Dr Shan Wareing – Harnessing Technology or the Tail Wagging the Dog


How to develop and support elearning within an institution is an interaction between what the technology can do, what is pedagogically desirable, what is reasonable institutional investment (e.g. what licence fees is it worth paying, which systems need to be integrated to get the real benefits), and what staff and students will use, or believe they want to use, effectively.  All these elements are variables containing a high proportion of 'unknowns'.  Progress in elearning depends on successfully calculating the interaction of these variables - and not everyone in an institution will agree about which imperative should drive developments.  Should it be pedagogy? Costs? The IT infrastructure? Administrative benefits? User IT skills? For some people in a university community, learning technology developments will always feed as if the tail is wagging the dog, because of the difficulty in balancing the needs of the different users and systems.

The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) has stated the wish:

... to focus on the benefits and the outcomes from using technology to support learning and related processes which may be different in each institution. Underpinning infrastructures, management practices, architectures and services have an impact on learning, teaching and assessment, as do services for learners more generally.   (p1)

This is a broad definition, broader than HEFCE has previously used, which explicitly includes wider institutional systems and processes, and therefore implicitly invokes the kinds of system tensions referred to in the first paragraph of this abstract.

Some of the difficulties resulting from these systems and beliefs coming into conflict can be:

  • Clashes in understanding between early adopters, the active resistors, and the rest
  • Non technical staff not understanding the implications of adopting various technologies for the underlying infrastructure; e.g. security, cost, planning for long term compatibility & system integration
  • Culture clashes between teachers & IT specialists, or PRINCE 2 project management culture and those who prefer to muddle through
  • Issues around production values/quality assurance/ legal issues around defamation
  • Staff IT skills are hard to evaluate (and patchy)
  • Technology changes fast
  • Infrastructure investment is high, and a mistake will cost later
  • Lack of consensus on what is good pedagogy

My paper will explore these ideas in the context of a case study, an institutional decision to expand the use of Blackboard as the university’s virtual learning environment. The paper will include structured time for audience interaction in addition to questions at the end.

This paper relates to theme C, Virtual Learning Environments in Art, Design and Communication


Dr Shan Wareing is Dean of Learning & Teaching Development & Head of the Centre for Learning & Teaching in Art & Design at the University of the Arts London.She is also on the University of the Arts London Court of Governors.

Her first degree was in English Language and Literature from Oxford University, where she also achieved a Rowing half blue. She has five years experience of lecturing in English Language and Linguistics at Roehampton University.She worked extensively during this time and later on developing students' study skills. Her PhD (Strathclyde 2005) was in gender and assessment of children's discussion skills, and her interests in gender and education have continued: she runs workshops on gender and higher education and has been a Governor for the Lady Eleanor Holles school for girls. She occasionally teaches sixth formers studying for English Language and Literature examinations as part of an AimHigher initiative, and continues to teach on University of the Arts London's Postgraduate Certificate in Learning and Teaching.

She has worked in pre-92 and post-92 universities in Wales (Head of Learning Development at University of Wales Newport), Scotland (teaching English for Academic Purposes at the University of Strathclyde, and English Literature at the Edinburgh University summer school) and England, where, in addition to working at University of the Arts London and Roehampton, she was a senior lecturer in the Learning and Teaching Support Unit at Kingston University, and Director of the Educational Development Centre at Royal Holloway, University of London, where she was also a Governor.

She has also worked as a visiting professor in linguistics at Michigan State University, USA, and taught English for Academic Purposes in Kobe, Japan, as well as working for shorter periods in Georgia, Spain and Germany.

She is on the Advisory Board of two CETLs, the CLIP CETL at University of the Arts London and the C4C CETL at York St John, where she is the external evaluator. She is, or has been, the external examiner for Postgraduate Certificates and Diplomas in Learning and Teaching at the universities of Bath, Reading, Oxford Brookes, Sheffield Hallam and Staffordshire.

She is Co-Chair of the Staff and Educational Development Association and on the JISC Regional Advisory Group for London, and is a Fellow of the Staff and Educational Development Association and of the Higher Education Academy, for which she also undertakes evaluation activities.

Her publications include:

Wareing, S. (2007) 'Disciplinary Differences in Student Learning' in Interdisciplinary Learning and Teaching in Higher Education: Theory and Practice edited by C. Balasubramanyam and S. Fallows. RoutledgeFalmer: London

Shreeve, A., Wareing, S. and Drew, L. (forthcoming) 'Key Aspects In The Visual Arts' in A Handbook for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, edited by H. Fry, S. Ketteridge & S. Marshall. Kogan Page: London.

Wareing, S. (forthcoming) 'Strategic Planning and Educational Development' in Leading Educational Development, edited by B. Tomkinson, SEDA: London.

Wareing, S. (2005) 'Discipline-Specific Development: Just Branding?' Educational Developments 6.1 12-14.

Wareing, S. (2004) 'It ain't what you say, it's the way that you say it: an analysis of the language of educational development' Educational Developments 5.2 9-13

Thomas, L., Wareing, S., Singh, I., Stilwell Peccei, J., Thornborrow, J. and Jones, J. (1999, 2004) Language, Society and Power, London: Routledge.>

Wareing, Shan & Thornborrow, Joanna (1998) Patterns in Language: applications of stylistics for students of Language & Literature, Routledge, London.

Wareing, S. (1994) 'And then he kissed her: the reclamation of female characters to submissive roles in contemporary fiction' in Katie Wales (ed.) Feminist Linguistics in Literary Criticism. Cambridge: D.S.Brewer


Dr Shan Wareing

Dean of Learning & Teaching Development
The Centre for Learning & Teaching in Art & Design (cltad)
65 Davies Street