I’m somebody who gets distracted easily. Sometimes this can get in the way of what I need to do, but sometimes, just sometimes, it pays off. This is one of those times.
I’m sure all of you have heard of amazon.co.uk the online purveyor of anything imaginable. What I noticed while I was browsing their site the other day totally distracted me from what I was searching for, to the point that I’m still not sure what it was I was trying to buy! Their product menu is so well thought out it’s almost magical, real Harry Potter level stuff:
Simply put, it’s just good design, and something you wouldn’t normally notice – when you hover over the main menu on the left-hand side, it changes content in the panel on the sub-menu on the right-hand side.
A potential problem arises when you need to get your cursor from the bottom of the left-hand list to the top of the right-hand list. Your most direct path takes you over some of the other items in the main menu, which should then change the content in the right-hand list you are aiming for – but this is where the magic comes in!
The menu detects which direction your cursor is travelling and prevents the main-menu, and in turn the sub-menu, from switching. If however you pause, or change the direction your cursor is travelling, it ‘unlocks’ the main menu again and allows it to change. You can watch this in action above (and maybe even have a go yourself!).
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 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?
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.
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.