Adding “deleted” to BIM

The following is a record of the process of adding a “deleted” state for a blog post in BIM. This is in response to an issue that has arisen out of BIM usage at CQU.

The problem

BIM always keeps a record of all posts ever found in a student’s blog feed. Even if the student deletes the post or changes the post, BIM keeps a record of the post in its internal database. This is a feature of BIM as one of its aims is to provide a “safe/secure” record of what is posted to the students’ blogs, just in case the blog service provider goes away.

In addition, BIM also attempts to allocate old posts in its internal database to questions. Sometimes, you do wish to “delete” a post to stop BIM from allocating it. To give the student a chance to post something new.

Requirements

Requirements for this feature include:

  • Only the coordinator can “delete” a post.
  • The post is not actually removed from the internal BIM database, it just is no longer able to be “allocated” by BIM, released by the coordinator, visible to the student, or put into the gradebook.
  • It must be possible to “undelete” a post.
  • Deletion should not change any of the other data about a post (e.g. marker comments).
  • Perhaps rather than be invisible to the student, it should just be obvious that it has been deleted.

Design

  • Add “Deleted” status for mdl_bim_marking.
    Modified setting via XMLDB, but the database is not being updated. This has been a problem before which I’ve kludged around. But it’s not something to rely upon for production. Will have to solve this problem.
  • Add interface for staff to “delete”
  • Modify student view to show that it is deleted

The alignment project as leadership

The following signals a slight change in direction around the curriculum mapping project. First, the project is now going under the label “alignment project” (curriculum mapping is just one aspect of the project). Second, the project is likely to be re-framed as an application for an ALTC leadership grant. This post is an attempt to begin this re-framing. It’s really just thinking out loud.

As a result, I am very interested in suggestions and criticisms. In terms of suggestions, I’m particularly keen for insights onto better/alternative theoretical frames. It has become a bit confused as I’ve tried out different lines of approach.

Note: In the following a “course” typically means the smallest unit of teaching offered by an institution. A “program” is a group of courses that form a degree or perhaps a major.

Summary of the alignment project

Alignment is an increasingly core component of teaching in Australian universities. At a basic level, alignment is where the learning resources, learning activities and assessment of learning all align with the stated outcomes or aims of teaching (in a course/unit or program/course). Such alignment is a core component of various “movements” within university learning and teaching including: graduate attributes, quality assurance, and improvements in learning and teaching. However, consideration of alignment is not a regular, everyday part of teaching or learning at universities.

The majority of academic teaching practice involves the teaching of an existing course, one the academic has usually taught before, and as such most “teaching practice” revolves around making minor modifications to material or content (Stark, 2000). Academics are not often required to engage in the development of new courses or major overhauls of existing courses (Stark and Lowther 1988). Alignment is most considered during the development of new courses, major overhauls of existing courses or in response to external quality assurance needs.

The following two sub-sections try to summarise the alignment project. The first is a more concrete description, the second more abstract or theoretical. The thinking behind this project has changed many times, the following are likely to change. Suggest away.

Process and intent

As currently thought, the alignment project can be described as four main tasks:

  1. Modify Moodle to allow mapping of alignment.
    Moodle has been chosen because it is the institutional e-learning system at both institutions that are part of the project. As such, support for Moodle is embedded into the institution and will continue to be supported. In addition, Moodle is an increasing part of the everyday practice of teaching academics. Lastly, Moodle, for a number of reasons, is very flexible and easy to modify and any modifications made could be usable by other institutions. The point of this project is not the Moodle modifications, it’s simply the best solution for embedding these changes into the institutions.

    The changes will focus on enabling the alignment of outcomes (be the course learning outcomes, program learning outcomes, those from accrediting bodies, graduate attributes etc) with the assessment, activities and resources within a course site. Having this functionality is a foundation for the rest of the project.

  2. Work with teaching staff to map their courses.
    Mapping the alignment of a course within Moodle is not going to be straight forward. Teaching staff are likely to be busy and may not be entirely familiar with the concepts around alignment and mapping. The content and design of a Moodle course site may not be currently appropriate in terms of developing a useful mapping of alignment. Using the alignment mapping functionality added to Moodle may not be straight forward.

    For these and other reasons staff from the L&T support services will have to work collaboratively with academic staff to overcome these problems. This will be the first cycle of action research and will identify specific problems and insights into potential solutions.

  3. Work with teaching staff to embed alignment into everyday practice.
    Once the initial mapping of alignment is complete, the focus moves onto helping academics maintain and reflect on the level of alignment within their course and programs. On helping them embed alignment considerations into everyday practice.

    This is the second cycle of action research and will likely include the development of models, tools and processes that address questions such as:

    • How do you encourage reflection and action based on the everyday consideration of alignment?
      Identify the support, processes and tools do teaching academics and program leaders need to encourage and enable reflection and action?
    • How do you measure and give feedback upon action based on the everyday consideration of alignment?
  4. Develop on-going and embedded institutional processes that take the lessons learned from the everyday consideration of alignment and use it to remove barriers within the institutional context.

Theoretical perspective

The alignment project is seeking to take the first steps towards what Biggs (2001) called the reflective institution. It seeks to do this by modifying the institutional systems around learning and teaching in ways suggested by Biggs (2001). These are:

  1. Make obvious the quality model.
    Most institutions espouse the theory of alignment, however the teaching systems and processes employed by institutions do not make this theory explicit. The first step is to modify these systems so that a focus on alignment is made explicit as a part of every day teaching practice.

    This is partly achieved through the modifications to Moodle to enable mapping of alignment. But more importantly it is achieved through the changes in L&T support, systems and processes that support academic in using those new Moodle capabilities. In part, these changes are the next step.

