Earlier last month I attended the JISC Innovating e-learning online conference 2011 and one of the key-note speeches focused on the future of education. The discussion focused around technology specifically and how much this influences change within education.
Thomas Edison – Image via Wikipedia
In 1913 Thomas Edison predicted that “books will soon be obsolete in the schools as it is possible to teach every branch of human knowledge with the motion picture.” Today there the e-book reader presents a new threat to books but Edison has provided us with a word of caution when making grand predictions.
The session highlighted that whilst we may think some technologies have developed quickly and appeared suddenly on the scene in reality this is not always the case. For example the image of a tablet device can be traced back to 1974 when it was first discussed long before the iPad became a familiar sight. Traditionally there has been a gap in adoption of technology within education. However just because technology exists does not necessarily mean we need to jump on the bandwagon.
This is in contrast to my own experiences – when I was fairly new to the library world I remember being encouraged to utilise technology and not miss out on developments. Seize the moment – technology was developing at such a speed and we needed to keep up with these developments. Whilst this was inspiring it can also lead to a loss of focus and I did in some cases find myself using technology for technologies sake as oppose to taking into account any pedagogical considerations. In addition more generally this approach does not always work – for example many institutions jumped on the Second Life bandwagon in recent years and if you visit some of the SL islands you find an empty resource. In addition students did not generally want to attend second life. However before these technologies are completely written off not all have had this experience. For example SL has been used to simulate situations for midwifery training at Nottingham Trent University.
The talk given at the on-line conference acknowledged that whilst there can be resistance to change within education – “the best way to predict the future is to invent it.” (Alan Kay) Therefore learning sciences have a pivotal role to play in the development of this area. The idea of blended learning was also discussed – recent studies had found that those students engaged with online learning together with face to face learning improved their performance – this approach provides additional learning time and resources.
The session highlighted findings from the recent Horizon 2011 report including the different levels of impact approaches to technology had. There was an emphasis on the personal learning experience – some suggesting that there will be a move away from VLEs towards more personal learning environments. In addition the idea that network learning has always existed but technology has led to an increase in the scale in which networking can take place. In recent times the way technology has been used has also changed – from disseminating information to collaborating and co-constructing information. The session ended with an analysis of this ‘new ecology of learning. Some features of this ecology that were mentioned are highlighted below.
I think that these are exciting times (with regards to creative possibilities supported by (supplementary) technological developments) and that whilst there is always a degree of caution when considering how to adopt technology, will it be relevant, will it last the test of time – one thing is clear – technology can help to provide access, creativity and collaboration in new and innovative ways.
Last Wednesday I attended an epic e-learning day in the Teaching Grid. It was a matter of pure coincidence that three separate meetings were organised for the same day – and each session focused on either smart mobile applications, ipads or discussions around e-learning.
The day was inspirational and certainly gave me plenty of things to consider. This blog entry reflects on one aspect of the day – the role of ipads in HE. I don’t personally own an ipad but I have used them on a number of occasions and have recently noticed an increase in the number of people who are experimenting with using this tool in their teaching. The point of the ipadagogy session was to get us to think about how they could be used and to demonstrate several useful applications including Mindmanager, Kindle, dragon (dictation software) and Evernote to name a few.
Some people believe that the ipad is a “game-changer” as it can potentially empower students to take responsibility for their learning e.g. through finding resources and/or producing their own.
I am still interested to find out more about how ipads are being used in HE. The other day I spoke to a colleague from another department who was keen to provide ipads to students with the reading resources needed for the year preloaded (- a way of using it for disseminating information).
