Yesterday I attended the annual UCS (University Campus Suffolk) Learning and Teaching conference. It was a day packed with presentations looking at open, distant and e-learning, as well as investigating how technology in both the lecture theatre and online can enhance learning.
Keynote speakers, Dr Andrew Middleton and Professor Stephen Gomez discussed student engagement and learning landscapes. Gomez interestingly pointed out that perceptions of what constituted a lecture when he first came to education hadn’t changed since the 14th century, whereby a didactic method of imparting knowledge from one source, the lecturer, to a passive audience, the students, was still being used today. He related this to the differences in business or health care in the 14th century to current day practice, stating that as academics we were either incredibly lucky to hit upon the ‘correct’ methodology back then, or we needed to rethink these old ideologies.
Throughout the rest of the day, I heard speakers discuss the benefits of online handbooks and teaching resources; using technologies for adaptive release of tests to students (whereby a learner can not progress to the next stage of a test until they’ve completed that section correctly); the advantages of verbal feedback being supplied as audio files; and the idea of releasing feedback and grades separately to encourage reflection and help students see feedback as supportive rather than linking it to what they may see as negative grades.
In the afternoon Professor David Gill gave a presentation on how Web 2.0 technologies had become leading tools in linking students, academic research and the press, with how the Looting Matters blog, which reports on archaeological research and stolen antiquaries, had become a ‘go to’ website for Reuters when reporting on such issues. As a counterpoint to some of the other presentations during the proceedings, Dr Fidel Meraz and Dr Mike Doherty, lecturers from the UCS Interior Architecture and Design course, discussed the importance of not relying on the fetishisation of technology when working with students who have to have an experiential perspective on the human and social aspects of navigating space and designing for interaction in a physical environment.
The day was extremely stimulating. The pedagogical rationale surrounding different frameworks of teaching, and how the methodology behind decisions of delivery using technology has provided much food for thought in considering my own teaching. In particular, Professor Gomez demonstrated an online resource for tagging imagery which could be very useful in critiques about student work, or when teaching the history of design.
However, throughout the day there were many questions I felt weren’t being discussed. These include:
—data protection of staff recording things on personal devices
—staff using personal devices they’ve paid for in order to meet expectations of contemporary education
—health and safety issues around RSI
—the possible disenfranchising of students who can’t afford up to date technology
—the possible disenfranchising of students and staff who live in areas of web poverty
—workload management and work/life balance issues in an ‘always connected’ culture
The focus of all the presenters tended to be on pedagogy without any discussion about any wider ethical implications. For example, data protection was only raised once in one Q&A session, and social justice was only briefly discussed at the end of the day in the plenary session when a student raised the issue for the panel to discuss. For me, for such ethical considerations in open, distance and e-learning have to be explored alongside all other discussions about the positive benefits of championing existing and emerging technologies in higher education. Drs Meraz and Doherty have a point in using the term the ‘fetishisation of technology’ and I worry we are rushing into a future where by all manner of problems will rear their heads down the line for both students and lectures if due consideration of such issues isn’t embedded into current dialogue.
These comments are not meant to be critical of any discussions that took place, or to be seen with any luddite connotations, because I embrace new technology in both my personal life and professional practice, and can truly see the potential advantages to both learners and teachers that emerged from the majority of presentations I witnessed. But they are meant as a word of caution on not divorcing the social and political implications of championing technology in any such discussions, and the belief that, as educationists, it is our duty to always be considering our practice holistically.