Tag Archives: technology

Enhancing the student experience

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Technology allows us to do things faster, easier and at a time and place to suit our individual needs; sometimes technology provides new opportunities and new experiences.

From a student experience perspective technology can improve their experience. Technological advances and new media rarely replace existing practice and media, but often supplement, enhance and enrich them.

e-Books for example have not replaced paper books, but allow access to collections that may either not be available or allow easier access at a time and place to suit the student.

e-Journals similarly make it much easier to find relevant articles and access can be from home, college or in the library.

The Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) is used in many different ways, but the key again is access to learning where and when the learner needs it. It allows access to resources, discussion, interactivity, assessment from a computer at home, in a computer suite, from a laptop in a coffee shop, via a mobile device on the train. Whereas learning may currently only take place within the institution or individually outside the institution, the VLE allows learning, both individual and group learning from anywhere.

Technology can also be used to enhance existing practice, making it more engaging and interactive. The use of video, audio and voting handsets (clickers) allow traditional learning activities to be enhanced and enriched.

Understanding the Potential

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So what comes first, technology or pedagogy?

For me one of the messages that comes out of the videos I was watching last week and resonates with me, is how the most effective way of using technology is where it is used to solve a problem.

The problem could be pedagogical, as with the teaching machine, that allows independent self-directed learning, or it could be social, as with Sugata Mitra’s hole in the wall experiment.

What I have noticed at conferences and online in social media is that this often results in the conclusion that we should put pedagogy first and before technology.

I do agree with that sentiment that we should start with the problem we are trying to solve and if it is a pedagogical problem then we should start with the pedagogy. We should the consider a range of technologies that could be used to solve that problem.

There is an assumption there that a practitioner is fully conversant in the ranges of technologies available and understands their potential for solving issues.

From working with practitioners is that they are not always aware of the different types of technology available and what their functionality and capabilities are. Without knowing what things can do and how they enhance and enrich learning, how can you make an educated choice about which is the right technology to use in which context? This is why I do think that sometimes we do need to talk about technology and how it can transform learning. This is not about solving problems with TEL, but providing TEL as a box of potential solutions to solve future problems.

Of course you are not going to be able to know everything, or understand how everything works to make use of it, but understanding the potential means that if you encounter a problem in the future then you will have a potential solution that can be worked on.

A secondary aspect that also needs to be considered is the transformative nature of technology. If we start talking about technology we might find there are new ways of learning, new pedagogies that could be exploited to solve problems. If we didn’t think about the potential of different technologies.

Technology can offer new ways of learning, that if we started from a learning perspective may be missed.

One example that comes to mind is GPS, location based learning can be transformative as it allows learning to happen in places that otherwise might be missed. If you think of those services on phones that remind you to buy something when you pass a particular shop, then put this into a learning context; imagine your phone alerting you to a building or location you are passing and how it relates to the current topic you are studying. You may not even realise that the location is connected, but GPS and location aware learning objects will help you to do just that. The problem here is about context-sensitive learning, but this just couldn’t happen in a classroom or lecture based scenario. Technology allows us to transform the potential for learning and create new ways for learners to access learning.

I do think we need to stop thinking about what we should focus on “first”, pedagogy or technology, but actually consider the context and audience we are working with.

If we are a teacher then more likely when working with learners, the TEL will be there to support the solving of a learning problem. The learning will come first in this instance, and the TEL will be supportive. However what if the teacher wants the learners to consider a range of technologies to support an assessment objective, in this instance then it makes much more sense to talk about the technology.

At a conference, training session or on social media, it can make sense that we start talking about technology and what it can do, rather than start talking about problems and pedagogy,

So what comes first, technology or pedagogy? Well both do, it depends on the context.

Image source.

Missed Opportunities

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If there is one word that frustrates me on a regular basis when it comes to supporting the embedding of and utilisation of technologies into education it is the word “appropriate”.

People use it all the time to describe the usage of technology.

“Learning technologies will be embedded into lessons where appropriate”

“The use of technology to support learning will be used when it is appropriate to do so.”

Now I don’t have a problem per se about the use of the word appropriate in this context. I don’t believe technology should be used all the time and every time.

However what has happened is that the word appropriate has been appropriated as an excuse for not using technology.

So I hear practitioners saying, and these are all actual things I have heard people say:

“I won’t use mobile devices in my classroom as they are not appropriate”.

“Using the VLE with my learners is not appropriate.”

“The use of PSPs would not be appropriate with that group”

“Using the Interactive Whiteboard would not be appropriate for this subject.”

So rather than use the word appropriate to define a time or context when and where technology should be used, the word is more often used to describe an entire course or cohort.

Sometimes the appropriate excuse is used for a single technology or in extreme cases any kind of learning technology.

To say that technology is never appropriate for an entire course or an entire cohort, often misses the opportunities that technology can offer to enhance or enrich a session.

I remember talking to one curriculum manager who was adamant that using PSPs with her cohort of HNC students wasn’t appropriate. These were adult students who would not want to “play” with shiny things and didn’t play games in lessons. The thing is, across the corridor another teacher was using PSPs with a group of management students (a fair few who were managers in the college). They weren’t playing games on the PSP, they were using them to watch a video presentation at their own pace and allowing them to review and rewind where appropriate.

So why does it happen?

