The real question – ocTEL

Red Flags

Many years ago, in 1999, I facilitated and delivered an online course, using First Class on how to facilitate and deliver online.

The participants were college staff, many of whom had limited experience of using the internet. My own experience was quite limited, but I had since 1998 really immersed myself in the internet and the web.

What was interesting and relevant to the ocTEL MOOC I am currently undertaking was the type of things participants were saying back in 1998 were very similar to the things the ocTEL participants are saying now.

In the main having the time and technical skills to deal with the quantity of conversations and handling the “platform”. A lot of people have posted to the ocTEL JISCMail list saying that they can’t handle the amount of e-mail and to remove them from the mailing list, I recall similar conversations with staff back in 1998 about notifications coming from the First Class system. Likewise the “too much to read, too many e-mails” reminds me of the “too many red flags, too much to read” from First Class.

It’s true that a lot has changed, technically and culturally, in the last fifteen years, but I do find it interesting that in other areas we’ve not changed at all!

One question that does appear to resonate a lot with ocTEL participants is how do we get reluctant practitioners to engage with TEL? That’s one question we were also asking back in 1998. Back then a lot of the TEL we wanted practitioners to use was e-mail, word processing and Powerpoint.

Don’t you think it’s interesting that back in 1998 we were trying really hard to get people to use Powerpoint, and now that they are all using it really badly we are trying to stop them using it and stop them doing “death by Powerpoint”!

I wrote a few years ago a post called Well I think differently in which I explained how I had moved away from the “let’s convince people how good TEL is” to one of changing the culture of an organisation. That for me is the only way to move forward.

The question “how do we get reluctant practitioners to engage with TEL” is for me the wrong question. It’s hard to get individuals to change as they are individuals and have different personal needs. There is an assumption that “reluctancy” is a common trait that can be overcome. What I recognise when I meet a reluctant practitioner is that there is no commonality for the reasons behind the reluctancy. Sometimes it as simple as a training issue, for others it requires a complete overhaul of the way that they work. As a result you need different strategies that work with all the different individuals that work within an organisation.

Another aspect of this is that by “getting practitioners to engage with TEL” implies that TEL is a problem that needs to be solved, rather than do what most technologies actually do, which is solve problems.

We may talk about reluctancy in using TEL as though this is stopping things from changing, the reality is that though there is a undercurrent of reluctancy, and that there is consistent change and people are engaging and embracing technology all the time. The reasons they choose to use technology vary, but the main one is because it solves a problem and makes life easier.

As far as I am concerned question should be “how do we create a culture in which practitioners engage with TEL as a matter of course”. Practitioners will want to engage with TEL as they see it as part of the solution to their individual problems and not a problem in itself.

4 thoughts on “The real question – ocTEL”

  1. I can only concur with James – teachers will use these tools when they see or feel a need for them. If cultural change in organisations is the issue then we might be talking of the adoption of TEL from below – working informally in small groups, buddying, mentoring, skill swapping – outside of any formal training sessions. Over time a critical mass of practitioners could emerge out of these informal networks, which the institution can support by offering time for people to play with the tools and for dedicated staff support from technologists. But, in the meantime what of the students? Their own expectations of more engaging materials and stimulating courses may drive staff into experimenting with TEL. The fear that students may head elsewhere might drive the institution into providing the resources necessary to support the cultural change. Or the teaching and learning strategy of the institution might involve imposing a top-down solution, with compressed time scales and the establishment of ‘minimum presence’ to meet targets…the future is contestable after all.

  2. Hi James – an interesting post. It reminds me of the change curve, with innovators leading things forward, and then a body of people taking it on board and then a tale of laggards, of whom some will never adopt a new intervention. I think I’m a bit left of the innovation curse – what really helps me to adopt something is to see its value to how I work or to what I am trying to achieve. Once I have seen that and really taken it on beyond a head level, then, with a bit of training I’m ready to roll.


  3. Hi James- thanks for the post. I have also been thinking about participation / engagement. In my OcTEL explorations I have found (via twitter) David White’s work (JISC project) that moves us on from natives / immigrants to residents / visitors. I also thought 2 points in the Diana Lauillard webinar relate. I liked her re-phase of the ‘reluctant’ big question back into a rhetorical question – aren’t we all lacking in confidence / time / skills. But also her rallying call in the thought of getting lumbered with a ‘solution’ from Computing Engineering unless teachers got involved.

  4. Great post! I like the idea of “barefoot doctors” in encouraging colleagues, because I think most people who teach are extremely time starved but also often have quite low levels of IT competency. They need personalised help to be confident in making technology enhancements to their practice and they don’t get that help. Skype and screen sharing to assist at the moment of need can be very helpful as can one to one drop-in sessions. If you insist that people make big changes to both pedagogy and technology at the same time (the “ideal”) in reality it can be too risky and threatening for people to be prepared to adopt. Less theory, with more practical assistance for small low-stakes changes that provide real results… I do realise this is not a mainstream view…

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