ACODE benchmarking

Demonstrating their resolute commitment to the improvement of Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) over thirty ANU staff members reflected on our current state of practice using the Australasian Council on Open, Distance and e-Learning (ACODE) benchmarks to rate our performance in terms of governance, systems and applications. The in-depth conversations, conducted remotely throughout August and September, fed into the preparation of three compilation reports each presented at their respective ACODE Benchmarking Summit.

ANU has participated in two previous cycles of guided reflection (2016 and 2018) and by all accounts this year’s engagement was as thorough and informative as any preceding. Having a long-standing commitment to ACODE benchmarking is an investment that returns a profit over time. As the relationship matures, our ability to draw upon the wisdom of ACODE’s national community strengthens to the point of ANU being able to take advantage of ACODE’s mission of: disseminating and sharing knowledge and expertise; supporting professional development and providing networking opportunities; investigating, developing and evaluating new approaches; advising and influencing key bodies in higher education; and promoting best practice.

That’s the big picture mission explained. Locally, we’ve completed our self-assessment and compared our results to those of other universities across Australia. In some respects, the comparisons are sobering, but on the whole, the ANU has a TEL eco-system that is reliable and robust – adequately fit for purpose. The COVID-19 pandemic has poked at policies, stretched services and aggravated applications; but relative to other institutions we have taken similar steps to ensuring the continuity of teaching and learning. The translation to remote educational practices highlighted some vulnerabilities but also raised awareness of TEL’s vital role in future-proofing our delivery systems. As shown through ACODE benchmarking, the TEL community at ANU (made up of academics, professionals and service providers) has the collective knowledge and understanding to project manage our IT infrastructure and enable activities on our learning management system. Where we struggle, according to our collective wisdom, is associated with enhancements that offer gateways to creativity and innovation. In short, it seems our system enables but does little to enhance the experience of our stakeholders – student and teachers alike.

It appears there is no single source of weakness. It seems, we have, over the years, just got into a habit of being tactical rather than strategic; thus, we work effectively in the moment but lack the foresight to see things coming early enough to make decisions that are in our long-term interests. Amongst the various ‘vulnerabilities’ there were some stand-outs that came to notice as recurring themes. In no particular order, the list includes:

  • a lack of educational planning that stipulates a mission-like purpose to give projects their significant status;
  • an approach to risk management that treats some of our best TEL innovators and experimenters as risks in themselves;
  • a quality assurance model that’s not associated with a continuous improvement cycle that begins with procurement and ends with decommission;
  • and an ineffective capacity building program that does not recognise the value-add offered by staff who are well-trained in the use of corporate systems and applications.

We do have IT systems and project managers who do their very best to keep our operations running smoothly and serviced well. What we don’t have is an Educational Technology Governance Framework that informs an operational interpretation of policy and practice. According to the ACODE Benchmarking Summit, this is not unique to ANU nor is it a recent issue that’s particularly associated to a twenty-twenty context.

Fortunately, there are some very positive signs that point to a better ‘future state’ for TEL operatives. The ANU has recently endorsed a new Technology Governance Framework and has established a committee structure that oversees strategy, design and investment. Like other universities, contributing to ACODE discussions, ANU is dealing with complexities requiring institution-wide system solutions – aligning strategic intentions and projects to an infrastructure that is road-mapped to facilitate effective, efficient and equitable governance. Those who link themselves to the Governance Committees do so through Enterprise Architecture Teams (in ANU these include Information/data, Business, Security, Applications, and Infrastructure). As road-mapped, TEL members enter education-focused enterprises through the ‘business’ gateway. This is good to know, but at present the ‘business gateway’ is yet to be fully described. And so to the main point of this small summary.

As noted by the TEL Reference Group (TELRG), prior to the 2020 Benchmarking process, ‘The ANU TEL community has long sought greater clarity and transparency around the processes involved in decision making for educational technologies, including resourcing, gathering of requests and requirements, and communication’.

Having now concluded the 2020 Benchmarking process, the perceived needs are more strongly evidenced and weigh in favour of a dedicated Education Technology Governance Framework that will dovetail with the University’s Digital Master Plan. 

Beginning Tuesday, 13th October, it’s envisaged the Associate Deans (Education), through the ADE Forum, will use the ACODE findings, along with other evidence, to initiate the development of this much awaited framework – an operational bridge for those looking to enable and enhance the educational experience of our learning and teaching community.

October 2020

Tim Grace is the Manager of the Education Communities and Environments (ECE) team – one of the three teams within the ANU Centre for Learning & Teaching (CLT).