November 25, 2015

UBC develops an institutional strategy for learning technologies

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The Amalfi Coast

The Amalfi Coast, Italy

Bates, S. et al. (2015) UBC’s Learning Technology Ecosystem: Developing a Shared Vision, Blueprint & Roadmap Vancouver BC: University of British Columbia

I’ve not been posting much recently as I am taking a three week holiday in Europe (the photo is my view as I write this), but this report from the Provost’s Office at UBC is too significant to ignore.

What is it about?

The report basically sets out a vision and a set of strategies for the future development and management of learning technologies at UBC, a large Tier-1 research university in Canada. Although produced by a small Project Committee, it is the outcome of extensive discussions throughout the university and also externally with other institutions with successful learning technology strategies.

What is in the report?

1. Recognition of learning technology as an eco-system

A learning technology ecosystem represents faculty, staff and students interacting with their learning technology environment, composed of tools and services. There are dependencies in this ecosystem; between technologies, between technologies and services but also between users, technologies and services. The ecosystem is self-organizing, dynamic, constantly changing and evolving. Technologies are birthed, and they also are removed as new ones take their place.

2. Assessment of the current state of learning technologies

UBC uses a very interesting way of assessing the current state of learning technology within an institution, using the following conceptual framework:

UBC's current state assessment process framework

UBC’s current state assessment process framework

This has enabled the team to identify gaps in services, governance, funding and infrastructure.

Another interesting outcome of this process is that the report estimates that UBC is currently spending almost $10 million annually on supporting its LMS, of which 78% is incurred at a Faculty/academic department level, mainly in technical support for the LMS, the rest centrally, including licensing. Thus one technology tool is costing almost as much as the rest of the LT eco-system.

2. Vision and principles for LTs at UBC

UBC's LT vision and principles 2

3. Functions and services

Working group members identified functional gaps in the LT ecosystem, along with their relative importance. Similarly, members of the Working Group identified both phase-specific support required during LT life cycles, as well as support services required across the lifecycle. They identified which of the gaps required the most improvement and also prioritized them according to their relative importance.

4. Support models

UBC uses both central and local/departmental support models and because of the size and complexity of the organization, no major changes were suggested for support models (but see Governance below)

5. Governance

The working group found significant shortcomings in the current governance structure for LTs. In particular there was inadequate academic input into priorities for the selection and use of LT tools and services, and the student voice was not heard. The Working Group proposed a stronger governance model as a result.

6. Other issues

The report goes on to cover a number of other issues, such as a roadmap and success metrics and resource issues such as the need for better learning analytics and increased bandwidth.

Why this report?

Good question, Tony, and here I will have to speculate a little, as I no longer work at UBC. UBC has a long history in both distance education and learning technology development. In the early 1990s it received government funding of over $2 million to explore the use of learning technologies, one outcome of which was WebCT, the first learning management system to be widely adopted. Blackboard Inc eventually bought WebCT, and UBC still uses Blackboard Connect as its LMS.

In the early 2000s,  a ‘nascent’ governance structure for learning technologies was suggested, and in recent years governance has focused mainly on the transition from Blackboard Vista to Blackboard Connect. However, over the last couple of years, UBC has also developed a major flexible learning strategy which is now being extensively implemented throughout the university. There has been considerable frustration and dissatisfaction with the implementation of Connect which has been getting in the way of the flexible learning strategy, so I see this report as a way of fixing that disconnect (sorry for the pun.) Or, as the report puts it:

Faculty desire a greater choice of tools, so that the one with the best fit for the pedagogical purpose can be selected….the functional footprint of the LMS is shrinking over time though the footprint of the entire [LT] ecosystem is arguably increasing. We anticipate a shrinking LMS footprint while still envisaging the need for a core within the ecosystem.


Although specific to UBC, this report will resonate with many other institutions. It should be essential reading for any Provost concerned with moving their institution forward into digital learning, as institutions struggle with legacy technology systems. The report adopts a clear, evidence-based analytical approach to sensitive issues around management, technology choice, and pedagogy, even if occasionally the business-speak language grates a little.

So back to my glass of Prosecco on the sun-drenched terrace.

