Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Use of Technology in Teaching

I read a frightening article in The Chronicle of Higher Education today. If you don't want to read in, just look at the chart!

There are those who claim that academics who don't make the most of technology to enhance the learning experience of their students are in some sense guilty of malpractice. On the other hand, there are plenty that teach in a very traditional way and get good student feedback and great learning outcomes.

The question this raises for me is about what our institutional priorities should be for e-learning. We have lots of good (and expensive) tools: Blackboard, streaming media, Wimba, PDP, clickers and more. Furthermore, there is lots of good feedback from staff who use these things. However, I have dark moments when I wonder how much teaching is really enhanced by technology. Everyone uses the VLE, but is it really much more than a convenient repository of documents for most students? How much learning is really enhanced by facilitated online discussions? Do students engage with their lecturers electronically?

In contrast, adoption of technology that helps students learning individually or together is rapid and requires little encouragement by the University. Put a sofa somewhere where there's wireless and power and students will instantly discover it. Create a space where students can congregate with a few laptops and perhaps some coffee and it's always busy. We're running Google Mail for our students and have (fairly quietly) just turned on Google Docs. Early evidence suggests that about 10% of students are already using it to share and collaborate. Interestingly, this has led to a stream of requests from academics for Google accounts.

The default model for rolling out e-learning technology is for the centre to provide tools and training to academic staff who then use it (or not) in their teaching. Maybe we should focus a little more on pushing the latest and greatest tools (like Google Wave) directly at students and let them create a learning environment that they feel they really own and which they can suck their lecturers into.