Last Friday (25th June, 2010) I attended the Victorian Directors of Information Technology (VDIT) (e)Learning Environments Forum which turned out to be a bit like a curate’s egg, good in places.
Before I talk about the day, just a bit of background. VDIT is the representative group for the Directors of Information Technology of the universities that operate in the state of Victoria. Earlier this year at one of their meetings it was observed that many of them were simultaneously reviewing their e-learning environments and they suggested that a forum be arranged at which the universities could discuss the issues and share some insights about the changes that were and are happening. The intention was to make this a day for both those involved in IT and those involved in teaching and learning to come together to discuss the current issues facing universities.
RMIT University offered to host the forum and I joined the small organising committee to bring it together. You can see the program of presentations and the structure of the day on the web site.
Now we did record the whole event and we will be placing the majority of the content online in due course along with the presentation slide decks (some content will not be published because it is commercial in confidence). As such I don’t intend to talk in detail about each presentation in detail. I will say, however, pick out some some highlights and lowlights.
All of the presentations were of a high standard and presented interesting and relevant information. I was particularly impressed by the presentation from Professor Marnie Hughes-Warrington (Pro Vice Chancellor Learning and Teaching at Monash University) on their move to Moodle, Mahara, Google Apps and Metl (an in-house developed lecture annotation tool). She spoke enthusiastically about the vision for Monash. I was also impressed by the rigour of the LMS evaluations presented by a number of universities. A level of rigour that many organisations (including my own university) should learn from.
Finally, I enjoyed the Gartner presentation that started the day which I think presented a lot of new and interesting thoughts about the educational technology environment over the next few years.
From an organisational point of view I think the day went quite well (I think I can say that even though I was on the organising committee). In hindsight though there were too many presentations and not not enough time for discussion. And that brings me on to what disappointed me about the day.
When setting up the conference I had, somewhat optimistically, hoped that this might be an opportunity for a relatively small group of senior IT managers, educationalists and senior academic managers to discuss some of the challenges facing the mainstreaming of e-learning and the adoption of educational technologies in teaching and learning practice. Instead we got a fairly predictable ‘show and tell’ with not a huge amount of critical analysis or self reflection. Some of the evaluation work described was great and some presenters were candid about some issues but focus was on the IT system not the academic and student user (or rather non-user). This, I guess, was partly due to having too many presentations in the day and not enough discussion but I also think there is a determination not let others know that there may actually be a problem.
I’m beginning to think that in many cases this is self delusional, particularly amongst those charged with driving educational technology and e-learning adoption.
I managed to make at one stage to make the point that after more than 10 years of using learning management systems in universities the adoption rate still appears to be low. Now this is subjective of course and there are issues around determining what makes an actively used course site in an LMS. Also there is very little publically available data that can be used for benchmarking. Having said that, even when figures are publically stated they seem to be overstated. To be honest I’m not sure what to make of this reluctance to acknowledge what seems to me to be patently obvious. Maybe senior academic and IT managers don’t know there is a problem, maybe they don’t care. What I do know is that until they do know and they do care nothing much will happen because until then, as one presenter put it, edtech/elearning strategy will continue to be developed from the middle of the organisational hierarchy and the sort of cultural and organisational changes necessary for mainstream adoption will not happen. These are people issues not IT issues.