ESCalate Bulletin No. 14 (1 April 2003)


  1. ESCalate Events
  2. White Paper on Higher Education and Cooke Report on Quality Enhancement: Your Responses
  3. Do's and Don'ts for using VLEs
  4. URL of the Month
  5. Heads of Department Forum: 18th February
  6. News
  7. Web News

ESCalate Events

Education Studies: Towards An Identity
ESCalate would like you to invite colleagues to a seminar, to be held at Newman College of Higher Education, Birmingham on Thursday 8th May 2003. Education (or Educational) Studies is a recognised area of study in Higher Education with its own official definition and benchmarks (QAA, 2000). Yet its practitioners continue to encounter a number of contradictions in their working lives.
This seminar will seek to address both the theoretical questions posed by the teaching of Education(al) Studies in universities, and consider how it can develop from its current base.
Questions to be addressed are:
§ Has the area resolved the traditional conflict in interdisciplinary areas between depth and breadth?
§ Do the components of the interdisciplinary mix sit equally easily with one another?
§ What implications does the expansion of in-service professional development have for Education(al) Studies? Does it offer opportunities or dangers?
§ To what extent do Education(al) Studies courses on offer in UK universities and Higher Education colleges offer the full range of the disciplines in the "mix"?
§ Are the courses on offer in UK universities and colleges seen as having an identity distinct from the Initial Teacher Training courses with which they are usually placed?

Forthcoming ESCalate Events
(Details nearer the time)

- a conference for colleagues who work on CPD (short courses), to be held at Oxford Brookes in 5th September
- a day conference for colleagues who teach on doctoral programmes on 1st July, Regents College, London
- ESCalate again hope to have a strong presence at BERA this year, 11th - 13th September, in Edinburgh. More details to follow when they publish the timetable.
- 6th June ESCalate will be sponsoring the keynote speaker, Lee Harvey, at a conference 'Delivering Employabilty' hosted by the University of Glamorgan.

Other Events
23rd May 2003 10:30 am - 3:45 pm Friends House, London The Research / Policy Interface in Continuing Education organized by UACE, SCUTREA and SRHE. The seminar will address issues of communication and overlapping or competing interests, between research and policy communities. The aim is to refresh channels of communication, and identify priority areas for research, of interest to both policy makers and researchers.
Andrew Morris, Learning and Skills Development Agency; Bob Butcher, Head of Analytical Services Division, Adult Section, DfES; Gareth Parry, Sheffield University; Lorna Unwin, Leicester University; Vivian Leacock, Scottish Executive.
Online booking:
Contact for Registration:
UACE Seminar, Anna Page, PA to Professor Mary Thorpe, Institute of Educational Technology, The Open University, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes, MK7 6AA
Fax: 01908 654173 Email:
Seminar fee (including lunch): £50.00

10th June 2003 The School of Education, University of Nottingham hosts an one day conference 'Making Transition Work' focused on developments in the design and implementation of personal development planning provision to support transition between stages of further and higher education. Key themes will be:
HE progress files and....
- Transitions from 16-19 education/FE into undergraduate study
- Developing HE students' skills and employability
- Transitions from undergraduate courses into postgraduate study/employment and continuing professional development.
Contributions are invited from practitioners and researchers whose work relates to any of the key themes listed above. Proposals for interactive workshops/poster displays should be limited to 250 words and sent by Tuesday 15th April to
No conference fee is charged to presenters, for others it is £75 if you enrol by 30th April, £95 thereafter.

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White Paper on Higher Education and Cooke Report on Quality Enhancement: Your Responses

Professor Stephen McNair wrote:
"Can a University claim to be providing higher education if it is not involved in research and scholarship?"

The White Paper proposals do not propose that research should stop in any Universities (let alone scholarship). Rather it proposes that specific funding for research should be concentrated. As we discussed at the Heads of Department Forum, there are many forms of research and development. Much scholarship can be undertaken without specific research funding - either by external funded contracts from a range of sources, or by cross subsidising from teaching funds - legitimate if the research is enriching the learning experience of students. What the White Paper may be proposing in reality is a concentration of a particular, narrowly defined, form of research. The RAE Panel report suggests that we have limited collective capacity to undertake this, so concentration might be appropriate. The issue is how we make sure that all Universities are carrying out serious, relevant and high quality research in less RAE focused modes. Perhaps what we should be arguing for is some element of funding to underpin this kind of research (the scholarship funding which Dearing floated?).