  2. Provide appropriate support for quality enhancement.
    Further modify these systems and process to enable and encourage teaching staff to reflect and improve their teaching through a focus on alignment. The modifications build on the changes in the previous stage to enable this support to be highly contextualised to everyday teaching practice. A focus on helping in what academics do most often, the fine-tuning of existing courses.
  3. Inform the quality feasibility process.
    Quality feasibility is the removal of factors in the teaching environment that are not conducive to good L&T. The everyday consideration of alignment will identify a range of barriers in the institutional setting, many of which will require the engagement of institutional leadership to remove.

ALTC leadership grants

The guidelines for the ALTC leadership grants scheme describe the grants as being for (my emphasis added)

projects that build leadership capacity in ways consistent with the promotion and enhancement of learning and teaching in contemporary higher education, and which reflect the ALTC’s values of excellence, inclusiveness, diversity and collaboration, and its commitment to long-term, systemic change.

The scheme has three priorities which can be summarised as being focused on: institutional leadership capacity building; disciplinary and cross-disciplinary leadership; and building on earlier projects. The alignment project seems to be best suited to Priority one

institutional leadership to enhance learning and teaching through leadership capacity-building at the institutional level.

  • Funding range: $150,000 to $220,000
  • Project duration: up to 2 years

In completing a lit review around leadership for the ALTC, Southwell and Morgan (2009) make the observation that

Leadership for Excellence in Learning and Teaching Program is expected to be a ‘demonstrable enhancement of learning and teaching through leadership capacity building’

What is leadership?

It seems required when discussing leadership to make the observation that “leadership eludes comprehensive definition” (Southwell and Morgan, 2009). Southwell and Morgan (2009) reference Marshall (2006) and Jameson (2006) as folk who have made that observation. Having made this claim, the idea is that you then define your familiarity with the broad array of perspectives, understandings and definitions of what leadership is. I’ll postpone that bit for now.

Southwell and Morgan (2009) draw on Leithwood and Levin (2005) who suggest that the core of most conceptions of leadership are two functions generally considered to be indispensable:

  1. Direction-setting: helping members of the organization establish a widely agreed on direction or set of purposes considered valuable for the organization; and
  2. Influence: encouraging organizational members to act in ways that seem helpful in moving toward the agreed on directions or purposes

Leithwood and Levin (2005) arrive at these two functions by adopting a definition where “the primary effect of organisational leadership would be significant change in a direction valued by the organisation”. In defending their definition or understanding of leadership, Leithwood and Levin (2005) agree that this may not be a precise definition, but that attempts to too narrowly define a complex topic like leadership is “more likely to trivialise than help bring greater clarity to its meaning”.

How the alignment project fits

Taking the emphasised phrases from the above purpose of the ALTC projects, I’d suggest/argue that the alignment project fits in the following ways:

  • leadership capacity;
    In terms of the above set of functions, the project is aiming to build into the systems and processes of each host institution the capacity to make consideration of alignment an every day part of practice. It helps establish a widely agreed direction for L&T and helps influence organisational members in moving towards that agreed direction.
  • promotion and enhancement of L&T;
    The educational literature is replete with evidence that consideration of alignment changes the conception of L&T held by academics and that it also results in improvements in student learning outcomes.
  • contemporary higher education;
    The project recognises and seeks to fulfill the increased requirements for accountability from a range of diverse source, however, it seeks to achieve it in a way that offers significant greater benefits that existing methods. As part of this the application seeks to engage with the on-going argument over centralised or devolved L&T support services by aiming for a focus on an approach to L&T support services that seeks to contextualise such support into the every day practice of teaching academics.
  • inclusiveness, diversity and collaboration; and
    The action research process suggested for use by the project is largely based on recognition within the project that engaging with the full diversity of higher education is essential. It recognises that this diversity will result in different approaches and benefits and that the process needs to enable this to happen. Similarly, collaboration is seen as essential to the project. Not just in the process used in this project, but in the aims of the project. An important aim of the project is to increase the collaboration around consideration of alignment in teaching.
  • long-term, systemic change.
    The project aims to embed consideration of alignment into the everyday practice of teaching staff. i.e. the aim of the project is long-term, systemic change. The process and approach being used is designed to achieve that aim.

The alignment project as leadership

Contemporary higher education is placing increasing importance on the concept of alignment in learning and teaching. In terms of quality assessment, program accreditation, graduate attributes and generally improving L&T alignment is broadly seen as a necessary component. However, many university courses are not all that well aligned and one explanation for this is that consideration and discussion of alignment is not a regular part of everyday teaching practice. Alignment is often only considered at the time of course and program reviews or accreditation.

The aim of the alignment project is to build leadership capacity into the system and processes of education within a university so as to encourage and enable effective and informed consideration of alignment as part of everyday teaching. This embedding of alignment into everyday practice then serves as the foundation for a range of other possibilities.

The alignment project is an example of leadership as it is attempting to encourage significant change – in the form of increased consideration of alignment at all levels – that is valued by the individual universities and the broader higher education sector. In addition, there is broad agreement in the education literature that alignment has significant positive effects on student learning outcomes.

The alignment project intends to fulfill the two indispensable functions of leadership identified by Leithwood and Levin (2005):

  • direction-setting; and
    By making considerations of alignment a visible and hopefully key aspect of everyday teaching, there should be an increased emphasis placed on learning outcomes, graduate attributes and other “outputs of learning”. This should encourage and assist academics teaching the same course or in the same program to increase discussion of these outcomes. To increase discussion of the purpose or direction of a course or program.
  • influence.
    A specific aim of the alignment project is to modify the teaching environment so that considerations, discussions and reflection upon alignment are directly encouraged and enabled. It encourages and enables them to think about how to move towards the stated directions or purpose.

