Archive for the ‘Pathfinder’ Category

Embedding e-learning

Tuesday, May 6th, 2008

I’m at the Networked Learning conference at the Sani Resort in Helkidi, Greece. Stunning location for a conference as you can see, this is the view from my room! ;-)   sani resortBUT the papers and presentations are also excellent - honest! There are a lot of symposia – consisting of four connected papers – which makes for a really good format, enabling good discussion around the themes of each symposia. There is a book of abstracts but all the full papers are provided on a USB stick, which seems to be a common format at conferences now. Yesterday Maria Papaefthimiou presented a poster that was a summary of the approaches each of the cluster c HE Academy pathfinder projects took in terms of embedding e-learning. Here’s the abstract:

This poster argues that an evidence-informed approach can be appropriate for ensuring accountability and validity of change initiatives in Higher Education (HE) in general and e-learning specifically, if recognition is made of the local context and the evidence-base gathered and used in situ. We describe how this model of evidence-informed practice is applied in relation to the HE Academy Pathfinder programme, a national “transformation initiative” in the UK. The goals of the programme are focused on exploiting and developing synergies to enhance and change practice where necessary. Four institutions (Cambridge, Reading, Brunel and London South Bank) are implementing an evidence-informed approach in different ways depending on their institutional context and culture. This poster draws upon collaborative activities of these institutions, focusing on the way in which they adapt common approaches to support their respective institutional change processes. It outlines the approaches adopted by each project and highlights the role of evidence in informing engagement with stakeholders and participants, and the development of practice in HE; ways of sharing models of evidence-informed practice in HE; and research approaches that can improve engagement with stakeholders and participants - while still generating high-quality research outcomes.


The poster generated a lot of interest - in particular about how to embed e-learning in different cultural settings. The picture is of Maria, Demosthenes Stamatis,  (one of the local organisers of the confrence) and today’s keynote Yannis Dimitriadis. I am really looking forward to Yannis’ talk – they are doing some really interesting work at the University of Valladolid. 

8 educational considerations

Saturday, April 19th, 2008


educational considerations
One of the four projects I have been acting as a critical friend to as part of the HE Academy e-learning pathfinder programme is Brunel University. One of the outputs of their project is a really nice booklet called ‘Educational considerations for blended learning’. The introduction begins:
Educational Considerations for Blended Learning is a resource booklet written to assist lecturers in their teaching and their ambitions to create a rich and meaningful blended learning environment for our student.     

It focuses on eight educational considerations which teachers should consider when designing courses. Each one is described and supported by evidence from the literature of how this has been used effectively to promote innovative teaching. The description of each one begins by stating clearly what the benefit is for the student of adopting this approach. It then goes on to map different tools in terms of how they can be used to promote these different educational approaches. I think it’s a great resource – visually appealing and pitched at the right level of detail, but also a lovely example of getting across good pedagogy and innovative application of technology. This is part of Brunel’s pathfinder project ENTICE (Encouraging Taching Innovation in a Computerised Environment), Julia Stephenson is the main author with contributions from others in the team. Brunel are planning to make this available more widely, I’ll sent round the URL when they do. reflection 

View from the programme level

Thursday, February 21st, 2008

york minster

I spent two days last week at an all programme meeting for the HE Academy pathfinders programme in York- can’t resist including a view of York Minster which I took from my window!  All 28 pathfinder projects we present, along with the critical friends (as I’ve mentioned before I am the critical friend for cluster c) and some representatives from the initial benchmarking projects.


It’s difficult to describe in a short post the rich variety of approaches the projects are adopting, but I am including some images of the different frameworks the projects are using here to give a flavour.  

It was a very interesting meeting and great to get an overview of the different projects. What struck me was the diversity of the different ways in which the projects are tackling the issue of embedding e-learning in their institutions. 


However it was also evident that there were some interesting overarching themes. The projects finish in May and so are now beginning to look at ways in which the lessons learnt can be disseminated. Here are some highlights I picked up from the meeting. 



Derek Morrison open with seven reflection points (;-) associated with the programme:

pathfinder2Strategy, Security, Synthesis, Support, Synergies, Sharing, Student and Sustainability. Then each of the 7 clusters gave quick overviews of the approaches they had adopted – at an individual project level and at the cluster level. The clusters, critical friends and projects are:

Cluster A – (Paul Bacsich) Bradford, Brighton, Greenwich, Thames Valley University

Cluster B – (Cliff Wragg) Bournemouth, Gloucestershire, Keele, Uni College Plymouth

Cluster C – (Gráinne Conole), Brunel, Cambridge, London South Bank, Reading

cluster f

Cluster D – (Terry Mayes) De Montfort, Edge Hill, Manchester Metropolitan, University of Central Lancashire

Cluster E (Peter Chatterton) Derby, East London, Sunderland, Teeside

Cluster F (Betty Collis) Canterbury Christ Church, Exeter, Kingston, Wolverhampton

Cluster G (Andrew Comrie) Bradford College, Buckingham, Cumbria Institute of the Arts, Northampton.

