Creating an "architecture of participation" – thoughts from JISC Learning Activities and Resources Conference, 22 January

One of the comments that seemed to summarize the myriad of discussion that took place at the JISC Learning Resources an Activities Conference yesterday in Birmingham was that in the development of learning activities and resources, what we need to start exploring is ‘architectures of participation’ (I think this phrase came from Fred Garnett, Becta).

The aim of the day, as outlined by Tish Roberts (Programme Director, E-Learning, JISC) was to provide an opportunity to bring together people and projects involved in creating and using learning resources and activities, discuss challenges and to get an indication of what areas the community think that JISC need to focus their development activities.

Professor Allison Littlejohn (Glasgow Caledonian University) started the day with her keynote presentation “Collective use of learning resources’. Allison took us through some of the work she and her colleagues are doing in relation to collective learning where learners consume and create knowledge and are encouraged to create and chart their own learning trails/paths. Advances in technology mean that these learning trails can be used by other students when they are planning their learning. Using web2 technologies, more connections can be made between the formal and informal systems students are using. This approach should take a rapid development approach with user needs analysis being at the forefront. Allison did concede that this methodology was perhaps more applicable to post graduate students and work based learning courses where sharing of knowledge is a key driver, unlike some undergraduate courses where sharing and providing access to information has more precedence.

After lunch Andrew Comrie (former VP of Lauder College and director of the TESEP project) gave the second keynote of the day outlining his own transformational journey in e-learning and some of the highs and lows he has experienced when trying to drive transformational change. Andrew admitted that the TESEP project hadn’t brought about wholeshale transformation in his institution but it had allowed for pockets of change to occur. For each of the partners the project had been an important step on their continuing transformational journey. It had provided an opportunity to allow staff and students to change their attitudes and behaviours in relation to teaching and learning. Andrew outlined the main principles of the TESEP transformational model being; non threating to staff, preparing learners to take more control of their learning and encouraging staff to spend more time designing learning activities rather than developing more content.

In between the keynotes there were 5 parallel sessions focusing on key questions around developing, sharing, re-purposing, managing and design and effective use of learning resources. The day ended with a plenary where the key issues from each session were discussed. And this is where the idea of ‘architecture of participation’ came to my attention. There seemed to be a general consensus that people were more concerned with developing methods to create and sharing learning designs/activities rather than creating more content (which maybe a bit of a “no-brainer” for some, but it was good to hear this come through so clearly). However there is increasing awareness of the need to incorporate students into the process and how to make use of informal and formal networks and technologies and develop and use appropriate pedagogical approaches. Of course this challenges the traditional approach of many of our HE institutions, who as Mark Stiles pointed out are more interested in maintaining control rather than managing changes in behaviour. To bring about transformational change we need to re-think all our traditional architectures, not just in terms of technical infrastructure but in terms of social networks too and explore the key connections between all of them.

Other key points raised were the need to engage middle management in development of practice. It would seem that we have a strong community of practitioners who are committed to sharing and developing practice but they can be thwarted by lack of support. One possible approach to this is to develop some business cases, but I’m really not sure just how much the JISC can do in reaching this sector. Another message coming through loudly was that IPR and copyright is still a key issues for practitioners, and despite lots of work being done by JISC in this area, people are crying out for good, clear simple advice on where they stand.

As ever it is hard to condense the whole day into one post, but it was heartening to see so many people at the event and we will try and build on key parts of the feedback in a future SIG meeting.

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