Still not happy with that division. First attempt to make it concrete. Another query that arises from this is whether or not this project builds leadership capacity at two or more levels. For example, one approach is that it builds capacity at both the:

  • Institutional level; and
    At an institutional level it enables curriculum/program alignment, but also accountability etc.
  • Instructional level.
    This is the level between student and course/teacher. It makes alignment an more regular component of instruction.

Outcomes

If successful, the project should result in the consideration of alignment should becoming an every day component of teaching practice. This should/could generate the following outcomes:

  • Changes in the conceptions of L&T held by teaching staff;
    Being required to consider alignment encourages a different way of looking at teaching. This should encourage changes in the conceptions of L&T held by teaching staff towards those considered more appropriate.
  • Improvements in student learning outcomes;
    Effective considerations of alignment should increase the alignment within courses. The educational literature suggests that increases in alignment will result in improve student learning outcomes. In addition, it is likely that one of the likely additional outcomes will be making alignment more visible to students. Which should also encourage improved student learning outcomes.
  • Improvements in the quality and timeliness of quality assurance; and
    In terms of demonstrating alignment against outcomes or attributes, current quality assurance practices rely on special “mappings” that are held every few years. By embedding alignment considerations and mapping into every day teaching practice, the there is no longer any need for special “mappings”. “Mapping” information can be generated at any time as it is maintained as part of normal practice.
  • A variety of additional outcomes.
    Embedding alignment considerations as an everyday practice is the foundation of the project. The availability of “mapping” information and the on-going consideration of alignment will generate a range of additional outcomes. However, the diversity inherent in universities and higher education, combined with the fundamental change in everyday practice which this project aims to achieve means that it is unlikely we can predict successfully all of these outcomes.

Theoretical foundations

The ALTC place significant emphasis on applications having a sound and obvious theoretical base. The theoretical work that have informed my thinking about this project, and which may influence the project, include the following.

Project intent or outcome

Biggs (2001) presents an argument for a reflective institution that focuses on prospective, rather than retrospective quality. Having just re-read the paper, it seems to provide a good fit for a theory/model for the overall intent of the project.

The model is based on the idea of three aspects of AQ:

  • Quality Model.
    i.e. an espoused theory of teaching, for Biggs this is constructive alignment. For the alignment project this might be alignment a little more broadly.
  • Quality enhancement.
    A “teaching delivery system” that is designed in accordance to the quality model, i.e. one which encourages and enables alignments. In addition, the teaching delivery system should also have built-in mechanisms to continually review and improve current practice.
  • Quality feasibility.
    A process by which impediments to quality teaching are removed from the “teaching delivery system”.

The “quality model” is underpinned by a large, overlapping and diverse collection of literature from various areas including: outcomes-based quality/evaluation, instructional alignment (Cohen, 1987); curriculum alignment; graduate attributes; and, of course constructive alignment (Biggs and Tang, 2007; Biggs, 1999 ).

Understandings of universities and organisations

My personal conceptions of most organisations, but especially those like universities, are informed by Dave Snowden’s Cynefin framework and complex adaptive system.

Understandings of leadership

This is obviously an area which needs more consideration, beyond the summary given above.

Based on my limited reading, I like the description of “new leadership” (related to distributed leadership) attributed to Fullan (2008), which include:

  • respect of employees, rather than simplistic judgmentalism;
    A specific focus of this project is to help teaching staff consider the alignment of their courses. It is not to judge them. Biggs (2001) makes the point that under the type of reflective institution he outlines, the focus is on the teaching, not the teacher.
  • connecting peers with purpose and ownership;
    By embedding indications of alignment into the LMS the aim is to create connections between other teaching staff, academic leaders and also teaching support staff. The clear purpose is around considering alignment.
  • building employees’ and systems capacity; and
    This is the specific aim of the project. Building into the institution the capacity in both the employees and its systems to engage regularly in consideration of alignment.
  • transparency of practice and results.
    At the very least, the aim of this project is to enable teaching staff within the same program (i.e. group of courses/degree etc.) to see each others practice. To show what is aligned, where (or where not). It opens up the teaching practice to colleagues, hopefully in a way that is not judgmental.

Process

Based on some of the above and below, I’m leaning very much towards an action research process. The practice of L&T within a university is a complex-adaptive system. As we introduce change into the system, the system will change around us and unexpected event will happen. The type of change suggested involves a fairly widespread change in the practice of teaching academics, but also the institution. In addition, as far as I’m aware, no-one else has tried and reported on this type of change, hence it is novel. While driving towards a particular goal, we have to aim on learning as much as we can during the process.

In addition, Biggs (2001) offers the following

action research, a methodology designed precisely to generate and evaluate in-context innovations (Elliott 1991). As a result of engaging in action research, teachers change their conceptions of teaching, and teach more effectively (Kember 2000).

This type of approach also fits very closely with what is known about staff development.
i.e. the current recommendations are that staff development should be as contextualised as possible. My conception of how teaching staff would be helped to consider the alignment of their courses contains a very heavy assumption on contextualised staff development. In fact, the presence of alignment information and the transparency between courses is aimed at helping this support and development to be increasingly contextualised to the every day teaching practice of the teaching staff.

Teaching practice

One of the fundamental models/theories underpinning this project for me is the observations embodied in the following.

How academics design their teaching is not described by a rational planning model (Lattuca and Stark 2009). In part, this is because the dominant setting for academics is teaching an existing course, generally one the academic has taught previously. In such a setting, academics spend most of their time fine tuning a course or making minor modifications to material or content (Stark 2000). Academics are usually not often required to engage in the development of new courses or major overhauls of existing courses (Stark and Lowther 1988).