Below is a very crude summary, picking out some of the key themes mentioned, which gives a flavour of what each cluster was focusing on – should have really done a tag cloud for this! No major surprises here I guess (although I think we were all quite taken by the digital storytelling approach adopted by Gloustershire), but the devil is in the detail – it’s interesting to see the very different approaches each of the projects have taken to addressing the issues.

  • Assessment,
  • change – cultural and other,
  • developing e-activities,
  • digital storytelling,
  • e-learning champions and broker roles
  • eResources,
  • evaluation
  • evidence-based practice
  • ICT skills set
  • institutional elearning strategy
  • linking the VLE with other systems,
  • practice vs. strategy
  • staff support and development,
  • student experience,
  • Sustainability and dissemination,
  • sustainability,
  • transitions,
  • teaching and learning
  • quality assurance and enhancement.

The pilot projects have already produced a series of interesting briefing papers summarising their experiences. A similar set of papers is planned for these projects too. Further information is available from the HE Academy pathfinder blog and associated wiki. The briefing papers are listed in the right hand column of the blog.


Creative cluster thinking

Thursday, February 7th, 2008

reading 1I’ve just come back from a really good day with the four HE Academy pathfinder projects I am involved with. See previous post for some of the background to this work and previous activities. The day was hosted by one of the projects, Reading University, in their ‘Innovations lab’. What an interesting space! Now that is a real example of creative and novel use of space, would that we could do something similar with our new building ;-) The idea of the space is to provide a varied, relaxed and flexible space, which encourages alternative ways of thinking and so it’s an ideal place for an away day. You can even write on the walls!! This was the third joint cluster away day that we have had and we all felt that it was really productive. We spent the morning doing a round of updates on what the projects have been doing, it was great to see the progress made, the different approaches adopted but also the commonalities and shared themes. reading 2The four institutions are very different – contextually and culturally, but surprisingly (and encouragingly) a number of cross-cluster themes have emerged. These include

  • A focus on change management (changing academics mindsets) and managing institutional change
  • Adoption of an evidence-based approach
  • Utilisation of sound approaches to e-learning – building in good pedagogical principles
  • Very clear dissemination and engagement strategies throughout the projects, not just at the end
  • Building on current good practice, starting from where people are now
  • An explicit drive to embed the project activities into institutional policies and processes
  • A very broad engagement across the institution, not just focusing on isolated areas or individuals
  • Developing strategies to embed e-learning
  • Listening to the student voice and bringing this together with the academic voice
  • Adopting a participatory approach
  • A focus on continuous quality improvement
  • Evidence of capacity building through the projects and cluster activities - both institutionally and at a meta-level via the cluster activities.  

We have a programme level event in York next week with the full complement of all 28 pathfinder projects which have been funded in this phase of the work and so we used the afternoon to jointly develop our presentation for the event. We identified the key essence of each of the projects and then drew out commonalities, challenges and overarching themes. What emerged was a pretty impressive list, which I think is a credit to the work that the projects have done. It’s interesting to reflect on this notion of having clusters of projects and an associated critical friend. I think we all feel that our cluster has worked well and achieved things above and beyond what the individual projects have done. Not sure what the key ingredients for success are but my guess is that the following factors have been important: 1. A shared set of interests and challenges, 2. Specific activities/goals to jointly work on, with tangible outputs, for example, during our cluster away days we have always included some sort of joint activity, these have included: production of a cluster-based poster, brainstorming and writing workshop outlines, identifying and articulating cluster-level issues, challenges and themes, presentation and sharing of methods and tools. But perhaps the most important ingredient for success has been having a good mix of people, prepared to work collectively, with a liberal dose of fun mixed in ;-).

Adopting an evidence base

Sunday, December 9th, 2007

natalieHad a really excellent meeting on Wednesday at CARET in Cambridge with ‘Cluster C’ pathfinder projects (links to each of their blogsBrunelCambridgeReading and South Bank). All four projects are adopting very different approaches in their pathfinder work in terms of embedding e-learning; not surprising given the diversity of the institutions within which they are located. The purpose of the workshop was to explore the role of adopting an evidence-based approach. Naomi Irvine from CARET set the scene in advance, by creating a wiki. Each project added examples from their own work of how they had been using an evidence-based approach to instigating institutional change, along with examples of tools and instruments they had produced. Picture is of Natalie Parnis from Brunel presenting on some of their work. We spent the morning brainstorming the context within which the projects were working, key external factors, stakeholders, and the relationship between evidence, theory, policy and practice. Then the afternoon was dedicated to short presentations of the materials each project had uploaded to the wiki and discussions on the ways these were used and each project’s experiences of what worked and what didn’t. We then synthesised across these under the following key headings:

  • Key tips and hints - there were a number of nice simple success stories, for example the use of Personal Response Systems as a means of getting feedback from a large body of students (Brunel), summarising audit or other evidence-based findings into five simple, keys as the basis of a constructive discussion (Cambridge), and the value of departmental away days at critical points in the process (Reading).  We also discussed the importance of presenting data in an appropriate format and who it would be of interest to and when.
  • Common themes. The nature of “brokerage roles” and their importance was a common theme across our discussions and a key aspect of all four projects. We had a lot of discussion too about how projects of this kind inevitably involve working across boundaries. “Planting seeds of change” emerged as a phrase at one point in the discussion (a slight pun as one of the projects is working closely with Plant Sciences) – i.e. using the right people in the right context, a number of the projects had already done this and had success with adopting this approach. 
  • Common approaches. Co-researchers – of staff and students – seems to be a common theme across the projects. The value of evidence base as an approach was clearly something we all agreed on, hence the workshop, but its value was even more evident we felt at the end of the day when we saw the accumulated range of tools and techniques that the projects had produced. 

