Category Archives: Academic Life

Distance Learning in a Research Intensive University: A Coalition of the Willing

Like many other UK Higher Education Institutions, The University of Manchester is ramping up its current distance learning provision as a means of simultaneously expanding student numbers, offering greater flexibility to students and increasing global reach and reputation across the globe.  This change in pedagogical emphasis has been underway for a couple of years now, and a number of high-profile campus-based postgraduate programmes are currently being converted into a distance learning (or as we prefer to say a location-independent learning model).

As a relative newcomer to the world of distance learning, The University of Manchester has been working quite closely with Penn State University in the US, who have a renowned and well-established World Campus which delivers quality online courses at undergraduate, masters and doctoral level.

Last week we were privileged to host two senior Penn State University (PSU) staff members at our School of MACE Teaching and Learning Community of Practice – where the topic under discussion was distance learning: an academic and instructional design perspective.  As an academic who is currently wrestling with the transition of an existing campus based programme to distance learning, I found the seminar hugely useful.  My aim here is to share what I learnt with the wider community at The University of Manchester and beyond.  Continue reading Distance Learning in a Research Intensive University: A Coalition of the Willing

Putting the Community into eLearning

Just over two years ago I was asked to take on the role of Academic Lead for eLearning within the School of Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering at The University of Manchester. We are a large school (120 academic staff) covering a number of engineering and management disciplines.  In common with many academic departments, this has resulted in a somewhat silo mentality; long, often deserted corridors, and staff only communicating with their immediate research and teaching colleagues. My sense at that time was that there was plenty of eLearning expertise within the School, but that this expertise existed in small pockets of excellence, which were isolated and often unaware of each other.

If this sounds like a familiar picture, then read the story of how we used a Community Practice to connect, encourage and strengthen our eLearning practices within the School, which has just been published on the Higher Education Academy Learning and Teaching Blog –  Putting the Community into eLearning

Grappling with management responsibilities in academia

This semester I came back from a refreshing and highly productive six month sabbatical to a maelstrom of teaching activity and my first proper management role within my department.  As is often the case within academia, the role was new and ill-defined.  It involves enhancing teaching quality (whatever that means)  across 40 undergraduate and postgraduate units delivered by 18 academics .  Three months in, I wanted to share some reflections on how I am adapting to my new management responsibilities*.

*Note: The quickest way to get rid of an unwanted managerial responsibility in academia is simply to do it badly, but people who naturally want to do a job well may struggle with this approach!

In my view, management responsibilities in academia are akin to a medieval game of football.  There are few rules, many hundreds of players,  several often conflicting objectives,  and pretty ineffective levers of control.  So, here are some strategies for playing the game…..

the-middle-ages

Continue reading Grappling with management responsibilities in academia

Getting Started in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning

Once a year myself and a colleague deliver a session to participants in the New Academic’s Programme at The University of Manchester entitled “Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SOTL)”.  Our aim in this session is to spark interest in  the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning as a valuable and legitimate scholarly activity.  The slides, which are available in Slideshare here, provide an overview of what SOTL is, how it is similar and yet subtly different to pedagogic research, and tools and techniques for getting started.  It is a resource that I wish had been available when I was starting my academic career and I hope it is useful to you as a means of reflecting on and improving your teaching practice in Higher Education today.