In planning our project, we had envisaged dissemination as the final
act when we would sum up our progress, display our wares and astonish
our colleagues. More practically, we could not see how to find
time simultaneously to implement duo and to broadcast what we were
doing. It came as a surprise, therefore, to find that hardly had
we begun, people were inviting us to talk to them about our activities,
even to write up 'case-studies'. What, at this stage, could we
possibly offer? We were not researchers, certainly not authorities,
and could hardly hold our novice attempts up as samples of 'best
Having demurred at our first invitations, we soon realised that such modesty
(and fear for our professional pride) was somewhat misplaced in
the subject contexts. In attending events as an audience, we found
that, while the e-energies, imagination and expertise of some English
colleagues came as a revelation, we were also learning a good deal
from fellow beginners -- and even from those who had never logged
on to a VLE. The kinds of discussions we were having in our own
project meetings were, in fact, just the kinds of exchanges that
would prove productive when we met colleagues from elsewhere.
The lesson (as preached by all project guides) is that dissemination
can be exploratory. We have learned far more through talking to
colleagues and reflecting on our various works in progress, than
through any abstract instructions. Shaping presentations has not
only rapidly honed our general IT skills, but has helped us to
focus on and highlight particular strands of the project; lines
of interest, themes and narratives have become clearer. All this
has fed back into and shaped our ideas. In short (as we are always
advising students), we've learned through experiment, risk (of
a kind) and dialogue.
Above all it has helped that even our most rudimentary efforts have always
been greeted politely--the English Studies e-learning world is
not yet a competitive academic forum. Our audiences have been sympathetic,
kind and encouraging; and we have realised that even the least
well-attended events can turn out to be exciting and enjoyable.
Although we have met many highly sophisticated and experienced
practioners, they have always conveyed the impression that our
own activities are worth something. Even the most inspirational
presenters at the English C&IT roadshows are not always themselves
working among colleagues who share their particular enthusiams;
and one of the unexpected pleasures of the project has been in
feeling that we are helping to contribute to a larger collegial
enterprise. Similar discussions across faculties in our own university,
virtual and actual visits, and, as time went on, our own virtual
hospitality, have reinforced this sense of community.
Primed by the project, we have also become aware of fellow interests in
colleagues hitherto known to us only for their academic research;
and taking part in the occasional e-discussion at a specialist
literary conference has proved surprisingly refreshing and invigorating.
Conversations about structuring and using a VLE always leads immediately,
with English colleagues, into conversations about the nature of
the subject, the modes of communication, the rationale and structuring
of our modules, even into the details of reading specific texts.
All this can give new twists to more conventional discussions,
and lead to fresh insights.
need not be only for experts and for stellar best practice. Even
modest practice is sometimes worth sharing. Although you feel
a complete VLE amateur, you might well have an angle on the subject
and experiences that can offer something to discussion; you will
certainly learn more yourself and, if feeling discouraged, be
re-enthused by hearing of other people's efforts; and you will
probably do as much as (or more than) the glossiest presentations
to help even less advanced colleagues picture some of the day-to-day
'English' possibilities for the system.
Main activities (2002-ongoing)
I: In the department
Other colleagues: all
project members have continued to introduce duo to other colleagues
individually, demonstrating the basics to get them started,
and offering follow-up support when needed. This has proved
to be the most manageable form of help. (The short group demonstrations
we offered proved hard to fit into the department's schedules;
as the staff survey shows, most English colleagues have seen
individual ad hoc demonstrations as more convenient than booking
themselves on a centralised course.)
Creating materials: we have also sourced, created, or helped colleagues
to create duo materials (e.g. slides, banners, group pages,
uploading text documents).
iii. Departmental website committee: duologue project
team's discussions and development of duo helped to prompt
and fed into the formation of a departmental web committee,
chaired by Dr Robert Carver. (It became urgent to differentiate
between the functions and purpose of the intranet - duo - and
the public departmental web-site.)
II: In the university
Presentation - 'duo showcase': Pam
Knights, 'Nothing Flash: Word(s) through duo', at 'duo showcase:
a week of good practice', a Learning Technologies Team series
of lunchtime events, University of Durham. 23- 26 June 2003.
