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An approach for e-learning/b-learning dissemination in a higher education institution using pivot faculty

An approach for e-learning/b-learning dissemination in a higher education institution using pivot faculty

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Published by Leonel Morgado
This paper presents a preliminary approach for implementing e-learning/blearning pedagogical practices at the University of Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro (UTAD), North-eastern Portugal. It is a low-resource, middle-out approach, based on the creation of “pivot” teachers at each UTAD subunit, supported by consultancy services. It was initiated in September 2010 and scheduled for one year, with the ambition to serve as a basis to extend e-learning and b-learning practices to the overall organization.
This paper presents a preliminary approach for implementing e-learning/blearning pedagogical practices at the University of Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro (UTAD), North-eastern Portugal. It is a low-resource, middle-out approach, based on the creation of “pivot” teachers at each UTAD subunit, supported by consultancy services. It was initiated in September 2010 and scheduled for one year, with the ambition to serve as a basis to extend e-learning and b-learning practices to the overall organization.

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Published by: Leonel Morgado on Jul 26, 2011
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02/07/2014

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An approach for e-learning/b-learning dissemination in a highereducation institution using pivot faculty
Gonçalo CruzFaculty of Psychology and Educational SciencesUniversity of Coimbra (UC)PortugalAna MaiaFaculty of Psychology and Educational SciencesUniversity of Coimbra (UC)PortugalJoão BarrosoSchool of Sciences and TechnologyUniversity of Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro (UTAD)PortugalTeresa PessoaFaculty of Psychology and Educational SciencesUniversity of Coimbra (UC)PortugalLeonel MorgadoSchool of Sciences and TechnologyUniversity of Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro (UTAD)Portugal
Abstract:
This paper presents a preliminary approach for implementing e-learning/b-learning pedagogical practices at the University of Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro(UTAD), North-eastern Portugal. It is a low-resource, middle-out approach, based onthe creation of “pivot” teachers at each UTAD subunit, supported by consultancyservices. It was initiated in September 2010 and scheduled for one year, with theambition to serve as a basis to extend e-learning and b-learning practices to the overallorganization.
 
Introduction
Empowering faculty to take advantage of the affordances enabled by e-learning technologies intheir educational approach can be a major task, when viewed from an institutional perspective, requiringsignificant allocation of human and technical resources. But strategies and approaches can be taken tofacilitate or support wider adoption of these technologies, even before allocation of significant resourcesbecomes viable, as we mention in the next section.The University of Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro (UTAD), located in Vila Real, North-easternPortugal, is taking such an approach, led by the Pro-Chancellery for Innovation and InformationManagement, building from existing technology and scattered efforts and goodwill. There is aninstitutional practice of administrative use by faculty of online services developed locally, to providesyllabi, grades, and other course materials. There is a willingness of several faculty members to engage inb-learning and e-learning practices, as a way to increase contact with their students, and as way to reachnew audiences, geographically distant, for whom physical presence at the campus would not be viable.There are scattered online education practices by some faculty members, using wikis, blogs, and virtualworlds. There is also a scarcely-used Moodle platform and a technical team available to maintain itsoperation (but not for producing content and no team with an educational background).
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The adopted approach consisted in creating “pivot” faculty members in each sub-unit of UTAD,assisted by a small team of educational consultants, in the form of Educational Sciences trainees with abackground in e-learning as part of their formal education. The goal is for these faculty members tobecome aware of educational possibilities and the actual practices involved, not just in terms of traditionale-learning/b-learning, but also of novel practices using Web 2.0 platforms and virtual worlds: theplanning requirements, the management process, assessment, etc. In doing so, it is UTAD’s expectationthat these pivots both can act as supporting peers of other faculty members in their sub-units, and asadvocates for adoption of e-learning and b-learning technologies and practices. This, in turn, is intendedto serve as a base for establishing clear needs and requirements, so that a university-wide approach canlater be developed.
Institutional practices for adoption of e-learning/b-learning
Adoption of e-learning by higher education institutions has been widespread throughout Europe,with varying degrees of success (Barajas & Gannaway, 2007; PLS Ramboll, 2004).That is not an easy and simple process for the traditional European universities. The complexityand difficulty associated, normally requires a greater effort from involved actors than initially expected. Itis reflected in the alliance between resources, time, energy and skills. For every arisen problem, isnecessary a fully context and strategic vision adopted analyze. Only these way universities can effectivelyadapt and respond to their own situations, because each problem is unique and exclusive to the reality of each institution. (Barajas & Gannaway, 2007).In the specific case of Web 2.0 and eLearning 2.0 respectively, inclusion and equity, advanceddigital competence, safety and privacy concerns, special needs, pedagogical skills, uncertainty andrequirements on institutional changes are the largest challenges, barriers, and bottlenecks identified ineducational European institutions. In this way, institutions must provide students with access to media, aswell as ways to promote their responsible and critical use. On the other hand, should also provide anadequate infrastructure, supporting and equipping teachers with the required skills for the development of e-learning with their students (Redecker & Punie, 2010).Therefore, organizational changes, particularly in university contexts, can not only focus onwhether the approaches are top-down or bottom-up. The middle-out approach, in this context, must beconsidered. It is based on management staff work, to promote the change process. That is, the middle-outapproach juggles a mid-terrain between the individual focus of faculty members and the strategic focus of higher management (Rankine & Malfroy, 2009).Cautions are needed. Since process beginning, starting at individual purposes to organizationalpurposes, good dynamic understandings’ crucial, facilitating implementation and unwind of institutionalprocess. This is the present challenge, especially for universities (Casanovas, 2010).These institutions have followed different paths towards innovation,
 
