Using Technology to Enhance Learning Day 2

Keynote Two, with Jane Hughes from Wolverhampton University, addressed the role of technology in teacher education programmes, suggesting there is not enough support for acquiring the digital literacies essential for learning in a digital age.  In an echo from the first keynote, Jane reiterated the requirement for educating citizens of the future. We need to be equipping students for living and working in a digital society.

Inevitably this vision of adopting brave new digital worlds is countered by the risks involved in making changes in the current ‘risk-averse’ climate. Also raised was the lack of time and institutional support for moving to new digital ways of working. It’s something of a conundrum because on the one hand there are the advantages of digital engagement but on the other there is the short supply of ‘technologists of the learning kind’ and an even shorter supply of funding for development. Teacher education programmes may need to incorporate digital learning but teaching staff also need an informed basis for adopting new digital ways of working.

The challenge of Web 2.0 tools can be a steep learning curve. Not only do you need to learn through personal application which takes time, it also requires the paradigm shift from students as consumers to students as creators and collaborators in their own learning  experiences. It was interesting to hear several references to ‘Student as Producer’ t the conference where the phrase was being aligned with those digital ways of learning which support student participation in the learning process.

The phrase Blended Learning Advisor was popular as were calls for an approach which begins with existing practices; looking at how technology can enhance through the language of ‘as well as’ rather than ‘instead of’.  A clear message was for staff educators who are the users of technology to take the lead, rather than the tied and dyed technologists who may not have the necessary pedagogical frameworks.  There were lots of examples of technology being raised and praised but not always in a scholarly way. This is where teacher education programmes can make a real difference and again ‘Student as Producer’ comes to mind with its ‘Digital Scholarship’ strand.

Overall was the recognised need for an infrastructure which supports the training and developing of digital literacies. These would include the confidence and competence with using and applying a range of Web 2.0 tools and selecting them appropriately to support digital modes of inquiry, collaboration and authorship. I liked Jane Hughes analogy of a jigsaw approach to learning because this I how using Web 2.0 tools can appear. A workshop led by Sue Buckingham and David Walker looked at social media for developing a professional learning network. It demonstrated the value of digital ways of working alongside the fear this can evoke in the uninitiated. The sheer number and variety of tools can be an insurmountable barrier. I’ve been dabbling for some time but hadn’t come across a Twitter Fountain or Drigo, Quora, Nefsis , VoiceThread or Peerwise. It’s this proliferation of content which is paradoxically inviting and threatening at the same time.  However, engagement is often initiated in unexpected ways. It was in this workshop I heard the best advice. Some one said they didn’t want to use Twitter to talk about breakfast but having gained some funding, and something to talk about, they were experiencing the value of the networking tweeting can offer. It’s this experiential approach which can be the most useful key to unlocking some of the cognitive barriers.

Social media can be like finding a tree in a forest. Where do you begin? There are so many possibilities. As a result, digital divides on campus are inevitably widening. There is a real need for more bridges and teacher education programmes, where the lines between staff and students become blurred – as the collaborative and creative possibilities of social media already blur distinctions between teacher and learner – may be one of the more appropriate places to start building.

Teaching in Public

I’ve been reflecting on the concept of Teaching in Public; the proposed theme of the second CERD book. Googling it only returned the C-SAP 2007 Conference Teaching in Public, the Future of HE . It looks like CERD have identified a gap in the market.  So what does Teaching in Public mean? With so little out there then this is an opportunity to offer our own interpretations. Suggested strands are Education as a Public Good, The Student/Teacher Nexus and Teaching as a Public Activity; all retaining the student/teacher dichotomy. 

My interest is the impact of the Internet and the development of OER. For example the Open University’s OpenLearn which includes a course on Creating OER  and an OER wiki Other examples of what I would call Teaching in Public are MIT Open Courseware, TED Talks , Wiki Educator  and Connextions.  Add the P2P virtual university and there’s a lot out there. There are issues around assessment and accreditation but no doubt that the future of higher education is digital. Like it or not we live in a Web 2.0 world. Teaching in Public is a move from pedagogy to folksomony. Traditional educationalists should be feeling afraid. Those yet to engage with the technology should be feeling very afraid.

OER (via the Internet) does more than challenge the status quo of HEIs as the gatekeepers of knowledge. OER (and the Internet) open up communication and access to information; the keys to educational opportunities. The primary issues then become digital divides (ensuring equality of access) and digital controls (transmission via cables rather than humans). Is this where the future of HE lies? If the themes include ‘public good’ and ‘public activity’ then access issues are paramount. Digital data not only requires good bandwidth it’s notoriously inaccessible to anyone with sensory, motor and cognitive impairment.  Along with the employability agenda, will the primary role of the HEI shift from the transmission of knowledge to the critical evaluation and correct acknowledgment of sources that are already freely available?  

I’ve few political bones and even less economic ones so will leave those implications of OER on teaching in public to others more qualified, but will offer this; the move to a digital platform, as envisaged by Digital Britain  is a mass imposition of change in practice, something notorious for creating resistance. If there should develop an underground movement of analogue protestors, what impact would that have on the future of higher education?

Response to by Joss Winn

I accept that higher education is on the cusp of change; and that there are multiple drivers. I have no argument with the role of education technology in the future of higher education, or with the potential of the Internet to widen participation, and I fully support encouraging students in becoming self motivated, self directed learners.

I would argue with the use of the word ubiquitous with regard to Internet connection and have several blog posts that do so. / / / Any further trawling through the current documentation on digital learning may not be the best way to respond to the issues raised. Instead, I would suggest looking backwards as well as forwards.

Titles such as the Future of HE, Harnessing the Technology and Widening Participation in HE have been around for some time. The targets of the past are also similar to those of the present; transforming teaching and learning, engaging hard-to-reach groups; building open accessible systems, offering flexible ways to study, sharing material within and between institutions, encouraging HEIs to work together, make the development of e-learning more affordable etc etc. We have been here before.

The push for embedding VLEs into HE in the 1990s came on the back of promises of improved staff and student experiences but failed to adequately manage the transition process. The sector now hosts a digital divide between staff who demonstrate confidence and competence with the technology and those who have yet to engage. If we take anything forward from this current drive for extending the boundaries of educational technology, and burdening it with ever more ambitious expectations, then it must be attention to the needs of those still at the analogue end of the digital continuum.

Even the nature of this digital debate is divisive as those with the most to offer in terms of understanding the nature of their resistance will not be here. I fully support the setting up of an Open Learning Innovation Fund but suspect it will attract the converted who are all too often unaware of the development needs of those yet to engage. Unless there is focus on the building of bridges, rather than yet more innovation, then the existing digital divide will continue to widen.

The value of blogging is in brevity but at the risk of extending this post into an unrealistic length and testing staying power, I want to show how Rogers  identifies 5 requirements for successful adoption of innovation which can be usefully applied here.

1. Offers a substantial improvement on the existing situation. For many people online delivery offers very little improvement on f2f delivery. The majority of staff and students like and prefer f2f contact.
2. Compatibility with existing life. There are multiple reasons for resisting the pressure to engage in virtual learning or adding an online dimension to a life; we should be investigating these to better understand barriers to engagement.
3. Ease of adapting. Technology can be complex and if it can go wrong it will; a single failure which experienced users may laugh off can be terminal to tentative steps at engagement.
4. Trialiability. Practice requires access to reliable hardware, appropriate software and effective internet access; not everyone has these – again for multiple reasons. There also needs to be time in which to experiment. With ever increasing workloads, and lifestyle pressures, the opportunity to have supported learning experiences may not be possible.
5. Visibility. Again, if the technology can fail it will and, with new users in particular, it often does. When this failure is visible to other people it can be the greatest deterrent of all. The move from VLEs to blogs, wikis and podcasts is indicative of the increasing complexity of the technology. The more visible that development is then the more the process of engagement is seen as an increasing challenge.

Rogers also identifies five categories of adopters which can be applied.

1. Innovator. Young risk-taker, specialist in the area and in association with other innovators creating a clique of shared practice and ideas. Vocal promoters often have little understanding of the fears and concerns of others who have yet to engage.
2. Early Adopter. Also young risk-taker with specialist knowledge, resilient, copes with failures. May have more insight into the needs of others but it’s well recognized that these leaders work in a vacuum and when they move on their work comes to a standstill and rarely survives.
3. Early Majority. Easily put off, may be reluctant users, but are gradually increasing their engagement at a low level. Success will lead to greater confidence and in time they may become champions in their own departments.
4. Late Majority. Need to see it working first, remain sceptical and take a great deal of convincing. Those who have tried and failed may gradually come to agree in principle to the benefits of online content as a supplement to f2f but will upload material retaining existing formatting. Appropriate interactive, inclusive resources designed to stimulate interest, motivate and engage only happens in small pockets of good practice
5. Laggards. The digital immigrants who find themselves in an alien land of blogs and wikis have multiple reasons for not engaging, all of them valid. Identifying and addressing these will provide valuable information and is a necessary step if the sector is serious about creating digital literacies and moving towards online HE ‘for millions’.

Technology enhanced learned; a new digital divide

Technology enhanced learning: a new digital divide is Chapter 7 in the Future of Higher Education: Policy, Pedagogy and the Student Experience; just published by Continuum – see future_of_higher_education_flyer 

It’s been over a year since I wrote this chapter; and what a long time a year is in terms of educational technology.  If I was writing today, how different some of it  would be – and yet other aspects haven’t changed. The technology may move on but the concept of the digital divide remains with us – if anything the more the technology develops and becomes integrated into mainstream higher education, the greater the divide between those who are digitally confident and competent and those trying to attach a file or feeling perplexed at the mystery of zipping and unzipping folders.

In the next book, Teaching in Public,  I was calling my chapter Doing the Duty; accessible learning – even though the word accessible is being superceded by inclusive – that’s another blog – even another chapter.  I may challenge the unpopularity  of the ‘A’ Word  and simply title it Barriers to Access – because no matter what language you use – educational technology is both enabler and disabler. In the enthusiasm for what it can do, it’s all too easy to dimiss the inherent problems it bestows.