Embedding e-learning using e-learning Advocates



Project Summary

“e-learning, by its very nature, demands considerably more planning than traditional course development.  However, there is little evidence that pedagogy is much considered in this process, with far too many staff seeking to model traditional practice onto e-delivery.   Support, at all levels, is often either overlooked or not effectively used.”
Stiles, M. Yorke, J. (2003)

This project, now entering its second year, will continue to explore the effectiveness of a ‘departmental’ or other ‘subject-based unit’ approach to support for the embedding of e-learning in Higher Education. How can an ‘e-learning advocate’ encourage effective and sustainable e-learning practice to evolve in a departmental teaching community? English departments (including literature, language and creative writing) across the country were invited to submit proposals indicating how they would embed e-learning in their departments over an academic year given the support of a nominated ‘e-learning advocate’ from their department for one day a week. Interested departments were encouraged to submit innovative ideas for the support of e-learning development which reached across the department and might have involved design, development, refiguring or creation of e-learning materials, one-to-one consultancy, training workshops etc.

In this second year of the project, potential project holders were able to build upon experience gained by the six advocates who participated in the 2006/7 academic year (see details below).

A network of four of these departmentally-based ‘e-learning advocates’ has been established (see right hand panel). The network is being managed by the learning technology officer at the English Subject Centre who will be responsible for the professional development of the advocates, monitoring of individual projects in relation to submitted schedules/plans and overall management and critical evaluation of the support models studied in the project as a whole.

It is hoped that the variety of support mechanisms which evolve during the course of the project using this ‘departmental’ framework will provide valuable new insights into best practice for encouraging the adoption of new teaching methods or materials which can be embedded in the teaching of English. By having four advocates working simultaneously in a range of departments, we would also hope to gain a deeper understanding of how the subject is being taught today.

You can read about the three new advocacy models chosen for the 2007/8 academic year by selecting a named advocate from the right hand panel above. You may also be interested in reading about the 2006/7 project which presented six different departmental advocacy ideas.


Over the last 6 years the English Subject Centre has sponsored 22  e-learning projects in the English Subject Community. In 2002 and again in 2005 national scoping studies of the subject have attempted to discover the uptake, use and perceptions of e-learning in the subject from a practitioner’s perspective. In the three and a half years between the two national studies the uptake and use of e-learning has grown significantly. The 2005 survey, for example, has revealed a high level of use of e-learning software (e.g. almost 100% use of Virtual Learning Environments), however a lot fewer practitioners appear to be using e-learning to its fullest potential in imaginative, engaging and interesting ways. This is particularly true in areas like the use of discussion fora, the development of literacy or writing skills, improving accessibility to learning materials generally and the development of new forms of  online assessment and feedback.

In addition these studies and projects have demonstrated that one of the main brakes on academics developing e-learning resources is their lack of time, technical expertise as well as a lack of understanding of the potential of using these new teaching tools to enhance the student learning experience.

Whilst there is widespread recognition of the potential benefits of incorporating e-learning into a range of traditional teaching techniques, and a willingness to share resources that are developed,  few academics are able to find the time to realise their ideas.

Although we have no evidence of the extent of learning technology support in HEIs, our impression is that in most cases it is remote and spread too thin to offer the level of ‘hand-holding’ that our academic community needs. Almost all English departments, however, have either an e-learning enthusiast or a group of keen academics some of whom may have pioneered initiatives in computer-based learning. Others may enjoy new teaching tools and gadgets and there are those who may not see themselves as ‘technical’ but love the things they can do with e-learning. It is this diverse group of subject-based academics that we are hoping to motivate to come forward to participate in this project.