with diverse allocation of resources/features, and varying costs associated with them. The changes in institutional policies must befollowed by changes in leadership perspective (Giardina, 2010).Peer instruction education has been increasing in the past few years. Its potential is big in manysituations, innovation being one of them. Several researchers defend that a good strategy to obtain goodresults is creating pioneers (or pivots) in the use of e-learning on pedagogic practices, so they caninfluence actively and help their peers to do the same. In several projects for innovation technology,specifically in e-learning, this concept of pivot (typically, a pivot teacher) is consensual and used, becauseresults often exceed expectations. We consider that the key element is a culture of mutual support andsharing, to increase the possibility of success. On example of adoption of this model is theFutureSchool@Singapore Programme (Lim & Cheah, 2010; Giardina, 2010).Another element to bear in mind is the possibility of supporting pivots with consulting services.Such an approach is found in the Flexible Learning Initiatives Project, implemented in the Faculty of Lawof the Queensland University of Technology: a team of consultants provides pedagogical support toteaching staff introducing e-learning in their practices. The consultants work in a case-by-case basis,helping design appropriated pedagogical strategies for each teacher’s educational content. The consultantsare also available for consultation and assistance at any time (Giardina, 2010).
Institutional context – UTAD
UTAD is located in Vila Real, North-eastern Portugal. Originally the Polytechnic Institute of Vila Real, founded in 1973, with a focus on agricultural and biological sciences, it became a university in1986. Currently, the educational offer at UTAD is diverse, organized in five schools: School of Agricultural and Veterinary Sciences (ECAV, Portuguese-language acronym), School of Humanities and
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Social Sciences (ECHS, Portuguese-language acronym), School of Sciences and Technology (ECT,Portuguese-language acronym), School of Life and Environmental Sciences (ECVA, Portuguese-language acronym), and Higher School of Nursing (ESE, Portuguese-language acronym). UTAD hasseveral technical services, including a Computing and Communications Service (SIC, Portuguese-language acronym), which provides technological support to computer systems, such as e-mail, computernetworks, institutional intranet, Moodle platform, and SIDE (described later), among others. However,the SIC do not provide pedagogical support of training for e-learning; nor is it available at any otherUTAD technical service.The SIDE platform (information system in support of teaching, Portuguese-language acronym),provides online content in support of classes and student autonomous study. It also supports routineadministrative tasks such as registering attendance, grades, syllabi and class summaries. The use of thisplatform is widespread by faculty members, to the point of being explicitly mentioned in the teachingstandards of UTAD that all teachers must use it to provide basic information about each course, theattendance records and students’ grades (Reis et al, 2006). SIDE originated locally at UTAD in 2002 andhas been constantly developed ever since. It originated as a final graduation project in ElectricEngineering, and evolved into an on-line service which was used by the full Department of Engineering,and later by the entire university (since 2006). A technical support team produces further enhancementsand responds to needs and requirements that are identified regularly. Since SIDE is not focused on theteaching-learning process, but rather on the administrative procedures, it is not a Learning ManagementSystem (LMS) but a Course Management System (CMS), simplifying students’ access to courses syllabi,supporting materials, and results of assessment.A Moodle platform is also available at UTAD, with technical support provided by the SIC, sincethe academic year 2005/2006, as part of the institutional will to develop e-learning initiatives. Allteaching staff at UTAD has access to the platform with the same credentials they use for SIDE and for theinstitutional intranet. The SIC has promoted initiatives for teacher training on how to use Moodle, from apurely technological and functional view.Very few faculty members have responded by taking up the challenge of using this platform. Theteaching staff numbers about 600, with only about 4 or 5 regularly uses Moodle in their teaching practice– and mostly for the most basic activities, such as forums and providing feedback on student assignments.One cannot disregard, at this level, the lack of support for the transition from classroom teaching practicesto online practices. However, individual initiatives by that small percentage of teaching staff keepoccurring. The latest is that in February 2011 a post-graduate programme on Natural Hazards andEmergency Plans will be launched, almost entirely supported by using Moodle.
 
This is the result of a joint initiative by three institutional departments, involving approximately about ten teachers.However, the use of Web 2.0 tools for educational practices, especially blogs and wikis, is foundamongst teaching staff – in particular, staff that is not using Moodle. Initial contacts with some of thesemembers of teaching staff have been fruitful, for they have expressed an interest in improving theirteaching practice with these tools and willingness to use other tools.3D virtual worlds are also found. A small number of teachers use them in their practices andeven develop educational and technical research in the field, particularly in the teaching of programming.
 
There are also several engineering projects involving the use and development of virtual worlds, inpartnership with national and international companies.
The approach
The approach adopted is based on two main aspects: a pedagogical supervision with a team of two consultants, who are experts in Educational Sciences and with knowledge in e-learning pedagogy,and in pivot faculty members, two volunteer teachers of sub-units of UTAD. The reasons for choose twoteachers per sub-unit are related to intention of promote the institution autonomy, enabling the pivotsassist others in the same school, who wish to join use of technology to their teaching practices. The intendis ensuring the continuity the project and get a redundancy that prevents dropouts or losing motivation of one of the pivots, keeping the second to guarantee the stability of this one.This initiative starts in September of the academic year 2010/2011. There were two alternativesfor action: a) starting to prepare, with teachers, the semester which starts in February, or b) start workingwith teachers immediately, even though they already have plans for teaching defined, established andstarted. We opted for the second part, to the extent that - although very limited in scope than would bepossible - would allow the team of consultants and teachers to establish a mutual understanding of interests and objectives and develop ways to communicate more free from misunderstandings ordifferences in terminology and culture. Thus, it is possible not only to develop some experience within
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