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Betwixt and betwain: What is the legitimate role of central facilities in enhancing the quality of flexibly delivered learning resources?

Peter Hosie and Jackie Willis
Resources Development Centre (RDC)
Learning Innovation and Future Technologies (LIFT)
Edith Cowan University

Introduction

This paper seeks to highlight the value of a central facility within a university environment in facilitating the achievement of strategic goals by directing resources to tactical areas. A case study is used to illustrate the role of a central facility in achieving these strategic objectives by operationalising policy and implementing the necessary support systems.

Edith Cowan University has a relatively long and distinguished history as, firstly, a distance education provider, and secondly, as a leader in the application of new technologies in the design, development and delivery of units and courses. Maintaining and building upon this reputation in an increasingly competitive marketplace requires a more systematic approach to supporting flexible, student centred learning with the appropriate and relevant technologies. The University can no longer rely on the expertise of a few individuals. Implementation of innovations cannot afford to continue to be funded in isolation to the goals of the University's Strategic Plan and the Teaching and Learning Management Plan.

The vision of ECU is to be a progressive university of higher learning, able to service on campus, external and international students via flexible learning opportunities supported by a mix of the latest educational and productivity technologies. The University's objective is to become nationally and internationally recognised for the excellence of its teaching and learning and for the commitment it demonstrates in providing service for its students. This vision sets ECU apart as a university where academic staff develop and value their professional expertise in teaching, and in the construction of learning environments, as highly as their subject matter knowledge and research achievements.

Centre for Learning Innovation and Future Technologies (LIFT)

The Centre for Learning Innovation and Future Technologies (LIFT) is the University's primary resource for accomplishing these aims. LIFT consists of four interrelated areas: the Resources Development Centre, Professional Development Centre, Special Projects section and Quality Assurance section [http://www.ecu.edu.au/lift/pdc/admin/liftstaff.html].

The impetus for LIFT comes from well articulated University priorities that are reflected in the ECU Strategic Plan Update and the associated functional plans (in particular the Teaching and Learning Management Plan). Also the emergence of service gaps (such as Alternate Entry Pathways, University Preparation Course, generic skills, and domestic and international alliances) have contributed to the momentum for these changes to policies and practices.

In addition, the higher education environment itself is rapidly changing with greater emphasis on online learning, learner centred approaches, quality assurance, and decreasing funding. The need for a central resource such as LIFT was considered essential to clarify core business and to prioritise strategies.

LIFT works closely with academic staff and the Faculty Associate Deans (Teaching and Learning) and other representatives from various Faculties. LIFT's primary clients are University staff (academic and general); Faculties (through the offices of the Associate Deans, Teaching and Learning or other representatives) Schools (through Heads of Schools) and clients external to the University. A key role of LIFT is to provide a focus for cultural change characterised by the development and maintenance of a strong teaching and learning culture within the University. LIFT also plays central roles in:

LIFT is also responsible for ensuring that general staff throughout the University have the skills and professional development experiences they need to succeed and to advance their careers in a newly reorganised, customer focussed work environment.

Since its inception in May 2000, LIFT's main focus has been in delivering existing services, new services, revising its plans and re-engineering processes to improve targeting resources to the University's strategic priorities, particularly in relation to cost effectiveness.

Much effort has been directed towards: reviewing past practices, designing and implementing new processes, freeing up resources, and targeting priorities to achieve the University 2002 outcomes. Considerable effort has gone into establishing effective working relationships with Centres and Faculties and developing processes for efficient and professional management. The key objectives of LIFT are summarised as follows:

  1. Enhance the ability of academic and general staff to attain University strategic goals and abilities through the provision of quality professional development.

  2. Provide strategically focussed leadership and support for student centred learning environments.

  3. Achieve measurable improvements in teaching and learning outcomes across the University.

  4. Initiate and manage projects that attract and retain capable students who might not otherwise have enrolled in and succeeded at ECU.

  5. Realise the commercial potential of products and services provided for the Centre's primary clients and provide other products and services to external clients.

  6. Identify and respond to relevant objectives and strategies from Key University Plans.
The case study in this paper focuses on one role of the Resources Development Centre (RDC) in achieving ECU strategic goals.

