In 2009, the MSc in E-learning was one of the few fully online, distance programmes offered by the University of Edinburgh, but the University’s Distance Education Initiative (DEI) was about to provide funding over a five-year period for up to 20 new taught postgraduate distance programmes.
Distance education and e-learning were coming to the forefront of the University’s strategic plan for postgraduate teaching. Students’ need for meaningful and timely feedback, and innovative ways of supporting and enhancing this aspect of our interactions with online distance students, became increasingly relevant during the period of this project.
The MSc in E-learning programme (now the MSc in Digital Education), which had been running since 2005, had broken new ground with its experimental approach to course design and teaching, its critical and theoretical perspectives on online learning, and the energy and commitment of its participants. The programme team’s research into student learning in higher education, digital texts and authority, reflective practices and informal learning, as well as their award-winning teaching, were already informing assessment and feedback strategies, but the project team believed there was a great deal more to learn about, with and from students and the programme.
The “Student writing: innovative online strategies for assessment & feedback” project was funded by the Principal’s Teaching Award Scheme to take a closer look at some of the programme’s practices. The project became an important source of insight into digital assessment, feedback and writing practices, working with students as co-researchers, and innovating with methodological approaches including virtual ethnography. In 2011, the project generated the first version of 'manifesto for teaching online'.