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Durham University

Learning and Teaching Handbook

7.3: e-Learning Strategy

University e-Learning Strategy


1. In 2003 the DfES stated that e-learning 'has the potential to transform the way we teach and learn. It opens new opportunities to 'raise standards, widen participation in life-long learning, [and] improve the learning experience. Most importantly, the DfES noted that e-learning 'cannot replace lecturers, but alongside existing methods it can enhance the quality and reach of their teaching'. The University e-Learning Strategy intends to set the direction for e-learning at Durham and to encourage colleagues to engage in e-learning activities, where appropriate, by opening up, supporting, and publicising its possibilities. Echoing the findings of the Joint SFEFC/SHEFC e-learning group, the strategy is based on the premise that 'e-learning is fundamentally about learning and not about technology'. Therefore, this strategy proposes a course of action which is 'based on the needs and demands of learners and their quality of educational experience'. In short, it is based on six key principles associated with this aim: connectivity, flexibility, interactivity, collaboration, student motivation (engagement), and extended opportunities.

Scope of the strategy

2. This strategy assists the delivery of the University Learning and Teaching Strategy by promoting eLearning as a pedagogically driven initiative to enhance those learning experiences traditionally offered by Durham. It outlines the future plans and directions of the University's flexible, electronically supported, learning opportunities for all students and staff. This strategy defines a University-wide vision for supporting and developing existing and future electronically supported Learning and Assessment opportunities (later referred in this document with a prefix of 'e'). While this strategy's primary focus is on learning, it broadly relates to all aspects of the student experience. We consulted on our draft strategy for eLearning in January 2008, via University Education Committee, Faculty Education Committees, Heads of House and Senior Tutors' committees and the IT Strategy working group. This strategy should be considered along with the Durham University IT vision and the IT Strategy.


3. The Joint Information Systems Committee defines eLearning as 'learning facilitated and supported through the use of information and communications technology'. eLearning may involve the use of a variety of technologies. Whatever the technology, however, learning is the primary and vital element. eLearning can cover a spectrum of activities from supporting learning, to blended learning (the combination of traditional and eLearning practices), to learning that is delivered entirely online. This document is deliberately formatted to replicate the stands of the HEFCE Strategy for e-learning (HEFCE Policy Document March 2005/12).


4. The strategy's aims are to:

  • To enhance the quality and flexibility of learning experiences of students and staff
  • To support staff in the delivery, development and administration of eLearning
  • To guide and inform investment and deployment of eLearning service, support staff and infrastructure

Strand 1

5. Through its Learning and Teaching Strategy, Durham University commits to continue to provide a high quality learning experience and where appropriate to enable this learning experience to benefit from electronic learning methods and technologies.

6. The University recognizes the potential benefits of eLearning as a means to:

  • achieve a more student centred and personalized approach to learning
  • help students gain greater levels of control in the management of their own learning.

7. To facilitate the continued integration of eLearning within the curriculum, the University will explore ways to promote and encourage innovation in eLearning, eAssessment, eSupport and eFeedback and facilitate the dissemination of good practice in these areas, where these enhance current practice. With the increased integration of eLearning into the curriculum, new learning approaches and pedagogy will emerge. Where possible we will reward excellence to promote and encourage further innovation as well as its dissemination.

8. The University recognizes the unique opportunity that technology provides for assisting students' independent learning while working in Colleges, at home and off campus. Formal learning experiences such as placement activity, field work and collaborative programmes can all benefit. In its most basic form this will involve communication technologies (including email and video-conferencing), but in the longer term the University will work towards enhancing learning opportunities through electronic user directed and collaborative facilities. Where appropriate, eLearning will be used to support distance and distributed learning pedagogies and where these more intense approaches are used the University commits to ensure via module/programme approval that appropriate support mechanisms are available.

9. The University foresees the benefit of eLearning to connect students and staff working between the two campuses in Durham and Stockton. The University will continue to ensure that the hardware and software is available to facilitate access to and cross-campus delivery of learning resources, and learning and communication between all members of the University community, wherever they are located.

