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.
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.
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?
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.
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!
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.
Over the years I have gained a reputation at my college (and out and about) of talking about shiny stuff. I even called a mobile learning project Shiny as a result.
Though one thing that came out of a recent conversation with some extremely clever and bright people at a JISC symposium was the importance of dull technology. Dull as in not shiny rather than, dull as in boring.
For those of us involved in extreme e-learning or technology enhanced learning, we sometimes focus on the innovative, the exciting, the new, the shiny stuff. Well it’s where we want to be isn’t it, cutting edge and all that? We want to be using iPads, Android Tablets, the latest and best Web 2.0 tools and services. We get so excited at times that we even do projects and research on them, before writing it up, putting the stuff on a shelf and moving to the next new shiny thing.
I don’t think that there is too much wrong with that, some people do need to be at the cutting edge, they do need to be the blue skies thinkers, the people who innovate and create new ways of learning, inspired by changes in technologies and thinking.
As a result it can be very easy to forget the dull, the stuff we were using last year, two years ago or five years ago. We can even be dismissive of these dull technologies, pointing out how old they are, how useless they are “now” and that they are dead!
The main reason why dull technologies are important is that the majority of practitioners within an institution will not be at the cutting edge, will not be using all technologies innovatively. This means when planning training and staff development it is vital that dull technologies are included and allowed for. Just because we are bored with something doesn’t mean that someone else in your organisation will find it exciting and just the thing to solve the particular problem they are facing.
You will often hear people, especially at learning technology conferences talk about how we focus too much on the technology and we should be putting learning first, focus on the pedagogy. Put pedagogy first and then apply appropriate use of technology to solve that pedagogical problem. It’s as though there is a problem about talking about technology and the use of technology without putting the pedagogical problem at the forefront.
Of course if we put technology first, then we could be seen to be shoehorning technology into the learning, a bolt-on perhaps…
I do wonder about the point of a learning technology conference that doesn’t give weight to the very technologies that we are discussing and presenting about in these events and conferences.
It’s not always about the technology, however in order to utilise technology effectively and efficiently, it is vital that practitioners are aware of the potential and availability of technology.
How else are they going to apply the use of technological solutions to learning problems?
Most practitioners are more than aware of the learning problems they and their learners face, what they need are solutions to those problems.
The issue I have with putting the learning problem first at conferences and events is that implies that everyone has that specific learning problem and that one solution fits.
Yes there are generic learning problems that we face, but most learning problems will be subject to who is leading that learning and who the learners are.
In the end what happens is that learning problems become adapted to fit other learning problems and it’s not always a good fit, so the technological solution becomes less of a solution and becomes more of a problem.
The issue is much more about context.
In the context of the classroom or lecture theatre, a practitioner is facing a series of learning problems that need solving. Some of these if not all of them can be solved using traditional learning methods and processes. However some of them can be solved smarter, more efficiently (ie cheaper) or solved faster using learning technologies.
This comes back to the earlier point that, it is vital that practitioners are aware of the potential and availability of technology. When they know what is available and importantly what it is capable of then they can apply technological solutions to their learning problems.
Likewise in the context of an event or a conference session, the focus can be on the technology, as we don’t know what the learning problems are, and to be honest there are too many variables in play that would allow us to effectively start with the learning. By moving the focus onto the technology, we can start to improve the knowledge and skills of practitioners to ensure that they are aware of the potential of different technologies in order to support them solving problems and meeting challenges they face with their teaching and with their learners.
So when I have led sessions on mobile learning, I have often put the focus on the mobile technologies even though I know that mobile learning is not about mobile devices, but about learning. However by explaining to practitioners what can be done with the PlayStation Portable (PSP) and what it is capable of (especially with the GO! Camera attached), the practitioners in that session will be aware of the potential of the PSP and when they next face a pedagogical problem they will know then if the PSP is a solution for the learning and their learners. I know a Sports Lecturer for example who did just this. His learners needed to study body movement analysis, in the past they used pencils and paper out on the sports field, it worked, but wasn’t entirely practical. By changing to using the PSP and camera they were able to not only video and photograph sports movements, they could review them in the field (on the PSP’s large screen) and also refer back to them once back in college. When I led that session on PSPs, there was no way that I could have known about the curriculum, learners of everyone in that room, any learning problems I started with, wouldn’t be relevant to many people in the room and I could have lost them before we even started. When talking about the PSP as a solution, I know from experience that practitioners would have said, “well that wouldn’t work with my subject” or “well my learners are different, so that wouldn’t work”.
Part of the issue is that I find many practitioners can’t visualise outside their subject and context, so find it difficult to adapt solutions for different problems, to problems of their own. However given a more open view on the subject, if they are aware of the potential then they can often apply the use of technology to their solution and solve their problems. In other words it’s an ownership issue.
