After the rather bitty liveblogs from the Blackboard conference, I’ve started to write up the other presentations where I took notes with a pen. (Now there’s a reliable, resilient and portable technology!) Hopefully, they’re a bit more reflective and readable. Rather than try and write up the whole conference in one post, I’m going to release an account of each presentation as a single post. This one’s probably the longest!
The first keynote presentation which was from Andy Ramsden, head of e-learning at the University of Bath, who set about exploring whether e-learning has lived up to its early promise. In one respect he showed that it has, by using an electronic voting system throughout the presentation which would have been very unusual a few years ago, and did lead to quite a lot of interactivity in the session. He started by reminding us that those of us involved in e-learning were actually small cogs in big institutional machines, but that didn’t stop us from doing quite a lot to bring about change. In the first electronic poll he showed that at least 25% of the audience had been involved with virtual learning environments for more than 8 years, (including, it has to be said, your correspondent!) which led to the unspoken conclusion that if e-learning hadn’t lived up to its promise, we’d no-one to blame but ourselves!
He then presented the results of a survey at Bath, which found that 51.7% of academics didn’t post their lecture material before the lecture, and that 21.9% didn’t do it afterwards. In fact 10% of academics at Bath don’t engage with learning technology in any shape or form! Even those that do, tend to use things like PowerPoint, or even OHP transparencies. That said, there was some encouraging use of newer technologies like Twitter and videoconferencing. So, it appears, on the face of it at least, that the newer technologies have not changed teaching very much. But as Andy indicated, that kind of conclusion didn’t sit very easily with the array of technological gadgetry sitting on the desk in front of him, and he also noted that most people do in fact share things like web resources quite a lot. But there was another question about how they did this sharing, and we had another poll this time using a service called Edutext (I’ve got us a free trial by the way I’ll post here when the details come through) This time we all texted in the ways we shared information with colleagues. Predictably e-mail was by far the most common communication method in HE. (By a very large distance indeed.) So, there are at least two technologies, e-mail and the web that have very much lived up to their early promise.
What might explain this phenomenon. We were introduced to something called the 4-Es model developed by Collis & Moonen, (Which I shall be stealing, ahem, referencing for my ED thesis). This states that an individual’s likelihood of making use of a technological innovation for a learning related purpose is determined by four factors
• Educational effectiveness
• Environmental (that is, institutional) factors,
• Ease of use
Without going into more detail this explains why people are perfectly happy to post word documents purporting to be the “course handbook” but less happy to spend time designing and posting on-line quizzes, learning how to use text messaging to promote interactivity in a lecture, developing multimedia etc. etc. Essentially if you want to get a technology adopted (the “success threshold”) you have to balance all these four factors. Take the example of the course handbook. The institution encourages the posting of these things. ||It’s easy to attach a document to a file (well, it is for most people). It’s information students need, so it’s educationally effective. (Actually, I think that’s questionable, but I take the point that it meets a need that students believe that they have.). I’m not all that convinced that it’s all that engaging, but course handbooks are something that people are familiar with. You can see that quizzes don’t really tick the same boxes, and you might say the same about some of the other technological floribunda, that grow in the e-learning garden, such as Second Life, blogs, wikis, and so forth. (They’re often engaging, but not easy if you’re new to them, nor are they institutionally encouraged, (well, OK, they’re not discouraged, but setting up a wiki isn’t an obvious route to academic advancement) and their educational effectiveness is, to date at least, unproven.
One of the things that we can do is to try and lower the environmental factors. If we can do this, we should be able to push the success threshold down.
The second strand is concerned with ease of use and engagement. Most obviously the network must be sufficiently robust to allow users to do what they want to do. Engagement does of course cover things like the relative attractiveness, ease of navigation, and other attributes, but it can also be encouraged by modifying the environmental factors. If, for example, posting high quality interactive materials was seen as a route to career progression then it is quite likely that more people would be inclined to do it. (That, of course, is precisely the argument we’re making for the deposit of material in the institutional repository.) The fact is though that Universities are in general rather more geared up to running relatively simple teaching and learning activities than they are to operating riskier programmes that have higher level learning objectives.
So, how might we change the situation.
Well, at this point, Andy went into a discussion of QR codes. Careful readers of this blog (and if you aren’t, may I ask why not?) may remember these being discussed in a previous posting about mobile technologies. A QR code is a variant on the bar code that can be scanned with a camera phone. Once it has been scanned it can link to a web site, send an SMS message to a phone, transfer a phone number, or simply provide more text. They are appearing in posters and advertisements in our larger cities, (although I haven’t noticed one in Lincoln yet). There are all sorts of potential educational and administrative uses, including campus tours, Library catalogue information, (although I wasn’t clear how this would work), they can be appended to printouts and the user can scan them for further guidance, and more exotically they can be used in Augmented Reality Gaming (Again, I hope you’ve been paying attention, – I wrote about this back in June – it’s a project at Manchester Metropolitan University where they send the students off around the city to find these QR codes. Not that I’m exactly sure about the wisdom sending students into some parts of Manchester flashing expensive technology around, but I guess it’s their city and their project!)
There is no suggestion that QR codes are the solution to lowering institutional barriers. Andy was using them as an example of the way of thinking we need to adopt if we are going to keep on developing technology. We need to ditch large scale workshops, and focus more on specific projects, which we might lead, but ensure all the team delivers on. We should prioritise profiling at meetings, (i.e. who does what, what are people’s capabilities) and produce short frequent publications reporting on our projects, and we should do it in all media. The point is there’s a long term commitment to be made, and it involves a change in the way we think about educational development.