Posts Tagged ‘e-learning’

The changing landscape of technology in higher education

January 21, 2015

I took part in a panel session at the BETT Show today on the changing landscape of technology in higher education. The panellists were invited to speak for a few minutes at the start of the session in order to prompt further discussion. I took the view that it wasn’t all about the technology…

Firstly there are the students themselves. A while back I spoke to a number of school leavers who were heading to university to try to find out how they were going to use the technology they were taking with them and what their expectations were of using technology at university. Their expectations were probably aligned to what they had seen during open days. They were expecting to make use of computer pool rooms and “Learning commons” facilities but there was little expectation of how technology was going to be used in their own education. Some had thought about the technology they were going to take to university – a smart phone for making quick notes, for reminders and for finding information on the move, a tablet for taking notes in lectures and for searching for information, and a laptop for producing their coursework. But although they regularly exchanged information with friends and were informally learning through their contacts, there wasn’t an understanding of how they were going to translate those skills into their university environment. Consequently universities need to help their students improve their digital capabilities, to help them make good use of the technology they have, to provide facilities for collaboration, to help them stay safe, and to distinguish between good online sources and bad.

On the other side of the equation, do universities have the ability to optimise the use of technology in teaching and learning? Research suggests that a blended model of teaching (utilising both face to face and online components) results in increased learning and understanding. However expertise in using technology and employing different pedagogic methods amongst academic staff varies enormously. Similarly the desire to move to a new teaching model also varies hugely. Teaching online and making use of technology to change how students learn requires different skill sets. Facilitating a discussion is different from delivering a lecture. Delivering short micro lectures where you are getting a key point across in fifteen minutes is different to delivering a 45 minute lecture. Further, there are many credible resources available online that can be used in teaching. Do academic staff understand how to make best use of the resources available or appreciate how technology could be used to teach in a different way? Universities have to work to develop the digital capabilities of their academic staff. They need to invest in training and supporting academic staff and invest in the estate to provide flexible learning spaces and social spaces that their student body can use for informal learning, collaboration and group work.

The need to invest highlights the need for those making the decisions on funding to understand the possibilities and benefits in investing in technology for teaching and learning and investing in the workforce, and to understand the impact on the estate. Much has been made of the ability of online learning to be easily scaled up and it would be easy to conclude that using technology to deliver learning, whilst not free, is a cheap alternative to traditional models. However, one benefit of the advent of MOOCs has been a recognition that, if you are going to deliver material online, you have to do it well. It is not a cheap option. Universities’ senior management teams, whilst perhaps not needing the same level of digital capabilities as academic staff and students, do need enough knowledge to understand the potential.

A little on technology – MOOCs have been a disruptor but not in the way that was anticipated. One impact has been that it has been recognised that externally facing resources have to be of a high quality – they are your public face and advertisements for your institution. As a consequence the quality of all online delivery has been raised. MOOCs also allow self paced learning accommodating different learning styles as students find their way through the presented material. This is one area where learning analytics can make a difference. Using all the information that is available to the institution, entry data, cumulative data from previous cohorts and data from the students themselves will allow universities to be more supportive and help guide their students to a successful conclusion. In the future this may be supplemented by personal profiling ahead of entry, helping to guide students earlier to identify the right course for them at the application stage. The question is, how far should this assistance go? Whilst it is desirable to get as high a pass rate as possible, does too much guidance mean that our graduates are less prepared for the world at large?

PS Readers may be interested in the results of UCISA’s Digital Capabilities survey. The Executive summary is available on the UCISA website.

Online – but not all revolutionary

February 11, 2009

One of the ‘management briefings’ held as part of the Guardian HE summit was on online learning. The leaders of the session were from an US company which owned two universities and provided a range of online material for both resident and distance learning students. I was hoping that the seminar would introduce a different model of working but all that was demonstrated was a VLE implementation that didn’t appear to be very different from those offered at many institutions.

What was of more interest was the back up support to both the faculty staff looking to develop material and the students. The faculty staff received training and received support from a back up team of 20. Around 30% of those faculty that start training drop out – the most common reason being that they were unable to adapt to putting their material across in an online environment. The faculty work with instructional specialists who look to ensure that best practice is followed and that the resulting material is motivating and engaging. They also quality assure the material regularly utilising an external agency to peer review both the individual modules and the programmes as a whole (and presumably since the company owns two for profit universities, that the material still has commercial value).

There are various levels of support available for the students. In addition to pointing to additional resources that might be of use for each module, one institution had developed a self help system using avatars to lead the student to the answer. The demonstration only gave a taster of the system but I couldn’t really see the value of the avatar other than being a friendly face.

The students were also able to provide feedback to their instructors/faculty from within the system – this has led to a body of data on the usefulness and usability of the material but as yet the institution has yet to analyse the data to see if there are any trends or lessons to be learned.

The session concluded with a presentation from Russell Stannard, a lecturer at the University of Westminster. Russell won the THE award for the outstanding ICT initiative of the year for establishing his website which highlighted the use of relatively simple technology to develop a series of short ‘how to’ training videos. He is now experimenting with using the same technology to provide aural and visual feedback to students on their coursework. It will be interesting to see whether the students respond more positively to this feedback rather than the written comments that normally accompany marked coursework. I suspect that they will (essentially they will be getting a mini-tutorial in their marked coursework) and that it will allow easier identification of problem areas to focus on during tutorials.