Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Taking the ‘e’ out of eLearning and eResearch?

Imagine a day without technology in my work day? No thanks and no more shall be said about it! This would certainly reduce my teaching quality and decrease my research outputs. The trick however, is to apply technology via a common platform suitable to eLearning and eResearch. My thinking on this is that research led academics mostly prefer to conduct research than teach. Since teaching and research are deeply entwined, if an approach to eLearning is proposed that increases the workload of academics it would reduce research output. As an academic institution we train our students and those we consult to that technology is the enabler that incrementally improves human productivity in a number of ways. Evidence suggests that those businesses on the leading edge of technology boundaries do better than competitors. They become better at managing their work flows and have improved customer interactions. For academics in research led institutions the situation for technology based productivity increases must surely be similar? It should be that we only deploy technologies that raise productivity in both teaching and research practice and that these elements should be optimised simultaneously. Typically however, we find across many research led institutions that two distinct elearning/eresearch 'silos' appear where one does not influence the other. When this occurs rarely do they meet to seek commonalities in collaborative approaches or work out productivity trade off's between silo activities.
A key ability of elearning platforms in research institutions should be to raise communication efficiency between students and lecturers, moving away from door knocking and inefficient emails that take academics off their research stride. Contemporary students are the Web 2.0 generation and prefer seeking information via course wikis and forums. To quote a student in eBusiness that had used Sakai CLE for the first time, “It's a little bit addictive and it's practical” which is partly due to the social aspect of Sakai but also because if I provide an answer to a common student problem via this route everyone learns from it. In this sense, it manages my knowledge and time better. Qualitative discussions with students suggest preference for this approach over traditional course delivery methods and it's definitely helping them engage more fluidly with me. So, the story so far is that it has reduced my teaching load and improved the student experience. Reducing my teaching load in this way indirectly increases my research output, but crucially Sakai CLE directly increases my research output. I organise projects and collect research data (e.g. via forums and surveys) via Sakai and it also brings geographically distant co-researchers together into a common collaborative platform from any internet ready computer. In this sense there is a double research increasing 'whammy' to applying Sakai in the way I do as it reduces my teaching load and it increases my research productivity. So, I don’t want to imagine a day without Sakai; why change a winning formula?

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