack of time, a focus on research and concerns over the diminution in the role of the teacher. Despite this, there are plenty of academic staff within the institution who are experimenting with new technologies and trying out innovative approaches in their teaching. This was evidenced at the end of last month when the University held its annual Learning & Teaching Symposium at which many of the presentations were concerned with the use of new technologies. In addition, the University has a good (if small) team of learning technologists who are very willing to help staff develop new initiatives. However I think it would be fair to say that, for the most part, the use of new technologies is being driven by the enthusiasm of individual members of staff rather than any coordinated strategy on the part of the University.
Reference: Conole, G. (2009) 'Stepping over the edge: the implications of new technologies for education' in Lee, M.J.W. and McLoughlin, C. (eds) Web 2.0-based E-learning: Applying Social Informatics for Tertiary Teaching, Hershey, PA, IGI Global.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Tony

    More than anything I'd say thanks for the regularity and consistency of your input.

    Re. the 'failings' of academic staff - might it not be, to some extent, down to prioritising in terms of assessment and pay. People think referencing is dull, but actually it is all about acknowledgement, accreditation. RE designing learning materials to suit another medium -at present, the work does not earn any reward.