Tel Tales

Adventures in Technology Enhanced Learning @ UoP

Author: Shaun Searle

Is learning inevitable? Are teachers an essential part of the process?

Shaun Searle

Is now the right time to question our role in education?

In my previous role of ICT Co-Ordinator within local primary schools, one of the key components of my job was to source and purchase new technology for the school. I know the University are making large capital investments, one such example is the £11 million Future Technology Centre. With ever decreasing budgets and tightening of the purse strings, I had to research and plead my case, attend numerous Senior Leader and Governor meetings to stress how vital this technology was for learning and for future attendees of the school. There were many hoops to jump through and numerous games to play just to get a fraction of the budget I had bid for. So you can imagine my reaction when at a headteachers conference I was sat on a table with a very proud Headteacher who had just spent a large amount of money on 60 iPads with the aim to eventually ensure every child has one in the school. When quizzed on the reasoning behind this strategy, what confounded me was how little thought seemed to be behind this. Now there may have been an ICT Co-Ordinator working tirelessly in the background, who had a detailed 5-year plan to modernise the school but this wasn’t shared by the headteacher. “We haven’t thought that far yet!” “They can access the internet in class.” and “They can use them instead of writing in books!” as if the technology automatically is “better” than pencil and paper were later offered as reasons.

There is a lot of research and evidence that backs up the use of mobile technology in the classroom and it is my view that educators can use technology to support the learning of any subject. As is the importance of bringing the technology to the hands of the students rather than them having to trundle off to the antiquated computer suite. It did get me thinking about the technology first/pedagogy second approach.

Steve Wheeler

Steve Wheeler is Associate Professor of Learning Technologies at the Plymouth Institute of Education where he chairs the Learning Futures group and leads the Computing and Science education teams. Within his widely renowned educational blog Learning with e’s, he asked the question: What is Digital Learning? I would certainly recommend reading it but he does come up with two huge statements within it that bear thinking about. Firstly “Learning is learning. Whether you use technology or not is relative. Using the tools and technologies will enable you to connect with more content and peers, more quickly and effectively. However, learning without technology is also a reality for all of us”  before hitting home with the notion: “Here’s the bottom line: Learning will happen if the conditions are right, and it will happen whether teachers and technology are present or not.”

My background in both training staff in Primary and Higher Education is to promote the educator’s role as being one of the facilitator and technology is medium through which this is channeled or amplified. However, with the premise of flipped classrooms, student led research and truly constructivist approaches where students not educators dictate the direction that their learning takes (which in turn leads to new and unforeseen outcomes) – Do we educators overestimate our importance to the process?

Sugata Mitra

A few years ago I was fortunate enough to be in the audience for Sugata Mitra’s address at the Hampshire ICT conference where he discussed his Hole in the Wall research project. I would thoroughly recommend watching his 2010 TED talk where he outlines how he placed a computer with the internet in the slums and observed how children with no prior knowledge and poor English skills learnt on their own through a process of exploration, discovery and peer coaching when interacting with technology. He coined the term  Minimally Invasive Education which is a pedagogic method that uses the learning environment (or in this case a Learning Station) to generate motivation to induce learning with minimal or no intervention from a teacher. Further information about this can be found on the Hole-in-the-Wall website. While this study is aimed at younger students, I feel the research findings have merit with their Higher Education counterparts. The ability to access content, learn from it and most importantly retain it is enhanced, the overall academic improvement of the students and the close proximity to the performance of their peers who received formal computer education would certainly advocate a “let them loose with the technology” approach.

Final thoughts

We recently received a presentation from Chris Chang about the University’s policy on global engagement and it is fair to say that the makeup of our student intake is becoming increasingly diverse. It is not purely about what learning is imparted during lectures on campus, the use of Moodle as a supporting tool to encourage independent, self governed learning requires the pedagogists to think deeper about their audience and the intended learning outcomes. Distance Learners do not set foot on campus and do not get to see educators “in the flesh” but still are required to (and do) reach the same standard through further intuitive interactions such as webinars, forums and quizzes.  We are in a world where the modern student has unprecedented levels of access and connectivity with their peers around the world. Teachers/educators need to be fluid and change like the world around them. If the “way” in which we deliver education does not change then we may find ourselves in a world where our students or our institutions no longer need us to get to where they want to be.

 

 

Can technology provide us with the opportunity to move away from traditional delivery methods?

Shaun Searle

“The most vital app an educator could use is good purposeful teaching”

Introduction

On the way back from setting up the Mobile Ubicast unit for a lecturer, I had an interesting discussion about the use of technology in teaching. My first thoughts took me back to my previous life as an ICT co-ordinator of a primary school where a member of the leadership team teaching was eager to be observed “using ICT” within their teaching. What unfolded was 45 uncomfortable minutes of the educator using a digital camera within an English lesson. Of course it led to my first question of “why did you use the technology?” It did not help the students achieve their learning goals in English, whilst also not allowing them to develop or demonstrate skills using the technology.

