Monday, July 15, 2019

A supportive environment for developing learning technology

Two recent talks I've attended have got me thinking about how Universities can provide a supportive environment for developing new learning technologies.

At JISC Connect More I saw a presentation about Noteable, a rather impressive repackaging of JupyterNotes as an LTI Tool developed at EDINA, a department in the University of Edinburgh's Information Services that does specialist applied research and development. This link between R&D and central IT seems to me to be one of the components that is needed for effective learning technology development. Both the willingness to experiment and to accept occasional failure of a research department, and the IT department's relatively flexible funding and   ability to provide a robust stable service are needed. A few years ago I visited EDINA for a job interview, and I was really impressed at the quality of their space - another essential factor for efficient software development. (Unfortunately I didn't get the job.)

A few weeks ago I also attended a talk from Simon Buckingham Shum,  Director of the Connected Intelligence Centre at  UTS. Simon's talk covered a range of topics, but one thing that struck me was the organizational set-up of CIC, another place that does very impressive Learning Technology development.
At CIC, academics and developers work closely together, and the department is not part of the central IT services or if the computing science research and teaching department, and reports directly to the DVC Education. This means that the actual experts have direct contact with the final decision-maker, rather than having several layers of managers & committees between them.

These two departments provide a model for supporting good learning technology development, but perhaps not one that is easy to replicate at other universities. In a future blog post I'll try to put together some ideas for a way of getting these benefits without major resource implications.

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