Switched-on support

October 13, 2006

The HEA's information and computer sciences subject centre is a vital resource, Sylvia Alexander claims

The Higher Education Academy helps institutions, discipline groups and staff to provide the best learning experience for students. The academy and its 24 subject centres, including the information and computer sciences subject network, work together to raise the status of teaching and learning and to lead and support the professional development and recognition of staff.

We in the ICS centre serve mainly academic and learning-support staff in information and computing. We provide departments, subject communities and individuals with the tools, practical solutions and research evidence to improve learning environments. We offer advice and information that can help to solve problems associated with student support, learning and teaching.

The ICS centre plays a key role in policy implementation by evaluating the impact of policy decisions and providing an authoritative and independent voice on policies that affect students, such as widening participation, internationalisation and the changing expectations of industry.

We support the development and implementation of e-learning and mobile technologies that facilitate any time, anywhere learning. For instance, we funded the development of a range of reusable learning objects that allow bite-sized interactive learning activities to be delivered through devices such as laptops and personal digital assistants. Similarly, lecture materials have been made available for download and delivery via iPods, and feedback on assessments can now be texted directly to mobile phones.

Because programming is central to computing, we run regular workshops on the subject. Events such as these provide opportunities for colleagues to exchange information and resources and to evaluate achievements in a rapidly changing area.

We conducted a national survey to ascertain the extent of the student retention problem facing computing. The response led us to formulate a position paper that provides valuable evidence against which performances can be benchmarked. It also uncovered many instances of good practice.

Our focus on improving the student learning experience covers every stage from recruitment and retention through support and guidance during a student's course to the graduate job market. We work with new staff, offering them discipline-specific resources and guidance to complement the generic learning and teaching theory that their institutions provide. We set up a virtual learning environment in which new staff can engage with junior and senior colleagues from the same discipline.

Involvement with our subject community is vital to ensure that we have an understanding of the concerns of staff. We work closely with professional bodies and subject associations to share knowledge and to cut out duplication of effort.

Connecting practitioners, experts, developers and innovators and forging links between generic and subject-specific interests is an important part of our work.

Through our regional events, departmental workshops, national workshops, seminars and our annual conference, we cover a range of issues including curriculum development, pedagogic innovation and policy implementation. These are complemented by our website ( www.ics.heacademy.ac.uk ), which contains research literature, surveys and other approaches to policy and practice. Our online resources include a bank of learning and teaching practices, case studies, learning and teaching guides, an inquiry service, details of funding opportunities and materials from our events. We also have an external examiners' database.

Sylvia Alexander is associate director of the Higher Education Academy subject network for information and computer sciences and senior lecturer at Ulster University. An ICS prospectus is available from enquiries@heacademy.ac.uk

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