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A policy for learning resources: Formulation and implementation

Stuart Niven
University of Strathclyde

The Faculty of Education at the University of Strathclyde, formerly Jordanhill College of Education, is among the major providers of teacher education programs in Western Europe. In 1989 it adopted a learning resources policy which is still in the process of implementation and is subject to constant monitoring (learning resources in this context includes information technology and refers to books and other print materials, computing and audio visual software and hardware). The paper draws upon this experience but considers also factors likely to affect future developments. It is in three sections. The Formulation of Policy section gives an account of the arguments which informed the formulation of the policy together with a statement of the policy itself. It addresses matters such as student centredness, open learning systems and open access. The Implementation of Policy section is a critical appraisal of the implementation process and recounts the effects on staff and students. It is illustrated by a short video and slides and exposes some shortcomings as well as claiming some successes. The final section considers factors likely to influence the curriculum of the future and refers specifically to two key reports currently being debated in the UK, the MacFarlane Report, "Teaching and Learning in an Expanding Higher Education System " and the report of the Paul Hamlyn Foundation National Commission on Education, "Learning to Succeed". This section also refers to the emergence of criteria for core skills for general vocational qualifications from introductory to postgraduate levels and the implications they will have for course design.

Formulation of policy

The 1980s in the UK saw a government dedicated to curtailing public expenditure which, of course, had a marked effect upon all sectors of education. Limitations on budgets were inevitable. Projections relating to affordable staffing levels in higher education predicted a steady decline. Jordanhill College, now the Faculty of Education of the University of Strathclyde, where teacher education courses in the mid 1980s attracted staffing to a student/staff ratio of 8.5:1, mid 1980s attracted staffing to a student/staff ratio of 8.5:1, was required over a five year period to progress to a ratio of 10:1, a percentage worsening of 17.6%. Thereafter in one year the ratio was further restricted to 11.5:1 representing a total reduction in teaching capacity of 15%. To date the position has worsened further to a ratio of about 13.5:1. This is not untypical of the staffing resource difficulties being encountered in most higher education establishments in the UK.

Clearly faced with such a scenario of a declining teaching resource where more and more students would have to be taught by fewer and fewer teachers some changes had to be made in the mode of delivery of courses. There had to be what were and are still referred to euphemistically as "efficiency gains" in the delivery of teaching and in the Robbins Lecture at Stirling University on the theme "Education, Past Ideas Future Visions and Present Realities" Prof Alistair MacFarlane, Principal of Heriot Watt University warned of worse to come.

At Jordanhill efficiency gains had to be achieved within courses which, because of the necessity for work experience placements for prospective teachers, social workers, youth leaders, speech therapists, etc, required a very substantial element of one to one teaching. Cutbacks in the amount of individual tutorial support for workplace learning were contemplated only with great reluctance by both staff and students since this aspect of course delivery was invariably reported to be the most worthwhile in course monitoring exercises carried out over many years.

It was against this backcloth that at Jordanhill the Learning Resources Committee,(LRC), a standing committee of the Academic Board (Senate equivalent) was asked to reflect upon the prospects of utilising learning resources to enable the Faculty to meets its teaching commitments while retaining the quality of its provision. The LRC was charged to advise upon a policy for the application of learning resources and its implementation. The alternative would have been simply to allow piece meal developments where each course management committee tried to find ways of coming to terms with the ever shrinking teaching resource, a stratagem the Board was unwilling to consider.

While sympathising with the views expressed by students that above all else they valued the tutor supervised work based learning the LRC believed that any higher education institution would be failing its students if it did not encourage them to accept responsibility for their own learning. Trends in education and training in schools, in colleges and universities, in industry and in the business community were and still are away from didactic methods and towards alternative approaches which, while being learned centred rather than teacher centred nevertheless lay claim to less face to face contact between learner and teacher. The LRC considered it a matter of principle that in the specific instance of resource based learning, which offers at least a partial way out of the efficiency gains dilemma, teaching/learning systems should provide enough information and structure for learning to take place without constant supervision. In such learning systems the teacher assumes the role of manager/ facilitator of learning whose primary task is arranging appropriate learning experiences. Further, having regard for the importance of preparing students for the learning environment of the future, the LRC advised the Academic Board that curriculum planning should ensure provision is made for exposure to a range of resource based learning experiences in all courses.

A simple three strand policy was recommended; simple in that it had only three components but complex in its implications for teaching and for course design and course management. The policy which is now well into the implementation phase is as follows:

  1. Students should become familiar with learning resources in general through direct experience of such resources in their courses. The learning experiences planned for this purpose should be designed to ensure that the expertise gained will be relevant to the students' future careers.

  2. A set of learning experiences should be developed for each initial training course which will ensure that students acquire a range of basic skills related to the production, use and assessment of learning resources, including and in particular microcomputers, together with an understanding of the underpinning theory for the application of particular resources in specific subject areas.