Resources Development Centre

The RDC is primarily responsible for the design and production of educational resources to meet the needs of the University's teaching program by providing: Additional RDC roles and responsibilities include providing: RDC Instructional Designers and Materials Developers are allocated to Faculties (Business and Public Management; Communications, Health and Science; and Community Services, Education and Social Sciences) to facilitate the goal of service excellence. Locating Instructional Designers and Materials Developers in the Faculties provides more accessibility for academic staff who are the main RDC customers. These positions have been located within the Faculty to develop and sustain a close working relationship with key clients. Locating these positions within the Faculty is intended to improve communication to ensure the integration of activities between LIFT and the Faculties.

Bridging the divide: Operationalising the strategic plan

At ECU there has been substantial growth in the number of flexibly delivered, paper based units over the last 10 years, as illustrated in Figure 1. The RDC initiated an operational review in an effort to curb the exponential growth in flexibly delivered print based courses and units. This initiative was necessary to rationalise existing resources. Growth in new units needed to be contained as did the proliferation of nonviable units with low enrolments, in order to reduce the demand on finite University resources. This ensured integrity of learning materials was retained and permitted the University to increase the capacity to redirect resources to alternative flexible delivery strategies.

Figure 1

Figure 1: Growth in the number of flexible units prepared (1984-2001)

From Figure 1, it is apparent that the desired trend in the reduction in the total number of units developed has commenced and, as a consequence, the percentage of growth of units is also falling. This situation is being addressed by the RDC through the process of strategic planning and operationalising outcomes. There are three main steps in the process: focussing the effort through strategic planning, formulating policy to achieve strategic goals and operationalising policy in the form of systems and processes to achieve the primary goal of "flexibility in delivery, course structures and enrolment modes" (ECU Strategic Plan 1998-2002). Figure 2 illustrates how this process is being kept coupled, as it is being rolled out.

Figure 2

Figure 2: LIFT strategic planning and operationalisation of outcomes

Focussing Effort through Strategic Planning: ECU Teaching and Learning Management Plan

ECU's Strategic Planning is articulated in the Teaching and Learning Management Plan:
[ http://www.ecu.edu.au/secretariat/acbdmins/doc/T_Learning_Mngmnt_Plan_V10.pdf]
The five key objectives of the Teaching and Learning Management Plan are aligned with the University's overarching objectives detailed in The ECU Strategic Plan 1998-2002:
[ http://www.ecu.edu.au/vco/stratpln/sp98_con.html]
LIFT features prominently in the achievement of all these objectives.

Objective 4 of the Teaching and Learning Management Plan illustrates one important aspect of the tight link between LIFT's operationalisation of ECU's Strategic Planning. This objective focuses on cost effectiveness (ie. controlling costs and increasing revenue), particularly for flexibly delivered courses/units. Strategy 4.2 states explicitly that ECU "Encourages and supports the closure or restructuring of low enrolment, non-strategic programmes and redirection of resources to other courses". A strong and strategic analysis of ECU courses was identified as being essential to achieving this outcome. Specifically, "LIFT will provide and develop guidelines to Faculties for the production of cost effective materials for FD [flexible delivery]" (LIFT Strategic Plan 2001). Strategy 4.3 states that ECU will "Reduce the cost of materials for external delivery" with expected outcome to; "Reduce the frequency of re-development."

Initiating and Formulating Policy: Flexible Delivery Prioritisation and Central Resource Allocation

As any veteran of tertiary education organisational dynamics knows, all too well, it is one thing to have a strategic plan but yet another to put it into action. One way to break this cycle is to initiate the operationalisation of policy once it is formulated.

