The UK Higher Ed context

Shelleyann Scott and Kathryn Dixon (2008 ) in their edited book, The Globalized University: Trends and Challenges in Teaching and Learning, offer educational leaders a discussion about the changes information and communicate technology is bringing to their institutions.

Chapter 4: “Frequently, university-wide strategic decisions about technology are made without fully understanding the implications for resources, administration, teaching programmes, teaching practices and learning approaches, often resulting in technology-led course design” (p.83). There has been too much time and effort placed on the technology ICT infrastructures and improving instructors ICT skills, and not how teachers and students might benefit from it. Yet, a government initiative to increase institutions’ focus on student learning will provide a better focus. What is more, “many academic teachers lack a pedagogical understanding of the form of their practice” (p.89) increasing the frustration with using technology. As well, online courses are quite public accentuating port teaching practices.

What is more, professional development programs focus on how to use technology that reinforces current teaching strategies and not transforming them. Working in online courses and developing them requires instructors to think about their pedagogical views and beliefs and to understand them in the context of online learning. “Technology-led innovations do not improve educational practices in themselves – it is teachers who are the agents of change” (Kirkwood & Price, 2005). Barriers that cause faculty to revert to teacher-focused approaches were time to change practice and lack of systematic changes at the departmental level to enhance learner-centered practices as “their approach is mediated by their work environment” (p.92). Departments need to encourage the improvement of student learning.

As well, reflecting on the departmental and institutional contexts is important when designing PD frameworks as well as providing an academic rationale for using ICT.  And, besides the instructor, professional developers need to focus on the support staff and managers to ensure the proper policies, support, resources and infrastructures are in place. For instance, senior university managers work with policy and decision making about ICT use. By exploring the impact of these on students, staff and resources more strategic decision making will develop. Departmental managers can reflect on the same at the faculty and department levels. The need to make informed decisions, determine the time and money needed, and choose strategies to implement technologies in the programs with awareness of the organizational context. Whereas, individual teaching and learning staff must come to understand the pedagogical rationale of using ICT and its impact on students, staff and resources, encouraging a reflective practice and strategic choices.

PD also needs to include higher levels of pedagogy such as philosophizing about teaching, increased teamwork and collaboration than working with strategies and tactics. Students also need ICT and information skills training to use consistently throughout their degree programs. For PD to be successful there needs to be supports in place, consultations with faculty to implement innovation and follow up research on the impact of changed practice.

The review of teaching, as mandated by the QAA a quality assurance agency for higher ed, looks at curriculum, teaching, assessment, student achievement and support, resources and quality management. More so, quality assurance initiatives are needed to monitor and maintain quality student experiences, through quantitative surveys for instance. Evidence-based research is a way to examine teaching practices and assumptions.

Faculty perceptions on teaching

Shelleyann Scott and Kathryn Dixon (2008 ) in their edited book, The Globalized University: Trends and Challenges in Teaching and Learning, offer educational leaders a discussion about the changes information and communicate technology is bringing to their institutions.

Chapter 3: Faculty perceptions of learning and teaching with technology. They share seven principles for teaching and learning by Chickering, Gamson & Barsi (1987; 1989) as:

 

  1. For faculty and students to connect
  2. For students to work collaboratively and socially
  3. For students to actively engage in their learning
  4. To get prompt feedback
  5. To manage one’s time
  6. To set high expectations
  7. Be inclusive with diverse talents and learning styles

 

Also, adult learners have certain needs such as being self-directed, draw on life experiences, learning for social and work lives, problem-solving, application to their context, and are intrinsically motivated. They want a mutual learning experience with the instructor where their knowledge and experience are respected (Merriam & Brockett, 1997; 2006). Wlodkowski (2006) points out what motivates adult learners such as personal and professional goals, and are interested in learning that is relevant and applicable to their context. To feel motivated they need to feel included in the learning environment and respected and connected with others; relevant learning with choice; challenging and thoughtful learning experiences, and a feeling of success. However, instructors are concerned how to help students collaborate and discuss when there is so much diversity in the student population such as age, gender, ethnicity, and past experience. As well, adult students are motivated by their varied goals, financial incentives, status and recognition, interaction with others and the learning context. Thus, they need to have control with their learning (Knowles, Holton III and Swanson, 1997).

 

While many instructors use traditional teaching strategies, over half wanted to try new methods such as problem-based and cooperative learning, and to incorporate technology. Yet, short workshops proved to be ineffective for transferring skills into regularly teaching behaviours and improved student outcomes. Taking professional development to another level that is organizationally wide and transcends boundaries is more effective. This would promote multidimensional approaches to teaching and learning, resource sharing, evidence-based reflections and action planning. Another issue is workloads with faculty becoming overwhelmed with teaching assignments, conducting research, administrative tasks, high student numbers, and monitoring teaching assistants, all inhibiting their ability to find extra time and energy to engage in professional development, and reflect on teaching practices. Furthermore, faculty are frustrated with governments push for increased teaching quality and research output, drawing on their time to produce good work. There seemed to be more time in the past for these activities and to produce quality work.