I can see many merits in using the ipad in my own learning – the only problem being I do not own one! With regards to teaching – this still needs some thought from me – logistics such as time to develop applications, availability of applications etc. are all issues that need to be considered. But as the recent Horizon report highlighted more students have smart phones and mobile technology is going to feature in teaching and learning in the future. Ipads are just one vehicle for the numerous applications that have been developed. The impact of this technology on the teaching and learning experience is something I am interested in exploring further…
Several weeks ago I attended a really interesting breakfast workshop co-delivered by Warwick and Monash University. The theme of the session focused on interdisciplinarity in teaching and learning and covered some interesting ideas and projects that are currently being undertaken at both Universities. Using the wonders of technology there was a seamless and very effective video link to the lecture theatre in Monash.
Interdisciplinarity - generated by wordle.net
Interdisciplinarity seems to be a ‘hot topic’ in teaching and learning at the moment. The recent Kings/Warwick project found that this form of teaching often took place ‘despite of the curriculum’ as an extra aside and discussions focused on how in some instances the concept of interdiscplinarity had been embraced in the development of new modules. The opening talk included a further discussion of the project results and highlighted the importance of students in assisting with the development of interdisciplinary initiaitives within HE – the idea of a student-as-producer philosophy.
The first talk from Monash focused on a subject that did not quite fit within any discipline and how they approached the teaching of language in conjunction with the teaching of culture. The speaker highlighted how they were able to collaborate with different disciplines both within their own university and institutions overseas. Institutional support was considered vital in promoting this practice. Whilst interdisciplinary practice brought a number of benefits there were some concerns over how these sort of modules/departments fitted into the Australian Research Assessment Exercise.
Warwick followed this talk with a series of student accounts about what they got out of interdisciplinary modules. This section was really powerful and emphasised the value and impact of this style of teaching – students were encouraged to go beyond their comfort zones and develop new skills.
The academic perspective was also covered by both Monash and Warwick with details of specific projects that have been undertaken and how this approach to teaching promoted fresh approaches to delivering modules. In addition assessment approaches were also mentioned including reflective writing, essays, group projects and portfolios. What was interesting was how this form of teaching promoted creative thinking and how well it was received by those students who engaged with it. Whilst there are obviously some challenges to this approaching and critics who believe that this approach can ‘water down subjects’ – the morning was invaluable and inspiring. It will be interesting to watch developments in this area further both here and within other institutions.
Tomorrow, together with a colleague, I am running a short introductory session for Early Career Researchers who Teach – the idea of the session is to introduce the support that our team can offer ECR’s and unveil a new developmental programme that we have put together for ECR’s who teach. One thing that we were requested to consider in planning this session is addressing the issue of the challenges and opportunities relating to the balance of teaching and research.
In recent years the emphasis for HEI’s has tended to be focused on research excellence. In a recent Guardian blog post Sue Littlemore suggested that in her view teaching (unlike research) does not make institutions or careers. I do not necessarily agree with this viewpoint as I think teaching can provide you with skills that help with research – for example communication skills that could assist with the dissemination of research.
I think both teaching and research have vital places within HEI’s although a common perception currently is that teaching can take second place to research. However is this attitude about to change? With the imminent increase in student fees there may be an increase in student expectations and their experiences of teaching may influence whether other students are encouraged to study at a particular institution. In addition in another Guardian article some early career researchers are finding that whilst their research is up to standard they are missing out on jobs in an ever competing market due to their lack of teaching experience.
Within academia there are many changes under way and plenty of discussions about how research and teaching can co-exist and be mutually beneficial in some instances (see article by Ann Thomson). Some suggestions could include using your teaching to inform your research – talking on your specialist area and getting new perspectives from students. Through teaching a subject some people find that they increase their understanding in that particular area. Another option that some people are using is the ‘student as researcher’ or ‘student as producer’ approach – one example of this is a project at Lincoln University – where the teaching experience equips students with the skills to research and feed into new developments. It could also encourage and inspire a future generation of potential academics.
Whilst there tends to be a bias towards research – teaching (like research) does have a vital role to play within universities and future changes in student expectations may heighten the need to celebrate and recognise teaching excellence further.
The session tomorrow night has got me thinking about the topic – this is very much a blog post full of random thoughts and no doubt an issue that I will revisit.