Sunday, September 5, 2010

Poster presentation uploaded

My poster presentation "'Open the Pod-Bay doors, please, HAL': narratives of crisis in e-learning in HE" has been uploaded to the conference website.  You can view the whole thing here

I didn't get to post all the individual narratives as discussion topics here - ran out of time.  However I really am interested in whether certain observations or assertions I make obtain more widely.  For instance, how relevant is this twelve-year-old conceptualisation of the "Lone Ranger"?  In my experience at my institution, very relevant.  But perhaps ANU is unusually archaic?

The Lone Ranger is a familiar figure on the e-learning landscape. The innovative individualist, pursuing his or her own idiosyncratic change agenda, is perhaps the most ubiquitous practitioner of e-learning, and as a strategy for establishing identity as a practitioner is arguably the only successful one at universities where the dominant paradigm for academic work is the traditional collegial model of an individual academic taking virtual sole responsibility for a course. Such a model still obtains most prevalently at research-intensive universities.

Peter Taylor's (1998) description of the Lone Ranger is still very much to the point:

"The overwhelming evidence is that the development of more flexible learning environments through the use of CITs has been energised and enacted primarily by lone rangers—individual staff members who are energetic, early adopters of innovation, and who are motivated by a desire to improve the accessibility and quality of their teaching. This phenomenon ... is consistent with the commitment of academics to the principle of professional autonomy. This is an innovation-driven approach to the development of new practices. But what are the outcomes?

There are some positives, and some negatives. The positives tend to cluster around the achievement of intentions--improvement in access, in retention rates, in the quality of teaching and learning. Some individuals even gain promotion. But the most important outcome is that these lone rangers have laid a foundation for new teaching methods based on the available CITs. In this sense, they have done much to create the potential to catch the CIT wave, and to make it pay off for students in substantive ways. These are extremely important outcomes, and should be celebrated and protected.

But there is also a downside. This approach has tended to produce innovation at the level of particular course offerings, but there has been a lack of institutional support and a failure to institutionalise the outcomes …In fact innovation often occurred in spite of this lack of institutional interest. ... Well-developed evaluations of such initiatives are rare. Where evaluations have been conducted, and reports written, little notice was or is taken of their findings or recommendations. …The lone ranger approach emphasises the importance of investing creative energy, but has done little to articulate that investment with the broader institutional context. This is a high cost, low return strategy."

The fascinating thing about this description of e-learning innovation in the mid-1990s is perhaps how relevant it remains. In the context of this paper, the lone ranger identity or narrative can be seen as a way of explicitly avoiding institutional engagement with change issues. Innovators can be characterised as individualists and thus functionally excluded from the educational decision-making process.

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