The way to academics’ hearts is through their minds

I presented the following abstract at Cardiff University’s Learning and Teaching conference on Tuesday. And no, I haven’t forgotten about those ‘gaming is the future’ blog posts I keep promising; other things keep getting in the way!

When it comes to Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) there has long been an emphasis on demonstrating how to use digital tools in staff development sessions. However, there is little evidence of other staff development sessions examining the methods and models TEL. Institutional directives request that staff use a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) and offer training on the mechanics of uploading documents and renaming folders, but they do not explain the methodologies or pedagogic models behind using a VLE. Other directives require that academic staff embed digital literacy skills into their teaching practice in order to hone their students’ own skills. Academic staff are rarely asked if they know what digital literacy means themselves, hoping, it would seem, that the meaning of digital literacy is learnt and passed onto students through a process of osmosis. I would suggest that if academics and teachers work from the taxonomy of pedagogy it is from this taxonomy that staff development is approached.

Repeated reviews into the professional development of teachers and ways to diminish their fear of technology have recommended that staff are given substantial time if they are going to acquire and, in turn, transfer to the classroom the knowledge and skills necessary to effectively and completely infuse technology to curriculum areas. (Brand, G.A., 1997). However, lack of time is just one issue, and constant emphasis of the need to ‘find time’ merely distracts from the proverbial elephant in the room: that academics are ‘scared’ of technology because they aren’t told how it fits a familiar pedagogic framework. Learning technologists are expert at explaining how to use a tool, but often miss out the pedagogical value of the tool, assuming that the teacher will think of a use for it.

In response to this, I currently run sessions for teachers and academic staff looking at methods and models such as the flipped classroom, Personal Learning Networks, blended learning, digital literacy, the benefits of online communities of practice, and the differences between pedagogy, andragogy and heutagogy. We have debated at length Prensky’s notion of the Digital Native against that of the Residents and Visitors model espoused by Dave White. We have looked at the psychology behind the online learner and their need to feel part of a group. When staff begin to understand these theories and methods, they feel better placed to choose tools that are appropriate to their curricula, their students and to relevant assessment process.

I would suggest that there is a real need to do more of this. If academics can see things from their particular (and familiar) perspective, they will see what tools work best and then, if needed, be taught how to use it.

Technology often feels like something that is being ‘done’ to people via institution-wide directives, and not something that they can do themselves. It is now 2017, so the time has come for a change in thinking.

References:

Brand, G.A., (1997), Training Teachers for using Technology, Journal of Staff Development, Winter 1997 (Vol 19, No. 1)

Prensky, M., (2001), Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants, located at: http://www.marcprensky.com/writing/Prensky%20-%20Digital%20Natives,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf, date accessed: 22nd February, 2017

White, D.S. and Le Cornu, A, (2011), Visitors and Residents: a New Typology for Online Engagement, located at: http://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/3171/3049This, date accessed: 22nd February, 2017

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Don’t be Scared of the Dork

fear-of-tech

James Clay wrote a thought-provoking post last week. Called Show me the Evidence, James talks about how: “when demonstrating the potential of TEL and learning technologies to academics, the issue of evidence of impact often arises. You will have a conversation which focuses on the technology and then the academic or teacher asks for evidence of the impact of that technology.”

James cites fear as a key reason behind this, suggesting that many lecturers don’t have the capabilities to use IT, so lack the basic confidence to use learning technologies. To save face, and because it would be mortifying to have to confess to a lack of skills, they ask for the “evidence”. This then enables them to delay things.

Weirdly, I can’t think of a single occasion when an academic has asked me for empirical evidence or to cite the research framed around my work. I tend to go about things the other way-heading the academics off at the pass because I am the one who is afraid to look like a dunce in front of them.

I delivered a lunchtime session to academics looking at the flipped classroom model last week. The conversation turned to the (still) widely-held belief that anyone under 25 is a techy-wizard, while the rest of us can barely use our smartphones. (A different kind of stalling technique, perhaps? It’s always academics who bring this up.) I offered some ramblings about Marc Prensky’s ‘Digital Natives‘ theory being a load of old cock-and-bull, and that Dave White’s ‘Visitors and Residents‘ model was more realistic and less ‘pigeon-holey’. The group liked this as it appealed to their academic mindsets, so I was then able to sneakily show them some tools while they were feeling more at home.

Another thing I sometimes do is suggest that the academic in question might want to try out the method / tool that is being suggested, and then write a paper about the experience. Again, this appeals because it’s more in tune with how academics tend to work. I think a lot of the fear that James mentions comes from an assumption that learning technologists and academics speak two totally different, and incompatible languages. We don’t, but it can certainly be hard to prove it!

FlipSnack

Ah, FlipSnack you is fine.  I am loving this web app.  Turns PDFs into Flash animated books with room for quite a range of customisation. 

Many years ago I wrote a journal to go alongside the delivery of my first self-built and self-delivered blended learning course (the old Level 4 CPD Literacy Award).  Reading it back 5 years later, it reads, quite frankly, like 4 day-old poop.  However, now it has a fancy leather cover and a bit of animation, it looks (but still doesn’t read) brilliant.  I’ve embedded the HTML coding, but you can also share your FlipSnack goodies with Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, Blogger et al….really attractive, really easy to use and free (to a point…)  I’m going to investigate the rest of the SnackTools stable of web apps to see what else they have on offer.  Will report back later.  Just wanted to show this one off as quickly as possible (hence the 2 blog posts you see before you today, you lucky, lucky people…)