conference education technology

Misunderstanding the conversation around teaching with technology

I’ve been going through the collection of abstracts from last year’s HELTASA conference, looking for a citation for a poster presentation that I’d like to use for an assignment. This gave me an overview of the event that I didn’t pick up on while I was there, as I tend to focus on individual presentations while at conferences.

One of the other things I noticed is that when talking about e-learning (besides the fact that there are many interpretations of what e-learning actually means), many presenters spoke of a move towards customised Learning Management Systems, that exist separate to the lecture. There is still a clear demarcation between the classroom and the online space, with little in each space to complement the other. The only thing that changed in some cases was the way in which learning tasks are assigned and marks gathered i.e. how learning was managed.

I think there’s still a strong belief that “teaching with technology” merely involves moving content online and into digital walled gardens, cut off not only from the greater online community, but even from students who aren’t registered for that particular module. There seemed to be a lack of understanding that the most important aspect of introducing technology into teaching, is that there must be a change in practice that is associated with multiple, bi-directional communication channels. Even the addition of multimedia shouldn’t be seen as an end in itself…it’s just a way to add meaning to the message.

This change in communication is what is fundamental. It’s about moving ideas, as well as moving between and through them in a way that’s difficult to do in a traditional lecture format, but which complements the lecture (or small group discussion, etc.). We need to move away from the idea that integrating technology into teaching practice is an either – or proposition. The traditional and the new need to blend into each other, using each strategy to reduce the limitations of the other.

By Michael Rowe

I'm a lecturer in the Department of Physiotherapy at the University of the Western Cape in Cape Town, South Africa. I'm interested in technology, education and healthcare and look for places where these things meet.

6 replies on “Misunderstanding the conversation around teaching with technology”

yeah – I take your point! Education as we know it is validated by number, not actually by what we gain from it…
That's why I like the idea of a summer school – all the ones I have been to are not assessed…but they are appealing because they mean 5 days away from our regular working environment; they mean connecting with people from different institutions…they also mean learning and fun! But of course these summer school are quite exclusive – about TEL for TEL researchers… it's like preaching to the choir… I think we can do better than that… I also think we need to!

Funny… during my Mphil Viva the external examiner asked if I considered the CoP I had based my study on 'successful' and why…why were people so keen to learn there if there was no formalization of their learning…?
I have been thinking about it since then…
I think there are many approaches to that questions. I have several in mind: first is the fact that to informal side of things plus the fact that their activity is not assessed offers the learner some comfort – your learning will not be measured in public, your 'ability' will not be ranked against others…
But the people in Webheads in Action also reveal a type of maturity which is often not fostered in HE – that of learning is a natural condition as a human being – my personal development is precious and more important than any grade you can give me!
Then there is time – there I can learn at my own time and pace… learning is self-pace and it doesn't matter how much this is advocated in the literature I still haven't seen any formal learning activity where learning is not (short) timed!

Assessment then comes from people's achievements, from people's practice and peer recognition… that too takes time to materialize!

Unless we transform education (people) we will never achieve what I think it's essential to learning: and that is to volunteer yourself and your time to such activity because you are willing to grow intellectually and not because you feel force to get a high mark! Usually, we only perceive this when we have achieved a more mature level in our experience because the 'structure and the conventions that create it' do not allow us too see it before… so we need to wait… to live and wait…and then we say …ah if I had known I would have taken the time…

All of this now reminded me of 'Papalagui' and their interpretation of time: '[we] are always counting time and [we] never have time' … I wonder if it's not the same with education: we are always quantifying learning (assessing), but what are we learning (assessing)…?

I like your idea of a Technology / Learning summer school. I’ve been thinking about something along those lines for our students, who really lack the appropriate literacies to make effective use of computers and the internet. They get basic modules on word processing and email in their first year, just to make sure that they can function at a very basic level (many of our students didn’t have internet access prior to coming to university). I’d like to offer additional, non-credit-bearing classes (so, no assessment) for students who are interested in learning more about these tools. My belief however, is that no-one will be sign up because “…if it’s not for marks, then there’s no point attending” 🙁

yeah… I think once they warmed up to the idea that integrating technology can help them develop new contexts, teh we do need to look at the techie side … that’s when I hope to introduce how-to sessiion for those who came for the ‘cup of tea’ (actually has I have been writing this – this seems exactly the kind of title I will give my future ‘conversational sessions’. But we need to keep the ‘cup of tea culture going…creating space for conversation and sharing. For us who are *always* online (maybe I speak for myself here 🙂 ) we know other places we can go to chat and reflect about this all…but those who are starting don’t…

A wish/idea: how cool would it be to run a kind of Technology Enhanced Learning summer school for people who are not in the TEL field… sometimes it is also important to get away from our working environment to learn, and reflect about this stuff…just as it is for me to sometimes go away from the computer so I can see it from other people’s perspectives.
Having time to connect to people with different takes on life/practice helps me think differently too.

