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IBLC 10 - Session - Peter Bullen's Keynote

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Mark Russell
6 April 2010

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Changing practice - reflections on the Blended Learning Unit


"One of the key challenges facing the Higher Education sector is to realsie the opportunities of technology enhanced learning and teaching. The challenge is to encourage, persuade and support academic staff to adopt technolgy and to integrate its use with face-to-face teaching in effective, efficient and blended ways. A personal reflection on the work and achievements of the Blended Learning Unit (BLU) will show how the BLU took up this challenge and will discuss factors critical to its success. These factors cover a wide range of issues including culture, partnership, community, academic led processes, innovation and the importance of understanding the learners' experiences. The presentation will include a number of examples of activities illustrating BLU's approach to these issues and will highlight important aspects of these activities. It will conclude with comment about the future informed by a career in Higher Education and beyond, by my role as Director of BLU and by my current role as a Critical Friend working with a number of Universities on JISC and HEA technology enhanced learning projects."

Peter R Bullen
14:55 on 27 May 2010

These are my notes from Peter Bullen's keynote - Changing Practice - Reflections on the Blended Learning

Warmly introduced by Pro VC Dr Andrew Clutterbuck and Jon Alltree who both highly praised the work Peter has done with the BLU CETL as passionate advocate for the use of technology to improve learning.

These will be personal reflections on the work of the BLU which has been a huge success. Reflection is an opportunity to learn from what we do and he will suggest why the Unit has been so successful.

In the beginning...

University strategy

  • Exploiting computing technology


  • VLE was being developed pre-2000 and is extremely well developed - which makes things easier for staff
  • StudyNet champions developing the VLE/MLE itself and also the use of the MLE
  • Innovation in Learning and teaching
  • A DIY philosophy not DIFM (do it for me!)

Peter's influences

  • Work in industry (engineering) and teaching
  • Colleagues, educationalists and others eg John Seddon - Systems thinking, W Edwards Deming - understanding and managing organisations, Taiichi Ohno - Toyota production system, Peter Senge - Learning organisations, Ralph Stacey - Managing complexity.
  • Initial involvement with eLearning in mid-90s with Ford (developing online masters in automotive engineering)

Who are the BLU?

  • Small core group who represent a range of disciplines all enthusiastic about the use of technology
  • All practitioners
  • Contacts at all levels

What do BLU do?

  • Minimising barriers (infrastructure, and availability of technology, working with academic staff' actualities and perceptions)
  • Evaluation (using student experience to guide what they did)
  • BL innovation and development (in the use of technology for learning, assessment and collaboration) with a focus on good principles (using Chickering & Gamson Seven Principles, 1987 as a framework)
  • Dissemination - communicating and engaging (developing the use of audio, workshops for staff, support, incentives and proper resourcing)

Changing the emphasis

Moved from dissemination to transformation (changing practice) which led to the development of CABLE - Change academy for Blended Learning Enhancement which has seen, and in continuing to see, significant achievements. 

The impact of blended learning upon students experience has been profound.

Critical success factors

  • People working in partnership, learning from each other, taking a lead.
  • Principles and processes which support those people, providing blended learning solutions. 
  • Institutional readiness (buy-in of all stakeholders) and embedding.

The future? We should: 

  • adopt a philosophy of continuous improvement and the culture of a learning organisation
  • try to better understand the 'value' of every 'learning activity' and then concentratye on VALUE not cost
  • adopt some of the more sophisticated tools currently being developed to support staff to develop and share their practice (curriculum design)
  • Concentrate on value - reflect on everything we do
  • Reduce the emphasis on committees and build BL communities
  • Remember the object is to improve the students learning experience

Rebecca Galley
10:11 on 16 June 2010 (Edited 10:14 on 16 June 2010)

Embedded Content


Peter R Bullen
2:46pm 27 May 2010 (Edited 2:57pm 27 May 2010)

During the plenary at last year's International Blended Learning conference we discussed possible themes for this year's conference. A topic that was constantly referred to was 'how to help staff to change their teaching and learning practice?'. With this thought in mind I decided that I would make the title of my keynote presentation: "Changing practice - reflections on the Blended Learning Unit (BLU)" because it provides an opportunity to show how (and why) BLU focussed on and then tackled this issue. I'd be interested in others views on the topic of "changing practice".


Gráinne Conole
2:48pm 27 May 2010

Hi Peter

I think this is a great idea for a keynote and very timely. I think there will be alot of interest in the lessons learnt from the work that BLU was involved with and how this can be translated to other contexts. I know that given your other work with JISC and the HEA as a 'critical friend' that you have developed a rich understanding of issues around embedding and sustainability.

Gráinne Conole
2:56pm 27 May 2010

Hi Peter have moved your abstact to the main part of the Cloud to give it more prominence hope thats ok!

Peter R Bullen
3:01pm 27 May 2010

Thanks Grainne - that was quick! Thanks also for the rapid response . I've certainly found that the issue of "changing staff practice" is central to the JISC and HEA projects that I'm currently working on as a Critical Friend.