  3. A part of every course should be delivered by resource based learning methods to provide a model to which students may refer in their future careers.
The Academic Board resolved that Course Committees (those committees which have responsibility for managing courses) would be responsible for the implementation of the policy. Each Course Committee was directed to ensure that its course(s) included a set of learning experiences prescribed in 2 above, and also to arrange for an appropriate part of its course(s) to be delivered by resource based learning methods. There was in addition an enabling clause in the implementation directive, that sufficient resources, financial and human, be provided to support the introduction of the policy. Heavy demands for library, audio visual and computing services were anticipated arising from 3 above.

The Board further directed that course monitoring arrangements be amended to cover the new policy and it is upon information gathered during this process that the next section is based.

Implementation of policy

It is one thing to lay down a policy and to direct how it should be implemented but is another matter to attend to the practicalities. Could those staff using didactic methods suddenly switch to learner centred methods'? In the judgment of the LRC not without access to support. This was provided by establishing an "Open Learning Support Unit" (OLSU). The purpose of the OLSU is to provide practical assistance to curriculum developers on devising parts of new courses or revising parts of existing courses for delivery by means of open learning. In this connection open learning systems are arrangements of learning experiences which do not follow a formal timetabled structure but provide for more continuous access to teaching/learning materials and tutorial support. Such systems are highly learner centred and normally make provision for negotiated curricula.

The shift in emphasis away from didactic methods was further facilitated by the introduction of a matrix system of course management in which many senior and principal lecturer posts which related to subject expertise were abandoned in favour of posts associated with the educative process. These were styled program coordinators and course directors.

There was no sudden dash to introduce new learner centred methods into all courses but growth has been steady until now when in the 1994 Education Faculty Report to the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council in relation to Assessment of the Quality of the Faculty Courses it was recorded that:

Dedicated resource centres to facilitate the independent learning of students over and above those available within the Library have also been provided. These can be found in areas including primary education, social studies, language and literature, technology, science. mathematics and speech and language therapy. Additional practice facilities have also been provided in music and increased access facilitated to art studios.
Given the total learning resource which has been dedicated to independent study over the years and which is illustrated in the video, "Learning Resources at Jordanhill Campus", it would not have been practicable to rush the implementation of the policy. Scarcity of funding forced us to make haste slowly. Almost all courses have now embraced the policy and examples of learner centred educational practice, viz, projects, small scale research exercises, guided reading are common place.

Because the implementation of the policy was phased in and not rushed it was just possible to cope with the expansion in the number of resource centres mentioned above but the pressures on the library, audio visual services and computing services, as anticipated, presented a major problem.

The Jordanhill Library occupies 2,661 m2 in the Sir Henry Wood building, the main teaching block on the campus. It has a stock comprising 180,000 books, 700 current periodicals and has 450 reader places. Issues are currently running at more than 200,000 per annum for 3,000 plus students having increased from 60,000 for 2,300 students at the time when the learning resources policy was introduced. Incorporated within the main library is a Media Library containing 23,000 items on a range of formats (see table below) and covering a wide range of subjects. Video and audio cassettes and computer software are most heavily used. The collection is one of the best in the United Kingdom.

Demand for audio visual media services, mainly required to assist students in the production of courseware related to work placement activities was less pressing but has stepped up during the past year as a result of the introduction of a major resource based curriculum development project in the BEd degree program. (Of all the degree programs on the campus the BEd has by far the most students, 700+). Two open access laboratories have been made available in addition to the main resource in the central audio visual suite and they are all heavily used.

Media library issues for selected formats

Format 1983-861990-911992-93

Compact disc 0128433
Record 60256154
Tape cassette 1,3605,9039,482
Film strip 217904558
Wall chart 1,5261,9561,786
Video 5005,2798,641
Computer program 9929442,093

Claims for computing services from both staff and students have stretched the funding available to the limit. Only through a judicious purchasing policy has it been possible to keep the supply of equipment at an acceptable level. Each year however has seen an increase in demand as more and more staff become aware of the potential of information technology. Every effort has been made to provide access to computing/word processing facilities for all staff and students and space has been dedicated for this purpose in every building on the campus. Currently a network is being installed to give access to the main national and international data banks.

Although success can be claimed for a notable shift in educational practice flowing from the learning resource policy it has been at a price.

Staff in the Library have come under insatiable pressure as have the technical staff in the computing services. While there have been modest reductions in academic staffing because of the adoption of materials centred methods, funding has not been found to increase the staff complement in the supporting service areas to meet increasing demands. There is a lesson to be learned here: where learner centred (resource centred) methods are introduced due care needs to be taken to provide additional staffing for academic services.

Looking to the future

And for the future what factors and influences are at work which will bear upon the design and implementation of learning/teaching strategies? Are amendments to the learning resources policy likely to prove necessary?

Firstly, it is unlikely that education in the United Kingdom will see an end to "efficiency gains". Expansion of post school education is likely to be severely cash limited but expansion is nevertheless expected. More than ever before a "good education", and particularly vocational education, is being recognised as a prerequisite for success in finding employment. This is universal. In the USA, for example, over the last decade CORD, the Centre of Occupational Research and Development has made a very substantial contribution in developing curriculum support materials to underpin the Technical Preparation Initiative and interest is growing in "occupational education". In the UK, as reported below, Government is committed to vocational qualifications.

