Ron Cookes recent report to John Denham MP On-line Innovation in Higher Education is an interesting and thought provoking current “must read”.
The report identifies priorities for action to ensure that
UK Higher education remains worldclass and ¦ at the cutting edge of the global ICT economy
and also calls for a clear long-term vision to achieve this goal. Cooke outlines requirements and recommendations for three areas that require greater strategic direction; Learning and Teaching, Research and Innovation and Management and Administration.
The section on learning and teaching is of particular interest as it places considerable emphasis on the growing importance of open educational content. Indeed the reports first recommendation calls for:
A new approach to virtual education based on a corpus of open learning content: the UK must have a corpus of open access learning resources organised in a coherent way to support on-line and blended learning by all higher education institutions and to make it more widely available in non-HE environments.
An admirable goal indeed, however I am less sure about the need for
…national centres of excellence to provide quality control, essential updating, skills training and research and development in educational technology, e-pedagogy and educational psychology.
Should we not be focusing on the ability of ICT and in particular social networking technologies to disseminate expertise throughout the sector rather than centralising it at a number of exemplar institutions? I also rather non-plussed by the suggestion that
¦a national centre of open access course materials, for example through the Open University, is a potential model worth considering¦
Dont get me wrong, I think the OUs Open Learn project is a world-class initiative and one that we should all look to and learn from, however the OU business model is somewhat unique in the UK and what works for the OU will not necessarily work for other HEIs.
In contrast I am particularly encouraged by Cookes call for all HEIs to develop a strategic approach to information management:
Information resources are expensive and need to be managed as strategically as financial and human resources to improve the effectiveness of institutions.
In addition the reports emphasis on the importance of developing literacy and technology skills for both staff and students is highly commendable. Technology focused staff development initiatives seem to me to be lagging further and further behind technological innovation. Any initiatives that could help to bridge this gap would be a major step in the right direction.
While I agree with most, if not all, of Cookes recommendations there seems to me to be a strong, and perhaps somewhat dated, centralising theme running through the report. This is evidenced by the call for national centres of excellence and œcurated and organised collections of open learning content. The report also makes some questionable statements about repositories, for example:
¦it should not cost more to make course materials openly available on professionally managed repository platforms.
And rather worryingly, although the report includes an appendix of significant JISC programmes there appears to be no mention of Jorum and the potential strategic role it could play in facilitating and curating a UK network of open educational resources. Perhaps I missed a footnote somewhere.
I havent commented on the Research and Innovation and Management and Administration sections of the Cooke report as these really arent my areas of expertise however there are a couple of points relating to the interface between research and teaching and learning that are worth highlighting:
in research led universities there is a need to link effectively research resources with learning and teaching.
It is taken for granted in the research process that one builds on the work of others; the same culture can usefully be encouraged in creating learning materials.
So, a thought provoking and encouraging report overall but perhaps one that needs to widen its vision somewhat.