Cluster Group Meeting

January 2nd, 2008

Grainne Conole, our Cluster Critical Friend has written an admirable report on the day’s activities here:

Student ICT Survey

December 6th, 2007

A summary report of a survey on student use of Information & Communications Technologies has been submitted to the Project Steering Committee.  The survey was conducted as part of the Pathfinder Learning Landscape Project in Easter Term, 2007.  1923 students responded, from across a wide range of disciplines and all colleges (roughly 11% of the current student population).

Respondents were asked about the frequency, confidence and usefulness of 12 techniques and technologies. Email is clearly the “killer application”, with 99.4% of respondents using it at least once a day, compared with 95.2% using face-to-face communication.  Bibliographic tools (6.4%) and electronic journals (21.8%) were the least frequently used, and were also the technologies that students were least confident about using.  Despite this, at least 60% of students thought electronic journals were useful for several tasks, including writing essays, searching for publications, reading articles, researching a difficult idea, or working on a dissertation.

92.7% of students found email useful for raising an issue with their supervisor, compared with 85.8% who found face-to-face communication useful for this task.  85.8% of students found non-academic sites such as Google and Wikipedia useful in researching a difficult idea.

Matthew Riddle, Research Associate, Learning Landscape Project

Preparing for Cluster Activity

November 14th, 2007

We are only a few weeks away from the Cluster ‘C’ meeting at Cambridge, to which our cluster partners at Reading, LSBU and Brunel, and our critical friend will be coming.

On 5th December we will be having a day meeting with two foci. The first is a more broadly-scoped discussion about the nature, structure and role of evidence bases for projects such as ours, in which we hope to address questions such as:

  • what counts as ‘evidence’ in evidence-informed practice?
  • case data, case records and case studies – at what ‘level’ do practitioners and researchers engage?
  • how to address the twin aims of high quality research and practitioner engagement?

The second is a ‘swap-shop’ of engagement, research and analysis tools and approaches, with each cluster partner contributing examples. Vignettes are being collected in the Cluster’s online collaboration space and it is already evident that the distinction between research, engagement and dissemination processes are blurred. Engagement activities can also serve as valuable research ‘sites’, and participatory research approaches seem to take on a life of their own, ‘diffusing’ within and beyond projects and institutions.

Engaging with Students and Alumni

November 14th, 2007

The project has just produced a number of reports on student perspectives on teaching and learning at the University – the first focused on ICT use amongst current students and the other on more general experiences of teaching and learning from the perspectives of alumni, who attended the annual alumni weekend in September.

Our motivation for engaging with the alumni was not simply to gather reminiscences (although in our interviews we did hear some good stories!) but rather to find out what, with the benefit of experience and hindsight, had been the most significant and enduring learning experiences and what might be the enduring issues and concerns of past students.

Both reports are available on the project website at:

Reviewing Progress and Looking Forward

August 29th, 2007

This week, we have been spending this week reviewing project activities and data collected so far … this is centring around the construction of case studies of participating departments and faculties, drawing on documentary sources; interviews and discussions; surveys and the student experience research carried out last term. These case studies will be useful foci for engagement with broader groups of participants in the next stage of the project, and we hope that – as ‘working documents’ – they will be developed and elaborated further.

We are also planning a range of other engagement activities involving students, staff and alumni; we will be using events at the beginning of the coming term to raise awareness of our work and recruit new cohorts of project participants.

Critical Friend Visit

August 26th, 2007

Our project ‘critical friend’ visited on the 14th August to review the project and to discuss the nature of the support they could provide for our work and for the cluster group to which we belong.

We identified three areas in particular where we anticipate further discussion with our CF – it would interesting to know if these align with the priorities and challenges facing other pathfinder projects:

  • managing multiple, complex data sets in such a way that they support the work of the project as it exists at present, but at the same time, so that they have the potential to be used by others around the university, or for secondary analysis at some point in the future. While we can’t possibly address all the possible research agendas and questions which might be current across the institution, it would be an important outcome for the project if we could at least provide part of an evidence base for others to use
  • making the transition from working with self-selected ‘champions’ and existing teaching and learning projects, teams and groups to broader engagement across subject areas and colleges
  • disseminating to multiple audiences and stakeholders – project participants; other practitioners both within and beyond Cambridge; instructional designers and technologists; policymakers at different levels and research communities, for example.

Last message from me

July 19th, 2007

Well I only have today and then one day next week in the office before I go off and start my new job.  This will be the last message from me on the blog, but no doubt it will be ably picked up by remaining team members! 

The meeting of the Steering Group last week was very well attended and went very well.  We presented on work to date, proposals for validating our findings so far and possible methods for engaging larger groups of staff.  The proposals were accepted with a small number of changes.  The methods of engaging students were again discussed, with more detail of the findings presented.  Again this was well-received.  Methods for engaging wider groups of students, and on working with recent alumni need to be agreed.  We will start work on this at our team meeting this week.

Project Update

July 12th, 2007

We have the fourth meeting of our Steering Group tomorrow with over 20 people attending. We have managed to get a date that a large number of academics can attend, I guess because most of the students have gone now, but most of the staff have not gone on leave yet. We are going to present to them on the 14 ‘coffee meetings’ we have had with various Faculties and Departments. These are initial meetings with one or two staff as a means of investigating issues to look into for that Faculty or Department. The members of the Steering Group are an initial point of contact so many have been involved personally in the coffee meetings. We will also report back on the student engagement part of the project to date.

At the last meeting of the Steering Group we were asked to produce a set of emerging themes from the investigations to date and that will form part of the discussion.

Project planning

June 15th, 2007

We have now agreed our detailed project plan and sent it off to HEA for monitoring against. It ended up being quite a lengthy document. The writing process did help clarify our thoughts, although things may still change as the project and its methodology evolve.

There has been a lot of activity within the project, and we have now held our third Steering Group meeting – the most recent meeting was really interesting as we were able to feed back some initial findings and start to discuss outcomes rather than just plans. We have also now had three meetings of our Project Board who have agreed the plan and the budget. To date we have had initial engagement with almost 15 Colleges, Faculties and Departments, and 52 students.

Project Links to HEFCE e-Learning Strategy

May 31st, 2007

At the Pathfinder start-up meeting in York we were asked to consider how our project links to the HEFCE e-learning strategy and which of the strands of activity that it supports or builds on. As described in our project summary in an earlier blog entry our project aims to map the learning and teaching context at Cambridge, and e-learning is positioned as a sub-set of the much larger learning and teaching picture. It is widely believed that e-learning should not be considered in isolation, but rather as it contributes to the wider student experience. Evidence will be collected as part of our project as to where the ‘e’ adds value over other methods.

When considering the HEFCE strategy, our work links with two of the 7 strands:
Strand 1: Pedagogy, curriculum design and development, and
Strand 6: Research and Evaluation

In particular activities 1.1: ‘Reward excellence and promote and encourage innovation in e-learning, and 1.4: ‘Produce and disseminate models of good e-learning practice (including e-assessment) (brackets not in original) are very relevant to the project. Although staff are not financially rewarded for innovation the project aims to raise awareness of developments and recognise where good work is being done. Similarly, we plan to develop and disseminate models of good e-learning as a key output of our project.

Under strand 6, activity 6.1: ‘Contribute to the sector’s understanding and appreciation of the wider issues posed by e-learning’ is very relevant to our project. By mapping the wider picture and describing how and where ‘e’ adds value, and how and where other methods are more appropriate, we aim to provide an evidence base that will demonstrate clearly many of the wider issues posed by e-learning.