The University's resources for pursing flexible delivery options are limited and are being restricted by traditional practices. Much of the resources are directed to producing print based materials. Resources need to be freed and focussed to enable Faculties to have the capacity to direct strategies (including face to face, online and print based learning environments) for developing quality rather than quantity flexibly delivered learning materials. These are driven by what best suits the needs of learners, as described in the ECU Strategic Plan:

The Division of Learning and Technology [Centre for Learning Innovation and Future Technologies (LIFT)] will introduce a coordinated program for the extension of flexible learning including computer mediated education and interactive multimedia options. Distance education will connect more closely with on campus courses and services by locating the distance learning division on a teaching campus and giving consideration to matching the schedule for distance education with the on campus course schedule (p.13).
The central focus of the RDC within LIFT is on flexible delivery innovation and initiatives that benefit the whole University. Faculties have recognised the implications of exceeding the resource allocations available, which may include: Given the perennial assumption and reality that the University has limited resources and that quality of learning resources is fundamental to its strategy, the third option is most likely to be achieved. Table 1 provides the framework for attaining the outcomes outlined in the Flexible Delivery Prioritisation and Resource Allocation Framework:
[ http://www.ecu.edu.au/secretariat/acbdmins/doc/001102/FD%20Policy.pdf]
This policy was devised to achieve these outcomes described in Table 1.

Table 1: Flexible delivery prioritisation and resource allocation framework

1. Aims

The Flexible Delivery Prioritisation and Central Resource Allocation Framework aims to:
    align ECU's instructional materials development and delivery investment with strategic priorities and available University resources across a range of learning environments to enable Faculties to effectively and efficiently utilise resources provided by the Resource Development Centre and Flexible Delivery Centre for the design, development and delivery of flexible delivery resources.
2. Principles

Two principles underpin the policy framework:

    Strategic allocation of Student Service Centre (SSC) and LIFT resources for the design, development and delivery of flexible delivery materials should be subject to Faculty authorisation and approval processes.

    Faculty authorisation and approval processes should prioritise and direct resources to strong, strategic and niche course offerings that:


    • are within the University's scholarship areas defined as strong and strategic or are considered to be forthcoming areas (supported by Faculty Plans and business cases) complement Faculty and ECU plans and support the strategic focus of the Faculty.

    • coincide with University planning cycles and production schedules to ensure quality, efficiency and timely access of materials to students, including meeting RDC & FDC submission deadlines and standards are within RDC and FDC resource capacity allocations to Faculties emphasises quality of product development rather than quantity of output.
3. Approval criteria and processes

The University needs to strategically direct its finite resources, but at the same time accommodate flexibility and discretion over how the resources may be directed. The University sets broad "corporate" policy with specific criteria for decision making devolved to Faculties.

3.1 Corporate level criteria and processes
3.1.1 Course delivery modes

    Faculties will develop and implement criteria to direct resources to appropriate flexible delivery modes with a particular emphasis on online learning.
Course delivery mode(s) will be:
    aligned to the Faculty and University strategies (including ECU Plan and Teaching and Learning Management: A Strategic Framework for Achievement to 2002) supported by University and Faculty services and resources
3.2 Faculty level criteria and processes

The following criteria for developing and delivering flexible delivery materials should underpin Faculties' policy and decision making processes for assigning LIFT/SSC (Student Support Centre) allocated resources for flexible delivery. Where these are not met and considered by the Faculty to be important, a business case should be provided to the Faculty Executive to substantiate approval. Faculties will need to fund additional development where their priorities exceed the resources allocated from LIFT and SSC. The availability of additional services will not be guaranteed, but LIFT and the SSC will endeavour to provide the services required as specified in the Service Level Agreement (SLA) and subject to resource and operational constraints.

  • Key course offerings
  • Student numbers
  • Faculty resource management
4. Faculty approval process

Where possible, existing Faculty approval processes should be used to prioritise and direct resources for the design, development and delivery of flexible delivery resources. Coordination and management of the process between the Faculties and Service Centres is through the Associate Deans (Teaching and Learning), Associate Dean, Bunbury and Associate Director, WAAPA. A copy of the Faculty's approval process will be provided to RDC and FDC [the process is outlined in Figure 3].

Figure 3

Figure 3: Faculty approval processes

Operationalising Policy: Service Level Agreement (SLA)

The SLA formalises RDC's relationship with the Faculties and academic staff and with the Faculty Associate Deans (Teaching and Learning) as well as the relevant representatives from ECU Faculties and Centres.

