Editorial – From my perspective

(A guest editorial from Shân Wareing, writing as a Head of an Educational Development Unit.)

This is my first post in a pre-1992 university, and I was initially wary that teaching might be lower on the agenda here because research was higher. After 18 months, I’ve come to the conclusion that staff attitudes here are similar to those in other institutions, ranging in a normal distribution pattern from those who are insatiably enthusiastic about developing their teaching to those who avoid educational development at all costs.

At the end of 2001, the Research Assessment Exercise loomed large. Royal Holloway, having c.5500 undergraduates and c.1000 postgraduates, is a member of the ‘94 Group’, comprising the smaller research intensive higher education institutions. Royal Holloway saw an improvement on its position in the UK research league tables, so some large grins were observed on even the usually glummest professorial faces, and a few days were happily spent playing with the results to show our performance compared to other colleges our size, other universities with an ‘H’ in their name, other universities with the same proportion of old paintings to staff aged 34-50, and so on. But if the RAE has been high on the College’s agenda, what’s high on the Educational Development Centre’s ‘to do’ list for 2002, and what do the five and a half people in Royal Holloway’s EDC talk about over our coffee?

The future of external quality assurance and QAA occupies our discussion regularly. We operate some of the internal quality assurance systems, and the external systems were the ‘big stick’ behind many of our internal activities, so we watch with bated breath in case the role of ‘bad cop’ shifts from QAA onto us.

The EDC is involved in developing the proliferating institutional strategies. We’re represented on the Human Resources Strategy Steering Group, which will be submitting a full strategy to the funding council by June 2002, on Teaching Committee, which overseas the implementation of the Teaching Strategy, and on the Steering Groups for Learning and Technology and for Widening Participation. One of the questions for this year is: ‘Can we get our institutional strategies all joining up?’ What will happen when the human resources strategy meets the learning and teaching strategy, meets the widening participation strategy, meets the information strategy? Will they link into a seamless whole, echoing the College Mission, and be replicated in a myriad of departmental strategies? That’s the plan, but the best-laid plans… We are increasingly integrated with the College’s systems, including the probation process and the initial evaluation of proposed new programmes. This gives us the opportunity to think holistically about our activities, although the fallout is there is more to do than there is time to do it in, of course.

Progress files also loom large. Of the whole Dearing agenda, this is possibly the biggest change with the farthest reaching implications. The progress files discussions have made me realise the extent to which some parts of higher education have changed radically in the last 5-10 years, and other parts have remained untouched by the frantic activity elsewhere. This is the one that, if it comes off, will have to be implemented by individual lecturers thinking about how individual students learn. It won’t be just a better paper trail kept by a conscientious administrator in a departmental office. For this reason, I’m concerned to watch and see what happens at the institutions further ahead than ours – although also aware that given the size of the undertaking, we can’t afford to be too far behind. The approach we’re taking is to ensure the personal advisor system, which already exists in every department, is genuinely working effectively. The second element, happening at the same time, will be to review the skills components of the curriculum, and ensure these are comprehensive, show progression year by year, and are observed in practice. How students keep records will be a matter to deal with later, when we’ve watched what happens with paper-based vs. electronic recording systems, when MLEs have a couple more years to evolve, and after a planned SEDA event on Progress Files in May this year.

The EDC includes learning and technology in its remit, and this is perhaps the area which most occupies our coffee breaks. We are watching to see what the e-university gets up to in the next few months. Internally, we are approaching learning & technology from two angles at once. We have technical questions about which products can deliver what we want, are stable and reliable, and can be linked to other products (will the email system talk to the virtual learning environment, will the latter share data with student records? Should programme specifications be held in a data base that links to student transcripts? Can we find ways to minimise the number of logins and passwords students and staff need to use to pick up their emails, access their courses and their library records?) Alongside these issues we have another set: will students and staff on campus use communication tools effectively? Can learning technology address integral pedagogic issues within a wide range of courses so effectively that even if the software package available changed, students and staff would still want the same functions to be available to them? Can the EDC and Information Services staff work with academic colleagues to ensure there are models of good practice of learning technology being used for on-campus teaching in all departments? I suspect like many establishments, the interest, skills and take-up of learning technology across the College is quite uneven. In this area, the variables which are out of our control make this the most exciting, the most high risk, the place where the biggest prizes are on offer and the deepest pits menace. Like other places, I suspect, sometimes we feel behind the curve, and sometimes maybe we aren’t doing too badly, given the scale of changes involved.

As a new Centre (we were established with Teaching Quality Enhancement funding in 2000), we are still setting up functions which colleagues elsewhere will have had for years. We’re currently in the anomalous position of having more provision for our graduate students who teach than for our newly appointed lecturers. An accredited teaching & learning programme for lecturers is planned for September 2002 and we think we have the College’s support in making it a compulsory part of probation for new staff! Whether new staff will have time allowed in their teaching/research requirements to participate in the programme, and whether successful completion will be required to pass probation, are questions still to be resolved.

Other priorities for those coffee chats include our external networking activities, talking to our educational development colleagues in other institutions in the region, talking to the subject centres, especially the English Subject Centre, which is based at Royal Holloway, and talking to the national bodies, including SEDA. We’re hoping the 100th Royal Holloway ILT member will pay their membership fee soon, 99 had been accepted by ILT at the last count, which for a small, research-intensive College seems not too bad.

Shân Wareing is the Head of the Educational Development Centre at Royal Holloway, University of London and a SEDA Fellowship holder. She has previously worked at University of Wales College, Newport, University of Surrey, Roehampton, and Kingston University.


This issue contains articles on:

Principles to Support the Enhancement of Teaching and Student Learning: implications for educational developers (Word doc) 
Norman Jackson, Senior Professional Advisor, LTSN Generic Centre and University of Surrey

A Review of the Institutional Impact of Recently Appointed Teaching Fellows 
Amanda Jefferies and Indra Jones, Department of Computer Science, University of Hertfordshire

A Developer’s Guide Part Five: JISC / DNER Development Programmes 
Caroline Ingram, Learning and Teaching Programme Manager, JISC / DNER

Assessing Portfolios – reflections and digressions 
Professor Phil Race, Staff Development Officer, University of Leeds

Online Review: The Resource Discovery Network 
Dr Stephen Bostock FSEDA, Academic Staff Developer, Department of Academic Affairs, Keele University

Update from Universities UK – time for a strategic approach to enhancement 
William Locke, Policies Adviser, Universities UK

Widening Participation – the application of quality, evaluation and research 
David Thompson, School of Education, The University of Birmingham

A Developmental Framework for Evaluating Institutional Change 
Frances Deepwell and Glynis Cousin, Centre for Higher Education Development, Coventry University

Dialogues – independence 
David Baume FSEDA, Higher Education Consultant