Online Staff Development
Many of you will be aware of TALiSMAN's online activities. In fact we have delivered almost 700 training places through our Online Study Centre and the Online Course 'Using the WWW in Teaching and Learning'. These two activities represent alternative strategies for the delivery of staff development online. Recently I have been considering our approaches, examining their relative merits and attempting to identify critical issues and considerations for the successful delivery of staff development online. These ideas and conclusions have been collected together in two reports written for the project 'The Role of Virtual Learning Environments in the Delivery of Staff Development Online' funded by JTAP (the JISC Technology Applications Programme). The project has a web site at http://www.icbl.hw.ac.uk/jtap-573/ where both reports are available. What follows is a brief summary of the reports content.

Within Higher Education, there is a move towards greater formalisation of staff skills as recommended by the Dearing report. This formalisation will include standardisation of qualifications and widespread re-use (through sharing) of learning and training materials. It is anticipated that the Internet will be used extensively for delivery and administration of these courses. Such an approach combining the use of new technologies and network delivery is ideally suited to permit flexible provision and also establish distributed learner communities to support the learning process. In the context of staff development, such a combination provides:

  • Flexibility: allowing material to be delivered on demand, enabling learning independent of time or location constraints,
  • Economy of Scale: allowing delivery of learning programmes which might not have been possible within smaller institutions, especially those specialising in a single field such as art colleges,
  • Extensibility: allowing the development of banks of modular materials for curricula, which can be tailored to specific staff needs over a specific period of time,
  • Collaborative opportunity: extending the scope for collaboration (and sharing) with other staff in similar positions at different institutions, enhancing the learning experience,
  • Standardisation: enabling the adoption of recognised qualifications across the sector.

Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) offer an integrated solution to managing online learning, providing a delivery mechanism, student tracking, assessment and access to resources. Although some VLEs can be restrictive, if used effectively, they can provide a familiar, but functional environment for the user. As a unified environment, a VLE is simple and efficient to administer and therefore attractive to the provider.

Choice of Virtual Learning Environment is critical. Some learning environments are perfect for delivering learning material, but do little to encourage communication and collaborative working which is vital to professional development where the emphasis is on learning by reflection on practice (both one's own and one's peers) rather than learning facts from an electronic textbook.

Colin Milligan - ICBL, Heriot-Watt University
http://www.icbl.hw.ac.uk/jtap-573/ - colin@icbl.hw.ac.uk