In The Sun Also Rises* one character asks another how they went broke. The reply is ‘Gradually, then suddenly’. I am reminded of this when people ask me about the progress of digital education at scale at University of Edinburgh. We have been world-leading in online masters courses for many years and our previous Principal invested heavily in digital innovation and technology for education. I am a grateful beneficiary of this in working with such a large learning technology group.
We have, for many years been persuading, inspiring and supporting colleagues to make use of online technologies to do their teaching in different and new ways. It was a long term, gradual, endeavor with 2 year, 5 year and 10 years plans.
And then Suddenly Last Summer** we have lifted and shifted the entire, enormous, unwieldy, UoE undergraduate offering online.
It is perhaps challenging for online learning leaders and learning technology aficionados to come to terms with the fact that we did not deliver this change through careful support, inspirational argument or the power of convincing evidence. We had to do it in ways we never anticipated. We have been forced to do things we hoped we would never have to do. We have put in place systems and support for rushed replication of on-campus delivery online. We have become middleware. We are at the same time essential and largely irrelevant. And we are caught in a crazy world in which students and staff who would previously have mounted barricades to resist the use of technology in their teaching are balloting their unions and lobbying management to insist on it.
How will this play out? If students do well in their exams this year will we hail the lift and shift as a success? Perhaps all our previous insistence on planned, careful design was unwarranted. Are exam results the measure of good teaching and learning? If so, it’s a good thing each institution has autonomy in assessment and everything is open to interpretation. In whose interest is it for the shift to online story to be told as a huge success or a massive failure? A truth serum may be what we need.
** Tennessee Williams
This post inspired by Vicki and Robyn who are missing a bit of gothic.