Is there an Edtech Reality Gap?
We caught up with graduate Luke McCrone at Future Edtech. Here are his thoughts on HE.
Technology has the potential to be at the heart of learning, helping students access and interact with course content and manage their studies as well as helping tutors deliver courses that engage and stimulate and track students’ progress. Technology is now creeping into many aspects of the teaching and learning experience but is there a reality gap between what it can do and how it’s working today in practice?
We met Imperial College London geology graduate Luke McCrone at industry event Future EdTech where he participated in a panel discussion on technology in higher education. Luke shared with us his thoughts on technology adoption and how it helps students in their studies. While representing students on educational matters in a sabbatical role at his own university’s union, Luke conducted informal research through student focus groups and interviews to explore when and where students learn and the methods they use. