Academic Digital

Checking out new MA from @LSTheology #digitalstudent

So there’s a new MA on the block from London School of Theology. It’s advertised as

Beyond applied theology – the MA in Integrative Theology (MAiTh) can either be accessed and completed online worldwide or studied full or part-time on campus in London – what ever suits your lifestyle or needs better.

As I was looking at this, whilst thinking about how CODEC develops an appropriate MA, and whether it should be  fully online/offline, and as the debate about MOOCs (and other assorted acronyms) continues, it’s interesting to see what other institutions are doing.

The recent JISC Learning and Teaching Experts session fed back information on research into what student expectations are of digital provision, a rather more updated version of something I spoke about in 2010 (5000+ views). What do people want/need to get out of (formal) learning? And that does need to be the core question and focus, rather than “how do we use this snazzy technology” which can be a legitimate focus in preparation, but not in defining the learning objectives. As my book indicated, at the end of the day, people are still human beings, with needs as adapted by culture and context, but essentially arriving in this world with similar needs and desires as they have for many years.

As I wrote in a PGCLTHE assignment:

We expect increasing numbers of students who are living at home, part-time, mature, or from overseas. Students will expect better access to online courses, and a more flexible approach to learning, with ‘pick-and-mix’degrees and opportunities to gain vocational experience through university-private-sector partnerships.

It’s interesting that LST is offering this in a blended way, and it will be interesting to see if a sense of community develops between those meeting face-to-face (which does always change the dynamics (and I love), but is not necessarily a ‘better’ means of connection) and those online, or if separate communities will develop. Last year JISC, in speaking about the use of technology as part of face-to-face teaching (where there’s a lot of emphasis on “contact hours” as meaning face-to-face):

“As the student body becomes more diverse, so institutions need to find ways to ensure that their teaching modes and materials reflect different learning preferences and types of study and attendance. Technology offers a range of ways to do this and to enhance student access to resources and staff both inside and outside university owned systems.”

There are many different learning styles. Many institutions have moved from chalk and talk/sage on the stage to guide on the side, and there’s definitely an extrovert bent to much teaching (get people chatting), but in a conversation with a colleague this morning, I mentioned that I love the group dynamic (as written about in another assignment)/relationship building/sharing knowledge (whether that is online or offline, and I have some idea of the focus of the topic), whereas she would rather be given the topic and sent off to research it. I have always thought that if the right framework is provided (online or offline), and the students are prepared to come in fully enthusiastic .. that’s the first ingredients towards success.

I like the fact that LST are offering this in a range of styles, and I’m looking forward to hearing how it works in practice (and wonder what their VLE looks like). At #ECSM14, I heard from Jon Dron about ‘The Landing’ – his institution is (I think 100%) distance learning (even most of the staff largely are), and how they sought to provide the social side of learning that many desire.

Academic Digital

Disruption with Online Education

A really interesting article in this weeks Times Higher Education which considers how the US system (and probably those of us who end up echoing their systems) is about to face turbulent times with higher and higher fees causing ‘disruption’ as students look for other ways to engage:

This disruption, they say, will force down costs, lure prospective students away from traditional “core” universities, transform the way academics work, and spell the end for the traditional scholarly calendar based around face-to-face teaching


Online education will bring a shift by opening higher education to a new middle group in the concentric circles, they argue.

“We use the word ‘disruptive’ not because it is a breakthrough improvement for that middle group, but because it transforms the product or service into something that is so much more affordable and simple that a whole new population can afford it and find that it is accessible to them,” Christensen says.

The book asserts that until now, unlike other industries, higher education has not had a “disruptive innovation” that has forced the sector to drive down costs. The result, says Christensen, has been “sustained and difficult price increases”


“Almost invariably, the [established] leaders find it impossible to lead the industry in disruption,” he says. “It’s not technology per se that keeps them in the middle, but the very fact that it is affordable and accessible makes it almost impossible for the [sector’s traditional] leaders to address.”

Christensen suggests that instead it will be new institutions and providers that will lead the way in online learning innovations. “What you will see is that online learning will take root in this larger population: people who, either because of the nature of their life or their situation, can’t go to a campus but can do it online.

This is a challenging piece, and one worth a read, as I’m sure the questions will be asked in the UK shortly.


'Invest £100m' to seize cyber-market

Put resources into international online learning, task force recommends. Rebecca Attwood reports

Universities should seize the rapidly growing international market in online learning, but doing so will require investment, a panel of experts has said.

The final report from the government’s Online Learning Task Force, which includes experts from Microsoft, Apple and Pearson, calls for an injection of £100 million over five years to expand the UK’s online provision and boost its brand.

It warns that private providers are moving into the international online market “quickly and aggressively”.

Meanwhile, the growing use of IT in schools is changing students’ expectations of the technology that will be available at university, and the introduction of higher tuition fees could open up a new domestic market as more students consider studying online.

“The higher education sector has been talking about the potential of online learning for well over 10 years. The moment has come if we wish to remain and grow as a major international player in higher education,” says Dame Lynne Brindley, chair of the task force and head of the British Library, in the introduction to the report, Collaborate to Compete: Seizing the Opportunity of Online Learning for UK Higher Education.

Read full story.

Academic Digital

Distance Learning: Must Focus on the Learning, Not the Technology

“To maintain the UK’s position in distance learning, we have to focus on education, not technology, argues Helen Lentell

Distance learning in higher education is enjoying a propitious moment, despite – perhaps even because of – the hard times facing the sector.

At last week’s Learning and Technology World Forum in London, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said that the UK could become a “global education superpower”, with e-learning as one of its fastest-growing exports.

E-learning could also solve problems at home: as pressure continues to mount on the academy’s resources, flexible distance learning may become an increasingly attractive solution.

First Secretary Lord Mandelson no doubt had this in mind when announcing the creation of an online distance learning task force last year, backed by a £20 million matched-funding scheme to support centres of excellence. The terms of reference for this group focus on exploring ways of using online distance learning to attract more domestic and international students and increase collaboration between universities and colleges.”

Read the full story.

Universities say they already police compliance and infringements effectively. Matthew Reisz writes

Major concerns have been raised about the impact of the Digital Economy Bill on universities, which fear it is likely to result in a “bureaucratic burden and muddle”.

A central aim of the Bill, which is currently before the House of Lords, is to tackle online copyright infringement – something that Toby Bainton, secretary of the Society of College, National and University Libraries, said “everybody supports”.

However, there are fears that universities, which will be held responsible for the activities of their students, could be unduly affected by the proposals.

Mr Bainton said it appeared that “the position of higher education has not been clearly thought through”, adding that the sector “already has good systems in place that ought to be recognised and worked with”.