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Let’s talk experience, not technology

Starwars CassetteIn May, I was asked to be on a panel with Professor Gilly Salmon and Andrew Douch for the IBSA VET Practitioners of the future conference.

There’s always been technology in education, we know students want technology in their learning, so let’s focus on the student experience.

When I was at school, we had a stationary list at the beginning of the term. We had to buy a few things; pens, pencils and paper – so clearly our teacher expected us to do p-learning. We did m-learning too, the teacher would occasionally roll out a movie for us to watch. I can remember with excitement once my teacher came into the class and said we are doing ‘TV learning’ and pulled out a ‘VHS tape’, it was very important for us to know this ‘VHS’ was different to the ‘Beta’ that they could have chosen, but the administration didn’t want to pay the extra money. I mean, for a student the difference between VHS and beta seemed so much more important than the topic we were studying. Hmmm…

I hope you can hear the sarcasm in my story – I wonder if you have heard practitioners explaining ‘e-learning’ to their students in this way. I wouldn’t say that sets up an engaging learning environment.

For me, the question of how to engage students using technology boils down to this…

We are professional practitioners, we have a range of tools at our disposal and we need to select the tools that are most appropriate to engage our students.

Teaching professionals have always used technology.

Sometimes this looks like a pen and paper, sometimes it looks like a tablet and stylus.

The question we should be asking ourselves is… what are the unique affordances of this technology? Or what can I do with this technology that I can’t with another?

Here is an example… With ink and paper, a student can’t rub out their work – so if you want to see the student working and thinking, then choose ink. With a pencil, a student can rub out errors and make changes – so if you want a more final product, then choose a pencil. With a computer, a student can produce something of a higher quality and include multimedia (video and audio) – so if you want to see this, choose a computer. With a mobile device and an app, the student can do their assignment out of the classroom and when they want, where they want – again, if this is the outcome, then choose this technology.

We have to stop tangling over our feet about the use of technology to engage students – This isn’t about using technology for technology’s sake – we need to focus on the unique affordances of the technology we have at our disposal.

This is the situation as reported in the last benchmarking survey undertaken by the National VET E-learning Strategy. It is estimated that 48% of all VET activity includes e-learning – 10 years ago that figure was reported as 3-4%. But what about this… 72% of practitioners surveyed said they use e-learning BUT 95% say they use technologies (in a way that we would call e-learning). So practitioners are using the technology, but not calling it ‘e-learning’. Seems to me that we have a problem here – educational technology vs e-learning.

I believe this situation is reinforced by the separation of the educational technologists and educationalists. Identifying the unique affordances of technology requires a high level of digital literacy AND knowledge of pedagogy/andragogy. This is a challenge for VET practitioners in the future this presents a workforce development challenge that we need to address. We don’t do this any justice by continuing a policy of separation. We need to see a policy of integration.

Yes, there are challenges in how to use the technology – there are challenges in finding out what those ‘unique affordances’ are. So let’s look at some more data and see what this says about student engagement.

Almost 70% of practitioners surveyed use online materials developed by people inside and outside their training organisation. Compare this with those that are using student published resources – only 13%. The discrepancy here is astounding. This tells us that to develop resources, practitioners don’t go to their students. Look at the rise of user-generated content on YouTube and Instagram or user aggregated content on Pinterest or Tumblr – what are we saying to students… we are saying that their material isn’t good enough for us to use in our training environments – and are cutting off a significant form of engagement. Participating in developing the environment. What does this mean for the student experience or student engagement?

So to summarise:

  1. We have always had technology – let’s focus on the unique affordances of a specific technology to an educational outcome
  2. There is clearly an issue with the integration of educational and technology needs and this has implications for student experience and engagement.
  3. Engagement is about students being actively involved in the learning process and this is often about content creation and curation – so let’s look at the technologies that allow for that engagement and opportunities to use these – then prioritise the use of these in our teaching and learning environments.

What are your thoughts about how to engage students using technology? Add your comments below.

Image CC (by Steve Jurvetson)

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