Trends in universities worldwide

Shelleyann Scott and Kathryn Dixon (2008 ) in their edited book, The Globalized University: Trends and Challenges in Teaching and Learning, offers educational leadership a discussion about the changes information and communicate technology is bringing to their institutions. In many ways higher education institutions are under pressure and there are concerns for its sustainability. Also, there are questions about its post-industrial look as technology-based economies unfold. However, Scott and Dixon claim, “With vision and leadership, today’s universities can use technology more effectively in order to serve post-industrial societies” (p.7). If visionary change is not implemented, and traditions are maintained, they fear educational services and products delivered by the private sector that can address the learning needs of rapidly changing societies.

One concern is the exposure and scrutiny of educational material and educators in the transparent online world as well as the pedagogical and technological capacity of university teachers. On the other hand, instructors are resisting the management of their work from close monitoring and auditing causing them to feel less trusted. As well, increasing pressures to perform in higher education has negatively affected the collegiality within academic cultures.

In Canada, universities are typically underfunded placing the burden on students to pay higher fees, which have doubled in the past decade, forcing students to borrow from the private sector. There are concerns if they will continue to attract high quality students with high fees.

Chapter 2: The quality of teaching and learning and the student experience is becoming more important in higher education as student enrolment increases bringing diverse learners deemed as customers. Other contributing factors are global competition, reduced government funding and increased accountability. For instance, Australia’s federal government has established a national wide quality assurance framework that guides universities in producing and delivering quality services and products. These might include providing teaching and learning strategies, professional development, probation and promotion practices, teaching evaluation and student assessment.

With increased accountability and shared cost of education, students are viewed as customers and wanting more choice and their needs meet. They want the whole educational experience such as well designed courses, qualified and committed staff and instructors, responsive student support systems and a learning experience that engages and retains them.

The academic staff has multiple roles such as maintaining currency and expertise in their subject areas, using emerging technologies well, innovatively design and deliver courses, advise and mentor students, engage in professional development, research and lead teaching and learning on many levels, and manage courses with timely materials and support for students. Students are shown to want education that has “a design that uses an appropriate variety of interactive, practice-oriented and problem-based methods … capable, committed, accessible and responsive staff… efficient and responsive administrative, information technology, library and student support systems … [and] relevant, consistent and integrated assessment of university standard” imbedded in teaching and learning designs (p.26). However, few universities in the UK have developed, communicated to staff, provided professional development or evaluated teaching and learning strategies. More so, aligning strategies to university policies and providing staff incentives to achieve goals need to be addressed as well. However, there are varied views about using teaching strategies with academic staff concerned about poor implementation, unrealistic strategies, erosion of their autonomy, lack of local contexts and the bureaucratization of teaching.

Support of teaching and learning is best at the midrange level (the Central model) to be connected and integrated with the macro level (institution) and the micro level (individual). Though difficult to establish it connects central and local unit in academic development. However, some academic staff seclude themselves from development initiatives and rely on their “small, internally informed, and often unchanging knowledge base” while rejecting research-based practices (p.31).

Also, there is little evidence that LMS improve learning and teaching. As well, online service systems such as PeopleSoft have proven costly and complex though useful. It requires online support and effort to use.

A number of support systems could be student leaders assisting with learning and study skill development, a fellowship program for faculty to have the time to learn and develop online learning skills, awards and funds to support teaching excellence and high standards, and continuing professional development to move to learner-centred teaching, handle diverse cohorts, to use innovative technology, and research in teaching and learning. However, evidence shows that such initiatives might not be improving teaching and learning and professional development, though effective, might not be retained by staff. Yet, it was found that sharing ideas across and within disciplines raises awareness of issues and needs.

Added to this are proactive leadership, teaching and learning advice, PD and perceptions that initiatives and innovation are valued. Barriers to innovate included poor technical infrastructures, high workloads, lack of supportive leadership, policies and values about teaching. However, leaders who can implement a clear vision while being sensitive to the institutional climate and readiness for change were found to be effective. It also required allocating appropriate human, financial, and infrastructure resources, and faculty PD, rewards and recognition. Leaders must also appreciate and recognize faculty’s beliefs and values about teaching and learning, which range from transmission of knowledge to constructivism. This could be influenced by their discipline, such as soft disciplines tend to use a scholarly approach to their teaching. As well, institutions tend to reward research than teaching as fueled by the culture and reward structures.

The state of e-learning

Tony Bates (2008 ) reflects on the e-learning from the perspective of his travels around the world. He states e-learning is a mode being increasingly used by professors and instructors. He states the enrolment into online learning in the US has increased by 12% over the last 5 years as compared to an average of 2% for overall enrolment. As well, about ¼ of students in postsecondary in the US have taken at less one course that is fully online.

With this evolution, institutions are wondering how best to use technologies in their teaching. As well, two concerns loom over higher education, the return on investing in technologies and investments and the lack of innovation.

He also criticizes that students needs for engaging learning is not being met but rather courses have teachers lagging in technical who tend to overlook 21st century skills and use technology to replicate outdated educational paradigms. While there are pockets of innovators in institutions most times technology is added on to existing programs with no strategic plans to implement it. 

