eRambler
Jez Cope's blog on becoming a research technologist

#altc2012 Part 3: Pilots and changes

Finally, the moment you’ve all been waiting for: day 3 of ALT-C 2012!

First up, Professor Mark Stubbs (Head of Learning and Research Technologies at Manchester Metropolitan University) gave an interesting talk on the MMU curriculum redesign. This isn’t my primary interest, but there were some useful nuggets in there about change management. The key lessons they learned from a complete redesign of the undergraduate curriculum in a very short time were:

  1. Engage people; and
  2. Keep it simple.

I particularly liked how they revamped the forms for approving new modules to keep them short, focused and aligned with the desired outcomes of the project (rather than gathering huge amounts of spurious info and getting loads of irrelevant people to sign off). This approach has important lessons for us at Bath as we introduce Data Management Planning to our researchers.

Next up was JISC Head of Innovation Sarah Porter, talking about the ongoing reshaping of JISC in the wake of the HEFCE review.

My second session of the day was James Clay’s “Pilot mentality” symposium. This was based on James’s observation that although “pilot” usually implies something that will be tried out then reported on and scaled up, there seem to be a lot of so-called “pilots” which end up being one-offs. More worryingly, we see the same “pilots” being run across the sector.

I actually ended up writing a whole lot about this session here originally, without feeling like I’d done the topic justice, so I’ve scooped all of that out into its own post, to appear in the near future.

So, onto the final session of the conference, entitled “TEL1 Research: Who needs it?” from the London Knowledge Lab’s Richard Noss. My reaction to this was mixed, I have to say, but overall there some good points.

80 years after the invention of the printing press, it was still only being used to print the bible, and we’ve been using computers in education for fewer than 50 years, so I agree that we probably don’t have a clue what ed. tech. will eventually end up looking like. We’re very good at using new technology to reproduce existing practices and processes, but it takes a while to realise its true potential.

He also wheeled out the old argument that you have to understand how a technology works to use it effectively. Agreed, his examples of senior managers in investment banks failing to understand basic statistics is compelling, but I don’t think it’s fully generalisable. After all, people have been making pretty good bread and cheese for centuries without understanding microbiology.

Understanding a technology means we can be more effective (and more subtle) about its use, but I don’t think complete understanding is a requirement for some level of effectiveness: part of being human is being very good at getting by.

I did like his comments about studying extremes of human behaviour to learn about the norm: I find in my work, sometimes, that I’m drawn to techies and luddites!

Anyway, it was quite a thought provoking conference again, the more so because I’m more focused on research technology at the moment and attending helped me cross-fertilise a bit. I’m not sure if I’ll be going again next year: Digital Research is looking very interesting and tends to clash, so we’ll see.

  1. For those not involved in this area, TEL is the acronym for technology-enhanced learning.