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NetLinkS: Collaborative Professional Development for Networked Learner Support

Project web site

Programme area
Training and Awareness

Contact details
Prof. T.D.Wilson, Project Head,
Department of Information Studies, University of Sheffield, Western Bank, Sheffield, S10 2TN
Phone: 0114 222 2631 Fax: 0114 278 0300

Ms P. Levy, Project Manager,
Department of Information Studies, University of Sheffield, Western Bank, Sheffield, S10 2TN
Phone: 0114 222 2638 Fax: 0114 278 0300

Project description

as of 12th May 1997


The NetLinkS project is based in the Department of Information Studies at the University of Sheffield. The project was funded initially for one year, from September 1995, and has since received funding for a further phase until May 1998.

The project has adopted the term networked learner support (NLS) to refer to the use of networked communication and information technologies to deliver training and other forms of help to users of networked information resources. This new practice is being developed by many librarians involved in user education, information skills training and reference/enquiry work, to meet the needs of on- and off-campus students, and to support newer, increasingly networked modes of learning. NLS can be seen as complementary to traditional approaches to enquiry services and user education/training, requiring expertise in on-line teaching/support methods and in managing change and innovation in addition to a wide range of information and IT skills. The effectiveness of initiatives in using on-line methods of delivering learner support often depends upon new collaborative relationships between information, IT and academic staff, as well as other "stakeholders" in the development of institutions' networked learning environments.

NetLinkS aims to encourage further development of NLS by monitoring its potential across the UK higher education community and within individual institutions, and by providing awareness-raising and professional development activities/resources for the staff involved. In its first year, the project focused on establishing a picture of current UK and international practice in NLS, and on identifying key issues and directions for its future development. Key development needs for implementation of NLS within a diverse range of institutions were identified, and in its current phase the project co-ordinates activities and resource-provision on NLS for a wide audience. In particular, NetLinkS aims to continue awareness-raising about the potential of NLS within the local and national frameworks and about the issues surrounding its development, to explore strategies for stimulating organisational change, and to respond to the identified need for increased expertise in on-line communication and teaching/support methods amongst the staff involved.


The project has the following main strands:
  1. As a means of encouraging the development of a community of interest for NLS - for information staff, but also for IT staff, academics and others involved in developing networked learning approaches - the project hosts an email discussion list, nls-forum. There is a programme of mini-conferences led by guest speakers on the list, in addition to the open-format platform for information-exchange and discussion.
  2. The project Web site offers a substantial and ever-growing resource base of materials and information sources of relevance to NLS, including current awareness information on initiatives in the UK and abroad and research reports from phase 1 of the project. Full archives of the mini-conferences on nls-forum are held. The project's conferencing system, accessible via the Web site, is available for use by special interest groups, to host their own on-line discussions and events.
  3. A 16-week, on-line, distance learning course on "Networked Learner Support in Higher Education" is offered free of charge to a maximum of 40 participants from September 1997. The course aims to provide an opportunity for information staff to extend their practical understanding of methods and issues in on-line teaching/support and makes close links between course and work activities. The course forms part of a new Postgraduate Certificate in Networked Learner Support offered by the University of Sheffield, for those who wish to gain a qualification.
  4. In its first year, NetLinkS demonstrated the value of cross-disciplinary focus group meetings to stimulate discussion and planning on NLS at a local level. In its second phase the project has extended this approach to the wider UK higher education community by providing training for staff to organise "NLS review groups" within their own institutions. Further support for local initiatives is offered via WWW-based resources and on-line discussion.

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