Tag Archives: research

Show me the evidence…

I think this line is really interesting from a recent discussion on the ALT Members mailing list.

…in particular to share these with academics when they ask for the evidence to show technology can make a difference.

Often when demonstrating the potential of TEL and learning technologies to academics, the issue of evidence of impact often arises.

You will have a conversation which focuses on the technology and then the academic or teacher asks for evidence of the impact of that technology.

From my experience when an academic asks for the evidence, then the problem is not the lack of evidence, but actually something else.

Yes there are academics who will respond positively when shown the “evidence”, however experience has taught me that even when that happens then there is then another reason/problem/lack of evidence that means that the academic will still not start to use technology to “make a difference”.

When an academic asks “for the evidence to show technology can make a difference” the problem is not the lack of evidence, but one of resistance to change, fear, culture, rhetoric and motivation.

You really need to solve those issues, rather than find the “evidence”, as even if you find the evidence, you will then get further responses such as, wouldn’t work with my students, not appropriate for my subject, it wouldn’t work here, it’s not quite the same, not transferable…. etc…

Despite years of “evidence” published in a range of journals, can studies from Jisc and others, you will find that what ever evidence you “provide” it won’t be good enough, to justify that academic to start embedding that technology into their practice.

As stated before, when someone asks for the “evidence” more often then not this is a stalling tactic so that they don’t have the invest the time, energy and resources into using that technology.

Sometimes it can be “fear” as they really don’t have the capabilities to use technology and lack the basic ICT confidence to actually use various learning technologies, and as a result rather then fess up their lack of skills, they ask for the “evidence”, again to delay things.

Just turn it around, when you ask those academics who do use technology then, you find that the “evidence” generally plays little or no part in their decisions to make effective use of technology.

So what solutions are there to solve this issue? Well we need to think about the actual problems.

A lot of people do like things to remain as they are, they like their patterns of work, they like to do what they’ve always done. This is sometimes called resistance to change, but I think it’s less resistance to change, and more sticking to what I know. I know what works, it works for me, and anything else would require effort. This strikes me more about culture, a culture where improvement, efficiency and effectiveness are seen as not important and the status quo is rarely challenged.

Unless an organisation is focused strategically and operationally in improvement, widening participation, becoming more efficient, then it is hard to get people to think about changing their practice.

When it comes to embedding learning technologies we often talking about changing the culture of an organisation. This can be hard, but doesn’t necessarily have to be slow. I am reminded of a conversation with Lawrie Phipps though in which he said we have to remember that academics often like the current culture, it’s why they work in that place and in that job. So don’t be surprised when you are met with resistance!

Creating a culture which reflects experimentation, builds curiosity and rewards innovation, isn’t easy, but also isn’t impossible. There are various ways in which this can be done, but one lesson I have learnt in making this happen, is that the process needs to be holstic and the whole organisation needs to embrace that need to change the culture. What I have found that you need to identify the key stakeholders in the organisation, the ones who actually have the power to make change happen. I found in one college I worked in that the real “power” wasn’t with the Senior Leadership Team (who often had the same frustrations I had when it came to change) but the Heads of Faculty, the managers who led and managed the curriculum leaders. They had the power to make things happen, but they didn’t always realise they held that power.

Getting the rhetoric right, but also understood across the organisation is critical for success in embedding learning technologies. Often messages are “broadcast” across an organisation, but staff don’t really understand what is meant by them and many staff don’t think it applies to them. Getting a shared understanding what is required from a key strategic objective is challenging. I have done this exercise a few times and it works quite well, pick a phrase from your strategic objectives and ask a room of staff or managers what it means and to write it down individually. You find that everyone usually had a different understanding of what it means. A couple of examples to try include buzz phrases such as “the digital university” and “embrace technology”.

Finally looking at what motivates people to use technology to improve teaching, learning and assessment.

When I was teaching, I would often experiment with technology to see if it made a difference, if it did, I adopted it, if it didn’t I stopped using it. The impact on the learners was minimal, as I didn’t continue to use technology that didn’t make a difference or was even having a negative impact. What I also did was I applied the same process and logic to all my teaching. So when I created games to demonstrate various economic processes, if they made a difference I used them again, if they didn’t then I would ask the learners how they would change or improve them. When I gave out a reading list of books, I would ask the learners for their feedback and, those that didn’t make a difference or had no positive impact, then they would be removed from the list! I was personally motivated, but we know you can’t just make that happen.