Hi Cristina. Thank you so much for your comment. You’ve mentioned so much of what often goes wrong when we enthusiastically try to “convert” colleagues to our way of thinking. And without the “3 cups of tea” (which is on my reading list, by the way) there is a tendency to focus on the technology, rather than what it enables. I love your idea of “warming people up to the concept”…something I’ve only now started to do.

In the past I’ve tried to convince people of this new thing that will absolutely change their professional practice (which is a lot for anything to live up to), whereas now I first try to inspire some curiosity. I mention an experience I’ve had as a result of using a new tool, or an insight I’ve been opened up to as a result of a new comment, and they begin by asking whether this is something they might possibly be able to do. I began to realise that most academics just don’t believe that this world is available to them.

I empathise with your experiences of having workshops where you’ve spent the bulk of your time setting up the tools. I’m not sure what the answer is. People need to have an understanding of how to use the tools, but that shouldn’t be the focus. We need to spend more time having conversations on what the tools enable us to do, that we wouldn’t easily be able to do in any other way, and how that can improve our teaching and learning experiences.

Thank you for this post Michael. Again you raise great points which truly need not just reflection but action. I will focus on the following remark: ‘I think there’s still a strong belief that “teaching with technology” merely involves moving content online and into digital walled gardens…’, which I think sums up well what I have been feeling for such a long time now, but didn’t know how to address it. Step by step I think I am changing my practice, so the educators I work with can change theirs…
Honestly, I am getting more and more frustrated with us ‘learning technologies’ who always advocate the use of technologies as vigorously as we complain about people not making proper use of it. And I must say that the reason why the integration of technology in education so often fails is because, like you have so well expressed, we put more emphasis on the technology itself than on the creation of new knowledge (to which the process of knowing, and not just being fed information, is (should) be implicit).
For ages now I have witnessed (and also delivered) training on learning technologies for staff which focused mainly on setting up the technology. I always had a very thorough plan which I always managed to squeeze into a 1-2 hour session. It contained a brief explanation of the tech and an example or two and so ‘push button’ task, i.e., the setting up of a blog, a wiki or whatever the tech that session focuses on.
What most of us haven’t realised is that we jump a very important step – that of warming-up…warming people up to the concept of being and learning online; to new ways of teaching; to new forms of communicating their work; to new ideas etc… And that takes time and a conversational tone so that people are able to feel comfortable enough to share their questions, make sense of the technology, of what others are doing…how it could fit with what they already do…how they could enhance their practice…how it could reward them professionally, and personal too…

Sometime ago I read G. Mortenson’s book on his experience of setting up a school in a village in Pakistan. He had to convince the leader and people of that village that this was a good thing and that it would empower their people. It took him much longer to achieve his goals than he had predicted. Just because he was doing something he thought it was excellent, the others didn’t necessarily wanted to jump into it… or thought it was that brilliant. They had other priorities and needs… and they would not say yes without building trust first. They needed to understand what that foreigner wanted and what was in it for them. Why all of a sudden all that generosity…? One of the sentences I will never forget about that book is that ‘it takes at least three cups of tea to build trust’…3 session…3 opportunities to talk and make sense of something new before we are warmed up to the idea and start thinking of the actions we need to take in order to start the new practice…
I feel the same with integrating technology in education. We want everything to be done from day to night. We never have time to allow this new concept of doing things to sink in in people’s mind… but then we spend a awful lot of time trying to figure out why ‘people are doing it wrong’… Not us. Them!
By training people how to push buttons (setting up technology) we are sending the message that this is just a new way of pushing content in a new space. Replicating what they their content into a new space, instead of introducing the idea that the power of technology is in creating new contexts.

But by creating a forum of discussion and reflection we might start warming up people to the idea that through tech their practice can take on a different shape and form…
Unfortunately, many colleagues still want to focus on the creation of content to put online more than on the development of a virtual space into a learning environment, where content will emerge as a result of people’s contributions and participation.
For that to happen, we , learning technologies, have the duty to create the space for discussion and make ourselves available to others for personalised assistance regarding the application of technology in an effective way. After all this is the Era of the individual at the centre of their learning…so why are we still delivering so unpersonalised training, which offers very little scope for people to voice their ideas and concerns? That for me is the most important and first step of any learning technology integration project…
(sorry – this comment is probably much longer than your post, but Thank you so much for this. It made me think! )

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