The innovators are using new forms of technology, such as blogs, wikis, and mobile technology to let learners create and share their work. Another area of innovation is open educational resources to increase the wealth of information for students.

Bates claims in that in education “the traditional methods [for] preparation for an industrial society are fast vanishing. We need to use technology as an integral part of our teaching and learning activities to prepare learners for a knowledge-based society” (p.3). Yet, there is a lack of incentive to change in institutions, such as faculty rewards, management train gin, and understanding of current societal needs for information and knowledge.

Top Teaching and Learning Challenges of 2009

The EDUCAUSE teaching and learning community devised a list of challenges to current teaching and learning endeavours. They see the need for learning environments that are engaging, and promote critical thinking, collaboration and knowledge creation. They also see the need for faculty and students developing 21st century literacies as with information, digital and visual.

They also see the challenges like advancing innovation within financial reductions and constraints. How do you scale innovation for a large institution? Is integrating technology throughout the institution a way to address this? What is more, how does Web2.0 tactics integrate into learning management systems? How can we assess the use of technology through research and evaluation?

Another main challenge is getting faculty to adopt IT in their teaching. A concern is if they have core competencies. Some solutions for this are rewarding faculty for being innovative, support them in their innovations, and help them discover best practices and integrate theory into practice. In fact both students and faculty need training in using technology, to assess digital-based work, and understanding student needs. There needs to be a discussion about this to learn from collective experimentation.

Online community important to learning

In an article in the International Journal of E-Learning (vol7, issue 3), Ni and Aust (2008 )also study the affects of teacher verbal immediacy and a sense of community on undergraduate and graduate students who studied online. They, too, measured student satisfaction and perceived learning as Gallien and Oomen-Early (2008).

Interestingly, the sense of classroom community online seemed to be the only significant factor that affected satisfaction and learning, whereas the presence and verbal immediacy of the instructor helped increase the frequency of online discussion. Conceptually, sense of community can be explained through Moore’s theory of transactional distance promoting three types of interaction: learner-instructor, learner-learner and learner-content. Added to this by other theorists are learner-interface (Hillman, Willis & Gundawardena, 1994) and vicarious interaction (Sutton, 2001) through active observation of others online. In this study, students felt they needed more instructor-learner and learner-learner interaction. Anderson and Garrison (1995) saw the positive affects of community on learning.

More important, a sense of community online requires a feeling of “belonging, trust, and commitment in the interaction between and among students” as well as assuming the obligation to each other and sharing goals; whereas “spirit denotes recognition of community members, the feelings of friendship, cohesion, belonging, and group identity” (p.481). This is a tall order for an online instructor and students alike.

As well, teacher verbal immediacy affected the frequency of online discussion postings by students, and their perceptions of teacher immediacy. Working with another distance education theoretical concept by Holmberg (1960) called the Guided Didactic Conversation theory, this study assumed that feelings of belonging, cooperation and exchange of questions and answers through text-based communication helps motivate learning, and creates what he deems as ‘real’ learning. Additionally, seeing non-verbal immediacy (nodding and smiling) is less likely to be seen online, verbal immediacy actions such as praising and using personal examples can be used to reduce the psychological distance of between teacher and student. As for its less effect on student satisfaction and perceived learning, it might be due to the fact most participants were adults over the age of 30 and are more concerned about the content than the teachers’ interactions. And adult learners tend to take online courses for the chance to collaborate with other online students (Bischoff, 2000).

There is an evolving discussion about online pedagogy. Distinguishing features of online learning are its potential for interaction and collaboration, and the access to vast resources.

As a recommendation, Ny and Aust suggest “teachers should develop communication behaviours that reduce social and psychological distance in the online learning environment” (p.477). It is also important to design online classes to promote interaction and for instructors to facilitate a sense of community. Like, Gallien and Oomen-Early (2008), there is a call for a change in pedagogical practice, and perhaps faculty development.

Feedback is essential online

In an article in the International Journal of E-Learning (vol 7, issue3), Gallien and Oomen-Early (2008 ), studied whether students were more affected by personal or collected feedback from instructors in the online courseroom. She studied student satisfaction, academic performance and perceived connectiveness with the instructor considering the type of feedback.

Results showed that indeed students who received personal feedback on their assignments were more satisfied and performed better academically. Feedback is seen to provide both verification or elaboration of understanding. Students also showed satisfaction with the course design and the availability of the instructor.

As well, studies have found a connection between instructor-student interaction and satisfaction. As well, social presence of instructors and peers is also desirable and deemed as “the degree that individuals perceive others to be real in the online environment” (p.466). The term teacher immediacy is also used in this study indicating the enhanced “closeness by reducing the psychological distance between individuals”  through non-verbal language, praising, using humour, sharing one’s story and asking questions (p.467).

In short, the study shows that online students need frequent interaction, support and feedback from instructors, and want a sense of community with the instructor. This might be needed more  online requiring faculty to engage more than in face to face classes. However, considering the resistance of some instructors, the challenge is mandating this interaction and helping develop the skills through faculty development.