e-Learning@DMU Benchmarking Blog

This is a place for some chat about the HEA's e-learning benchmarking exercise - at least in its DMU incarnation...

Thursday, January 18, 2007

The blueprint

Man alive it's taken me a month to get around to posting this missive and I do blame Duncan Fletcher. You'd expect no less. What a mess - top-order in disarray, middle-order too fragile and bowlers incapable of maintaining pressure. Captaincy and coaching are clearly incapable of lending a meaningful strategic direction.

So I'm left asking what's the blueprint for success? The blueprint for our one-day team is meaningless given the number of players that have been used/discarded, and the team's inability to set a tempo either batting first or second. We are too pedestrian and risk-averse. The blueprint for our test team depends too heavily upon Vaughan as Captain and pivotal people filling the key roles at the top and middle of the order and as bowlers. Plus the resources, vision and culture surrounding the team have to be questioned. The whole seems so much less than the sum of the parts.

This is important because we are in the process of finishing off our OBHE Institutional Review Document and there are some issues that have arisen.

  1. We had a meeting with Allan Schofield last Friday. A key discussion point was the variety of institutional processes for technical, administrative and pedagogical development and delivery that are being deployed. This despite the fact that sustainable (we think) procedures do exist.
  2. We have identified some bits that we think are good: e-learning is mainstreamed and we have evidence for this; our implementation model, which is being extended; our locally-driven and focused approach to professional development; some pedagogic development and local strategies; the relationship between technical and academic staff; and transparency of communication to users.
  3. We have identified some bits that we think are weak: differential processes and approaches stress the nodes in our implementation model; feedback from staff could be better; resources for professional development and quality improvement; and recognition and reward.

I'm really pleased that we picked the OBHE methodology. It allowed us to focus upon processes and difference, and I think that the questions/themes focused participants' minds in a semi-structured way. We have a good working document that will enable our new e-Learning Strategy Group to focus its short-term work of redefining our approach to e-learning. The work of this group is critical in defining how we engage with digital natives and the disenfranchised, both among staff and students. It should help us to define a blueprint for e-learning@DMU.

A Note on Methodology

I set up a Wiki and tried to get area leads to edit the document in that format. It didn't work. People were too time-pressured to contribute. In fact when I sent the collated, edited draft around as a Word file, people generally picked a couple of "process areas" to comment on, alongside the final commentary and self-evaluation. In retrospect I should have asked people to edit two other sections of the Wiki (or to buddy-up) rather than do the whole lot.

However, what worked well were the three face-to-face meetings that focused upon agreeing perceived institutional priorities for e-learning and good/poor practice.

Think on...

Friday, December 22, 2006


It's taken days for the torment of Walsall's second half performance at Wrecsam and our capitulation at Perth to sink-in. It's when reasonable expectations get dashed that you suffer. I'm not quite sure why, after 25 years of watching a poor football team and an average (at home) and poor (overseas) cricket team, I think that things will be different. In fact, I am sure. It's that occasionally the planets align and resources come together, under particular leaders, in such a way that hopes are raised. Maybe, you think,right here and right now, things will be better. So when those resources are wasted and those opportunities are blown you feel it more.

So pyramids are the key. Clearly. The apex of an organisation or a team or an approach is only as strong as its base. Strengthening the base, so that visions are shared and blueprints embedded is key. This goes as much for supporting the users of an e-learning innovation in appropriate ways, as it does for building-up the grassroots of cricket to ensure that talent has the framework in which to succeed. In either case the enabling structure of the pyrmaid is vital. In either case leadership at all levels is vital.

We are editing our OBHE Wiki like there is no tomorrow. Moreover, responses to our staff survey are picking -up and we are trying to arrange a lunch with our second tier of e-learning champions (not formally recognised for their e-learning work, but vital nodes in our network) to ascertain what they want from an institutional approach. I hope that this work helps us to strengthen our pyramid. Time will tell whether we are able to enable our users, but by listening we are making a start.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Governance and transparency

I need a beer and there is a north-east England beer festival on at the Criterion this weekend. I need that beer because we are better than this. There have been too many mistakes and so many of them point back to Fletcher: warm-up; personnel; man-management; strategy. Idiot. Panesar exemplifies this - there is no governance and no transparency over Fletcher's decisions. The selectors in England are clearly undone over Read and Panesar, and any vision or message that they wanted to get over to the Aussies was so totally destroyed by Fletcher. Ugh!

So, governance and transparency; its lack of implementation in Australia has wasted a huge opportunity. Clearly the Aussies have world-class players in Ponting, Hussey and Warne and we let these men off-the-hook through poor individual play and decisions, and poor team-based planning and decisions.

So, governance and transparency; I'm thinking a lot more about that now. How do we govern the decisions made about e-learning? How transparent are we about decisions that are made? How do we ensure that the decisions are relevant for staff and sudents?