When I was managing a team I ensured that any experimentation or innovation was part of their annual objectives and created SMART actions that would ensure they would be “motivated” to do this. Again you need to identify the key stakeholders in the organisation, the ones who actually have the power to make this happen.

So when someone asks you to show them the evidence what do you do?

Was the approach wrong?

Leaving Las Vegas

Reading the following article on Second Life, I am reminded of a few discussions I have had in previous years on the catalysts for change.

When looking at new technologies that have the potential to impact on learning, it needs to be recognised that though research and understanding is important, we also need to be realistic that this on its own does not necessarily change things.

Research allows us to understand the implications and the affordances of a new technology. What we need to be aware of when introducing a new technology of the main issues and barriers that could be faced.

What we must take note of is that research on its own does not necessarily cause change.

Most researchers I have met appear to prefer to build on existing research rather than embed practice based on research. That of course is fine, as they are researchers. It takes a different kind of approach to embed the results of research into mainstream practice.

Another aspect of research based practice is that due to the way it is funded, it often only looks at a small section of an institution, usually a single group from a single curriculum area. I don’t then blame people who look at this research and decide that the best way to move forward is to repeat the research with a different group. The end result is lots of small research project outcomes that are very similar. That is certainly the case with research into Second Life.

Wholesale, holistic mainstream change doesn’t happen because of research, that change comes about because of people.

Good people base decisions on good research, they will recognise the implications of that research and think about how they can use that research to influence and inform strategy to change practices and processes.

Levers of Change

Last week I delivered a keynote at the JISC Innovating e-Learning Online Conference.

James Clay will be asking delegates to consider some of the conversations we have had over the last ten years and challenging us to consider why we keep asking the same questions, why we are sometimes slow to take action and to really look hard at our responses to change. James will offer some of his own observations around why we seem reluctant to learn from the past and argues that this is as important as looking to the future.

What I wanted to achieve with this keynote was to explore the reasons behind what we decide to research and to investigate what does change in organisations.

The slides I used were as follows and I think I broke the record with 143 slides.

The presentation was delivered online using Blackboard Collaborate and over a hundred people “watched”.

I made use of the environment to engage the audience and to get them to interact with me and each other.

Overall I was pleased with the presentation and the outcomes. I also got some really nice feedback too.

New research report on 1:1 access to mobile learning devices

The University of Bristol is conducting research into the impact of 1:1 access to mobile learning devices at KS2 and KS4. Five schools, which are part of the Learning2Go or Hand-e-Learning projects, are being investigated.

This Development and Research project is using mixed methods to evaluate impact in terms of learners’ learning skills, attendance, behaviour and attainment. It will also review the success of the implementation and sustainability of the schools’ PDA initiatives and provide examples of emerging good pedagogic practice.

The final reports from the project will be available in Winter 2008.

The Summer 2007 Interim Report is available here.

Emerging recommendations include:

Implementation – policy

  • The initial implementation of mobile projects is logistically challenging.
  • The open negotiation of contracts of acceptable and responsible use with learners and parents can be very useful in clarifying issues and building mutual trust.
  • When learners expect devices to be used, they are more likely to bring them to school every day and keep them charged. When all pupils in a class have their devices with them, the learning benefits are optimised.
  • Teachers need to play an integral role in choosing software and content to ensure that it is relevant to learners’ needs. They are then more likely use the devices.
  • Where possible, all relevant staff – especially teaching assistants, ICT co-ordinators and teachers – should be provided with mobile devices.

Implementation – technical

  • It is beneficial to ensure reliable wireless connectivity.
  • It is useful to consider systems for dealing with breakages and temporary loss of use of devices. This may involve planning for temporary loan stock.
  • Systems for storage of and access to work need to be developed. Teachers and learners need to access digital work to provide and receive feedback.
  • Consideration can usefully be given to possible software solutions to teachers’ issues around observing process, tracking progress and formative assessment.

Professional development of teachers

  • Teachers benefit from having time to explore what the devices can do before integrating their use into planned learning.
  • Using mobile devices is likely to increase learner autonomy. Teachers need to ensure that learners are able to evaluate resources, think critically and reflect.
  • It is important to consider the ways in which mobile devices are integrated with other (ICT and traditional) tools in learning at home and at school.