From face-to-face to face-to-screen

Recently I spoken to several people who’ve been asked to create an online version of an existing course but without additional resources or support. This suggests something is still missing from strategic approaches to digital teaching and learning. Over a decade ago, the VLE came in on the back of promises of transformation of teaching and learning while increasing efficiency and cutting costs. In 2011, it seems nothing much has changed. The recent report to HEFCE by the Online Learning Task Force (January 2011) Collaborate to Compete  continues to associate quality and cost-effectiveness with engaging, flexible interactive online resources although there are two noticeable differences between then and now.

The first is the student voice which is suggesting early promises of elearning have not yet been realised. Comments in Student Perspectives on Technology  (October 2010) include concerns regarding ICT competencies of teachers, variation and inconsistency in use of ICT and lack of attention to digital literacies as a whole institution approach. For those who have been bridging the gap between the technology and the pedagogy over the past decade this comes as no surprise. Attention has always been paid to embedding the technology within the systems rather than investing in appropriate training and support for those who will be using it on a day-to-day basis. Moving from face-to-face to digital delivery involves significant shifts in skills, attitudes and practices not least because teaching and learning are social activities. To achieve a successful online equivalent is perfectly possible but requires investment in human computer interaction. The problem with technologists leading technological innovation can be lack of empathy for the non-technologist. This barrier has to be overcome if digital education is to achieve its potential for inclusion.

The second difference is a notable shift in the HEFCE document from VLEs to OERs.  Open Educational Resources have taken the VLE’s place as catalysts for change, ensuring cost effectiveness, high quality content and quality, flexible engagement. The only word which is new is ‘mobile.’ However, OERs remain the preserve of the technologist – the person with confidence and competence with working in digital environments – and therein lies concern of the gulf between the early and late adopters as well as those who have yet to get to grips with education in a digital age. Nevertheless, the report is hopeful. It concludes with recognition of the need for investment in greater engagement with the technical and pedagogical aspects of online learning. We have been here before and failed to cross the gulf between the technology and the pedagogy. Hopefully this time round those lessons will have been learned and appropriate and lasting bridges can be built.