RMIT's (What does RMIT stand for?) Learning Technology Mentors: Bottom-Up Action Through Top-Down Investment

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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:

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 positions—Director 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:

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 efficiently—quite a task. Here are some features of our Distributed Learning System (DLS):

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 RMIT’s 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?) (what’s 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:

Additional staff development sessions include the following topics:hb

(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:

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:

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.


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: