Keynote Three (SEDA Conference) was apt for a conference on using technology to enhance learning. Titled ‘Fables and fairy tales – how can technology really enhance learning?’ it was presented remotely by Susannah Quinsee from City University London. Using excellent pre-prepared audio and visual resources, Susannah led an exploration of the myths around the application of technology to learning. Key to this were group activities on the use of technology as a transformative tool for enabling interaction with learners.
Firstly we were asked to consider cases where technology hasn’t worked. Second Life was mooted. The hype has died down and while many universities have invested in a Second Life campus, there seem to be less examples of good practice; for no presentations at the conference had included Second Life. Secondly we took on the role of Luddite or Enthusiast in order to examine the arguments for and against technology. In my group the Luddites argued that technology supported behaviours which were shallow, superficial, bite-sized, anti-social, breakable and could lead to losing sight of traditional academic values. The enthusiasts argued that face to face sociability was a myth, online communities of practice were powerful aids for learning, the ease of digital access facilitated flexible learning opportunities, virtual discussions offered scope for review and checking understanding, technology could make learning fun, blended learning offered complementary tools which could enhance the learning experience, support independent learning and help students become more reflective, deeper and enquiring learners. Phew! On paper the enthusiasts were certainly in the lead.
The final part was a Skype Q and A session with Susannah, who was due to give birth to twins at any moment. Intermittent sound problems could have reinforced the anti-technology argument but to see and hear Susannah in real time countered this more than sufficiently. The Keynote surfaced what for me were many of the key themes of the conference.
- Staff need time to engage with new ways of working; staff development funding is essential to make this time possible and institutions need to invest in opportunities to make this happen.
- Social media can replicates and reinforce the power of group learning
- Technology for learning does not replace face to face teaching; it is complementary to it.
- The phrase digital natives and digital immigrants is the most unhelpful concept ever (I would suggest maybe outdated rather than unhelpful. Culturally specific at the time, it was a useful way to draw attention to the issues. A decade on, the divide still exists, but attention is now on the quality of the ‘native’s engagement’)
- Digital literacies are fundamental to graduate attributes and teacher education. The sector needs to invest in bridges which cross digital divides.
- Ideally, the digital component in teaching and learning should be taken for granted rather than highlighted but we have not got there yet.
- Digital teaching and learning is integral to teaching and learning in higher education and all teacher education programs should contain content relevant to the world of the digital learner.
All conferences have value but in terms of supporting staff using technology for teaching and learning on a day to day basis and this was one of the most useful I’ve attended. It would be a shame if it were to be a one-off event because SEDA have an important role to play in raising awareness of digital divides and creating bridges to cross them.