Gráinne Conole
3:02pm 27 May 2010

Absolutely and changing staff practice is much much much more difficult than people credit it with. Again I think the collective work from the CETLS, and some of the JISC and HEA programmes have the potential to shed real light on thse issues and potential practical recommendations.

Marija Cubric
1:57pm 31 May 2010

Peter I learnt from you (and also from  experience :) that technology is not always the answer!  So, rather than 'changing staff practice' the issue is 'changing staff role' - from the traditional 'source of knowledge' to the new one -  facilitator in a learning journey ( or 'agent of change'?) 

Peter R Bullen
7:57am 1 June 2010

Hi Marija. I agree with what you say but still think that 'practice' is the best word. I guess that I am tending to think about the opportunities that technology brings to 'principles of good teaching and learning practice' . This thought coupled with my own experience  as a lecturer. In all of my 30 years in HE  I have never seen myself as THE source of knowledge. I have always thought of myself as a 'facilitator'. Its interesting how much these words affect our behaviours. The title 'lecturer' for example and the word 'deliver' in the phrase 'deliver a course. Neither of these words support the idea of 'engaging students with the curriculum'. I wonder how much this matters in the roles we take on and in our practice?

Alan Hilliard
12:22pm 1 June 2010

The keynote topic sounds very interesting and will, I think, be very illuminating.

I like Marija's comment about the changing nature of the staff role.

Helen Barefoot
2:20pm 1 June 2010

Peter, I'm really looking forward to the keynote.

Your comments above regarding terminology and nomenclature are really pertinent. We had  a very interesting discussion with members of staff on our PGCert in HE programme recently about the term 'lecturer' vs 'teacher'. Some new members of staff were adamant that they were lecturers rather than teachers. I think some of them felt that the term 'teacher' excluded their activity as a researcher (but I don't think the term lecturer automatically defines this) and that teacher related far more to school education. I like the term faciltiator, recognising that ultimately it is the student that 'learns' and they have to play an active role and take responsibility for this.

Mark Russell
3:08pm 1 June 2010

Hello Helen,

I have just come back from a session I co-faciliated at another university - the session relatied to assessment and feedback  - and a couple of the people I was working with also questioned the language of teacher vs academic vs faciliatator.


Alan Hilliard
3:20pm 1 June 2010

I think it is interesting how people feel defined by language/labels. Surely "actions" (what you do to enable learning) speak louder than words (the words used to create labels or titles).

This is all very interesting. 

Marija Cubric
3:22pm 1 June 2010

I don't think many people like the word 'facilitator' as it is somehow lacking in academic content? Mark, what was the consensus re: "teacher vs academic vs facilitator"?

Steve Bennett
5:41pm 1 June 2010

I personally like "academic" or "lecturer" when someone (not in a university) asks me what my job is.  Within the university my favorite word is "teacher" - because that is what i do - I teach.  And also because the word has an august solemnity about it - it belongs to a deep historical tradition - involving the passing on of knowledge and expertise from one generation to another.  Facilitator however I find, oh my god, I don't know how to put it, so totally drab, so totally colourless and de-skilled, and marginal and trivial.  Yuk!

Peter R Bullen
7:30pm 1 June 2010

I agree with Alan's comment but its interesting how we react to titles and 'labels' . I think that we have to accept that titles matter to a lot of people, especially in academe. It says something about the culture in our organisations. In fact I think that this is one of the big issues about changing pratice - understanding the culture and working out how to work with it to effect change.

Helen and Alan - thanks for the encouraging remarks about the keynote which inspired me to start putting together the presentation.- finding it harder than I first thought!!

Amanda Jefferies
2:28pm 2 June 2010

I'm also looking forward to your keynote Peter! I really agree with your comment about the importance of understanding the culture of an organisation before we can try to change practice. Developing a sense of community and  a positive culture are crucial to a thriving environment (whether academic or business or other) but these terms can sometimes be intangible and hard to define and harder still to develop.

Mark Russell
3:02pm 2 June 2010 (Edited 11:13am 16 June 2010)

All, some really useful discussions taking place re Peter's keynote. I note the discussion relating to labels and language etc. and to avoid that theme swamping other messages from Peter I have created a seperate cloud.


Bex Lewis
7:51pm 2 June 2010

Peter, really looking forward to this keynote, and look forward to further ideas to help in my role. I took over as Blended Learning Fellow (0.2) in October at the University of Winchester. I'll be presenting a paper with David Rush (who created the role a couple of years before I took over) on the use of Twitter in creating a Community of Practice - we're having plenty of interesting debates about which are the bits we need to add in, and which elements of the role I have continued, and which I have done differently!

Look forward to it.


Peter R Bullen
9:18am 3 June 2010

Thanks for your comments Amanda and Bex. I hope the keynote lives up to expectations! There is a lot to say and little time to say it so will concentrate on what I think are the key isues. As I mentioned earlier I think that understanding  'culture' is very important. In this I include the organisation,  individuals and communities. For example I think it really important to appreciate the pressues that academic staff are under and to understand their motivations. This then sets the context of how a 'central' organistion such as BLU can support and help staff to change practice. I am very anti the 'command and control' approach that i come across in some organisations and very pro the idea of supportive working relations and 'partnership' and how technolgy can this.

