This morning I was unfortunate enough to attend a vendor presentation for a series of online academic staff development modules. Basically a series of SCORM packages (so HTML pages, images and Flash content with a little xml thrown in). I won’t mention the vendor’s name for fairly obvious reasons.

The pitch was as follows; here is some prepared content that we got a bunch of professors from overseas to put their name to, that is ‘ideal’ for academic staff development and can be contextualised (read re-written) by you. Oh you have a license for three years so even if you do rewrite all of the content then you still can’t use it after the license expires. Oh and quite a lot of the content is Flash based so it’ll be no good for all of you iPad packing academics wanting to do something on the go. Oh and you just pay us x thousand dollars for the privilege.

Having recently re-discovered the BBC’s Dragon’s Den program in which hopeful entrepreneurs pitch to multi millionaires I could only imagine what Douglas Ballantyne and the other Dragon’s would make of this proposal.

Now all of this could have been forgiven if the content reflected contemporary practice (dare I say forward looking) but it doesn’t. It is entirely based on traditional face to face delivery. Two of the modules deal with the practice of lecturing, others deal with facilitating discussion and feedback. Good topics but wholly focussed on face to face situations.

Now the conservative amongst you will say there is nothing wrong with that and I would go along with the idea that having academics that are more skilled in delivering face to face learning is better than having academics that are less skilled in the same. My point really is that we should be focussing academic staff development of whatever type it is on contemporary and anticipated future practice.

The irony of using online learning modules to develop face to face teaching skills is just too delicious. I almost wonder if the whole enterprise is just some sort of cruel joke being played on unsuspecting universities.