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Event report: Distance Learning, CPD and Short Courses Forum

9 July 2013

Matt Jenner, Distance Learning Facilitator, reports on work currently being done around distance learning, CPD and short courses at UCL.

Andrew Eder

The final Distance Learning Forum of the 2012/13 academic year also played host to the inaugural CPD and Short Courses Forum, steered by Professor Andrew Eder (pictured above) from the Vice-Provost (Enterprise)’s office. Connecting these two groups seems a sensible option, at least for now, given the similarities between their activities.

There are around 250 members of staff registered on the Distance Learning Network, which aims to support staff and share experiences. This level of interest is particularly encouraging given that it comes from across UCL, with all three schools showing activity in this area.

Last week’s meeting featured updates from E-Learning Environments (ELE) and UCL Enterprise, a ‘from the ground’ section in which academics shared their experiences, and networking and drinks at the end.

Introducing the CPD and Short Course Forum, Professor Andrew Eder led us through developments in this area and the ways in which UCL Enterprise is responding to the globally changing landscape of learning and teaching. With a vision of "maximising UCL's global educational impact through the development of a broad range of innovative CPD and short courses”, it was emphasised that this is, and will continue to be, focused around academic and departmental activity: UCL Enterprise has a set of strategic aims and core values to help deliver the ideas of CPD and short courses across UCL, but its job is not to lead or manage them.

Additionally, a facilitation group with three areas of focus has been initiated. The academic section is looking at academic and governance issues (such as approval, staff resource, quality), while the commercial section will review areas such as incentivisation, remuneration and intellectual property. Finally, a toolkit is being developed to guide UCL staff through this area.

This kind of activity has never been centrally supported before and so the idea is to remain light-touch, leaving ownership well within the department/division. What it can do is deliver institutional developments that help support the existing growth in this area.

One clear example of this is UCLeXtend – a Moodle-based platform originating from within Information Services Division. Previously, providing online learning and teaching for externally facing, non-credit-bearing courses was tough work. With UCLeXtend, a course can be created in a Moodle environment (separate and different to the core UCL Moodle), a course entry can be made in the catalogue and then external candidates can browse, register, pay and access a Moodle-based course.

Distance learning and UCLeXtend

After Andrew’s presentation, I presented some further information to the group about distance learning and UCLeXtend (a screenshot of which is below).

Screenshot of UCLeXtend website

The main thing to note is that distance learning is still something of a rarity at UCL, with only 10 active courses. However, the membership numbers in the Distance Learning Network, impressive Forum attendance, new Master’s-level courses under development and a range of fully online, UCLeXtend-bound courses shows that this area is increasing in popularity.

A Forum participant suggested that we look at institutions such as the Open University and learn from those who have already trodden this ground. Additionally, they argued that UCL as a whole needs to be more accommodating towards distance learning, for example ensuring that examinations, registrations, student support and communications are designed for a “different model” of education. This could, if the Network agrees, become a part of our activities for the next year.

Lastly, I gave a brief demo of UCLeXtend, which has the potential to grow to cater for many new areas. With free, premium courses, workshops, CPD and online spaces all coexisting in one environment, UCLeXtend could offer a glimpse into what UCL is really like – potentially attracting new audiences. As it’s only in pilot stage at the moment, we have a huge opportunity to learn, make mistakes and build a stronger and better platform for supporting growth in this area.

Departmental activity

The second slot in this event was entitled ‘from the ground’, with three academics invited to discuss their distance learning, CPD and short course activities.

First up was Dr Geraint Thomas from the Department of Cell and Developmental Biology, who gave an account of the SysMIC (Systems training in Maths Informatics and Computational Biology) project. Funded by the BBSRC and involving a team of academic, e-learning and administrative professionals from UCL, Birkbeck College, the Open University and the University of Edinburgh, the group has been developing a Moodle-based platform through which to help teach mathematical skills to biologists. Built for the BBSRC community, the e-learning materials cover basic skills, advanced skills, a (semi)-supervised project, MatLab and R. SysMIC has many ambitious plans for the future, including the challenge of slotting into UCLeXtend.

The Department of Language and Communication’s Dr Suzanne Beeke then presented a live demo of Better Conversations with Aphasia, a UCLeXtend resource for both speech and language therapists and those with (or supporting someone with) aphasia. A speech-based condition, aphasia affects people after they’ve had a stroke, leaving them with a reduced ability to communicate orally. The resource was built using ESRC funding and Instructional Designer resource from the PELP/UCLeXtend project and contains a series of self-paced e-learning resources. Created for both audiences, the e-learning modules provide different routes through the material, which includes lots of video/audio showing people having conversations with someone with aphasia and explains how best to work around the condition.

Lastly, Dr Jamie Harle discussed the Master’s-level distance learning programme in Medical Physics and Bioengineering. Emphasising that there’s still much work to do in transforming this course into something that really works for distance students, he described running tutorial sessions via Skype so that students are supported wherever they are in the world, which often results in Jamie having to work at strange times to fit in with different time zones. He lastly pointed out that small changes to procedures such as admissions can make all the difference to the student experience.

Bringing the Forum to a close was a slightly delayed, but nonetheless fruitful, networking and drinks opportunity, enjoyed by colleagues from the London campus but also Qatar and 18 Erasmus visitors. It’s always encouraging to see participants at these events talking to people they don’t know; it shows how interested people are in this area and what it means to them to be able to talk to colleagues and share experiences, ideas and tips. Sadly the networking time was cut a little short; however many stayed past closing time and carried on their discussions while the refreshments were packed away. Next time we’ll make the drinks session a lot longer!

The Network meets at regular Forum events, and while last week’s was the last meeting of this academic year, plenty more sessions are being planned for 2013/14. The level of activity looks set to expand into more Forum events for sharing and networking, specialist interest groups, and online events next year.

Further information

Page last modified on 09 jul 13 13:49

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