The practice of most academics does not separate planning from implementation, and rather than starting with explicit course objectives, starts with content (Lattuca and Stark 2009). In the absence of formally documented teaching goals, the actual teaching and learning that occurs is more in line with the teacher’s implicit internalised knowledge, than that described in published course descriptions (Levander and Mikkola 2009). Formal descriptions of the curriculum do not necessarily provide much understanding about how teachers put their curriculum ideas into action (Argyris and Schon 1974)

References

Argyris, C., & Schon, D. (1974). Theory in practice: Increasing professional effectiveness. Oxford, England: Jossey-Bass.

Biggs, J. (1999). Teaching for quality learning at university. Buckingham: Open University Press.

Biggs, J. (2001). The Reflective Institution: Assuring and Enhancing the Quality of Teaching and Learning. Higher Education, 41(3), 221-238.

Cohen, S. A. (1987). Instructional alignment: Searching for a magic bullet. Educational Researcher, 16(8), 16-20.

Fullan, M. (2008). The Six secrets of change. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Jameson, J. (2006). Leadership in post-compulsory education: Inspiring leaders of the future. London: David Fulton Publishers.

Kember, D. (2000). Action Learning and Action Research: Improving the Quality of Teaching and Learning. London: Kogan Page.

Lattuca, L., & Stark, J. (2009). Shaping the college curriculum: Academic plans in context. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons.

Levander, L., & Mikkola, M. (2009). Core curriculum analysis: A tool for educational design. The Journal of Agricultural Education and Extension, 15(3), 275-286.

Marshall, S. (2006). Issues in the development of leadership for learning and teaching in higher education (Occasional paper). Sydney: Carrick Institute of Learning and Teaching in Higher Education.

Stark, J. (2000). Planning introductory college courses: Content, context and form. Instructional Science, 28(5), 413-438.

Stark, J., & Lowther, M. (1988). Strengthening the Ties That Bind: Integrating Undergraduate Liberal and Professional Study. Ann Arbor, MI: Professional Preparation Project.

Southwell, D., & Morgan, W. (2009). Leadership and the impact of academic staff development and leadership development on student learning outcomes in higher education: A review of the literature. Sydney: Australian Learning and Teaching Council.

The realities of the ERA and L&T support services

In mid-October last year I blogged about my search for a research publication outlet. The conclusion was that in my context, the Australasian Journal of Education Technology (AJET) was probably the best fit. It is an open journal and the first round of the Australian government’s Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) initiative had ranked AJET as an A journal, second only to A*.

More recently that blog post got a reference in an AJET editorial (that the editors are referencing a blog post in an editorial is a good sign for AJET, especially if it is one of mine). The editors hope was

that his recommendation, written in 2009 when AJET was a Tier A journal, will not change as a result of AJET’s demotion to Tier B in the 2010 list

I’m sad to say, that it probably will!

Why?

There are two reasons why:

  1. the on-going uncertainty around L&T support services within Australian higher education; and
  2. the increasing force of having to comply with government indicators.

On-going uncertainty

Early in 2007 I moved from being a faculty-based academic in the information systems discipline to a role within a central L&T support division. Within about 6 months of taking on the role, the then Director of that L&T division was told her services were no longer needed. Apparently, they were after someone with a greater research focus, rather than on getting things done for the institution. The division limped on for around another 18 months while they failed in appointing such a person. During this time, rumour was rife that we would be restructured, though officially this was not confirmed. By the end of 2008 the restructure was complete, I was in position limbo for 6 months (theoretically better than having been made redundant, but I’m still trying to decide if that was the case) and the institution tried again (again unsuccessfully) to appoint a Professor to lead the unit.

So, as you might deduce, there has been little certainty for the folk in L&T support services. Oh, by the way, the institution has finally admitted that the last restructure was somewhat less than successful in its outcomes (of which they were informed many times back in 2008) and they recognise they need to address this problem. By another restructure. So, again, there isn’t a lot of certainty.

This is not something unique to my current institution. A regular topic of conversation at the last ASCILITE conference was around the restructuring of L&T services. It seemed that every second person from an L&T support area was going through, just been through or predicting they would go through a restructure. Just recently I heard that the Director of another L&T support area is being replaced with someone who has a more research focus. Deja vu all over again.

In the past, I have argued that this is, at least partly – if not mostly, to do with the absence of any broadly agreed indicators for the quality or impact of L&T support. Combine this with the fact (or at least strong likelihood) that every senior manager who has taught a course thinks he/she has a unique insight into how to support L&T at a university and the sheer complexity of such a task, and you have a recipe of on-going change, little or no success and little certainty for the folk within such centers.

Requirement to comply

The ERA itself is just one example of the Australian government specifying indicators of success. Now, don’t get me wrong, there is an argument to be made the universities should be accountable. However, as I’ve argued before such indicators are generally very poor and at best result in compliance and at worst task corruption.

For example, I’ve seen in the last few weeks the following:

  • A faculty dean’s report to academic board spend a lot of time explaining how many A* journal publications the faculty had produced.
  • New guidelines for course (my institution uses american terms, so a course is the smallest unit of education offered by the institution, a program is a collection of courses) coordinators that specify having a graduate certificate of higher education – or the intent to get one – a desirable criteria.
  • A job in a central L&T support area that listed having a graduate certificate in higher education as the first necessary criteria.

To me these are indications that the compliance has begun. Senior management at universities have decided, regardless of other reasoning, to adopt the government indicators as prime decision criteria. This is bad because a heavy focus on these types of indicators gives a false sense of security that we’re doing the right thing. It reinforces simplistic beliefs. e.g. that if teachers with a formal teaching qualification will be better teachers. A belief that ignores a whole bunch of literature around the impact of context – i.e. if the context of a university does not value L&T, it will not be good.

