This is a series of occasional blogs by BESA members and is part of their paid membership service. These views are not necessarily those of BESA and a published blog does not constitute an endorsement.
The robots are coming! The future of automation is upon us (or is it?), from driverless cars and smart motorways, to humanoid robots at reception desks and entirely automated manufacturing lines. So, how do we as humans we step away from the macro ‘hype’ and consider the micro challenges to the higher education world?
The world of e-learning is no different. Virtual reality, augmented reality, wearable tech and different social tools springing up every month; it’s all exciting and it’s coming, but where should we focus as educationalists to best benefit our learners right now?
Yes, we must prepare for a technology-enabled future, but we must remain grounded. Unlike our consumer lives, where many of us are driven by the latest cool gadget, technology in our universities and institutions is ultimately a learning tool and the pedagogical benefits of using it must stack up.
Here are some of mantras that I’ve followed over the years in both the education and business world, to take a breath and focus on the end goal.
Make time for tech
Your leadership is critical – how students take up and use the technology sits with expert direction. “I don’t have time” this excuse arises in all aspects of our lives when we keep on postponing our work or we’re unclear about the task or we have no idea how this work is going to change our life. But isn’t it amazing that nine times out of ten when we focus on that dreaded task, we come out the other side motivated and a little lighter?
First steps, have a think about these three points from CV-Library and if you can’t answer them, it’s time to ask questions.
- The key reasons why a technology was chosen – make sure you are clear on this
- WIIFM (what’s in it for me?) – what are the benefits to you individually, as a team (and learners)
- How it will work – which systems it will integrate with and what it will replace
Once you have a grip on the above, the dovetailing process can truly begin, where we match up the areas of learning you believe could be enhanced by technology, and refrain from touching those that are working well in a traditional sense. Resist the temptation to launch a new tool across lots of different areas without putting time into the above. There’s only one thing worse than no technology, and that’s too much.
Sit back and think about how you and your students are using technology in daily life. Which tasks have we begun to automate, how do we communicate with friends and family, and how do we access information? Understanding the end benefit of a technology is vital. Is it going to help students collaborate easier when they’re apart, will the technology automate simple processes that could save on teaching and learning time, or is the technology going to open greater opportunities for peer-to-peer in-class learning and debate?
Who better to talk to about the loves and hates of technology than the people that are going to be using it? Opening a discussion around student mobile devices is a great place to begin; what apps do they use/like/dislike, what do they rely on their mobile devices for, and are there new areas they’re keen to explore? While most of us will have an idea of the types of personal devices students are using (or not using for those without access to tech at home), delve deeper, get to know what makes them tick and then assess this against the tools and solutions your institution has on offer. Cherry picking the right ones for the right task is the challenge, and if you get this right, e-learning becomes a very natural part of the learning environment.
Remember, technology integration is a progressive process and we all need time to adapt our practices. We all fall foul of staying within our own little silos, the same colleagues and department etc, whatever area of work we’re in. But sharing our experiences is one of the most effective ways to promote new teaching methodologies and effectively integrate technology in your department. If you’re getting on well with a tool, or a certain use of it is resonating with student results, tell people about it!
No, you don’t have to participate in huge institutional meet ups if that’s not for you, but talk to peers in other departments, maybe even observe one of their sessions and invite them to do the same. We encourage collaboration so strongly amongst our student community, yet in our busy lives, this can often be side-lined.
Read case studies from other institutions. Search online or visit your learning technology suppliers’ websites to discover how others are using the different technologies.
Lean on the experts
Any good learning technology supplier will want you to get the very most from their technology and so typically have easily accessible training (virtual/webinar/in person), whether that’s dipping in online to a tutorial webinar, downloading materials or even live Q&A to support you on the spot.
And most important of all, have fun with it!