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Do's and Don'ts for using VLEs

A contribution from our Associate Director, Colin Harrison, University of Nottingham
There are now many academics who have set up virtual learning environments (VLEs) and students who have experienced them. An LTSN Tranche Two project called SOLE (Students' Online Learning Experiences) has brought together colleagues from five LTSNs (Economics, Psychology, Education, Information and Computer Sciences, Hospitality, Leisure, Sport and Tourism), and ESCalate is participating in this very interesting attempt to bring together in a systematic way student perspectives on VLEs. Meanwhile, what do the rest of us need to know about VLEs? Here are some do's and don'ts for beginners, taken from an interview Colin Harrison conducted with Elizabet Weedon of Perth College, who is participating in the SOLE project, and who has been using VLEs as part of her teaching for a number of years. These are followed by some useful links for getting more information from the web on VLEs.

· get on-line every day if at all possible, especially early on - to check and monitor. Let students know when you will/will not be available.
· offer a face to face advisor.
· learn to touch-type! (It's NOT too late!)
· learn to use the student tracking/participation data that comes with the VLE.
· consider splitting up large, active groups and merge smaller or inactive groups.
· respect the right to lurk - but e-mail lurkers (those who sign on but don't participate) privately to check if there's a problem.

· jump immediately into a 'Help!' discussion - there could be 3 student replies in 2 days if you wait, but NONE if the tutor replies.
· set e-tasks that only involve providing information: set up tasks that require co-operation, negotiation, identifying questions.
· get stuck with the VLE - use the phone, consider NetMeeting, consider video conferencing.
· underestimate how difficult it is for a student to join a group after it's got going.

Useful links
You can find out more about the SOLE project at the following site:
A very full introduction to VLEs written by Ros O'Leary of the Economics LTSN and her colleague Andy Ramsden can be found at the following site:
This link to a page in Oxford outlines helpfully a number of policy and management issues associated with VLEs:
Although the financial details are slightly dated, this pdf file gives lots of information about the characteristics of two of the most widely used VLEs, WebCT and BlackBoard, and discusses cost and authentication issues.
This link gives information on some of the other VLE products, including coMentor, ELEN, and COSE (which is free- some VLEs cost tens of thousands of pounds)

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URL of the Month is the URL of TechDis, a JISC service which aims to improve provision for disabled staff and students in higher and further education through technology. Achieving this takes several routes. TechDis provides an advice and information resource via extensive web-based databases and an email help desk. These resources should be the first port of call for anyone in education who has a question relating to disability and technology. The TechDis staff also pursue outreach into the community by delivering presentations and facilitating workshops at cross-institutional events. Staff development workshops are held monthly on a range of issues relating to disability and technology in education. TechDis are also developing standalone staff development resources on a range of themes to enable particular issues to be discussed in more detail within institutions and departments. In addition to staff development tools and exercises to help design and develop accessible materials, TechDis also offers an accessibility database containing over 2,500 items of assistive technology used to support students with disability; a connections service, offering a register of expertise across the community; a knowledge database creating a searchable bank of information about technology and disability; and resources, articles and materials to provide support for both staff and students.

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Heads of Department Forum: 18th February

The report for this event is now on our website: see front page for details at

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Some of you may have attended events last year organized by UCET and the Teacher Training Agency, in which they consulted colleagues about the support needs of new ITE staff. The TTA have recently commissioned teams to produce subject related induction packs for such staff. This welcome initiative parallels work being done within the LTSN subject network on developing materials to support all lecturers. Most Subject networks, however, focus on the needs of new staff in undergraduate departments, while the needs of Education staff are rather different. ESCalate hopes to be able to keep you informed about these new developments, and to act as liaison between you and them. Terry Atkinson, a former ITE lecturer is currently collating materials to support Education tutors who teach on Cert. HE programmes, and this material will be on-line soon.

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Web News

Our re-designed website will be up and running very soon. We are still looking for contributions from colleagues in the field. Our remit is to collect, collate and disseminate instances of good practices in Education and Continuing Education in HE. Many colleagues assume that this means we are only interested in innovations, but this is not the case.
Think of it from your own point of view:
- What kinds of support would you like to find on our website when you are designing a new programme or unit, wondering how to assess learning outcomes, wondering how to organize the learning in a particular topic or section of a unit, etc etc.
- Now look at your own work and consider all the things you do which seem to work well with students on a particular programme. What do you regularly do because it has always appeared to work well?
Contact us an let us know: if you don't have time to write it up, then give the Manager a ring (Arlene on 0117 9247058) and we will arrange for someone to write up the material, send it to you for approval, and then put it on the website. The Easter break is coming up; why not think about a contribution to the new resources database while you are less busy than normal? Remember how it is constructed:

Programmes Categories
Initial Teacher Education for School Teachers Overview articles
BA/Bed Education Studies Curriculum Design
Foundation degrees Learning and Teaching
Masters degrees Assessment
Short Courses for CPD Quality Management and Enhancement
Doctoral programmes Student Support
PGCE for teaching in HE
PGCE for teaching in FE

Guidelines for producing materials for the web are available at

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