Project Summary

The main focus of this project is to discover how to use digital technologies to support teachers in designing effective technology-enhanced learning (TEL). The project is based on four key assumptions: 
  1. Teachers will be required to use progressively more TEL;
  2. the teaching community should be at the forefront of TEL innovation, and not cede responsibility to other professionals;
  3. the development of new knowledge, in this case about professional practice, should be carried out in the spirit of reflective collaborative design; and
  4. the same technologies that are changing the way students learn can also support teachers’ own learning in new ways. Computer-supported collaborative learning has long been established as an important form of TEL for students; we believe it is equally applicable to teachers’ professional development.

However, despite their key role in any radical educational change that might be brought about by the introduction of TEL, there has been no large-scale development of software to assist teachers in the critical task of design. In contrast with course and lesson planning for a conventional environment, the innovative nature of TEL presents a new kind of design challenge. For example, teachers need support in working out how to introduce technology gradually within resource constraints, to exploit existing materials and to optimise TEL for the benefit of their learners. Therefore, we are addressing the following research problems:

  • What kind of digital environment will enable teachers as a community of practitioners to lead innovation and carry out successful design for TEL?
  • What are appropriate ways of modelling the activity of learning design conceptually, so that it can be implemented within a digital environment?
  • To what extent can we adapt existing approaches to user modelling to the complex activity of collaborative learning design?
  • What are the optimal forms of representation of knowledge about teaching and learning?
  • What are the appropriate ways to represent learning designs so that they can be tested, adapted, shared and reused by teachers and lecturers?

We are working with practising teachers to research, and co-construct, an interactive learning design support environment, the Learning Designer, to scaffold teachers’ decision-making from basic planning to creative TEL design. Through this iterative research-design process we hope to address the above issues and build the means by which the teaching community can collaborate further on how best to deploy TEL. We aim to lower the TEL threshold so that the majority of teachers can engage with it in a way that draws on good practice by others and is informed by the findings of pedagogical research, thereby optimising the benefits to their learners.

The co-investigators have been working on JISC and CDE (University of London Centre for Distance Education) projects with teachers in HE, FE, and Adult and Community Learning to build prototype ‘design for learning’ tools that help them innovate, reflect on and further improve their TEL practice as they plan a module over several weeks or design a single learning ’session’. These early design-support tools are the London Pedagogy Planner, an interactive tool for designing teaching and learning at both the module and session levels, and Phoebe, which supports the design of individual sessions and incorporates a community-owned resource bank of learning designs. Early trials with lecturers yielded enthusiastic responses to the basic underlying concepts and functionality of both tools, but they also sharpened our understanding of the critical research and development issues yet to be addressed (Laurillard et al., 2007; Masterman & Manton, 2007). Our aim, then, is to take this initial work forward into the construction and evaluation of an LDSE that makes TEL innovation a rewarding, creative, shared process for teachers in all sectors including, ultimately, schools.

“More interesting than thinking about what’s possible in 10 years, is thinking what’s possible now but that no-one has built.” (Clay Shirky, Observer Magazine, p12, 15 Feb 09)