"We chose LearningSpace because it's based on rich, related KM technology, not only Notes and Domino but Sametime, QuickPlace and the new Raven KM suite."
-- Sean Cavan, Head of Lifelong Learning for Sheffield Business School
Renee Hanson, European Marketing Manager for Interliant
Ann Zitterkopf, Managing Director of Interliant European Business Operations
|Though Sean Cavan believes in starting small, no one accuses him of thinking small. Cavan, who is Head of Lifelong Learning at Sheffield Business School (SBS), directs a pilot project in a new MSc in Knowledge Management and Consultancy. He sees this small beginning as a test for a program that will eventually affect the global SBS student body of 1,800 and as a first step in implementing a knowledge management strategy for the entire school. Cavan intends to accomplish his vision through a process of collaboration and delegation.|
Change through collaboration
For several years now SBS has offered MBS and MSc programs to their students through what they call a Flexible Learning style. The method allows students to complete a course of study on a part-time basis, using an appropriate mix of distance learning and intensive residential study. Until this year the technology for the distant learning aspect was primarily e-mail based conferencing.
Cavan began to see the need for a broader vision, and this program gave him a ready-made place to start his investigation. Collaboration has always been SBS's style -- they've made outreach to businesses a key component of their operation. Through this approach, SBS's lead Knowledge Management staff, Dr. John Kawalek and Bryan Gladstone, along with Cavan, began talking with both Lotus and IBM. Those discussions confirmed their views as to the impact that knowledge management is having on big business and how this new discipline could expand SBS' vision for their Flexible Learning programs. Further, if KM can be incorporated into Flexible Learning courses, why not adopt a KM approach to managing the business of the school?
A degree in Knowledge Management -- a first in Europe
After an exploration and planning stage, this fall SBS took the first step toward realizing its new vision by offering a MSc in Knowledge Management and Consultancy -- the first such course to be offered in Europe. To deliver the new master's degree, SBS decided to introduce software specifically designed for education and training. For many reasons we'll get to in a moment, they chose LearningSpace.
Hosting -- delegating the technical concerns
Cavan knew right away he wanted to delegate the task of handling the technical side of the project. Enter the Lotus Business Partner, Interliant, the application and Web hosting company whose European offices are headquartered in England.
Renee Hanson, European Marketing Manager for Interliant, explains their hosting role, "With years of hosting experience and technology expertise on staff, we know how efficiently to manage the back end of LearningSpace. This management includes four student application modules -- Schedule, Mediacenter, Profiles, and Course Room, as well as administrative databases -- Assessment and Central. We provide the setup , the infrastructure, and the support for LearningSpace."
According to Ann Zitterkopf, Managing Director of Interliant European Business Operations, Interliant is "the motor under the hood of an flashy sports car. We're behind the scenes but play a vital role in making the customer's solutions run smoothly. Using the student list and course information that Sheffield gives us, we register the URL for the course, roll-out the class, and enable the students to access the information. Then, when the course ends, we take the material off the server."
SBS chose LearningSpace because it is a widely respected system used by many academic organizations. Besides learning from the experiences of organizations currently using the product, SBS also likes the range of pedagogic processes LearningSpace supports -- processes such as active learning, peer mentoring, asynchronous and synchronous peer and tutor interaction, access to learning resources, and ease of use for external faculty.
The new student of the new millennium
Cavan's vision for SBS grows out of a history of meeting the needs of SBS's adult student -- who is, on average, 33 years old. These students are mainly professionals who work and have families. They don't have the luxury of dropping everything and moving to a new location just for study. They are also typically key staff within their organizations, whose absence for extended periods of study would be hard to balance against their work responsibilities. Because of these factors, they are the students for whom Flexible Learning programs are key.
Diversity in new students
But Cavan also sees the student body for distance learning growing in diversity. Recently he recognized an older student getting out of an expensive, late model car. When he commented on the car, the student said it has been a retirement gift from his company. He had just left a very responsible position, and he wanted to go back to school as a means of validating his own career achievements against the benchmark of the Sheffield MBA. This person is typical of another type of student -- the older student engaging in lifelong learning for personal as well as professional reasons.
Taking the first steps toward cohort cohesiveness
Cavan is taking small steps in beginning the LearningSpace project with the MSc in KM because he wants to evaluate what works best in teaching methodology for the new delivery mode. And he wants to ensure that SBS's LearningSpace environment fosters something he calls cohort cohesiveness. The term is apt for a school offering a degree in KM. "We want the technology we use to allow students to support each other. We want students to share their knowledge, experience, and practical ideas because we recognize this information as being as important a learning resource as the Web or the course tutors."
All this sharing sounds a lot like the culture in which a good KM system works well. The SBS KM team wants students to practice good KM principles. Cavan says, "In a time when your voice mail can be backed up to kingdom come, you can drown in the information thrown at you unless you find ways to use technology as an enabler rather than a strangler. " With the reality of the modern workplace in mind, the team wants an imaginative use of LearningSpace. Before the program leaves its pilot stage, they want to make sure their LearningSpace environment meets the needs of the students and of good pedagogy.
Evaluating the pilot program
Good pedagogy, the school believes, will mean a blend of on-campus classes along with LearningSpace modules. This fall's evaluation of the pilot program will determine which types of content presentations work best face-to-face and which are more effective in the distance learning mode.
The evaluation will also include how well the pilot program uses outside sources -- such as a recent presentation by knowledge management Principal Consultant John Blackwell of IBM. "We've built a strong working relationship with professionals in the industry as part of the school's strategy for bringing the best minds into our programs. We want to find out how we can best use those resources for our students and best provide grass-roots feedback directly to the leading thinkers," says Cavan.
The school is evaluating students' use of LearningSpace in the Web browser and in the Notes client mode. Students who have only one phone line may prefer to work locally in Notes, replicating when they are ready. At other times, a business traveler may want to access her calendar from the Web. Zitterkopf says, "It all depends on whether students want to browse the Web or have Notes installed on their computers and access the information locally." Students have both options, and will continue to have them when the MSc in KM is rolled out in its full-blown Flexible Learning form next summer.
The larger KM picture
The use of LearningSpace in the KM course is only part of Cavan's vision for SBS. "We chose LearningSpace because it's based on rich, KM related technology -- not only Notes and Domino but Sametime, QuickPlace and the new Raven KM suite. We want to build on that technology to make sure our university practices what it teaches."
The future -- flexibility for growth
Cavan likes working with Interliant because they offer flexibility. Currently the program uses a virtual server, which is partitioned for each user. Zitterkopf points out , "A virtual server is a cost efficient way to start in LearningSpace." But SBS may go to a dedicated environment hosted by Interliant when the program goes beyond the pilot stage. Cavan says, " We want to be able to change as the class size grows or when we decide to use the real time version of LearningSpace." Cavan wants to be sure the program has the infrastructure to grow with his vision.