Sometimes it is more appropriate to use a traditional approach or a traditional technology. For example nothing wrong with using flip chart paper or post it notes. There is noting inappropriate about not using a forum on the VLE and having a live discussion in the classroom.

For me, what is inappropriate, is never using technology using the term appropriate as a blanket reason, more as an excuse rather than an actual reason. This is why it frustrates me.

Next question, is how do we move things forward?

Well one thing I do find working with practitioners, observing sessions is the number of missing opportunities for appropriate use of learning technologies. Why are they getting missed?

Talking with learners and practitioners it is usually down to confidence or not knowing the potential. It certainly is fair to say that not everyone knows everything! However when I say “not knowing the potential” this isn’t about practitioners knowing how everything works, this is about understanding the potential of various learning technologies. Understanding the potential means when an opportunity arises, it isn’t missed, appropriate use of technology is embedded into the learning.

Practitioners need to take a certain responsibility for professional updating at training and development events to understand how different learning technologies can be used to enhance and enrich learning. Staff with responsibility for embedding learning can support this process with case studies, guidance, exemplars and ideas. These could be paper based, e-mail, video, podcasts, or through any various online tools.

Confidence is more difficult to deal with. Experience of using multiple technologies will build confidence in using those technologies. So you have to start using technologies to gain confidence in using technology. That first step though can be very daunting. Often practitioners will talk about the fear of “looking stupid” or “it not working”. Again, staff with responsibility for embedding learning can support this process by motivating staff, but also where appropriate working with practitioners in a session, to ensure that the technology “works”. Likewise IT support teams need to help and ensure that the technology is robust and just “works”. That will help to build confidence.

It is probably not appropriate to use (the same) technology in every lesson, however it is equally inappropriate to miss the opportunities that learning technologies can bring to learning, by never using it.

How do you deal with the problem of missed opportunities?

Technical Hitches

Things can go wrong. I am sure you have probably attended a conference where the technology has “failed” for the presenter. The thing is these things happen, sometimes the technology fails and stuff that is planned either can’t happen or needs to be postponed. These technical hitches or failures can also happen in the classroom.

The sad thing is I know for practitioners this is the reason why they won’t engage with using learning technologies or see the potential problems as a good reason for not using them.

Of course it is important that learning technologies that are in classrooms are reliable and work when needed. However as with everything sometimes things do go wrong and stuff doesn’t work.

However this is not a justification for not using learning technologies.

Traditional teaching and learning technologies fail too. Got chalk, but can’t find a board rubber perhaps? Got a traditional whiteboard and someone has used a permanent marker on it? The photocopier is jammed or run out of paper? No more ink for the bander machine? For those of us of a certain age will remember these technical hitches happening on a regular basis in our institutions.

Many of us will also have experienced the pain of double-booking. You go to your classroom or lecture theatre, only to find that someone else is already in there.

Similarly in 2009 we had the worst snow for twenty years and less than a year later we had the worst snow for forty years.

What happened institutions were “forced” to close. You could say that the transport infrastructure and the physical buildings had “failed” and didn’t work.

The question is what did we do when traditional stuff didn’t work? What we did, as teaching professionals, was use our experience and skills to re-jig what we had planned, we may have even rescheduled. Instead of using the blackboard, we would have used paper. With a marked whiteboard, we may have changed rooms. When rooms are double booked we move rooms. With snow, we catch up later.

Rarely would people say, that’s it, as the college was closed, I am never going to use a classroom again as it’s unreliable. Just because the whiteboard wasn’t available to the permanent marker, I can’t see teachers or lecturers deciding that in future it wouldn’t worth the risk in using it, just in case it happens again.

There is something about confidence in using technologies (old or new) and it is also the confidence in knowing what to do when things don’t go as planned. The thing is, million to one chances happen nine times out of ten. As a result we change our plans, work around the problems, but we shouldn’t just stop using a technology because it didn’t work once!

…but I’m a technophobe!

King Edward I - Torbay Express - 30th August 2009

One of the issues with embedding technology into teaching and learning is the resistance to the embedding by practitioners.

Many factors are discussed for the reasons, from fear of technology, to a lack of time. These discussions fail to recognise that there are many practitioners for whom embedding technology is something they can do in the same time as everyone else. Can time really be the issue, isn’t it much more about priorities than a lack of time?

As for the fear, I am sure there are some real technophobes out there, those for whom technology is a really scary thing that needs to be feared (like dragons) and should never be used. These people probably don’t have a television, a microwave, nor a phone (let alone a mobile phone). These true technophobes do exist I am sure, but as a proportion of practitioners in education, they must be a very small minority, less than 1% for sure and probably a lot less.

So what of the others? Those that say they are fearful of technology?

Well I suspect that these use technology on a day to day basis and probably don’t actually consider it technology. I recall one practitioner been quite proud of the fact that she was a technophobe, however when questioned further she not only used the internet, but used IM and Skype on a regular basis to talk to her daughter in Australia! What is apparent talking to many practitioners who don’t see the need or feel they can use technology for learning, in their day to day life use technology all the time for their own needs and in their non-work life.

One issue that appears to be a barrier is that these practitioners have issues in transferring skills they have built up in their day to day life to using these skills to support teaching and importantly learning.

The same can be said with learners and a recognition that learners who use technology all the time, don’t necessarily know how to use technology to support their learning.

So how do we get teachers who use technology on a daily basis to be able to transfer their skills into the effective use of technology in the classroom?

That is a question that may take a little longer to answer.