By providing up to three English departments with an e-learning advocate we hope to:

  1. Help academics realise their ideas for developing e-learning resources and to bring resources that may be at the ‘embryonic’ stage into fruition.
  2. Encourage academics who may not otherwise consider e-learning solutions to develop ideas.
  3. Encourage the development of resources  with both accessibility and reusability in mind.
  4. Help to overturn some of the entrenched ‘beliefs’ held by staff members regarding educational innovation.
  5. Support staff to make educationally sound choices about using technology in their courses.
  6. Raise the general skill level in relation to e-learning tools and techniques amongst as many members of each department as possible and thus encourage a sustainable model for future nurturing, support and development of e-learning beyond the project’s lifetime.
  7. Obtain a better understanding of how support can work best at a  departmental level.
  8. Contribute to research and publication in the areas of; e-learning in English Studies and humanities disciplines more widely, embedding of e-learning at a subject level and models of e-learning support.

Activities / Methodology

We invited departments to present proposals for the use of a nominated academic (e-learning advocate) from within their department for approximately one day per week for a year. We expected interested departments to provide a project proposal which would:

  • Clearly state the institutional and departmental context in relation to e-learning (e.g. number of courses, types of e-learning employed)
  • Provide examples of the kinds of work the e-learning advocate would be involved in which might include:
    • A major e-learning initiative of benefit to the entire department.
    • A piece of work focussing on a particular aspect of e-learning e.g. eportfolios, the use of blogs, online group-work etc.
    • A piece of work/research  which explores the effect that e-learning is having across the courses offered in a particular department with a view to improving the level of support/ continuity and task development from level to level.
    • A description of at least two learning resources they would like to develop.
  • Demonstrate how the support model proposed would integrate with existing institutional strategies, initiatives or support structures.
  • Indicate that there was a serious commitment to the project at a senior level.

The role of the e-learning advocate would include activities such as:

  • Working on the projects  identified by their departments in their proposals
  • Increasing awareness of the potential of e-learning by running seminars or giving presentations within their departments
  • Providing formal or informal training and or consultancy to academics as appropriate
  • Identifying academics with ideas for e-learning resources and help them to develop these into real tools
  • Advising the department on the sort of facilities and hardware that would facilitate e-learning
  • Working in partnership with academics and support staff to develop e-learning tools and gather student feedback
  • Reporting back to the Subject Centre on best practice in collaborative working between learning technologists and academics

The role would be to act as both a catalyst for change within a department and a source of practical help and advice for those wishing to make greater use of e-learning.

Four E-learning Advocates were selected from a wide range of submissions. The criteria for selection included factors such as; strategy, impact, sustainability, need and spread of ‘contexts’.

The Project manager (Brett Lucas) based at the Subject Centre has a variety of functions including:

  • A source of advice and guidance and a sounding board for queries and concerns.
  • Coordinating the activities of the e-learning advocates to ensure their impact is felt not only departmentally but across the subject as a whole.
  • Running or organising training and dissemination events
  • Monitoring advocates to ensure that deadlines are met and project plans are adhered to.
  • Writing a report which draws together the benefits of this approach for the wider community.


The project proposals were reviewed by subject centre staff. We have also appointed a former advocate to be a project advisor/consultant whose role is to provide assitance and guidance to project holders and oversee evaluation.  The evaluation would look at the effects in both the host departments and in terms of wider implications of using this method of fostering e-learning in our discipline.


  • Lucas, B. (2006). Bringing E-learning Home – an experiment in Embedding e-learning using departmental e-learning advocates.  – Proceedings of the 23rd annual ASCILITE conference: Who’s learning? Whose technology?, Sydney, Australia, 2006 available at: http://www.ascilite.org.au/conferences/sydney06/proceeding/pdf_papers/p101.pdf
  • Lucas, B. (2007) e-learning and sharing digital resources in English: A Scoping Study –  English Subject Centre report series Forthcoming
  • Sharpe, R., et al. (2006) Implementing a university e-learning strategy: levers for change within academic schools. (ALT-J forthcoming)
  • Stiles , M. Yorke, J. (2003) Designing and Implementing Learning Technology Projects – A Planned Approach. A workshop paper given for the EFFECTS – Embedding Learning Technologies Seminar, 8th April 2003, University College London. Available online at: http://www.jiscinfonet.ac.uk/Resources/external-resources/eltfinal.doc

Project partners 2006/7 academic year

Project partners 2007/8 academic year