sue watling

There are two sides to every story, sometimes three, four or more. Experience influences interpretation and a university should contain oppositional views. Negotiation is the name of the game and there is nothing like educational technology to polarise views.  As the new academic year brings discussions around implementing a digital education strategy, I feel a growing sense of unease.  The VLE is mostly a repository of attachments to module guides, lecture notes and powerpoint presentations; it has become an information conduit not a communication facilitator.

Adoption remains patchy. Early promises of transformation have not been fulfilled. Rather than blue sky thinking around what might be possible maybe we should begin with what we know. Using technology can take more time than it saves, it’s likely to break down, disconnect, not be there when needed, involve steep learning curves, operate through an ever diminishing set of access criteria and is ultimately a poor substitute for human face to face interaction.

I continue to support  teaching and learning online. I believe it enhances distant and blended learning and 24/7 mobile access to relevant content and procedures can only be an advantage to busy people living busy lives.  So why the distance between the users and non users, the early and late adopters? Rather than prioritise innovation, should we pay attention to resistance? Not everyone is comfortable interacting with a machine. One reason is time. Promises of efficiency are diluted by the reality. Managing teaching and learning online requires significant amounts of time to adapt content, facilitate collaboration and group work, moderate communication, and respond to students on individual basis by text or video.  Technology is not always efficient. It breaks down. It confuses. Why cant I find anything on the portal?

In a recent editorial for Learning, Media and Technology, Neil Selwyn* asks how technologies which arrived on promises of a ‘freer and fairer education’ have had the opposite effect. What happened to ‘…pre-millennial expectations of the cyber-campus and seamlessly ‘blended’ learning?’  Where are instances of digital technology which are ‘…genuinely enabling and empowering for those that use them?’  Promises of transformation go on; mobile learning – flipped classrooms – more open educational resources and courses. The voice of the academics are seldom heard. Digital divides by their nature silence those who are late adopters or lag behind.

Unless we listen to staff who are teaching and supporting learning – rather than being driven by interests outside of the lecture theatre/seminar room – we’re not going to achieve bottom up sustainable change.  I still believe in the affordances of virtual learning environments to widen participation and offer genuinely authentic learning experiences. I still believe ICT can disrupt and democratise – but the essential workloads need to be acknowledged and shared. I agree with Selwyn who suggests digital technology for university educators should be developed by the same university educators. Greater resources for courses and those who teach on them has to be worth revisiting as digital futures for teaching and learning are planned.

 

* Selwyn, N., 2013, Digital technologies in universities: Problems posing as solutions?, Learning, Media and Technology [P], vol 38, issue 1, Routledge, Abingdon Oxon United Kingdom, pp. 1-3 http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/17439884.2013.759965#.UgM0jdLqmSo



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