Most colleges and universities have some sort of centralised area of expertise regarding the use of learning technology. For some this will be 1 person as part of many other roles that they fulfill, at bigger organisations it will be a team of individuals dedicated to this area of work.
One problem with this model though is there becomes an unhealthy over reliance on those individuals – which if they leave or are off work for a period of time stops things happening. Also the gap between the abilities of the learning technologists and the average lecturing staff is widening due to the speed of change in this area of work, and only the technologists have the capacity to keep up.
I was lucky enough over the last year to work on an LSIS funded project with Loughborough College looking at a different model, where the expertise for certain technologies is devolved to teaching staff, which has the effect of building confidence, spreading the expertise, and putting the expertise into the teaching staff room.
The experiment involved the ‘learning technologists’ within the sports team mentoring lecturing staff as they explored and used a chosen technology with the idea that they became the ‘expert’ in that technology and the first point of call for other staff wanting help. The outputs from this project can be found a http://thehub.loucoll.ac.uk/lsistechnologyproject/ The outputs include at least 2 screencasts for each technology, and a simple user guide in that technology.
The next question is was the project a success? The short term indicators showed that the staff were more confident as a result, there was a noticeable knowledge shift away from the learning technologists to the teaching staff which was positive and staff were certainly using a wider range of technologies and using them better. The real test though will be in another 12-18 months time – to see if the teaching staff that became these experts are still ‘experts’ and are still influencing others around them.
From what I have seen though having worked through the process with the college, I think there is definitely merit in this ideology. It is challenging for many, as it does involve the technologists letting go slightly, and some may see this as a threat to their employment future – although I see it as an opportunity, I think there will always be a need for the technologist, it is just their role may change into including more mentoring and facilitating rather than just doing. This model would also require careful strategic planning and direction, and in the short term would take longer than sticking with the current model, which would be a real threat to is adoption else where, but if people could see the benefits of this model, then it certainly has potential.