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Universities in Australia are facing intense change. Increasingly, they are being required to educate more students, from an increasing variety of backgrounds, with decreasing government funds. As a result, they must compete vigorously for students and external sources of funding. One university under such pressure is RMIT, a technological university that was founded in 1887. An old university by Australian standards, RMIT is highly diverse, bi-sectoral (including a vocational sector), and has the largest number of international students of any Australian university. Facing changing times, universities such as RMIT have to reassess their fundamental business (What do you mean specifically by "fundamental business?" Do you mean business practices involving transactions of funds? Do you mean "doing business" in the general sense of how the university operates as a whole? Do you mean that the university does/should operate like a business?) and the way they go about it. Information Technology (IT) is an important factor in streamlining these business operations, especially in the area of staff development.
The RMIT Teaching and Learning Strategy
The RMIT Teaching and Learning Strategy (T&LS) (Could this acronym be shortened to TLS, or is T&LS an official acronym?) is a key policy document. It aims to provide a student-centered learning environment with the following features:
- subjects that foster students who are knowledgeable, critical, responsible, and creative, and who have an international outlook and capacity for lifelong learning, leadership, and employment;
- flexibility to suit the learning needs of students;
- holistic courses with coherent connections between core subjects;
- students and the community as significant stakeholders; (Could you explain further what this role as "stakeholders" means? Stakeholders in the way there are stakeholders in private businesses?)
- assessment that is directly related to subjects' explicitly stated objectives; and
- ubiquitous quality improvement and assurance, based on reflective practice and customer-focused systems design. (Can you explain further what you mean by "reflective practice?" Also, by using the word "ubiquitous," you suggest that quality improvement and assurance are omnipresent. How exactly is this possible? Explain further.)
RMIT allocates resources to implement the T&LS both in human and financial terms. For example, each of RMIT's seven faculties has two senior positionsDirector of Teaching Quality (DoTQ) and Director of Information Technology (DoIT)established by secondment (I'm not sure what you mean here. The positions are established by what?) of academic staff members from within the faculty. Each faculty has a Faculty Education Services Group (FESG) where technical and educational support for staff is available (Is the FESG a location or a group of people?).
In 1998, RMIT established the Information Technology Alignment Project (ITAP) to develop an IT strategy. This strategy would facilitate the T&LS through flexible, electronically mediated learning environments. The ITAP report forms the basis for a $A50 million RMIT investment (Did you mean to write $50 million?) over the four years 1999-2002. The report describes several elements of the strategy:
- IT infrastructure aligned with the needs of students, delivering the systems and hardware necessary for electronic learning environments and computer-based learning resources;
- a Distributed Learning System (DLS) compliant with the emerging Educom/CAUSE Instructional Management System (IMS) (What exactly is a Distributed Learning System?) Is the Educom/CAUSE IMS a certain brand of instructional management systems that RMIT has adopted or will adopt?);
- an Academic Management System (AMS), fully integrated with the DLS and electronically accessible to academics and students (By "academics," do you mean the faculty? Faculty and staff?), which provides enrollment and subject and course progress records; (What kind of progress records? Will this technology make students' progress records accessible to everyone or will it require a UserID?)
- a Business Process Re-engineering (BPR) project, an extensive review of the University's academic processes (Is this really a review of academic processes or is it a review of processes involving University finances? Or is it a review of all university operations similar to such a review in the private business world?) ; and
- extensive staff development.
Through the ITAP report, the University has properly articulated its objectives for using IT in teaching and learning. IT will enrich RMIT's learning environment by augmenting traditional methods rather than displacing them and emphasizing interactivity, flexibility, and time/space independence. To mitigate the risk inherent in its large investment, RMIT is mandating corporate standards compliant with the IMS.
Those of us associated with ITAP have to deliver on our promise that we can provide tools that will enable staff who are not technological whiz kids to develop pedagogically sound, interesting, and relevant online courses efficientlyquite a task. Here are some features of our Distributed Learning System (DLS):
- a suite of tools;
- educational principles integrated into toolset descriptions;
- IMS compliant tools;
- a team approach to all online projects; and
- a benchmarking exercise, involving all seven RMIT faculties, which evaluates the toolset and the effectiveness of our learning environments.
Good educational design is the key to successful flexible learning. Here at RMIT, we offer online tools to assist staff in refurbishing their subjects and courses. We explain the functionality of each tool in terms of student learning activities. An early report on RMITs DLS (McNaught, Kenny, Kennedy & Lord, 1999) contains descriptions and evaluations of the toolset and its implementation.The Learning Technology Mentor Program
RMIT has seven strong faculties that often resist central directions (What exactly do you mean by "central directions?" Does this mean that the faculties often resist directions from the University administration? Can you give some evidence of how/why they resist?) (whats new?). As a result, RMIT has not had a strong staff development program in recent years. To mend this problem, RMIT called for a staff development program that promotes sound educational practice, does not increase staff work loads greatly, organizes adequate support for all staff, allows every department to "own" flexible learning systems, and is linked to RMIT's business (By "RMIT's business," do you mean the way RMIT does business or RMIT's business as an academic institution?) and vision.
The response to this call was the appointment of Learning Technology Mentors (LTMs) in each department of the University. LTMs are mostly academic staff members who are granted time releases to spend one day a week developing online materials and supporting online teaching and learning among colleagues in their departments. While one day a week is not a great deal of time, it is enough to give the staff space in which to learn new skills and enact them. There were 66 LTMs in the second semester of 1999, one in each department of the university and some in central areas such as the library. In 2000, the time releases of many LTMs are being extended by six months, and each department is receiving two more LTMs.
