Learning and Teaching Investment Fund 2011

Summary of projects

Project title

Professional learning networks: an exploratory study to connect people - spaces - technology

Project leaders

Peter Muir

Project team

  • Gayle Nicholas
  • Wendy Paulusz
  • Michael Nott
  • Peter Daivis
  • Andrew Jennings
  • Julie Roberts
  • Amy Love
  • Mark Smithers
  • Garry Bradley
  • Wendy Haszler
  • Karen Dellar

Project summary

RMIT has made a significant investment in the development and refurbishment of formal teaching spaces and e-learning systems. This investment offers teaching staff the opportunity to design and deliver curricula in new and creative ways. For L&T support functions the challenge is to ensure teaching staff have the confidence and capability to use these physical and virtual learning environments to produce tangible and sustainable improvements in student experience, improved learning outcomes and higher levels of student satisfaction

This pilot study focussed on the teaching practices of three academic staff delivering courses in separate newly (re)developed technology intensive teaching spaces. Class observations and interviews were used to understand the way that teaching space, e-learning technologies and the orientations of staff and students to learning impacted on the qualities of the learning environment. As an outcome of the project, the teaching staff have been provided with a report outlining a range of possible ‘entry points’ from which they can develop strategies to improve their teaching practice. Guided by the principles of action research, these reports are designed to assist each staff member to improve the student learning experience in the next (and subsequent) cycles of course delivery.

In addition to teaching staff and students the study also examined the views and perceptions of a range of staff involved in the design and management of learning space and e-learning technologies as well as staff from academic/professional development functions. This enabled the study to extend beyond local teaching practices to include the views and perceptions of staff involved in supporting various aspects of the curriculum development and innovation process. The analysis the views and perceptions of this group provides a useful insight into orientations and relationships within the support staff constituency and between support staff and teaching staff at the ‘coalface’.

The model of innovation that has informed both the project design and analysis of data has been drawn from Actor Network Theory. From an ANT perspective, the qualities of the learning environment in the three courses involved have been viewed as an assemblage of socio-material entities and relations. Rather than defining the learning environment as a ‘social network’, ANT takes the view that all learning environments are ‘heterogeneous networks’ made up of teachers, students, tutors, support staff, classrooms, computers, course guides, standards, text books, surveys timetables, policies etc. In doing so, the study points to the potential contribution that ANT can make to understanding how professional development can best support curriculum change and innovation in practice.


The project, funded through the LTIF ‘Special Round’ in June 2011, was designed to examine the provision of professional development in three courses offered in new / refurbished learning spaces during semester 2, 2011. The study emerged from conversations with staff teaching in number of new learning spaces. They reported a lack of confidence and capability in making effective use of the learning spaces and e-learning technologies. In addition, while interested in ‘planned’ professional development activities, they also articulated a need to access advice and support in ‘real time’ during the teaching period.

In addressing this issue, the pilot study has produced a number of outcomes. These include:

For Teaching Staff: A rich description of course design and delivery in 3 courses offered in newly developed learning spaces. These descriptions were based on interviews with teaching staff and students as well as class observations. The analysis of this data has provided the teaching staff with range of possible ‘entry points’ around which strategies to improve their teaching practice and the quality of the learning environment for their students can proceed.

For L&T Support Staff: The examination of the roles of a range of staff supporting e-learning technologies and learning space design and management as well as staff from a range of curriculum development support functions were also incorporated into the study. The analysis of the views and perceptions of this group provides a picture of the orientations and the nature of the relationships between support staff and the teaching staff at the ‘coalface’.

At this point, the study has focussed on the collection and analysis of data for improving the design, delivery and support of teaching practice. Papers for conferences or journals are planned and it is anticipated that they will be produced during 2012.

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