Useful things what I have Discovered as a Learning Technologist

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This morning I was having another look at this article, published by The Guardian almost a year ago: 20 tips and resources for using learning technology in higher education. Scanning through it again made me think about the nuggets of useful technology-based information I’ve collected / learned / made up in my few years’ experience as a Learning Technologist. Here they are:

  1. If you build it they will not come.  I’ve said it before, but it is worth saying again: do not spend a fortune building an institution / course-based carbon copy of an already established platform such as Twitter or Facebook.  Your intended audience will not thank you for making them set up yet another username and password when they already use (for example) Facebook every day anyway.  This segues into point 2 very neatly…
  2. …go to where your audience are.  If your intended audience / participants already spend time on Facebook, then use Facebook as a way of contacting or notifying them. It really is that simple.  However – don’t tread on anyone’s toes.  Facebook is a social networking site, not a virtual learning environment.  Don’t suck out the fun, but do ‘paddle around the edges’.
  3. Use technology only when it enhances the learning experience, not just for the sake of ‘ticking the technology box’. A lot of educators worry that if they don’t slavishly embed technology into every single lesson, then they will be awarded low observation grades and be ‘failures’.  If only this mindset could be changed. Sometimes there really is no point in using technology in a session.  Sometimes it just confuses, interferes and takes up too much time.  Sometimes reading an old fashioned book is better than using an eReader.  Really!
  4. There really is no need to reinvent the wheel.  There are MASSES of pre-existing resources out there, which can be used as they are or re-purposed.  I think one of the reasons a lot of educators dislike technology is because it can take a very long time to make a single electronic resource that may only be used a couple of times.  A quick visit to sites such as Jorum, TED, the Khan Academy and even YouTube can dig up some fabulous multi media resources.  And resource sharing sites like Scribd, Slideshare and Prezi feature content from others that have been made freely available to download, use and even customise to suit individual needs.
  5. Don’t be precious – share! I remember developing a rather dynamic-looking Prezi presentation for a teacher a few years ago, which I promptly embedded into her page on Moodle.  The teacher in question was delighted with the finished result, then asked whether anyone other than her students could see the presentation.  When I said that they could – in fact, on Prezi it had already had a almost one hundred views and a dozen downloads – she was furious.  There was no sensitive information displayed on the presentation: indeed, all of the content had been copied and pasted from a public document – but the teacher in question was livid at the thought of other ‘lazy’ people saving themselves time by downloading HER content.  I was asked to take it down from Prezi immediately.  It was then replaced by a lengthy Word document that only those enrolled on the Moodle page could access. Her students had to read pages (and pages) of dull – looking text and nobody else was able to benefit from the content uploaded to Prezi. Lose-lose situation.  To add a bit more depth to this viewpoint, have a read of Mark Childs’ blog article Being Precious and Presenting, written after I initially published this post.  In fact, follow his blog.  It’s damn fine stuff.
  6. Use whatever your audience is using.  And yes, this does rather link to points 1 and 2.  Nobody likes to have to learn how to navigate around a hundred new platforms or sites with a hundred new usernames and passwords.  If a student has been using WordPress to write their blog for the past 3 years, why force them to use Blogger just because it’s a site you are familiar with?  Chill out, and keep your audience within their comfort zone most of the time
  7. …because, at the same time, you need to use the embedding of technology as an opportunity to improve your audience’s personal IT skills.  And do this by stealth, making the learning curve as comfortable as possible.  Someone who uses PowerPoint and only uses PowerPoint will be more likely to try out something that feels familiar to them like SlideRocket than they will using something completely different such as Prezi.  ILT scares and confuses a lot of people – even those more than happy to experiment.  Even me a lot of the time. Baby steps folks! 
  8. Provide a smorgasbord of tools, and let staff / students use whichever they want – even if you don’t like the tools yourself! So offer PowerPoint (because it’s much maligned yes – but it’s also familiar and the epitome of ‘industry standard’) and if someone says they want (you) to use it instead of the myriad of arguably ‘better’ presentation tools out there,  just make sure they / you use it well. Pecha Kucha anyone?  And remember – the more tools you have in your arsenal the more choice you have.  Don’t feel obliged to use them all though.  You’ll just go mad.
  9. Don’t make assumptions based on age.  To say that ‘everyone under 25 is technologically savvy’ and ‘no one over the age of 50 can use technology’ is to make really inaccurate generalisations…and yet these are reified by learning technologists, researchers, academics, teachers, mechanics, shop assistants, window cleaners and anyone with an opinion.  I know of many people over the age of 60 who – gasp – have been using Facebok, Twitter, Google Docs, YouTube and Second Life for years, have been known to play on a gaming console and – get this – can even use a smartphone!  Conversely, there are young people out there who haven’t got the foggiest idea how to send a text message, and even a few with no interest in Facebook. 

To quote the great John Lydon: ’ I could be wrong, I could be right’.  These points msay be salient or the ramblings of an ignoramous.  Either way, I think they hold water, and it’s my blog.  So there.

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