Background Readings

The educationalist John Biggs has a famous theory for improving the learning experience of students that he calls 'The Aligned Curriculum'. It is both simple and profound – everything that the teacher / institution does should be geared to supporting and making the stated learning outcomes of a curriculum possible. In his book, he identifies why this does not always happen and suggests solutions. We can use the same approach in relation to assessing students learning using technology (e-assessment). To help with this we can use the concept of the Aligned Institution–where every part must work together to deliver effective results – and that usually means a substantial change from the status quo that cuts across different and diverse interest groups inside and outside the institution. Biggs work provides a very useful bridge to Instructional Design techniques with its emphasis on criterion based assessment (see below). Its also especially useful as a negotiating tool in dealing with staff and educational developers and theorists when introducing new techniques involving technology as can provide a common vocabulary.

Developing e-assessment is covered by the discipline of Design Science (particularly the ideas of Service Design) that itself draws on many disciplines. Don Norman has written a classic book on principles of effective design practice in The Design of Everyday Things. In it he makes the startling observation that knowledge about how things work in an organisation is often not written down or recorded formally in policy or technical manuals etc. It often resides in people and in things. Finding out how things really work is the first step to changing them. Don Norman quote here ...

The work of Enid Mumford and colleagues at the Tavistock Institute is a strong influence on our approach and on others like Don Norman. This has since come to be known as Socio-Technical Design. Like the ideas of John Biggs regarding education this is both simple and profound – introducing technology into a workplace or existing system without taking account of the cultures and ways of working of the people involved is likely to fail. In other words, people are not things. Mumford and her colleagues discovered this in the context of introducing automation into the coal mining industry after the second world war. If you want a more recent example, consider
the failure (£20 billion worth of failure!) of the UK government to computerise the National Health Service.

Being Digital by Nicholas Negroponte of MIT Media Lab provides a typically visionary and upbeat account of the changes that digital technologies are bringing to business and society. In this classic text Negroponte makes the insightful observation that this means we are in an economy that is transitioning from being based on atoms to one based on electrons – in other words from things to information. This is certainly true for education where things in the form of paper still dominate our assessment practice but we are steadily.

Instructional Design is a term that is widely used to describe a systematic and team based approach to teaching with technology in the USA and elsewhere. It originated in the need to rapidly train workers in new techniques in the second world war and to meet the needs of industry afterwards. It is now used widely in higher education and vocational education in the USA and elsewhere and makes extensive use of technology. Good examples of this approach can be found in the offerings of distance learning providers like the Open University where this kind of approach is needed – see the UK FutureLearn MOOC platform for examples. For cultural reasons the term and associated techniques are not used much in the UK public education system (although they are in the commercial training sector in the UK). Instead the term Learning Design is growing in HE in the UK. Broadly speaking (and rather contentiously) the UK is behind the rest of the world in this area with teaching practice concentrating on the role of the individual teacher. But to use technology effectively, traditional patterns of individual teaching do not work at all well. A useful attempt to bridge this cultural and pedagogical divide has been provided by Diana Laurillard in her book Teaching as a Design Science. In the USA Don Clark, has assembled a useful collection of resources related to Instructional design.

The Jisc guide to Networked Learning in Higher Education: Produced by the Centre for Studies in Advanced Learning Technology at Lancaster University. This is unusual in the literature in that it argues that the introduction of technology requires a complete rethink in working practices and a re-evaluation of fundamental ideas and values about how we treat students. A long read but useful.

Last modified: Monday, 3 Jul 2017, 14:27