Digital technology and equipment help provide multiple access points, like a door with multiple handles at different heights but ultimately pedagogy and learning intentions must stay at the forefront of the educators mind. It brought me back to a great JISC document I read based on the Digital experiences students should have. I thought I would signpost a few of the parts that I found most interesting and hopefully it may spark a few ideas of how technology could be used in your lectures.

Social referencing

Jane Challinor gives a good account of the trials and tribulations of using Diigo social bookmarking site with level one undergraduates She outlines the discovery that students at Level 2 and 3 were found to have poor research skills. Even at level 3 students made little use of academic journals and the cause of academic irregularity were caused by poor record keeping, especially of web based sources so a key feature of the module was to introduce the students to e-search, a tool which allows students to search journal database similar to Athens. By using groups within Diigo not only could students benefit from the features of a social referencing site such group/shared discussions, bookmarking and direct online source linking, it gave lecturers the opportunity to monitor student activity, thus make it an assessment for learning tool encouraging precision teaching. Without giving away any spoilers (!) it not only improved the students record keeping and bookmarking, it changed their whole attitude and behaviour towards using online sources and journals within assignments.

Digital critique

As there is broad range of digital sources of communication to reference from online, it gives students the ability to develop skills of critique that takes them beyond just reading text on screen. It allows students to examine a specific source in terms of its credibility, argument, tone, implied audience and provenance – who is hosting and propagating this message? This could then influence the creation of their own digital content, with a greater appreciation of its purpose and the audience it is targeted at. New Media Literacy: a blog post by Lynsay Grant offers an interesting blog based on critique against re-design that is well worth a read.

 

Use a simulation to support real-world practice

Simulations allow students to venture where perhaps the real-life situation represent unacceptable risk to the student or others. But simulations also allow students to review, revisit and revise their preparation and practice to a real-life event. Simulations can also be used to collaborate and to provide a shared platform to problem solve. The skills2Learn site shows a wide range of practical and field-based skills that can be carried out through elearning and virtual reality simulations. The advances of modern technology and the range of mediums through which to experience sound, image, video and touch based representations has become more accessible and affordable with the rise of Google Cardboard and other VR displays. The four walls of a lecture theatre no longer need to confine “where” learning takes place.

Digital deconstruction

Within my teaching role, one area in which I felt I excelled was finding new and innovative ways to teach topics. One such way was trying to introduce coding to 6-year-olds by taking them out of the computer suite and into the kitchen, testing their given programmes (recipes) and debugging and re-coding where necessary. Chrissi Narantzi’s blog explores her use of LEGO bricks with first-year undergraduates. I love the concept of taking what essentially is a digital concept, bringing it into a real life situation or a practical analogy as it were to broaden and deepen their understanding and application of digital skills. Possible applications of this could be statistical analysis, qualitative data analysis, design, giving a presentation with slides, mindmapping, ‘cut and paste’ editing, sharing ideas via twitter, commenting on/reviewing other students’ work.

Use gamification

This is a powerful concept that I have seen bear the fruits of success with younger students. I have been fortunate on a few occasions to have met critically acclaimed Tim Rylands who really was at the forefront of gamification within education and his TED talk about teachers being creative and using games to enhance learning in other topic areas is well worth watching and extremely powerful. Other gaming concepts such as ‘levelling up’,  earning XP points and shading a progress bar could be ways in which to make aspects of your teaching engaging while also giving competition a positive element. A different Chrissi Narantzi blog  shows how a mixed reality game is used in academic development and while it does require a level of ingenuity to incorporate gaming features, it can really help give insight and make learning fun.

Final thoughts

There are a number of other digital experiences that Jisc recommend students have and I’m sure the concepts of lecture capture, online questionnaires and presenting using digital media will be covered in subsequent blogs but perhaps it is a good point to reflect on our own practise and consider how using technology within our existing delivery could enhance the learning experiences of our students further.

References

Grant, L. (2010). New media literacy: Critique vs re-design. Available at: http://dmlcentral.net/new-media-literacy-critique-vs-re-design/ (Accessed: 23 November, 2016).

Jisc (2015). Digital experiences students should have. Available at: https://digitalstudent.jiscinvolve.org/wp/files/2015/01/Digitalstudentexperiences.pdf (Accessed: 23 November, 2016).

Terms, P.I. (2016). Can you Diigo it? Available at: https://prezi.com/j82f6mbocnwb/can-you-diigo-it/ (Accessed: 23 November, 2016).