10. The University will continue to assess how its VLE can be adapted to improve the learning experiences of all students including those with specific needs. The University will ensure that all staff and students have fair access to eLearning technologies and materials, including special consideration for those with disabilities and issues arising from internationalisation. The Diversity Officer and Durham University Disability Service (DS) in conjunction with the CIS, will take a leading a key role in identifying good practice for dissemination.

11. The University commits to expanding the use of plagiarism detection and awareness software and to use the technology as a driver towards plagiarism enlightenment rather than discipline.

12. There is also a potential strategic opportunity to enhance support for our research-led learning agenda. As further articulated within Strand 4 we will encourage technologists, library staff and academic staff to work collaboratively in support of this goal.

Strand 2

13. In an increasingly complex electronic environment, three principles - ease of use, interoperability and sustainability - will inform/underpin developments in learning resources and networked learning. The University will work towards enabling students to discover and access eResources with minimum effort and delay, through the integration of internal systems and adoption of technologies which facilitate external interactions. In establishing repositories suitable for dissemination of a variety of digital objects, the University will make every reasonable effort to ensure that copyright, IPR and licensing issues are fully observed and that long term storage and preservation is appropriate for the materials. The University will aim to make electronic learning opportunities available to students of all levels and on all modules to enable them to develop the information skills that are a core component of "graduateness"; allow people to operate effectively in a knowledge economy; and enhance employability. Wherever possible, information literacy learning will be integrated with the student experience so that it is meaningful and effective.

Strand 3

14. The collegiate system at Durham both permits different ways of engaging with academic studies (individually and collaboratively) and, particularly, provides a range of mechanisms for student support and extra-curricular activities. New forms of communication should enhance this college experience (and, indeed, the whole student experience). The University will explore ways in which eLearning can ensure that all students can gain access equally to materials which enhance their academic studies, can engage in the college experience and specifically those which enable them to develop their extra-curricular activities. Thought should also be given to 'livers-away', those studying at a distance who again need to be able to access academic materials, but can also use technologies to become engaged in college activities even if not physically based in Durham or Queen's.

15. The University recognises that student support can be significantly enhanced through information and communication technologies. Durham will continue to develop simple and effective means to direct students to support systems (both on-line and face-to-face) and ensure that students with specific learning needs can have some of these addressed through assistive technologies. Durham's goal is to ensure that its eSupport is simple, accessible and coherent. The University commits to enhancing provision for personal development plans and progression transcripts. It is recognised that better data and system integration is a clear strategic aim to realise this goal. The University will explore the use of different technological solutions to enable student profiles to be automatically or simply populated with standard data related to progression and achievements and those which would allow collaborative development of profiles between student, department, college, tutor and other groups. We recognise how such technologies can support students through university and beyond, into further study and the workplace. We foresee these technologies providing opportunities for maintaining and enhancing alumni relations with the university, department, college and peer/friendship groups. For their success, these developments need to focus on ensuring student engagement with the processes and acknowledge the wide range of collaborative personal tools already in use by students.

16. The University will continue to work towards developing systems to support access for all and ensure, in particular, that any potential conflicts to our commitment to support widening participation are addressed. The University commits to ensure that it is pro-active in addressing students' differing abilities to access technologies, either because of location, special needs or the cost of the technology needed to access the materials.

Strand 4

17. The University recognises the need to address skills, knowledge and competencies for eLearning in training and continuing professional development for staff delivering or supporting learning and teaching staff. Durham will ensure that appropriate staff resource is committed for the long term to support and develop eLearning to meet the needs of both Institutional, Faculty and Departmental strategies and initiatives. A key success factor to maximise the benefits of technology will be achieved by encouraging co-ordinated strategic management approaches to development of eLearning including learning and teaching, human resources, IT, and estates strategies. To achieve this, eLearning initiatives will be incorporated within the strategic planning and quality enhancement processes of the University.

