Leadership for positive change in HE

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 7, by Charles Webber: Universities in Canada face tensions with academic freedom as new forms of teaching and learning evolve and also with increased privatization and marketization of postsecondary institutions. And in order to make more money, institutions rely on international student fees, commercialization of intellectual property and outsource campus services. As well, “most western nations have at least one or more universities that specialize in distance teaching and learning … [and] are perceived by the public and most university faculty members as credible instititons” (p.196).

Changes in the Faculty of Education at the University of Calgary are a good example of some positive changes through leadership. Their graduate division (GDER) has the largest graduate student populations in Education. The strengths of the division are integrated campus and distance programs, skilled faculty in many specializations, strong student perceptions of GDER, student demand for programs, high-quality library resources, generate revenue, increased student access, flexible workloads, flexible programs, and research and professional development centres. Weaknesses are reliance on central technical centres, lack of supervision for course-based students, delayed website upgrades, insufficient student recruitment, reduction in GDER budget, and varying supervision loads. Threats are supervision workloads without teaching releases, loss of balance between teaching and research, funding for doctoral students lowest at university, need for new staff to manage non-traditional programming, staff and budgets, and increasing competition from other universities delivering programs nationally and internationally. A leadership strategy that has been successful in the GDER is a balanced portfolio that focuses on “society’s needs for high quality research and on teaching that informs professional practice … [and] includes strategic alliance with national and international organizations , partnerships that forge strong research and teaching networks … [that also] attract strong students from local, national and international settings” (p. 198). This approach serves many and alleviates political interventions.

Continual cuts to the campus-based programs have been aided by the cost-recovery graduate programs offered online. Thus, through online graduate programs it generates operating revenues. As well, the cost-recovery distance programs have increased student access to higher education as budget cuts affect the number of students admitted to campus-based programs. As well, faculty salaries paid from central institutional sources decreased affecting the ability to admit, teach and supervise campus students. This was offset by distance cost recovery programs such as the Master of Education and Doctor of Education. Applying for government funding to support new initiatives, such as with the ACCESS grant, increased student access; however, such funding allowed less flexibility to administration due to the grant’s focus on specific programs and rigid parameters. As well, staff were hired over the past decade to provide significant support to students in administrative, technology and library units. Staff in the GDER administration office covered a range of responsibilities from budgeting to marketing. They focus on program coordination, scholarship and program advising, continuing professional development opportunities, and other administrative duties.

A Post-Degree Continuous Learning framework allows students to complete coursework at three levels that eventually leads to the completion of a Master degree, much of which are delivered online. Also, a strong support infrastructure for students has helped student retention. These include such as library and technical support staff that helps students to use online databases and software systems. For faculty there are “an evergreen computer system for faculty members, software information seminars for faculty members and students, and instructional design support from the campus Teaching and Learning Centre” (p.176).

Faculty members teaching in the programs use innovative teaching practices. Quality teaching and a variety of course selection provide students with quality programs. Course evaluations accessible by students provide valuable input to improve teaching and scheduling of course and workloads. Students sit as representatives in all governance committees at the university and faculty. A number of professional centers in gifted education, educational leadership and higher education provide continuing professional development, local, national and international networks, and institutional partners to students and faculty. Research efforts are shared by faculty and students in initiatives such as annual online and campus research institutes, and an online peer-reviewed journal for leadership in learning. However, not all faculty members embrace distance learning approaches as revealed in the uneven growth in some programs.

Graduate students come from a variety of work roles such as teachers, principals, consultants, corporate trainers, postsecondary leaders, and instructional designers. The cost-recovery graduate programs do not have a residency requirement thus making the program more accessible and decrease the cost for graduate students by remaining in their communities, jobs and with their families. A survey conducted in 2006 asked current online and campus-based graduate students and alumni about their satisfaction with the programs. Most responded positively to various aspects of the program such as support, resources, instructors, program, supervision and student experience. The few areas that needed addressing, though more than 80% were satisfied, were the learning opportunities, interaction among students, and quality of supervision. However, distance learners felt more satisfied with student interaction and access to learning opportunities. Students in course-based Master programs were less satisfied with their supervision than thesis-based students. Alumni felt their programs enhanced their professional expertise and led to career advancement, but more so with campus-based students. Those online felt more satisfaction with their supervision than campus students and were more apt to recommend the program to a friend or colleague.

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.

Design of online and adult education

Simone Conceicao (2007) in her chapter, Setting Directions for the Future of Online and Adult Education, shares that the design of online instruction needs to focus on the characteristics of learners and the role of the instructor. As well, creating effective online learning is more than converting a regular classroom course. Important aspects, commonly recommended in course design, are keeping a uniform appearance and navigation, and creating activities for active participation. Also, evaluating an online course needs to evaluate more than the instructor. It also needs to assess the technology, user interface and design of the content.

More so, choosing the appropriate teaching strategy will need to consider the course goals and objectives and at the same time, provide multiple strategies for diverse learner needs. As well, online learners might be at different learning stages of development and have different goals and needs. This needs to be addressed. Mentoring students online by instructors helps with needs within and beyond the content. As well, individual feedback is essential. As instructors become more comfortable with technology, they will experiment more with new teaching strategies.

Online discussion boards help support higher-order constructivist learning, develop a learning community and allow active learning. Conceicao ends that effective strategies such as these “combined with prompt feedback and high expectations guiding principles, make the basis for effective online instruction” (p.90).

OECD Recommendations for HE

The OECD (2008 ), in their report, Be More Purposeful in Guiding Tertiary Education, ask that governments provide funding  strategies to optimize the contribution of higher education to society and the economy by cost-sharing with students due to the private benefits of education, while at the same time providing student support such as grants and loans so they work less. They also recommended governments help with the quality assurance of higher education.

They state worldwide student enrollment is growing annually by 5.1% with increases seen in more mature students, who have dissimilar socio-economic backgrounds, ethnicity and previous education.

The also see academic leadership changing and making decisions like those in management or entrepreneurs. There are new demands on leaders, such as the need by the marketplace for quality teaching and learning. Furthermore, policy making should allow for bottom-up initiatives, sharing long term visions, the views of different stakeholders, and incremental versus comprehensive overhauls. As well, though academics should have the freedom to develop courses, they also must their freedom within the institution’s goals and obligation to society.

Another important aspect to inform policy are evaluation of performance of staff and deliver professional development and training to accommodate potential gaps and to keep pace with demands. They also suggest implementing performance contracts and related funding along with monitoring systems.

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 strategies depend on discipline

Smith, Heindel and Torres-Ayala (2008 ) in their article, E-Learning Commodity or Community: Disciplinary Differences Between Online Courses, discovered that depending on the discipline (applied or pure streams) instructors used different tools and course design.

For instance, in pure disciplines professors use online tests for evaluation, whereas with applied disciplines, exchanges of essays and dialogue are assessed using drop boxes, discussion boards and external sources.

It was deemed that applied vs pure disciplines are more apt to more diversified in design and more oriented towards communities of practice; whereas the latter is more prone to be commoditized. How a discipline views knowledge construction and assessment will affect how they use online tools.

Relying on Moore’s transactional distance (TD) between instructor, learner and/or others, this study suggests certain structural variables in course design  contributes to transactional distance such as opportunity for dialogue and structured learning materials. Interaction is found to be a key component for student satisfaction. In this study, applied disciplines seem to have a shorter TD distance.

The study, which took place over 5 years, found instructors were gaining a more refined knowledge of online communication and course tools.

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.