E is for Excellent

I just attended the School of Engineering’s Learning and Teaching committee to report on the last two meetings of the e-Learning Committee and the outcomes of the HEFCW Benchmarking exercise. At the end of my report, I was asked the following question (only partly in jest I think):

“What is e-Learning?”

It’s a surprisingly difficult question and one that even those of us that are dabbling in it find quite difficult to answer. It’s certainly more than using Blackboard to give students access to course materials and manage a module. It’s surely more that just computer-based assessment and plagiarism detection.

I sensed from the discussion following my report that it’s tied up in my colleagues’ minds with distance learning. But it can’t exclusively be that either, because it’s supposed to enhance the learning experience of our resident students as well as those that are far away.

The confusion is understandable: even those that attended the benchmarking “scoring” exercise had some difficulties with the terms that where being used in the evaluation. What exactly is usability, accessibility, student experience, pedagogy, QA and QE? And how exactly do you cost, evaluate and reward e-learning approaches?

Perhaps the problem is that the e in e-learning is usually taken to stand for electronic. The projects being funded as a reward for partaking in the benchmarking exercise are largely electronic, but are called e for enhancement (there’s a RSC/JISC meeting on this theme next week in Cardiff) and that’s preferable. But I like the title of the upcoming “Excellence in Learning and Teaching Conference” to be held here in Swansea. I like e for excellent –an “Excellent-Learning Strategy” is one that Schools and departments would be really eager to get behind!

Now we just have to hope that a few of our colleagues agree to present at the conference, and more importantly that significant numbers of them actually turn up!

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