The projects are evidently adopting a very  self reflective approach to what they are doing and I think part of the value to be draw from these projects will be as much about the process of how they have gone about things, as the final products and outputs they produced. The cluster will be presenting a poster on this work at the Networked Learning conference in Greece and we are in the process of putting together a workshop to submit for Edmedia.


COMPASS Pathfinder

Sunday, December 9th, 2007


Members of COMPASS and associated projects
I’ve been out and about alot this week and hence the relative silence on the blog front. I spent monday at South Bank University in my role as critical friend to four of the HE Academy pathfinderprojects. South Bank’s approach is to assess where staff currently are in terms of their use and understanding of ICT through a skills audit. They then plan to map skills to roles and identify the range of support mechanisms which might be needed to address any perceived gaps. I spent the morning with Helen George, Ruth Brown and Robert Kenny who are part of the core team, talking through progress to date. They have carried out an online ICT skills  audit which has given them an initial feel for skills levels, but they are now working alongside a range of current teaching innovation projects to explore the use of technologies and associated support mechanisms in more depth. It was great to get the opportunity to meet up with some of the people involved in these projects and it hear what they were doing and what the key issues were for them.  The picture below is a poster that Ruth Brown recently gave at a conference in South Africa outlining what the project is doing. Further information on the project is available from their blog

The DIRECT approach

Saturday, December 1st, 2007

reading pathfinderAs I’ve mentioned before I am a “critical friend” to four of the HE Academy pathfinder projects. I had a really interesting day with the Reading team this week.

It was great to see how much their project had progressed. The DIRECT project’s approach is to focus the pathfinder work on institutional embedding and their strategy to achieve this is to link into the periodic review process. So in a sense there is a mixture of carrot and stick: stick in terms of the fact that departments have to do periodic review anyway and carrot in terms of providing support and guidance to make the process useful and easier.They have developed a framework to fit into the periodic review process. This consists of a number of focii and for each the team have developed a set of tools. The process begins with a consultation exercise with the department to clarify what they want from the process and what they feel are their key defining characteristics. The next stage is to undertake a detailed review of where the department is in terms of teaching and learning and comparison with the external environment, the next key milestone is a departmental away day where they consider the findings and formulate an action plan.The framework provides the overall guidance for the process and clarity on the stages involved. Whereas the tools the project have produced help the department complete the process.

We spent a useful morning going through the framework they have developed and clarifying what the associated tools were. (Picture is of Maria Papaefthimiou, Clare McCullagh and Ryan Bird). They have recently completed a pilot working with the Politics department. The steering committee met in the afternoon and it was great to hear from the Director of Research in Politics, who oversaw the pilot, just how successful and useful a process it had been. I was really impressed and felt that the team were making good process. Some of success factors evident to me include:

  • linking the pathfinder to existing, established pattern of activity which has to be completed as part of the academic lifecycle (i.e. periodic review)
  • developing an overarching framework and useful tools to guide the process (and hence evidencing the value of this approach to the departments involved),
  • getting buy in from appropriate stakeholders across the university (through composition of the steering group) [As an aside Pete Jeffries from the Student Union is on the committee - not as the ‘token student rep’ but very evidently as a respected and valued member of the committee],
  • effective useful of external reps ;-),
  • departmental ownership of the process (the framework is an enabler but is flexible enough to be adapted to different departments’ needs, and
  • effective choice of champions.

More info on the project is available from their blog.

DIRECT Pathfinder steering committee 

E-learning pathfinder projects

Friday, September 28th, 2007

The HEA have established an e-learning pathfinder programme as a follow on to the e-learning benchmarking exercise and I am acting as a so called ‘critical friend’ (please don’t make me have to explain what the heck that is!!! I’m still trying to work it out myself!!!) to four of the projects - Brunel, Cambridge, Reading and South Bank. I have to admit I approached the role with some trepidation but actually its proving to be really interesting. Each of the projects are trying to bring about strategic change in e-learning within their institutions (my short hand - the main website ’says it proper’) very much linked into their local context. Not surprisingly the approaches are very different but also there are interesting cross themes emerging, such as: mechanisms for ensuring cross-institutional buy in - and the role of embedding and communication strategies, what kinds of development are needed for staff and students, how can we ensure the student voice is taken account of, etc. One of the things the four projects have recently being looking at is how an evidence based approach to gathering and representing e-learning might be used in this context. We have a workshop planned later in the year to look at this in more detail.