Dutch expert addresses UK technology forum

30 March 2010

Professor Peter Sloep

Professor Peter Sloep

CBGLASGOW Caledonian University has helped relaunch a debate on the technological challenges facing UK universities.

The Supporting Sustainable eLearning Forum, a special interest group funded by the Higher Education Academy, convened at GCU for the first of four meetings scheduled this year.

Professor Peter Sloep, of the Open Universiteit Nederland, made a keynote address to the group, which includes academics, researchers and support staff from across Britain.

The forum was established in 2003 but is being strengthened as universities search for sustainable forms of e-learning.

The group is being led by Professor Alison Littlejohn and Dr Anoush Margaryan, of GCU's Caledonian Academy.

Professor Sloep, who originally graduated with a PhD in Theoretical Biology from the Free University of Amsterdam in 1977, is a leading authority in the field of learning and professional development in networked, online environments.

He said: “There has been a tendency in learning and teaching in higher education to use school as the model, but this no longer works for professional development with its heterogeneous groups whose members are at various stages of learning and come from all sorts of backgrounds.

“It used to be that open universities were considered second best because of the inability of students to interact, but new technology has changed all that.  In fact, the OU in the Netherlands and in the UK are now at the cutting edge of delivering online learning networks.”

Professor Littlejohn added: “The Caledonian Academy was set up in 2006 to lead research and work with colleagues to integrate the latest thinking in learning and teaching into the curriculum across the university.  And we have been following the exciting new research being undertaken by Peter and his colleagues in the Netherlands.”

The Caledonian Academy was recently singled out for praise by both the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and Universities UK for its innovative approach to enhancing graduate employability through the use of IT, and Professor Sloep will be working closely with Caledonian Academy colleagues in this area when he becomes an Honorary Professor with the Academy in June.

“There is certain resistance to this new model among teachers,” continues Professor Sloep, “but increasingly I am seeing it work beautifully - particularly in the work place.

“The Netherlands Association of Public Libraries recently approached us to help revolutionise their business, which is having to adapt to the electronic information age. They had tried the traditional, top-down approach of engaging with a business school, but this had failed largely because many of the library staff had good ideas of their own.

“Our solution was to set up a Library Academy, which facilitated peer-to-peer teaching through online knowledge sharing.  Ultimately we will offer a Master’s in Library Science, which is already proving very popular.”

Professor Littlejohn added: “This is an exciting, emerging area of learning and teaching that involves insights from a range of disciplines to support people who are learning throughout their life.”

Professor Sloep concluded: “We live in a knowledge economy where we need to be ready to respond to change.  The creation of online learning networks where like-minded people can find each other and share knowledge should ensure a more fleet-footed, efficient and effective workforce.”