Staff ICT and e-learning skills in Scottish higher education
by Sarah Price
In 2004 the Regional Support Centres in Scotland prepared an online training needs survey, at the behest of the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council (SHEFC), to gauge the ICT-related skills of staff in the 20 higher education institutions in Scotland (http://www.rsc-ne-scotland.ac.uk/hetna). This work, completed and published in 2005, helped give an accurate picture of the current situation, and additionally illuminated some areas of similarity between the experience of staff in further and higher education (FE and HE). The Regional Support Centres were in a good position to make comparisons across much of Scottish post-16 education as they had prepared a similar study the previous year for all 45 colleges of further education (http:// www.rsc-ne-scotland.ac.uk/etna).
The online survey contained five versions of a questionnaire for the following categories of staff
By including administrative and other support staff, the intention was to provide a holistic picture of IT use, current skills and training need across the entire university staff population. Overall, an average response rate of 23 percent was achieved for all institutions.
- Academic, Research, Academic-Related;
- Library and Information Services;
- Senior Management;
- IT & Networking;
- Administrative and all other support staff.
Although the research was directly sponsored by SHEFC, the Regional Support Centres tried as hard as possible to design the survey so that it would return useful information to individual institutions, to enable them to have a clear understanding of the local need in their specific cases. Data protection legislation permitting, anonymised summary results were offered back to local managers and staff development officers. This proved to be a popular method of gaining support from local contacts.
Comparing the results obtained both from the HE and the FE surveys, it is clear that in some areas colleges and universities are striving for similar things: both are equally concerned to procure and deploy interoperable and efficient computer infrastructures to support the learning process. These systems are identified most often as Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs), Management Information Systems and Library Systems. In using the systems effectively, there are often similarities in the sort of staff training that is required, whether those staff are working in further or higher education.
However, despite the near universal deployment of some sort of VLE in practically every Scottish university, it is worth looking in more detail at the VLE-related responses from individual members of staff. In one question, respondents were simply asked whether their institution or department had a VLE. The question was posed in such a way that its meaning should have been easily understood, even if the acronym VLE was not a familiar term. As shown in the figure below, a large proportion of academics were unaware of the existence of any kind of VLE locally. Where awareness did exist, the two most popular VLE systems cited were BlackBoard and WebCT, although in some institutions the survey revealed a multiplicity of platforms in existence. Though some universities had adopted a VLE on an institution-wide basis, this model was much more frequently found in colleges. Within HE the VLE was often found to be deployed at a departmental rather than at an institutional level.
Figure 1: Does your institution/dept have a VLE? (HETNA Survey, 2004) However, knowing about a VLE does not necessarily imply that it is being used, or that respondents even know how to use it. Of the already greatly reduced numbers of academics who were aware of the VLE’s existence, an extremely small proportion admitted to using it in any of the common ways listed in the table below. A further issue to note in this table is that the overwhelming majority of respondents either made no response to this section of the survey (n/r) or marked it as not applicable (n/a). Normally, survey designers would consider a question to be flawed if such large proportions of respondents appeared unable or unwilling to provide an answer. In this case, however, it is clear that the level of disengagement is a reflection of the fact that in most institutions the VLE has a long way to go before being accepted as an essential tool for learning and teaching.
Although variations were evident between institutions, across the sector as a whole the survey demonstrated a pressing need for awareness-raising, clear communication of policy, and training in the use of Virtual Learning Environments.
If you use a VLE, do you use it to…
|…deliver online resources?
|…track the progress of learners?
|…communicate with learners?
Table 1: Academic use made of VLEs
One area of variation between the sectors is with respect to teaching qualifications held. As would be expected, in FE, where staff tend to spend a larger proportion of their time on teaching than on research, the vast majority of staff have a teaching qualification. In HE, by contrast, the number with any kind of teaching qualification is much lower. Both sectors were nearly identical, however, in relation to qualifications in online teaching. In both cases few staff had any kind of formal qualification in supporting the student in the online environment and it is possible to anticipate that both sectors may eventually request a benchmark qualification in this area.
This short paper describes some of the methodology and main conclusions of the online survey run by the Scottish Regional Support Centres. The research was based on the responses of thousands of individuals across Scottish HE. Within the overall survey project, a smaller number of face to face interviews with key institutional informants were also conducted by project partners SCROLLA and Glenaffric plc. Conclusions from these interviews and further details about the online survey are available at www.hetna.org.uk.
JISC Regional Support Centre
Scotland North & East
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