Spanish version of ‘Managing Technology in Higher Education’ now available

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 Bates, A. and Sangra, A. (2012) La gestión de la tecnología en la educación superior Barcelona ESP: Octaedro:ICE-UB

The Spanish version of ‘Managing Technology in Higher Education: Strategies for Transforming Teaching and Learning‘, is now available from Ediciones Octaedro.

The digital future of higher education, on video

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Videos have now been posted of presentations at two conferences in British Columbia, both looking at the future of digital learning.

The digital future of higher education, Thompson Rivers University

This conference was held at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops in February. It was organized by Norm Friesen, Canada Research Chair in E-Learning Practices.

Altogether there are four videos from this conference, all available from here

1. I gave the opening keynote on the topic ‘The Challenge of Change’, drawing mainly on the results from our book, ‘Managing Technology in Higher Education.’ I argued that universities and colleges were unduly cautious in their goals for learning technologies, and that it was difficult to justify the high cost of learning technologies from the results of current mainstream practice. (60 minutes with questions and discussion).

2. The second keynote speaker was Michael A. Peters, Professor of Education at the University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign). He drew a broad brush picture of social media, web 2.0 and open education. He made the point that social media/web 2.0 were primarily commercially driven, and in some ways were usurping the roles of public education, by controlling and aggregating access to knowledge and information driven by commercial goals. He argued that open education (OERs, open publishing, open pedagogy, open learning systems, etc.) offered an alternative to the commercialization of the Internet, enabling universities and the public education system to regain the role of organizing and managing knowledge for the public good. (60 minutes with questions and discussion).

3. The first panel session was on the digital future of higher education in British Columbia. The speakers were Cameron Beddome, Thompson Rivers University, Edward Hamilton, Capilano University, and David Porter, BC Campus. David Porter talked about the five challenges and five discontinuities (open education, mobile learning, engagement of learners, social learning, shared services) facing higher education, with lots of examples of the ways new technologies are changing education and how students learn. Edward Hamilton explored the history of sociotechnical systems from a perspective bridging Foucauldian genealogy and critical theory of technology. He rejected the ideological positions of ‘essentialism’ and ‘instrumentalism’ and argued that technology is a social as well as a technical process. In the context of education, he sees teachers as educational designers, both influenced by technology, and also influencing how technology is used. It is important to integrate technology use within a pedagogical framework. Cameron Beddome presented an explanation/description of the well-established principles of open learning that derive from the open university movement that dates back to the late 1960s.

4. The second panel session was a discussion/debate between Mark Bullen, BCIT, and Norm Friesen, on the proposition that the net generation will revolutionize education. Mark Bullen argued against this, and although Norm did not personally accept the opposite position, he gamely put forward the arguments of Don Olcott, Marc Prensky and other supporters of the notion.

Just ID

I’ve already posted a report on this instructional design workshop, but the organizers have posted both the report and the video (35 minutes) of my summary of the discussions at the workshop on which the report was based.


All of the above sessions dealt with the future of digital learning in one way or another. As we all know, predicting the future  is somewhat unreliable, but certainly trends can be identified, as can their implications.

These presentations really fall into two camps: theory and practice. As the psychologist Kurt Lewin said, there is nothing more pragmatic than a good theory. Michael Peters and Ted Hamilton both provided very thoughtful analysis of the underlying social and philosophical issues that underpin the Internet, the knowledge society, and their implications for digital learning, universities and the public education system. Norm Friesen and Mark Bullen discussed what this means in terms of the kind of students now entering our higher education institutions, and how we should respond. The ID workshop was all about changing practice in a rapidly developing digital environment.

I share with Michael Peters a concern about the increasing control over knowledge and information that is now being exercised by commercial companies such as Google and Apple. However, commercial control over knowledge is nothing new; it has merely been transferred from broadcasters and publishers to IT companies (and massively scaled up). The fear is that public education institutions (and universities in particular) will be increasingly marginalized with creeping privatization of learning as a consequence. Nevertheless I think that universities in particular, while aware of the changes, have little idea about how best to respond to this challenge. The open education movement is one response, but while important it is not sufficient, in my view.

