There be dragons

Dragons, of varying natures, and presence were a bit of a theme at the JISC Curriculum Delivery and Design programme meetings in Birmingham last week. Christina Smart has provided an excellent summary of the delivery day. Including a summary of the dragons den activity, where the projects had to give five-minute pitches around the sustainability and embedding plans for their projects.

Dragons of a different sort came to my mind during the course of the Design meeting the following day. In fact many of the conversations reminded me of the recent BBC programme The Beauty of Maps. It seems to me that charting the journey of course related information is very much akin to the development of cartography. For some institutions, there is an almost mythical path that course related documentation goes on to find the holy grail of course approval. Many systems and places help it on its journey, but very few of them really know very much about each other, often provide duplicate information, and the actual course (or map) may bear very little relation to what is actually taught in the course. Adapting the course information and updating can also be problematic.

From the baselining exercise the projects have undertaken. It seems that currently most institutions course documentation do illustrate some information about a course, but not the whole picture. In the wider teaching and learning context there are lots uncharted areas. Some existing course approval documentation, may have some interesting and, to continue the map analogy, some rather lovely illustrations which bear no relation to the reality of the taught course – those uncharted gaps where there be dragons. Others may be contain lots and lots of information, but like the Klencke Atlas are the height of an average man and takes two people to open the pages, so are kept locked away and only brought out for special occasions – like QA audits.

As well as having uncharted waters, where indeed there may be dragons, a number of the projects also pointed to the risk of their project being hijacked by institutional dragons or maybe pirates. Most UK Universities seem to be in some state of transition at the moment, either technologically in terms of reviewing their core service provision, or personal wise with changing senior management – not to mention the wider changing political and funding environment. A number of projects highlighted the difficulties of working within these changing environments and the problems of scope creep from the project focus to an institutional one.

Accessing, sharing and using course information data is of course central to these processes and ideally we want move from these medieval maps to something more dynamic and open with many levels of representation such as google maps, or perhaps openstreetmap. This is starting to happen but there are still some choppy waters ahead. What is encouraging is the work that is starting to emerge from both the design and delivery projects to address this e.g. Dynamic Learning Maps at the University of Newcastle and work around including MLO into course representation at MMU .

Again, an overview post of the day again has been provided by Christina.

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