Our benchmarking Wiki, containing the summaries developed to-date is now up inside our VLE and will be edited by our core team before being released to other staff for comment. This is part of our approach towards transparency and engagement. As for Governance, that will follow once the PVC has his say and once our new Strategy Group meets to evaluate where we go now.

Thursday, December 14, 2006


and a very good morning. Panesar has just got Warne and all is well in the world. Which leads me to question whether there is a point at which you feel self-confident enough in your role to know that what you are doing is appropriate, and more often that not right? Planning helps; as does having a blueprint to plan around; as does having an understanding of your local culture. I like the notion of the 3-year plan to make a change - one to understand the local culture, one to implement your changes and one to evaluate and tweak them. At that point you need to manage the tension between becoming over-institutionalised and understanding the pragmatics of being in an institution and what you can achieve in it.

The duality in my thinking here is VLEs and Duncan Fletcher. With the former we have a blueprint, usually at least in someone's head and maybe down on paper in a strategy. The take-up of ours has plateaud after 3 or 4 years and we are now looking to kick-on in new directions, in particular thinking about Web2.0 technologies and toolkits for staff and students. In order to achieve this we need an amended blueprint and a new set of plans, to focus upon a quality improvement agenda that is in-line with an understanding of the pragmatics of being in an institution. This means that we maintain our tried-and-trusted resources (our VLE) but look to embed innovations that may change our outlook but will make us more effective.

Which brings me to Duncan Fletcher. This morning's performances of Panesar and Mahmoud on the one hand, and Harminson on the other, have shown that:
  • change should be embraced and trusted when it demonstrates its potential. Both Panesar and Mahmoud have shown over the last year that individually they can perform, that they are hungry, show spirit and want to play. Moreover they are attacking options. They fit an attacking blueprint;
  • we blew Brisbane because we were too defensive and hadn't played enough cricket. This was exemplified by Harmison - too unconfident and too cold.

So is Fletcher too institutionalised by dint of being too close and too fond of his old resources? This seems to be the case in his selections and the team's approach in the first two tests. He didn't allow the team and its individual resources to move on, despite the fact that it had to do so last summer due to injury, and despite the fact that cricket and our approach to the game had moved on. We beat the Aussies last year by attacking them and going hard at the game; by playing the ball rather than the man. Fletcher seems to have forgotten this and become trapped (or had his hand forced) by events. That's the wrong kind of institutionalisation.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

set the tone

it's remarkable really how with hindsight there are key moments and more importantly key people:
  1. Harmison takes the new ball in the first Test at Lords in 2005 and hits Langer and Ponting - a statement of intent;
  2. Harmison is taken to Australia and, clearly unready, he has a shocker in Brisbane forcing more pressure on Flintoff;
  3. the management chose to back the same team that won the Ashes, not testing or evaluating the new reality - that we need to attack, because we are likely to need to win at least one test. A conservative approach against a team that is going to play aggressively is going to cause self-inflicted problems; not the least in taking wickets.If you can't bowl them outfor less than 500 then you need to make 500 almost every innings - too much pressure on the top order!
  4. Gilo hasn't had enough cricket and we need a more attacking option;
  5. what kind of message does it send out that you will drop a strike bowler (Monty) and a decent wicketkeeper, who did little wrong in recent tests? especially when you bring in someone who has no form, and a wicketkeeper who has not done the job with the bat.
How does this reflect on e-learning? There are key people and their role in agenda-setting and in managing key moments and in setting the ethos is critical. How will this be developed during our baselining process? More importantly, how will this be iterated as an outcome of our baselining process? What will we need to change and how?

Monday, December 04, 2006


the interesting thing to me about teamwork is that it encompasses people who you may not usually expect to work well together. take Collingwood and Pietersen, who on the face of it appear to be wholly different characters, but when faced with a key objective (bat England into a winning position and bat the Ozzies out of the game) they click and work as foils for each other. it's the ability to see the issue in the round and then develop a strategy to deal with it.

a side issue is whether batting Pietersen at 4 rather than 5 would give him and England more options, whether hewould bat as well with Bell at 2 wickets down, or whether he wuld feel encumbered by batting with a long-ish tail. he is clearly the man the Ozzies feel could take a match, and possibly the Ashes, away from them in a session. so England need to find the best series of combinations to enhance his value to the team.

I reckon it's like looking at, for instance, the use of a Wiki plus SKYPE or a synchronous chat tool to enhance diagnostic work with distance learners. What are the best series of combinations to enhance the overall value of what you are trying to achieve.

however, of more concern to me at the moment is the bowling. So:
  1. you have to take 20 wickets to win a test;
  2. Flintoff has a damaged foot;
  3. Gilchrist looks to have nailed his round-the-wicket demons and Flintoff's injury makes this less of a concern for the Ozzies - will Fred really be fit to bowl in Perth?
  4. Harmison may as well go home;
  5. Gilo's figures so far are no worthy of a place in an attacking team: so far he has 1 - 158 and has scored 74 runs. however, he dropped Ponting on 35 and the test is subsequently heading towards a draw - a defining moment;
  6. you have to take 20 wickets to win a test - we need strike bowlers;
  7. the middle order is scoring and the Ozzie bowling looks ordinary;
  8. play Panesar - what exactly would we have lost by playing him rather than Gilo or clearly unfit Anderson?

this bowling attack is NOT going to win us a test. the management's uber-defensive style is a sign of weakness. take the risk - you never know what might happen.

risks,it all comes back to that really. we've taken the decision, given a lack of engagement across the institution with benchmarking (to be honest we are implementing this using a low impact approach), to do the following - low risk, max engagement.

