Funders want to see the change

16th June 2006 at 01:00
The Scottish Funding Council expects to see a "step change" for the pound;6 million it is investing in colleges and universities to stimulate reforms in teaching and learning, Neil Munro writes. The reforms must also be sustainable after the initial cash runs out.

These were the key messages spelt out by Bill Harvey, the council's deputy director for learning and teaching, at a recent conference on "transformational change" which heard from a leading expert in the United States that such change was essential to improve the quality of learning as well as access to it.

Dr Harvey made it clear that e-learning, a term he wished to eradicate, was only one aspect of the changes the funding council envisaged. Its general approach was simply to see ICT used to promote effective learning in the mainstream curriculum and not treated as something that is "just for the techies".

The funding council's cash is being allocated over three years to six large-scale projects in a collaboration between further and higher education institutions. All focus on sustainable solutions. "If the initiative stops as soon as the funding finishes, we will have been wasting our time," Dr Harvey commented.

If colleges and universities wanted to promote strategic change, Dr Harvey said, it had to be a "transformational not incremental" process.

This would require "a step change in functionality", which might include targets for better student retention rates, or improved learning and teaching, or reduced teaching costs.

"Whatever it is, there has got to be a deal," he said.

Dr Harvey said that leaders of FE and HE would have to show commitment to change, "not just a few enthusiasts at the bottom". Staff would require the right skills and attitudes.

While the development of e-learning was part of the exercise, Dr Harvey said, "so long as the 'e' remains, we're not there yet. It should be as natural as any other form of teaching and learning and we should no more be thinking of putting an 'e' in front of it than we would do if it was electricity."

The conference heard from Carol Twigg, president and chief executive officer of the National Center for Academic Transformation in New York, that traditional attitudes often got in the way of transformation, especially when it comes to the use of ICT. "Academics fundamentally believe that face-to-face teaching is better," Dr Twigg said. They were also sceptical because of the way changes had been handled in the past.

But a programme in which the centre had been involved, involving 50,000 students in 30 projects, showed that improvements could go hand-in-hand with annual savings of $3 million. Among the reasons were the fundamental redesigning of courses and the emphasis on active learning, as well as the fact that many tasks were taken over by technology.

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