The SLA focuses on the role the RDC's role in providing services and products, which support staff in designing, developing and evaluating student centred flexible learning environments and materials. In particular, it concerns the design and development of paper based materials.

Rationale and Purpose of the Service Level Agreement (SLA)

In order to achieve service excellence, there needed to be a very clear delineation of roles and responsibilities between LIFT (RDC) and the Faculties of CSESS, CHS, BPM, Bunbury and WAAPA. This is assisting to avoid redundant communications and potential misunderstandings and ensuring an efficient workflow between the RDC and the Faculties. A key platform of a SLA is to manage the expectations of both parties to the agreement. The purpose of the SLA is to clarify, between the parties to the Agreement, the terms and conditions associated with the: Whilst the agreement deals with organisational and management issues such as the roles and responsibilities of Faculties and the RDC, its primary focus is in providing a visibility of resource allocation and avenues to work beyond resource allocations without quality implications.

Resource Allocation Process/Matrix

Faculties are allocated RDC staff to support the production of paper based flexibly delivered learning materials. This allocation needs to be limited and the number of units according to production type (print ready, minor change, major change, unit re-write and new) need to be within the allocation. Table 2 indicates annual capacity in hours of the resources available to Faculties from the RDC.

The RDC has implemented a system to track and validate hours spent on unit development and this data will be tabled to the Faculties upon request and at the six-monthly review period. These figures do not include the development of online units. Online development hours will be tabled at the six-monthly review. In order to prioritise and select units for RDC production, Faculties will need to consider the total allocation of hours per service and the number of hours required per development type as detailed in Table 2.

Table 2: Annual RDC Faculty Support production capacity


Total hoursNet hoursTotal Faculty hoursCSESS hoursCHS hoursBPM hoursBunbury
Instructional design (ID) 4950371333421114111411140
Material development (MD) 594044554010133613361071267
Desktop publishing (DTP) 4950371333421114111411140
Total 158401188110694356435643299267

Table 3 illustrates an example of unit production within the allocated hours. This is an example of how Faculties may use their discretion to calculate the number of units they wish to have delivered in the flexible delivery mode. The formula for calculating the number of units based on hours per production type will be reviewed during the period of the SLA.

Table 3: Production hours required per development type


IDMDDTPTotal hrs
New 66131392
Rewrite 35131361
Major change 415726
Minor change 0729
Print ready 0202

Table 4 provides an example of how the resources matrix will apply to Faculties for the allocation of resources.

Table 4: Example of Resources Prioritisation Matrix:
Faculty allocation for Semester 2/2001


IDMDDTPTotal hrs
per unit
No units
Sem 2/2001
Total
staff hours
New 661313925460
Re-write 351313618488
Major 41572615390
Minor 072942378
Print ready 02023366





1031782
Hours above/
below entitlement







Any production support for units required beyond the allocation of hours will be negotiated between the Faculty and the RDC; a fee for service may apply.

Conclusion

ECU has a distinguished history as distance education provider and leader in the application of new technologies in the design, development and delivery of units and courses. Maintaining and building on the University's reputation, in an increasingly competitive marketplace, requires a more systematic approach to supporting flexible, student centred learning using the appropriate technologies. Universities have traditionally relied on the expertise of a few individuals for implementing innovations in flexible delivery. Centres like LIFT strive to be more strategic in approaching the design, development and delivery of flexibly delivered learning.

Authors: Peter Hosie and Jackie Willis
Resources Development Centre (RDC)
Learning Innovations and Future Technologies (LIFT)
Edith Cowan University, Mt Lawley Campus
Mt Lawley, Western Australia 6050
Tel: +61 8 9370 6761 Fax: +61 8 9370 6233
Email: p.hosie@ecu.edu.au

Please cite as: Hosie, P. and Willis, J. (2001). Betwixt and betwain: What is the legitimate role of central facilities in enhancing the quality of flexibly delivered learning resources? In A. Herrmann and M. M. Kulski (Eds), Expanding Horizons in Teaching and Learning. Proceedings of the 10th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, 7-9 February 2001. Perth: Curtin University of Technology. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf2001/hosie.html


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