  1. Area leaders to get their draft materials to me by Friday 15 December at noon. I will collate this into a WIKI on Blackboard for us all to:
    > Edit;
    > Identify any weaknesses/holes in the information; and
    > Identify from whom we may be able to get the information.
    This editing/identifying to be done by Wednesday 3 January at 5pm.
  2. Thursday 4 January: I, or maybe my boss, will email those identified as able to provide further info with original outline. Responses to be collated in the WIKI on Wednesday 10 January.
  3. Wednesday 10 January: I will inform ou Bb users that the evidence exists in the WIKI and ask for comments by 17 January.
  4. Wednesday 17 January: I will collate information into a single document for the relevant PVC: to reach PVC by Friday 19 January.
  5. Monday 22 January: we'll email the IRD to OBHE.

A interesting sub-text to all this is that we have also emailed out to all of our Blackboard users a long questionnaire about e-learning use, badged as follows:

"This will be the first major canvass of staff e-learning practice since we rolled Blackboard out. Your involvement is critical in enabling us to get a fuller picture of your practice and expectations, so that we can make appropriate changes."

I've already had 5 completed questionnaires back with the user's thanks for asking for their views. just taking the plunge sometimes seems to work.

The Usual Suspects.
I don't know about you but having been through this exercise and written the first draft of one of the sections, the answers to the questions keep coming back to the same people everytime - a bit like Sven always having "D. Beckham" at the top of his teamsheet or Duncan Fletcher not having the guts to drop Flintoff if he was to drop in form. The same is true with e-learning; everything comes back to either the faculty e-learning coordinators or the University e-learning coordinator. Now we all know that these people do a fantastic job, often against all sorts of odds, but I do worry about the institution relying on a (relatively) small group of experts. Surely the aim is to get the institution - and its constituent parts - to take ownership. They won't do that as long as they think its someone else's job/responsibility. I don't have an answer, other than to say that there cannot surely be any link in anyone's mind between Real Madrid buying and keeping el Beckham for his stunning good looks and marketable sex appeal and the University appointing Richard Hall!

Monday, November 27, 2006

What a pain-in-the-butt hindsight can be; it generally shows that you should have done things differently and highlights the problems in your decision-making process. For instance, how do you arrive at a collective, selectoral decision about specific players when only one person has the whole picture about those players (in England's case the coach) and yet his view may be coloured by the past, or by his personal preferences, or by his inability to look beyond the defensive or the hopeful. There's something of the soothsayer in this; in retrospect we can all see that the collective success at the Ashes pivoted around a team where each individual contributed. (Even Ian Bell, folks! Two fifties at Old Trafford set Vaughan up for his ton and enabled us to take a whole day to try to bowl them out; plus after Jones he took the most catches.)

Does that team ethic exist now? Or are we desparate for certain names to perform? Selecting Harmison and Anderson look like gambles after-the-fact, and the choice of Jones and Giles instead of Read and Monty hardly changed the game. I don't think that this is a case of the heart ruling the head, but I do wonder whether Fletcher's conservatism will enable us to press home the few advantages we have over the baggy greens.

So what do we do ahead of Adelaide? Maybe thinking a little less about them and a little more about us. We have to win a test, which means we have to take 20 wickets (given that we took 10 in Brisbane this looks ominous). So the team needs some clear-cut, strategic-yet-ruthless decisions to be taken now: namely, drop Harmison and Anderson and play Mahmoud and Monty; going with two spinners in Adelaide plus KP means that you need a proper keeper, so re-instate Read; remove the burden of captaincy from Fred and give it to Strauss so that the former can concentrate on trying to win us the game without the weight of decision-making for the collective around his neck.

So today's benchmarking bit with reference to "clear-cut, strategic-yet-ruthless decisions". Are we going to get some from benchmarking? Will hindsight show that those models we have deployed, based on history or personal preference, have failed to deliver value-4-money? What will it unearth about the hidden implementation of e-learning? From talking to some of our benchmarking team it seems that we're getting to the point now where some of the nuances of implemetation are being unearthed: notably strategic and cultural differences within faculties and departments, and amongst students.

But also, what will that history tell us about our future? Do we stick with the same approach that seems to have bought us long-term gains based on a few quick wins so far, or is it time for a re-think? If so, is that re-think based on what's needed now, or in the next 5 years - and can we know that anyway?

BTW The mighty Saddlers won 2-1 and sit 7 points clear. They aren't vexing me enough to comment here. Yet. You'll be pleased to know.