National Teaching Fellow 2012
Dr Rhona Sharpe’s approach to developments in online education, from the perspective of new advancements in technology, is to highlight the voice and experience of the learner.
Rhona started as a psychology lecturer but it was her own experience in 1995 on The Open University’s teaching and learning online course that began her interest in online learning. She now shares her enthusiasm through a suite of courses for higher and further education staff.
Ignoring familiar cries that participation in online environments is poor, her team at Oxford Brookes has shown that activity-based, highly structured courses can engage students in collaborative tasks in a minimal amount of time. Rhona’s aim is to create a transformative learning environment, to give staff a brief taste of online collaboration in order to pass it on to their own students.
She puts her success down to the need to uncover and understand each learner’s experience of learning with technology. Professor Gina Wisker from the University of Brighton has taught alongside Rhona and said:
“I have been struck by Rhona’s sensitive mixture of responsiveness to the learning needs of students” and her “use of innovative and ‘e’ and blended learning techniques which truly engage the learner and help them develop and feel challenged and safe in the context.”
A model of learner development, created by Rhona and Helen Beetham, now underpins Oxford Brookes’ own definition of digital and information literacy. One of the University’s graduate attributes includes giving students the functional access, skills, and practices necessary to become a confident, agile adopter of a range of technologies for personal, academic and professional use.
Rhona has also demonstrated that social networking can extend the reach of collaborative learning beyond course structures and can create looser networks of connected professionals. This work culminated in the creation of ELESIG - an online community of over 1,000 researchers to jointly help evaluate learners’ experiences of online working.
It is symptomatic of Rhona’s approach that she puts her success down to collaborations with colleagues in this and other networks. She now plans to develop further community-based forms of development for higher education staff.
Head of the Oxford Centre for Staff and Learning Development
Oxford Brookes University