It is important that the Dean, Heads of Departments, and DoITs are involved in selecting LTMs who are able to assume leadership positions in their departments. By this model, up to three LTMs will have been selected by each department by the end of 2000. Each LTM will have intensive training in DLS tools and educational design for online learning. Also, LTMs will participate in the RMIT organizational learning module. A period of continuing professional development and opportunities for consolidation and outreach in each department will follow this intensive training.
LTMs undertake an extensive, week-long staff development program that covers several key topics:
- RMITs vision as a major international technological university (using the Boyer (1990) Scholarship integrative model);
- evolution of the T&LS;
- ITAP, staffing of ITAP Teams, and the importance of the BPR;
- Course and subject renewal guidelines, which relate to attributes developed in students and are a central focus of the T&LS and ITAP;
- Roles of FESGs, DoTQs, and DoITs in faculties and central planning, as well as relationships between FESGs and ITAP Teams;
- ITAP's funding mechanisms and the relationship between central and faculty funding; and
- the DLS toolset and how it relates to the renewal of subjects, using the Laurillard framework of learning needs and discussing tools such as CourseInfo and WebBoard.
Additional staff development sessions include the following topics:hb
- hands-on training sessions on DLS tools;
- quality improvement and evaluation of DLS tools;
- student induction methods;
- assessment and evaluation strategies for online learning;
- the library's role in online learning;
- managing digital resources using metadata;
- the AMS and implications for managing online learning;
- project management (This is a little vague. What kind of project management?);
- using online templates developed at RMIT;
- finding resources for online teaching and learning;
- curriculum and developing positive student attributes;
- understanding local needs (What does "local needs" mean? What kinds of local needs?) through a staff skills matrix; and
- planning online development using DLS support documents.
(This is a pretty long list. How about paring it down to highlight the most important topics?)
LTMs develop a work contract with the head of the Professional Development Team of ITAP; if individual staff members wish, this can lead to accreditation in a subject through a Graduate Certificate of Flexible Learning. Department Heads and the Dean must agree to the tasks in each contract.
LTMs provide weekly feedback on their work with the DLS, allowing us to receive more evaluations than we did before the program. Also, the LTM program has become part of a suite of staff development initiatives and other programs which dovetail into the LTM system. Examples are:
- IT and information literacy sessions run by the Library. Several LTMs are actively recruiting their colleagues into this program, which can provide an International Computer Driving License accredited by the Australian Computer Society.
- Staff development for IT staff. IT staff members who are doing advanced technical staff development also benefit from aspects of the LTM program that focus on organizational understanding. Understanding and identification with RMITs vision are essential for all staff involved in shaping RMIT's future.
- Staff development for administrative staff. Those who work with the AMS system and help Course Teams use the AMS and BPR will also participate in development programs.
Staff development and support for developing materials and strategies must be distributed across an organization. Therefore, the FESGs are pivotal; growth should occur in these units rather than at the center (By "center" do you mean the University administration?). Technical support staff, educational designers, and graphical designers are needed most at the faculty level, and central courseware production should occur only for high-end media and multimedia production. We at RMIT are working towards this model.
It is crucial that subjects included in the DLS are of high quality. Faculties should insure the quality of each subject registered in the DLS, while we provide educational guidelines, publishing standards, planning procedures, etc. This process is still being bedded down, but it provides reasonable quality assurance. Insuring that all staff adhere to quality standards requires a mixture of explicit procedures and ongoing professional development. Our quality concerns are genuine, and we will monitor this process closely.Evaluation of LTM
There is a great deal of anecdotal evidence of involvement in and commitment to our IT initiatives. The 1999 LTM reports clearly indicate this energy. Such enthusiasm is heartening but probably not adequate. We are seriously considering using a balanced score card approach (Kaplan & Norton, 1996) to evaluate the ITAP investment. In this approach, we consider four linked aspects of University business:
professional development programs relating to staff learning & growth, internal services/business processes such as IT infrastructure and administration, the nature and distribution of student concerns, and financial return on investment.
We have developed several leading and lagging indicators for each of these aspects of University business. These indicators must be measurable but valid, and striking this balance can be challenging. The time between measuring the leading and lagging indicators should be long enough to represent real change and short enough to satisfy an anxious chancellery! We have partially met this challenge by developing a matrix of indicators dealing with different aspects of ITAP. We have sets of indicators relating to the operation of the DLS, the LTM professional development program, the IT infrastructure, and the emerging AMS.
The Future Looks Bright
We still have to do a great deal of consolidation and development of our programs. We have been delighted by the enthusiasm of many LTMs; we have a sense of gathering momentum. In 1999, 190 subjects were using the DLS, and 600 were using it at the beginning of 2000. Several faculties are showing real commitment, though a couple of them still need a persuasive nudge. Have we reached critical mass yet, where the appropriate use of technology will sweep the University? Probably not, but we are on the right track. Our evaluations over the next couple of years will be crucial to gauging the success of this model.References
Boyer, E. L. (1990). Scholarship reconsidered. Priorities of the professoriate. Princeton: The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
Kaplan, R. S., & Norton, D. P. (1996). Translating strategy into action: The balanced scorecard. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.
McNaught, C., Kenny, J., Kennedy, P. & Lord, R. (1999). Developing and evaluating a university-wide online Distributed Learning System: The experience at RMIT University. Educational Technology and Society, 2 (4). (APA requires a retrieval date for web citations that would go here in your entry. Please use the following form: Retrieved June 2, 2002 from the World Wide Web: http://horizon.unc.edu/ts/editor/333.html) http://ifets.gmd.de/periodical/