It will encourage a generation of senior leaders at universities that focus on these indicators rather than a broader and deeper understanding of what it takes to encourage and enable effective teaching and important research. This is because most of the current senior leadership roles at Australian universities are short-term appointments – 3 to 5 years. You can’t effectively and broadly improve the teaching and research at a university in 3 to 5 years, but you can sure as hell pragmatically hit some simplistic indicators.

The pragmatic defense

Worse still, this combination of factors encourages academics in L&T support areas to be seen to comply with the indicators. If you’re uncertain about the value senior leaders place on the contribution of L&T support areas, the best way to ensure a place at the table is to have lots of A* journal publications, important grants etc. You need to have a place at the table because you can’t effectively battle against the short-term focus on broken indicators when you’re on the outer. Even if you don’t get to the table, given the uncertainty and a likely need to retain some sort of salary, you need to have fulfilled these indicators so you can get a job at another institution.

What’s even sadder is that you probably can’t effectively battle against the short-term focus on broken indicators even when you’re sitting at the table. Sadder again is the observation is that your focus on these indicators may end up changing you.

My potential publication outlets

Sadly, at least in the short-term, AJET has slipped down the rankings. It probably won’t be my first target for publication in the next couple of years. I have to hit the A*/A journals. Hopefully, I can find one of those that is somewhat open – I believe ALT-J has some sort of set up that is somewhat open.

Inside out, Outside in or both?

During the last week I have been in Canberra for various events, including giving a presentation on BIM at University of Canberra. Somewhat surprisingly (as last I knew, he was in New Zealand), Leigh Blackall was in “audience” at the presentation, and as is Leigh’s wont, he asked some serious questions. I was troubled by those questions and needed time to reflect on what an answer might be.

This is an attempt to develop an answer to why I was troubled. In part, this attempts to pick up a comment I’d made earlier on Leigh’s blog about thesis, anti-thesis and synthesis

The question

The initial question Leigh asked which troubled me is repeated in his blog post on the presentation. It is

I asked the obvious question of why, or if BIM might consider developing outside the framework of Moodle say, as a Firefox based or other Feed Reader plug in, and offering a file that can be imported to Moodle (as well as a spreadsheet, a MediaWiki table, a Wikispaces Table, MySQL database, a text document and a PDF to email), and thereby offering the functionality of BIM to a wider user base than just Moodle.

The immediate answer I gave is reported faithfully in Leigh’s post

David explained that the project was constrained in many ways to the needs of the sponsoring Institution,

(as is the fact that we had broader discussions.

What troubled me (in part) about my response is that the constraints of the sponsoring institution is both more and less than it sounds. In part it is what is simply easiest, the institution pays my wage and it uses Moodle. But it is also, to me, what is the best way in terms of improving L&T.

It appears to be the difference between an “inside out” approach (which I’m taking and will argue has a chance of success) and an “outside in” approach (which is somewhat close to what Leigh suggests). At the very least, it makes for a good title.

Inside out

The main reason I didn’t start with Firefox or some other external way of developing BIM, is that I’m taking an inside out approach to improving learning and teaching. i.e. I’m starting with what is being used within the organisation and trying to change it for the better. The organisation is currently using Moodle, so if I want more people to be thinking about using Web 2.0 and reflective student journals in their L&T, I have to start with Moodle. Doing so lowers the barriers to entry and actually makes it somewhat likely that people will use it. It even fits (with some difficulty) within the constraints of how Moodle is being managed within the institution.

In commenting on Leigh’s post, Peter gets close to the approach

The central question though for an educational developer is how to promote innovation and change and it seems to me that it has to be based on an invitational ethos: teaching staff need be convinced of the benefits of technology adoption, they sometimes come to it slowly, they come to it in surprisingly unexpected ways at times and positive things happen.

I actually think more than this is needed and will pick up on it below. But first..

Outside in

To a limited extent, Leigh’s approach could be characterised as outside in. Start with the outside stuff, support those people and then perhaps change might eventually occur within the institution. However, in responding to Peter’s comment Leigh suggests a perspective that doesn’t really both with the “inside” (current universities)

To borrow your highway metaphor, a bypass is needed, one that goes around that old town, and offers a more direct route for the people in need of credentials with minimal debt. Remember, the experiences in the old town have become irrelevant. An old road can remain for those who like nostalgic tourist routes, but an alternative route is needed.

There are many within current institutions that react negatively to this perspective, however, I can see the need for it. Mainly because, as Leigh points out, there are significant barriers within universities that suggest that an inside out approach may not work.

I don’t believe a passive approach can be effective when considering our dense hierarchies, performance reviews, infrastructure, broken feedback systems, conservatism and the wrong sorts of incentives and rewards.

Limits in developing innovative pedagogy with Moodle

In fact, I’m hoping to use the development of BIM and the limitations of this approach as the basis for a couple of publications, including a presentation at MoodleMoot AU 2010. (still waiting to hear if the submission has been successful). The “theme” for this conference is “without limits….”. Rather than accepting that Moodle is “without limits”, I argue that

e-learning with Moodle, as currently practised, has a number of limits and that progress can be made through the recognition, understanding and removal of those limits.

So, what may you ask, is my problem with Leigh’s comments?

Both-and, not either-or

The questions around the quality of L&T within universities, the requirement from society for different approaches and the future of universities are complex. So complex, that it’s never going to be about a single answer, there is no such thing. For this, and other personal reasons, I prefer a both-and approach. It’s not about outside-in or inside-out, it’s about both.

Actually, I should paraphrase, in terms of improving L&T within universities, it’s a question of both-and. In terms of responding to societies changing needs around learning (or simply recognising a long-standing need that has been ignored), I’m not so sure there is a need for an “inside-out” perspective. However, as I’m paid by a university to improve the quality of L&T, I see the need for a both-and approach for the long-term benefit of the university (and hopefully society…there’s a big question in there).

