Friday, 19 April 2013

5 stories about technology

OCTEL Week 1:

Watching the short video clips of the 5 speakers, it struck me how much my opinion and feelings about each learning intervention was influenced by my impressions of the speaker. These were inevitably coloured by the way the speaker came across and also whether I had seen the speaker before. For example, having seen several Sugata Mitra talks online, I enjoy the way he speaks and tells a story, so I want to believe in what he’s saying. For me, his famous hole-in-the-wall experiment resonates because it serves as a reminder of the extent to which the actual process of learning rests with the learner and that the teacher’s role can be merely to guide, prompt and nudge in a particular direction. Although my own context is Higher Education, the way he describes peer interaction, mentoring and self-organising systems is particularly relevant given the emphasis on group work in many HE courses and the increasingly large student cohorts.

I also liked the way Eric Mazur spoke and explained his ideas on how to increase student engagement with learning during lectures. His seems to be a measured voice among all the hysterical claims that the ‘lecture is dead’. In my view, unless someone comes up with a truly viable and scaleable alternative, the lecture is here to stay, but that does not mean that it has to retain the same format. Mazur looks at fairly simple ways to make lectures more interactive, more effective learning environments using technology that students have in their pockets (or simple clickers) and that is surely a step in the right direction.

As I’m currently looking at Connectivism for another MOOC (!), I chose not to go into it here. I wanted to like the Helen Keegan TEL intervention but just couldn’t really get my head round it – I’m sure that the learners had an interesting experience but I can’t imagine how it would apply to my own practice so switched off after a while.

The 5 talks demonstrate the diverse nature of TEL. In some cases, a communications technology such as Skype, not specifically designed for learning, is pressed into service as a learning tool e.g.  Sugata Mitra describing the role of British grannies. Then at the other end of the spectrum are those technologies designed specifically with learning in mind – I’m thinking of the haptic technologies used in the School of Dentistry at King’s College. It seems that in a sense this is a ‘true’ learning technology in that it is a technology which has been specifically designed and / or adapted to learn a specific skill. I like the clarity/concreteness of its use, and if I wanted to be a dentist I would certainly want to study using this technology.

So TEL can range from simple clickers or a computer in a hole in the wall in Delhi, through to cutting edge haptic technology or complex mashups of social media tools to create an immersive learning environment. This diversity, for me, underlines why the term TEL can seem slightly redundant - what we're talking about is learning as it happens now, using what we have available, rather than some peculiar or different brand of learning (because it happens to involve technology).

1 comment:

  1. Hi Jim, thanks for your blog. I too struggled to understand what Helen's virtual game was all about, and was even concerned about the ethics of it - using students as experimental subjects without their knowledge let alone consent. If it was a natural experiment that is common place, but this was far more than that and had psychological consequences too.

    I didn't find Eric Mazur encouraging at all to be honest. Surely it was just a lecture in which he asked a couple of questions and then gave a bit of feedback - nothing novel about that and it could easily have been fostered in small groups electronically or outside of a main lecture room in student study groups.It didn't need to be synchronous either. I do think occasional lectures have value in terms of helping to impart some passion about a topic and human interaction is certainly important. But, I would rather be getting learning from the international experts, regardless of the university I am studying at and online technology provides a platform for that.

    I agree with how we use the term TEL. After all, the slate then quill were probably the most important technological innovations that followed human language as far as learning was concerned. It's easy though to get caught up in definitions which can be devisive.

    A great example of this is that yesterday I found out that I had been taken off the attendance list for a showcase on TEL in the northwest of England, hosted by JISC, because my job title was Public Health rather than learning technologist. Short-sighted thinking and putting people, roles, thinking and organisations/depts into pigeon holes goes is inverse to everything about collaboration and development.

    Thanks for your post which helped me think about some of the points we've been looking at on this #octel course so far.