Wednesday, 3 September 2014

The History of Learning Technology Development

Our department at Edge Hill University, Learning Technology Development, is effectively 15 years old this year. Audrey Watters was talking today in her ALT-C keynote about the importance of storytelling, and it got me thinking; if I wrote the story of LTD, what would it look like?

It was 1999 when Andrew Sackville, the Head of Teaching and Learning Development advertised for a ‘Learning Technology Designer’; the team grew from there, introducing a VLE, working with innovators and early adopters as they started online courses, and running courses on how to teach online. In the words of William Gibson, the future was here, it just wasn’t evenly distributed.

I started at Edge Hill University in 2003; the base was set up and LTD were trying to upgrade from what is now an ancient version of WebCT (3.1). Personally I worked within the wider TLD department, and also created content for the Fast Forward online course. This meant I had a lot of contact with the LTD team; I liked them and the work they did, and decided I wanted to join them, which I did in 2004.

One of the things that was motivating people at the time was the fact that considering how to teach in an online environment made people rethink how they did face-to-face teaching. I wonder if this is still the case; perhaps it is a major unseen benefit of online learning.

From 2004 we have seen massive changes in the technologies available to us, and in uptake across the institution. We've worked hard to help distribute that future more widely and evenly across the institution. Few people were involved in using online communication tools apart from email in those days, although the research being done at the time at Edge Hill was advanced. Now almost everybody uses online social networking tools regularly. We’ve been fortunate to work through these massive changes, trying to understand them, and communicate the possibilities to academic staff around the institution. We have seen mobile technologies on the horizon; I remember our COMET project running a PDA project in 2004, and 10 years on we are beginning to see mobile devices as a mainstream platform for learning.

We have tried to be inspiring, supportive, partners to the academics and faculties through this long process. On Twitter we have a mission statement - “to enhance learning through the intelligent application of technology”; is that too vague? Perhaps, but over the years we have had to do a lot of different things, most with this aim in mind.

I think that LTD should be proud of what we have achieved. I’m proud that we have been committed over a long period. Technological change and diffusion of innovation are slow processes and we have kept working both on innovative projects and also the dull repetitive ones. Someone pointed out that without a successful COMET project we wouldn’t have had the SOLSTICE CETL, and the internal and external links, conversations, funding and opportunities that came with that project; we should be proud to have been a key part of both of those projects.

Among the things that I look back on fondly is the fun we’ve had as a team; at times we’ve been as tight a team as any I’ve worked in. People who’ve spent time in the team, who’ve led us and who've worked with us – Andrew, John, Mark, Anna, Mandy, Lisa, Paul, Lindsey, and everyone who’s arrived at Edge Hill later on, have brought us this far. Where next?

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