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Establishing Collaborative Postgraduate Research Programmes and Integrated Teaching Agendas Using the Access Grid

The increasing pervasiveness of Access Grid technology makes this one of the most significant distributive e-learning tools currently available, with the potential to permit harmonization of curricula across countries and continents. A number of Access Grid-based seminars are run at Birmingham and these have functioned as case studies in order to provide feedback on the success of the technology. Student reactions to the teaching environment have also formed part of this study and suggestions for possible improvements to the format were solicited. Case study material was drawn primarily from questionaires which were completed by participants and Access Grid operators.

The project involved the Universities of Birmingham, Durham and Manchester and the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory. Other institutions involved included the University of Arkansas, Princeton University and the University of Ljubljana. The project ran from 1 July 2005 to 1 October 2006 and was funded by the Higher Education Academy.

The Project

The project explored the educational context of the Access Grid in a variety of circumstances:

  • To investigate values and limitations to the technology
  • To provide methodologies for use in seminar and formal lecture provision
  • To demonstrate the practicalities for implementing harmonised curricula integrated across institutions and countries
  • To create a set of guidelines and protocols to facilitate the learning experience The project is seeking to investigate the potential advantages of Access Grid technologies including:
  • Efficient and cost-effective delivery of shared courses through harmonised curricula across institutions and countries
  • Extension of curricula content through access to courses delivered at other institutions
  • Novel environments for teaching which enhance student interaction from different institutions
  • Enhancement of student learning experience through the integration of direct personal instruction as part of an e-learning strategy in support of abstract technologies such as WebCT
  • Promoting increased understanding amongst students and academic staff of differing academic traditions and teaching practises through international courses

Primary Outcomes

Responses were generally positive, and any criticism was generally levelled at format and lecture content rather than any shortcomings of the technology. These criticisms were used to improve delivery of the seminars.

It was agreed that it was an enormous advantage for students to have access to state-of-the-art research around the globe. This access also helped foster a sense of community between small departments in disparate locations and expanded teaching and research opportunities through shared curricula. Furthermore, great promise was shown for the development of distance learning courses, with the ability to record and deliver lectures on demand.

Most disadvantages noted were related to the use of the technology rather than its functionality. Lecturers often failed to engage the students in remote venues, particularly during question sessions, and consequently students noted that it was easy to coast through classes as little was expected of them. This indicates that some changes in teaching style are necessary in order to avoid such a situation.

It is also necessary to think about how slides are used in lectures. A lecturers would usually stand up and point to a slide but this is impossible, and a laser pointer would not be picked up by a remote audience. This is a matter which must be addressed.

Many lecturers require the services of a technical operator as they are not familiar with the technology, and availability of venues may become a problem as use of the Access Grid is taken up more widely, unless an increased number of centres are made available.

Publications/Further Reading

Contribution to White Paper on Access Grid in Education (in preparation), and report to funding body. Published report in preparation.

Tools and Methods


Hardware: Access Grid node; Gentner echo-cancelling unit; Powerwall projection facility.

Software: InSORS; AGToolkit; IGPix.

Method Categories

Data Capture; Data Publishing and Dissemination; Practice Led Research; Communication and Collaboration; Strategy and Project Management.

Specific Methods

Not applicable

Data Formats

Word documents of questionnaires and reports.

Metadata Standards

Not applicable

Project Website

Staff and Advisors

Principal Staff Member

  • Professor Vince Gaffney
  • Dr Mary Harlow
  • Ms Helen Goodchild
  • Mr Paul Hatton

External Expertise

  • Mike Daws (Access Grid Support centre, University of Manchester)
  • Mark Lydon (I2a)

AHDS Methods Taxonomy Terms

This item has been catalogued using a discipline and methods taxonomy. Learn more here.


  • General


  • Communication and collaboration - Graphical communication / collaboration - synchronous
  • Communication and collaboration - Video-based interaction - synchronous