Secondly, on the occupational front momentum is building up behind the competence based education and training movement, notably in the UK and Australia but more widely in Europe and the USA. National Vocational Qualifications "licenses to practice" in particular occupations will soon be required for the great majority of jobs in the UK and the curriculum of post school education will ignore this at its peril. Functional analyses of occupational areas commissioned by Industry Lead Bodies in the UK have shown that employees should be competent in five "core skills" three which are considered mandatory (1) Communication (2) Information Technology (3) Application of Number and three others (4) Personal Skills associated with working with others (5) Personal Skills associated with improving ones own learning and performance and (6) Problem Solving. All general National Vocational Qualifications at all five levels introductory to postgraduate equivalent must incorporate units covering the core skills and the various bodies providing such qualifications eg. the Business and Technical Educational Council, and the Scottish Vocational Education Council have prescribed the competencies required of the curriculum units in some detail.

Thirdly, the MacFarlane report of the working party of Scottish University Principals, "Teaching and Learning in an Expanding Higher Education System", gave a critical analysis of teaching and learning in higher education in Scotland and pointed out the need for fresh and novel approaches to course delivery. The working group argues strongly for growth in computer based teaching/learning systems. The report was not met with uncritical acclaim however since it over emphasised the importance of the application of information technology at the expense of interaction between teacher and learner. Nevertheless, the case for major investment in IT was sound and Prof MacFarlane returned to his theme in the 1994 Robbins Lecture at the University of Stirling where he continued the same broad strategy about the development of a total learning/environment but had now responded to the criticism by showing more clearly the central role of the teacher in "machine supported learning" and in "remote tutoring". The level of interest in machine supported learning is evidenced by the response of higher education institutions to "The New Technology Initiative" of the Joint Information System Committee of the Higher Education Funding Councils of the UK. More than 300 bids were received for funding for projects relating to applications of IT in higher education and 62 projects were approved. Many of these projects involved consortia. This was interesting because it proved that despite the fierce competition among institutions to recruit students it was still possible to collaborate in the development of "courseware". Among the successful projects were for example a "Visualisation Toolkit for Teaching and Learning in the Spatial Sciences" led by Birkbeck College and "Evaluating and Improving Quality in Higher Education" led by the University of Luton in association with Middlesex University.

Fourthly, we must heed the findings of the National Commission on Education in the report of the Paul Hamlyn foundation "Learning to Succeed" which took a radical look at education today and recommended a strategy for the future. The Commission stresses the need for good teachers, thoroughly prepared for the multi faceted job which is teaching today. Both MacFarlane and the Commission point out that teaching should be on at least an equal footing with research in considering promotion in universities and indeed the Commission concludes and recommends that qualifications in teaching are of paramount importance for teachers in universities and further education colleges. The Commission reports specifically

We consider that a permanent appointment in either higher or further education should require the holder to have a qualification which attests his or her competence as a teacher".
Finally, we are likely to have more discerning learners entering higher education, knowledgeable of their rights under the Students Charter for the UK. They will have expectations about teaching and learning deriving from their previous experience, good or bad, at school or in the workplace, formal or informal. They will be computer literate, and used to audio visual media presentations of the highest quality but they will also expect adequate opportunities to interact with their teachers.

Our policy then is likely to see a further shift towards learner centredness in response to trends and expectations but, given in particular the nature of "Core Skills" for NVQs and stress laid on the importance of good teachers by the Hamlyn Commission, it is unlikely to see a total switch to machine based teaching/learning.


Joint Information Systems Committee (1994). The New Technology Initiative: A Report on Activities to Date. JISC Circular 1/94, Northavon House, Bristol BS16 1QD.

Kapoor, S. & Chapman, C. (1993). Core Skills Units: Levels 1 to 5. BTEC, G-145-3 ISBN 0746404050.

MacFarlane, A. G. J., et al, (1992). Bibliography. Teaching and Learning in an Expanding Higher Education System. ISBN 095 193 7723 Polton House Press.

MacFarlane, A. G. J., et al, (1992). Teaching and Learning in an Expanding Higher Education System. Report of a Working Party of the Committee of Scottish University Principals. ISBN 095 193 7715 Polton House Press.

MacFarlane, A. G. J. (1994). Education - Past Ideas, Future Visions and Present Realities. The Robbins Lecture at the University of Stirling.

Niven, S. M. (1994). Work Based Learning: Professional Training for Teaching in Vocational Education. International Journal of Vocational Education and Training, 1(2).

Paul Hamlyn Foundation (1993). Learning to Succeed: A Radical Look at Education Today and a Strategy for the Future. Report of the National Commission on Education ISBN 0434 000 353 William Heinemann Ltd.

Welsh, R., Niven, S. M., et al, (1994). Learning Resources at Jordanhill Campus. Video Presentation for LETA 94, AV Services Jordanhill Campus, University of Strathclyde, UK.

Please cite as: Niven, S. (1994). A policy for learning resources: Formulation and implementation. In J. Steele and J. G. Hedberg (eds), Learning Environment Technology: Selected papers from LETA 94, 195-199. Canberra: AJET Publications.

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