What this means is that there is a huge need for folk like Leigh and many others (Leigh gives a list of some in this post) who are identifying and creating insights into what the “outside” should be. The value is not just for the “outside” it’s also for the universities and other institutions as it helps identify some options around where we need to be.

However, there is also a need – at least at the moment – for folk who are taking the “inside-out” approach. Thinking about how to effectively make the “inside” a better fit or enabler for what the outside should be like. That need may not exist in the future, but for the moment it does and because this is a complex area, I think we need both.

Inside-out is currently failing

As stated above and numerous times on this blog, I think the current approaches being used within universities are failing. Most L&T at universities is poor quality by traditional standards, let alone if measured by adoption of social media. For me, this is not a sign that it is impossible, it’s a sign that the principles of current approaches are just plain wrong. This is what my current work is looking at.

Why is it failing?

The following diagram represents what I think is a fundamental mismatch (The image is taken from this post by Donald Clark).

im

As I said above, this problem is a complex one. Based on the above diagram, the best type of solution arises from immersion in the problem. The problem is that most universities are attempting to solve this problem by analysis.

For along time I’ve been saying that learning and teaching is a wicked problem (Rittel & Webber, 1973). Clark’s blog post (source of the image) draws on another of Rittel’s publications to suggest that for a complex problem

This is because as Rittel (1972) discovered — the best experts within these types of environments are those affected by the solution — since they are the only ones to have experienced the complexity of the problem, they are the best experts for helping to improve that environment.

At the moment, universities are only paying lip service to involving the “experts” – the students and teachers. Most of it is being driven by “management” who don’t have in-depth experience of a specific context. Their decisions are driven more by other considerations than in-depth understandings of the current context. Importantly, this isn’t about asking the students and teachers what they want, for me, it’s about understanding what they are experiencing and where they are now as an important first step in helping them go somewhere else.

At the same time, the approach taken by the “outside in” folk – like Leigh – also has the same failure. It doesn’t seek to understand the existing context or practice of the students and staff. But that’s okay, that’s not what they are about, they are about figuring out and creating a better future. (I fully recognise that this is a gross simplification and generalisation. However, I do think it’s a distinction that has some value.)

What is both-and?

As an inside-out person, I believe any success comes from having deep knowledge of the current context (the experience of staff and students) and marrying that with “solution” knowledge from the experts and insights into how the environment can be changed in a way that encourages and enables the staff and students to improve their experience. This describes BIM:

  • knowledge of current context;
    The need for BIM arose out of my need to teach a 200+ student course that had a “reflective” journal assignment which had significant problems (a problem faced by other staff).
  • expert knowledge; and
    I knew about Web 2.0, the benefits of student-owned journals/blogs and the institutional need for and staff/teacher familiarity with the LMS.
  • environment change.
    Add a module to Moodle that enables staff to manage individual student blogs hosted on external services.

But it’s not enough

This is what really troubled me, and now I’m becoming repetitive in the same post. The above by itself is not enough. As a measly e-learning and innovation specialist I have no power to make the further changes in the environment that are necessary to make BIM truly attractive.

I guess the real reason why Leigh’s questions troubled me, is that I’m frustrated at my inability to make the change and the on-going blindness of institutional leadership.

How’s that for a positive end to a rambling post?

A response to Leigh

Couldn’t leave it there, let me return to the original question from Leigh. I believe that an inside-out approach is probably more likely to help improve L&T on a broad-scale within a university than an outside-in approach. I value the insights offered by outside-in folk, but I think I need to value the experiences of the students/staff within a university and build on that experience to help improvements happen. Perhaps, it’s simply a question of purpose. My purpose is to help improve L&T within universities, yours is more about helping those people who are already learning outside of universities.

That’s why I think building BIM on top of Moodle was a better fit for my purpose. A purpose, which I agree, is fairly narrow.

References

Rittel, H. W. J., & Webber, M. M. (1973). Dilemmas in a general theory of planning. Policy Sciences, 4(2), 155-169.

Clarification of the alignment project

Am at the University of Canberra for a second day today talking about the possibility of an ALTC grant application around alignment/curriculum mapping. The aim today is to try and clarify where the project would go and this post is an attempt to make concrete some of my thinking. The final ideas for the project may be radically different.

I’m going to use the “project clarification” section of the ALTC’s Steps in developing an evaluation plan for an ALTC grant project as the structure for this post. Mainly because of a belief that getting into the “ALTC mindset” will increase the likelihood of success.

This remains very much a work in progress. Comments and thoughts all welcome.

What is the focus of the project?

The fundamental issue the project is aiming to address is in increasing the visibility of curricula and instructional alignment in the practice of university teaching.

The observation is that consideration of alignment is not an important consideration in what most academics do around learning and teaching. Consideration of alignment is not something that students see regular reminders of in their learning. It is done and visible in places, but those times and places are not a regular, visible part of what they do.

Since it is not visible in regular practice, it is often not thought of. It doesn’t inform what they do. This is bad because there’s vast bodies of research that suggests alignment between outcomes/graduate attributes, assessment, learning activities and instructional resources is a good thing. There is evidence to suggest that many university courses do not have strong alignment. There is also evidence (McDonald, 2008) that when considerations of alignment become part of what academics regularly do as part of teaching, it encourages them to begin questioning existing practice.

The focus of the project is on how to make considerations and discussions about the level of alignment in university courses a regular and on-going part of what academics do as part of their normal teaching practices.

The aim is to make changes within the teaching context that enable and encourage these considerations and discussion of alignment to take part regularly.

What is the scope of the project?

While the project will (hopefully) be funded by the ALTC over two years, the intent is that the aim of the project is an attempt to embed these practices within the institutions. i.e. to be successful, it should be an on-going project.

