I listened to my own advice, and it’s changed.

I’ve just enjoyed a fantastic discussion with our Quality and Innovation manager about how learning technology supports the learning process, and how we could develop use in order to deliver further benefit to learners. It’s always great to discuss just how much more can be done with technology, than simply to acknowledge the ‘current position’ or dwell on the challenges we may have to overcome.

What I found most interesting was listening to my own advice. In the past, I’ve always been a believer that in order to attain a high level of usability, an IT department must maintain a relatively high level of ‘control’ over available systems, applications and services; be somewhat prescriptive about what is available, and encourage conformity among users. Today, however, my advice was exactly the opposite. Is this centrally administered and coordinated approach as relevant as it might have been in years gone by? Perhaps not.

When I first joined this college, things were very different. Sure, we had a network that was growing and developing, but it also had some significant problems. The method I have always employed to build consistency and reliability into our facilities is to closely manage the development process – carefully steering each development opportunity in line with the vision for a ‘utopian’ network.

Unfortunately, the concept of a ‘utopian’ network is a subjective one. My view, and that of my team, hasn’t always been the same as that of others using the facilities. What we offer doesn’t always accurately match the needs of the user, but might be the ‘next best thing’. Far more likely perhaps, is that we offer the more manageable alternative!

Establishing a standard platform for student e-portfolios has been on the agenda for some time now. As has been the case in our past, the objective has been to provide a solution that we can all use. That probably implies a few characteristics. College hosted. Centrally managed. In our control. Is it really going to be the case that our learners would look at this portfolio offering – a very personal tool – as something they really want to use? After all, for a learner to regard their e-portfolio as a significant learning tool, they must feel some degree of ownership – the more the better. They will also want to maintain their content after they have finished their studies here, take their portfolio with them, allow it to evolve and change as they develop and grow.

It was discussing e-portfolios when I listened to the advice I was giving. I notice how much it had changed. I no longer find myself saying ‘here’s the solution we’ve identified’ closely followed by ‘and here’s how you use it’. It’s now more common for me to advise, ‘here’s a good option, but you might have other ideas’, followed by ‘I’ll help you work with your choice’.