This presentation led to productive discussion with colleagues
from a diverse range of departments, from Business Studies
to Modern European Languages.
ii. Exemplar material for other departments: in training sessions
for other departments across the university, the Learning Technologies
Team used some of our sites to suggest ideas to other departments
for enlivening their own modules (e.g. the music department were
shown the Edith Wharton site to look at the use of images).
Our staff survey also fed back into the structuring of questions on the university-wide
iii. As duo guinea-pigs: members of the project also accepted
invitations from the Learning Technologies duo team to try out
new features (e.g. on Blackboard6) or to test out new forms
of staff questionnaire, discussed and disseminated by LTT members
at IT conferences and events.
iv. University review: our sites were visited by members of the
university academic quality team, by senior management in the
faculty and by an external reviewer, as part of the Department
of English Studies' revalidation review in November 2003. Our
most developed duo modules received enthusiastic praise in the
III: In the subject community
Presentation - UK Blackboard Conference: Pam
Knights, Getting into Texts', at 3rd UK Blackboard Conference, 'My
Institution: Sharing Good Practice', Durham, 16-17 December
Presentation/workshop- University of Teesside: Robert
Carver and Pam Knights, 'Beginning Blackboard' (demonstration
and discussion) with colleagues in the departments of English
and Design, University of Teesside, 9 April 2003.
Presentation at LTSN English Subject Centre International conference,
'The Condition of the Subject': Robin Dix and Pam Knights,
'The Duologue Project', Senate House, London, 19 July 2003.
iv. Sample items: Pam Knights, posted on LTSN English Subject
Centre, 'Learning Link', May 2002.
Presentation - Enhancing
Online Discussion: Pam Knights, LTSN English Subject Event,
University of Glasgow, 5 December 2003.
vi. Miscellaneous -
1. DfES e-Learning Consultation Event and focus groups:
Knights accepted an invitation to attend this debate on the
proposals on the DfES e-Learning Strategy document: 'Towards
a Unified e-Learning Strategy', Sheffield, 1 October 2003.
We have also been receiving invitations to participate in various
focus groups, e.g. Workshop on ICTs in teaching and learning
(City University, June 2004).
2. Ongoing: we
have also demonstrated project materials to individuals
from a growing number of universities - e.g. Northumbria (Childhood
Studies), Royal Holloway (English), East Anglia (English); and
Pam Knights has shared project experiences with colleagues
at NTFS and FTDL conferences, November 2002, May 2003, November
2003, February 2004, May 2004; we have also hosted individual visitors
to some modules (e.g. Edith Wharton / Children's Fiction).
3. In process: some of the 'reading' activities
will feed into further presentations and articles (e.g. Symposium on 'Developing the Independent English Students' - Chris Hopkins' and Matthew Steggle's English Subject Centre mini-project at Sheffield Hallam University; Pam Knights's activities being
further developed in her National Teaching Fellowship project:
TRAC: Textual Reflection: from Adult to Child, and in the 'MEDAL' FDTL5 project consortium, headed by Northumbria University).
Satisfying as all these activities were, combining implementation with dissemination
remained a problem and teaching commitments prevented us accepting
all invitations. (e.g. It was disappointing not to be able to attend
the English Subject Centre events - timed for mid-week- in London,
October 2002, and the general project day in Glasgow, 4 Dec 2003,
let alone the invitations for conferences in Cuba, Hawaii, Florida, or
Sydney. We would have had to have been enjoying very large-scale
funding indeed to be able to make time for all the opportunities
that the project opened up. Sadly, funds that released us each
for the equivalent of an hour a week for about 20 weeks did not
quite run to this level.)
Overall, however, meeting other colleagues and exploring a new common language
within and across subjects and disciplines has remained one of
the most satisfying aspects of the project.
'It was good to see Blackboard in use, and how a site gets
developed over time. Blackboard presentations by our own
[technical team] are usually so much concerned with a rather
abstract display of the capabilities of the system (sorry,
platform). I can see how it becomes something like addictive,
and I'm looking forward to working with it.'
'I couldn't see the point of it before but now I'm feeling
'can't wait to get started'.
(feedback from English colleagues in other universities)