The real challenge is that new technologies (and I am thinking mobile here) offer radically different solutions to learning problems and practitioners though can apply the technology to their own problems, don’t always see the potential to do more and to do it better, as the solution is out of a traditional learning context.
So yes by putting technology first at events and conferences we can solve pedagogical and learning problems. However there is a bigger issue in how we fundamentally change what we do, because in the main we have always done it that way and practitioners and learners have expectations that it will be done that way. When you remove them from this comfort zone then you have a bigger challenge than just thinking what should we focus on, technology or pedagogy.
However you have to start from somewhere and by explaining the potential that learning technologies offer, you are starting from a good place that will open minds to future potential and possibilities.
I see the BBC have a report on what Oaklands College are doing with eMentors.
A college is harnessing the power of students’ technical knowledge to teach their lecturers a thing or two about information technology. The college has appointed 35 “eMentors” to help staff with everything from laptops to interactive whiteboards. The scheme works on the premise that students are more technically adept.
Quite an interesting and innovative approach to getting staff to get familiar with the technology.
We never have enough time, however I have managed to find the time to spend some time talking about time…Over the last ten years or so I have been supporting staff in FE in the use of learning technologies, all the time when I run training sessions though I hear the following comments:
“I don’t have the time.”
“When am I suppose to find time to do all this?”
“I am going to need more time.”
There are a few options when it comes to time and finding the time.
First option, double your working hours each week, this will give you more time for work, less for home, but remember it has to be for the same money!
Second option, don’t sleep! Sleep is somewhat overrated and think of all that time you are wasting sleeping, when you could be doing so much more. We live in a world which never sleeps according to an overused cliché.
Third option, use a time machine, such as the Tardis or H G Wells’ time machine and travel back in time to catch up on all the time you need, you might break a few laws of time, but I won’t tell.
Seriously though, time is finite and fixed. We can’t change the amount of time we have. All that is possible is prioritising how we use our time and working more efficiently
Everybody already uses technology to save time. People drive to work rather than walk. There are microwaves and fridges in staff areas which means it is possible to save time over lunch. Telephones enable quicker and easier communication and for planning meetings and contacts it can save time. Video recorders allow us to time-shift watching television programmes. Kettles avoid having to light a fire to make a cup of tea!
Everyday we use technology to make our lives easier and to save time.
Often learning technologies can be used to make our lives easier and importantly save time.
Do you give your learners any type of formative assessment, do you find the marking takes a large amount of time, or do you use valuable contact time, getting the students to mark each others’ assessments, or do you not bother as you don’t have the time? You can put assessments on a VLE and it can save time, as the VLE will mark the assessments for you. Importantly such formative assessment will allow you to identify learners having difficulties which can impact on retention and achievement.
Do you spend time finding or copying resources for students who missed a session, or have lost them. How do you cope with differentiation or providing a personalised learning experience in addition to this. By using a VLE and uploading interactive whiteboard notes, handouts, presentations, your learners will be able to find and access the resources they need at a time and place to suit them, saving you time and making their lives easier. However if you also provide additional resources, links, digital online collections, you can start to provide a differentiated and personalised learning experience which will challenge the more able learners and support the learners with greater needs.
Why not think about what you do have time for? What I mean by this is how do you prioritise how you spend your working week? How much time do you spend planning lessons and how much time do you spend creating resources for your lessons?
The following topics are covered significantly across many vocational and academic areas across the college. Do you create resources for these areas yourself, or do you use other peoples?
Health and Safety
Sharing makes sense and saves time. So how do you share when one of you is based at different sites on a multi-site college? You know I am going to say through the VLE don’t you?
How do you share when you are based in a college in Gloucestershire and somebody else is based in a college in York. You know I am going to say through JORUM don’t you?
Working together, both internally and externally, can have significant impact on the speed and quality of delivery. The ability to bring high quality expertise from different disciplines to share good practice, develop ideas and address learning and implementation strategies can be highly effective. Synergy means that working together produces better results than the sum of the parts working individually.
But I hear you cry, “I don’t like using other people’s stuff…”
I know, but I am 100% certain that everyone does use other people’s stuff not just now and again, but all the time. When you photocopy a page from a book or an article from a journal, that is someone else’s stuff. When you use an article from a newspaper or a journal, that is someone else’s stuff. When you show a video, that’s someone else’s stuff.
We use other people’s stuff all the time. Building on the work of others is a valid way of working. It is how academic research is undertaken, building on the work of others.
Using other people’s stuff saves time.
Time is valuable, but we can’t increase the time we have, we can prioritise how we spend our time and use technologies to save time. We all use technology everyday to save time and make our lives easier.
Learning technologies can be used to save time, make our lives easier in the college; as well as enhance learning, improve retention and increase achievement for our learners.
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