18. To continue to build capacity in all areas of eLearning the University will maintain networks and communities of practice across the institution to develop, share and embed eLearning practice. The University commits to providing high quality electronic learning resources. Through the ITS and library it will continue to provide training and support to staff developing resources and to students to ensure that they are able to use the resources most effectively to support their learning. The University sees learning technologies as a way of strengthening its research-led curricular. To achieve this, Durham will explore the benefits to the University research community of integrated Virtual Research Environment

Strand 5

19. The University is committed to providing high quality e-learning opportunities and resources that are consistent with the high quality of its provision delivered by other means. To achieve this, it will ensure that:

  • its processes for the approval, monitoring and support of its provision continue rigorously to assure the quality and standards of provision delivered in whole or in part by eLearning, where necessary updating these processes to take account of new learning approaches and pedagogy that emerge as the integration of eLearning into the curriculum increases;
  • there are clear mechanisms to promote and disseminate good practice in the use of eLearning to enhance the quality of the learning opportunities the University provides;
  • LTC is kept fully informed of issues of quality assurance and enhancement relating to the use of eLearning technologies.

Strand 6

20. Durham will strive to contribute to the sector's understanding and appreciation of the wider issues posed by eLearning. We will maintain our existing high profile through both hosting events and conferences and participating in events and conferences elsewhere. Further the University aims to encourage more subject specific research into eLearning and its pedagogy by promoting and rewarding excellence and innovation in eLearning, eAssessment and eFeedback and facilitate its dissemination. Specifically we will encourage, where appropriate, cross department collaboration in the research, development and evaluation of eLearning.

21. The University commits to evaluate and disseminate national and international good practices for eLearning. With this regard we recognise the specific contributions of organisations such as the Higher Education Academy and JISC as well as other educational institutions.

Strand 7

22. Durham will continue to monitor its provision of learning technologies to ensure that the University infrastructure is sufficient to support the increasing and more varied demands of students and staff. The University will continue to explore the use of new technologies in its drive to enable student to engage in both classroom-based and location-independent learning. This will include facilitating the production of high quality electronic learning and teaching resources including those created through the increased use of video and audio streaming technologies.

23. Durham aspires towards a seamless integration of existing information and learning systems so will seek ways to support coordinated University-wide strategic management of both data and systems and providers that impact the student learning experience. We will continue to develop a comprehensive and coherent approach towards electronic tools and resources that support learning and teaching. We will also explore new opportunities to enhance the supporting infrastructure for independent and classroom based learning to ensure that it is fit for purpose and specifically in the area of mobile learning.

Action Plan




  • Review strategic funding arrangements for eLearning including consideration of:

    • an eLearning Development Fund to support innovation
    • funding for the development of generic learning materials,
    • funding for the future enhancement the current eLearning infrastructure,
    • strategic purchase of born-digital materials


Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Education)

  • Ensure the sustainability of the current faculty support model for learning technology, whereby each faculty is assigned a specific Learning Technologist whose responsibility will be to enhance the use of technology in learning and teaching and to facilitate a more learner-centric approach within their faculty.


Director of University IT

  • Work with the IT Strategy Group and Space Management Group to ensure that an appropriate infrastructure is in place to support technology enhanced learning.


Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Education)

  • Review the current structures for the links between EC and its sub-committees and service departments supporting e-learning, to ensure that clear lines of communication are in place.


Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Education)

  • Review the technical data integration infrastructure with a view to investigating the feasibility of improving central locality of student data and accessibility / ease of discovery of electronic resources


IT Strategy Group

  • Develop guidance for inclusion in the Learning and Teaching Handbook on good practice in eLearning, and to incorporate sessions on this subject in the academic staff development programme



  • Make available centrally guidelines on accessibility and usability of eLearning resources and review existing resources and systems against these guidelines


ITS/DS/Diversity Manager

  • Support the production of a University electronic communication strategy and as an outcome of this review produce good practice guide on effective use of electronic communication.


Active Learning in Computing CETL

  • Create an eLearning virtual network for support and dissemination of local, national and international research and good practice.