Marija Cubric
11:36am 8 June 2010

Hi Peter

it would be interesting to compare the role of central organisations such as BLU across the sector. In some places (e.g. Leicester's media zoo) the role is not only to support but also to 'drive' (innovation) and provide space and time for experimentation.

Really looking forward to see you next week!



Peter R Bullen
4:56pm 8 June 2010

Hi Marija

An interesting point - what I refer to as 'the balance between innovation and embedding'. When we started BLU the emphasis was more on blended learning development (or innovation) but this shifted towards 'transformation' (or rather support and encouragement to change practice). I think the balance shifts depending where the institution is in its development and also depending on funding streams. I think that the Leicester group, which is called 'Beyond distance research alliance' (the Media Zoo is their 'output') has a focus on research. Which raises another issue. External funding for research and innovation is more readily available than funding for 'transforming practice'. See you next week

Steve Bennett
8:22am 11 June 2010


Since you've come very much from being mono-disciplinary (engineering) - to being very multi-disciplinary (BLU), do you believe there can be trans-disciplinary influence in a University?  On the face of it I would imagine that is difficult, in the sense that disciplines (as the word itself suggests) encode practices and values which will be totally different and possibly at cross purposes.  It would be very difficult to see what the dept of law and the dept of art and design would have in common - or even, if they have anything at all, to share.  And yet, the whole idea of a "university", is the idea of universality - where people at the cutting edge of all kinds of disciplines meet together.

Probably the computer science department could teach a few other departments about technology - but I wonder if it requires such an amount of prior expertise that would make it problematic to share whatever best practice there might exist in that field to other faculties and schools.  I have an inking that feedback is something that Philosophy and Art and Design do very well - but I wonder how applicable that might be to Computer Science, where we simply don't have the culture of "crits" and dialogue to the level they do in those other domains, and also, where solutions to problems are not typically as open-ended.

My question therefore is: in what way can the best practice of one discipline ever "jump species" to another?


Peter R Bullen
10:47pm 13 June 2010

Interesting question Steve.Some thoughts:

One of the attractions in taking on the BLU job was its interdisciplinary nature. This infers therefore that I think that different disciplines can learn from each other. I have certainly found it interesting to look outside Engineering to see what can be applied to Engineering and vice versa. However I do think that there is a perception from some staff that something outside there discipline will aytomatically be irrelevant to their discipline.

Best practice as in Chickering and Gamson's principles of good teaching practice is cross disciplinary although it might be argued that they could be embellished by discipline specific principles.Also one of the strengths of BLU was that BLU teachers could see opportunities of applying blended learning used in one discipline to a different discipline. 


Martin Oliver
10:18am 16 June 2010 (Edited 10:20am 16 June 2010)

Really liked the point in your presentation about learning from our history; that's one of my pet peeves, how quickly we forget things that we have already had to work through. I've always liked Terry Mayes' paper on Groundhog Day in this respect. (I'll add the ref.)

In terms of one of your other points - continuous improvement - I can't let the point pass without mentioning another reference I'm fond of (also added). That's a piece by Louise Morley on Quality Assurance, where she draws the analogy between continuous improvement (and the implied need that we always need to improve) and the idea of original sin. Casts this issue in quite a different light!

Rebecca Galley
11:59am 16 June 2010

lol @Martin  - yes, always thought of the term 'continuous improvement' as a euphemism for 'continuous response to changing goalposts'. I liked Peter's unshakeable higher level focus of the learner at the centre - and the need to refer back to the key question 'is what we are doing improving the student experience?'

Peter R Bullen
9:24am 19 June 2010

Hi Martin - Its down to words again and how we perceive meaning. Never thought that my comments might be associated with religion - that must be a first!. My reference to 'continuous improvement' was associated with my experience of (and in) industry. It is linked with my comments about 'value'. The thought is that we should attempt to identify the value (to the learner) of every 'learning activity' and/or teaching activity. I was suggesting that we could do this by relating to the Chickering and Gamson principles. Then we need to think about how we might increase the value (continuous improvement). Most importantly its not just 'thinking about' it., it is about implement changes to increase value and therefore to improve the learners' experiences. One can imagine a continuous improvement cycle applied to teaching/learning involving reflection, innovation, review and implementation. I was trying to suggest that quality is improved if our emphais is placed here rather than on  inspection. There are many other facets linked to this which I can say more about but this is probaly enough for now. As I said i find it fascinating taking ideas and concepts from one domain (in this case the automotive industry) and trying to apply them in another. I guess that's what the author of your reference is doing - I'll have to have a look.

Rebecca has a good point - we don't live in a static world so need to be thinking about this in a changing environment particularly now with reductions in funding. Interestingly this is exactly what the automotive industry faces all of the time.

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