Initially, the ALTC funded project will be limited to University of Canberra and CQUniversity. Participants are likely to fall into these categories:

  • Round 1 teaching staff;
    A smallish group of academic staff who will be involved in the first cycle of making alignment a regular part of their practice. The nature of this group will depend on each institution.
  • Round 2 teaching staff;
    Includes the round 1 teaching staff plus additional staff that will work with modified practices from round 1. The intent is that round 1 teaching staff will be using these practice for the second time, perhaps with the same course. The round 2 only staff will likely be chosen on the basis of having some differences (on a broad array of possible variables) with the round 1 staff.
  • learning and teaching support staff;
    These are staff tasked with helping academics improve their L&T. This might include instructional designers, staff developers etc. These staff will be working with the teaching staff during both stages to help develop appropriate approaches to integrate alignment considerations into everyday practice.
  • project leaders; and
    The staff named on the ALTC grant application will be involved in various tasks in ensuring the project is moving along and may also fulfill some of the previous roles.
  • reference group.
    A body of experts that will offer oversight and provide feedback on the projects aims, outcomes etc.

Over the 2 years of ALTC funding the project would probably aim to, at least at one of the institutions, integrated alignment into the practice of at least one program in order to test the impact at the program level. Perhaps a target of 30 or courses at each institution?

The particular approach being taken with this project is to use Moodle as the tool that enables and encourages an increased consideration of alignment.

What are the intended outcomes?

  • Indications of the impact of significant consideration of alignment on the thinking/practice of teaching staff and on the student experience.
  • Guidelines, identified challenges and suggested processes (with accompanying documentation and resources) for increasing the consideration of alignment into everyday practice.
  • Guidelines, tools and processes describing how the practice of quality assurance can change once alignment considerations are embedded into every day practice.
  • A collection of Moodle enhancements.
    These are important only in terms of the affordances they enable which can then be harnessed to improve considerations of alignment. The enhancements are likely to fall into two categories:
    1. Addition of “mapping” into Moodle.
      The ability for Moodle to enable mapping of all activities and resources against specified outcomes, attributes etc.
    2. Moodle features that use the mapping information.
      This is the really interesting part. What applications make embedding alignment into every day practice useful and interesting for the broadest array of stakeholders.

In the elevator pitch for this project I identified some of the following as propositions:

  • Curriculum maps that are generated, and continue to evolve, in the same time and space as everyday teaching and learning will have stronger validity in terms of capturing reality and consequently be of more value.
  • A learning environment that makes visible to all stakeholders the alignment (or not) of a course and then provides scaffolding necessary to improve that alignment will help improve teaching.
  • Well designed extensions to an LMS that encourage and enable improvement of course alignment will increase the quantity and quality of usage of the institutional LMS and subsequent student outcomes.
  • Building curriculum mapping around Moodle’s student “tracking” functionality will enable and encourage greater use of the student tracking functionality.
  • Properly implemented, this approach can make it easier for curriculum designers to embed assistance into the context within which teaching is taking place. If this works well, relationships will develop.

Each of these could be thought of as potential outcomes. Yes, they should be developed some more.

What are the operational processes developed to achieve the outcomes?

The process to be used in this project should lean heavily towards being adopter-focused (Surry & Farquhar, 1997). The following description is taken from Jones and Lynch (1999)

In contrast to the developer-based approach, the adopter-based approach focuses on the human, social, and interpersonal aspects of innovation diffusion (Surry & Farquhar, 1997). Developers are interested in the individual who will ultimately implement the innovation in a practical setting as the primary force for change. The adopter-based theories reject the assumption that superior products will automatically be attractive to potential adopters. They ’seek to understand the social context in which the innovation will be used and the social function the innovation will serve’ (Surry & Farquhar, 1997).

Stages in the process for this project might include:

  1. Adding mapping to Moodle.
    The focus here is on obtaining a version of Moodle that allows the mapping of every activity, resource and assignment within Moodle to a set of outcomes. i.e. the aim is to get the data stored. This is almost a purely technical process that requires little involvement from academics.
  2. Planning and first roundtable. ????
    The project groups at each of the two institutions formulate the plans/approaches they plan to use for the first round. This identifies: the participants, programs/courses, current state of mapping, approaches to be used to complete the mapping…..Have a roundtable where the reference group are shown these plans and offer advice and suggestions.
  3. Round 1
  4. Reflection/roundtable.
  5. Round 2
  6. What is the conceptual and theoretical framework underpinning the project?

    • Alignment.
    • Adopter-focused development … more buzz words.
    • Teacher conception and behaviour is a key component of quality of L&T.

    What is the context of the project?

    • 2 institutions that have adopted Moodle as enterprise LMS.
    • Higher ed sector where alignment is important in terms of graduate attributes etc. and also more broadly quality assurance and quality enhancement are increasingly more important.
    • Institutional change.

    What key values drive the project?

    • Adopter-focused.
    • Open source/open.

    References

    Surry, D., & Farquhar, J. (1997). Diffusion Theory and Instructional Technology. e-Journal of Instructional Science and Technology, 2(1), 269-278.

Framing a body of research and innovation

Markus has finally posted the set of questions for framing a research proposal idea that he showed me weeks ago. This post is an attempt to use those questions to frame what I’m doing in my current position.

A simple test for BIM purposes, ignore

Write a research question

How can you improve the quality of learning and teaching within a university?

What is the important theoretical or conceptual setting?

Too much work in this area has not focused on the academic staff and factors or approaches that would encourage and enable them to change their teaching behaviour. The behaviour of the teacher is a key component of the quality of learning and teaching. Teaching and learning is getting more difficult.