The three sessions that focused on practice (David Porter’s and both mine, one at TRU and the other at the ID workshop) were attempts to offer practical ways for universities (and colleges) to respond to these challenges.

What appears to be lacking (particularly in Canada) is what I would term a political debate about the role of public education in a digitized world. What policies (if any) should governments be putting in place to protect free and public access to information? What limits (if any) should be placed on commercial companies in the areas of privacy, security, access to and manipulation of information? What should be the rules (if any) regarding intellectual property in a digitalized world? (Canada has been trying to change its copyright legislation, but is in a hopeless mess with it, because government and ultimately the public – you and me – have failed to lay down clear and fair principles to guide the legislation. Instead the government is trying to balance competing interest groups, not all with the same level of resources. The Canadian government – or rather their privacy commissioners – have done a much better job on the privacy side, but most of the thinking here is coming from lawyers, not from educators). How should knowledge be assessed and accredited so that the public is protected from incompetency and fraud? And above all, how should higher education be organized and managed so that it operates in the public interest in a world where information is increasingly controlled by a very small number of semi-monopolistic commercial entities?

I don’t have the answers to these questions (I’m not sure anyone does) but we need increasingly to promote discussion on these issues and bring them to the attention of political leaders, as they affect us all in our daily lives. I’d be really interested in readers’ views about this larger picture in which digital learning finds itself.

Lastly, a comment about media and format. I found it extremely useful to have access to the videos after the event. I was surprised how much I missed when sitting ‘live’ in the audience (and I missed a couple because I had to leave early). One for lecture capture systems.  However, I’ve spent four and a half hours watching all these videos. In particular, I had both a text and a video of my Just ID contribution. The text can be read in five minutes, the video takes 35 minutes.

For busy people, text will win out over video any time, in terms of condensing the message. Nevertheless, there are subtle differences between the two formats. If you really want to analyze the difference between text and video compare the text version with the video version of the Just ID presentation. Although the content is almost identical, the message seems subtly different to me, although it’s hard to put a finger on it. It should be remembered that the video presentation was done on the fly, so to speak, while the text version was carefully written up afterwards. Any reactions from readers on the difference between text and video, specially in terms of time cost-benefits?

Book: Managing Technology in Higher Education now available

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Bates, A. and Sangrà, A. (2011) Managing Technology in Higher Education: Strategies for Transforming Teaching and Learning San Francisco: Jossey-Bass/John Wiley & Co.

Now out! The book is available in cloth or e-book from Jossey-Bass, at US$45 a copy (but see below), or from most booksellers.

More information about the book, including summaries of chapters, scenarios from the book, and opportunities to discuss some of the issues, can be found at http://batesand If you order through http://batesand you should get a 20% discount.

The book argues that most universities are too conservative in their goals for technology, that it is difficult to justify the current investment in technology in terms of improved learning outcomes, and suggests a raft of strategies to enable institutions to get a better bang for their buck.

Every VP Academic/Education should have a copy at their bedside!

Using clickers on multiple sites in a distributed undergraduate medical program

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Terris, B. (2009) University Uses ‘Clickers’ to Quiz Students in Multiple Location Chronicle of Higher Education, September 14

The University of British Columbia recently completed a trial of a new satellite polling system by i>clicker, which sells student-response systems. The new system allowed students on three campuses, all part of the university’s Distributed Undergraduate Medical Program, to respond to questions in a simulcast lecture . I>clicker hopes to make the product widely available by January 2010.

The university’s Distributed Undergraduate Medical Program enrols students from across the province. Students can study at UBC’s main campus in Vancouver, or in partnership with the Universities of Victoria and Northern British Columbia, on the universities’ campuses at Victoria and Prince George. Programs are delivered in more than 80 communities in BC, and include nine clinical academic campuses and 13 affiliated regional centres located in hospitals across the province. The problem-based program is delivered through a mix of local small-group face-to-face sessions, video-conferenced lectures, an extensive set of web-based resources, and local clinical laboratory work. For more on this very successful program (resulting in more GPs working outside the main urban area of Vancouver) see:

Snadden, D. and Bates, J. (2005) Expanding undergraduate medical education in British Columbia: a distributed campus model CMAJ, Vol. 173, No. 6