Write 2-3 key points about why it is important (Significance? Innovation?)

  • Governments and other external stakeholders are increasingly demanding proof that university learning and teaching is good and getting better.
  • Most university learning and teaching is of less than good quality.
  • Most, if not all, interventions to improve L&T are not succeeding in widespread, long-term behaviour change (i.e. improving quality).

Write 1-2 brief objective points (formulate full aims later)

  • Evaluation of existing interventions, informed by behaviour change research, will reveal significant short-comings.
  • Interventions, informed by behaviour change research, will result in significantly greater levels of improvement of L&T.

Write a couple of points about the approach you might take

This is not necessarily just about a single research project and it is unlikely to have, at least initially, significant institutional support or recognition. A collaborative approach involving many different projects and people will be done. However, it seems likely that an on-going process of:

  1. Learning more about how behaviour change research may inform this project.
  2. Combining these insights with other knowledge to design interventions.
  3. Use the insights to evaluate both existing and new interventions. Also to further understanding of the current context.
  4. Publish.

Will I have all the expertise/resources? Should I be talking to collaborators? Might the proposal be strengthened by having a team?

A team is absolutely necessary. Knowledge of behaviour change research is essential. As is good knowledge of the local context and educational and technical skills to implement the interventions.

Do I or will I need some ‘proof of concept’, preliminary data or demonstration of competency to undertake the project?

Yes, the on-going process above will have to start small and learn from there.

Will the team/partners be competitive in this field?

At the moment, yes. There doesn’t appear to be too many people taking this approach.

What would the outcome(s) be and who benefits?

Hopefully, there will be improvements in L&T in the local context and research publications and grants around that work.

What is the ‘WOW’, ‘HOOK’, or ‘EXCITEMENT’ factor?

It appears that this is a new way of approaching an intractable problem.

Further thinking – behaviour change and improving L&T

This post is an attempt to synthesize and reflect more upon two posts from yesterday. One from me trying to explain an early form of a framework for improving L&T based on findings from psychology behavior change research. The second from Markus that expands on the potential psychological foundations for this thinking by mentioning:

  • The recommendations section of a UK National Health Service (NHS) document outlining some generic principles for initiatives to support attitude and behaviour change.
  • The concept of salutogensis, at least as a cliff hanger for a subsequent post.

The following is my attempt to summarise and make some initial connections between this work and ideas around improving learning and teaching.

What behaviour change programs need to do

The NHS document is said to highlight the need for “interventions and programmes aimed at changing behaviour” to:

  • Be based on a sound knowledge of community needs and should build upon the existing skills and resources within a community.
    To me, for improving and learning and teaching this speaks of a need for empathy-driven innovation and for a focus on what the teacher does.
  • Equip practitioners with the necessary competencies and skills to support behaviour change, using evidence-based tools.
    My understanding is that “practitioners” refer to the people helping the change, not the actual teachers. Interesting.
  • Evaluate all interventions.
    Something not really being done around L&T within universities.

These are derived somewhat from the principles for interventions presented. It is again the importance placed on understanding the community as the foundation for change that resonates for me. You have to start with knowledge of the community and their strengths, perceptions etc.

Salutogensis

The following is based on a quick reading of this paper.

Focus on origins of health, rather than causes of disease

Interesting thought, salutogensis arose from an attempt to understand why women who survived concentration camps in the Second World War, had the capability for good health.

Is there a connection hear with L&T?

I would perhaps characterise the current focus in Australian universities on changes driven by the need to respond to government as attempts to prevent disease, rather than encourage health. …tentative and tenuous.

The human is at the heart

Discussions this morning lead to some reflection on metaphor – an area in which my wife has done work. The idea is that the metaphors we use to describe complex concepts reveal how we think about those concepts, it informs our decisions.

Increasingly, some colleagues and I are seeing evidence of senior management holding a machine metaphor when it comes to learning and teaching. The academic staff involved in learning and teaching are seen as machines, as inter-changeable machines. You can take that machine from there, and place it over there and it will do the same job. It doesn’t matter which machine, they all do the same thing.

It is this metaphor which enables the adoption of techo-rational approaches to improving learning and teaching such as the idea that every academic should have a graduate certificate. The metaphor here is that if you add a new widget to the machine it will perform the task with greater efficiency or with greater effectiveness.

The trouble is that people aren’t machines. They don’t passively accept the addition of a widget. There’s no direct causal link between addition of a widget and changes in behaviour.

Lundstrom and Eriksson (2006) see health promotion as

three phases, the first one that recognizes the background (the determinants), the second one that sets an objective (to lead an active productive life), and the third one is the activity (the enabling process) where the determinants are used to reach the objective in a dialectic relationship between people, the setting and the enablers.

As a “dialectic relationship” it is an on-going dialog, the person doesn’t take it unquestioningly. They go on to say

At the heart there is the human being seen as an active participating subject, respected in her full human rights.

Something that is increasingly missing in L&T within universities.

The salutogenesis framework

A framework might be possible by drawing on the salutogenic focus on three aspects

  1. Focus on problem solving/finding solutions.
  2. Identifying GRRs that help people move in the right direction.
    GRR = General Resistance Resources – biological, material and pyschosocial factors that help people see their lives as consistent, structured and understandable. A person with these resources has a better chance of dealing with challenges.
  3. Identify the SOC – the pervasive sense that enables this move.
    The SOC is the ability to use the GRRs. The GRRs create life experiences that promote a strong SOC. (This is somewhat confusing but the message I’m getting from the paper.) The SOC is the capabaility to perceived you can manage in any situation. It is flexible and not focused on a specific set of strategies.

Will have to wait for Markus’ explanation to make this understandable to me.

There are, however, some positive resonances with this ideas and my current thoughts, will have to see how that plays out.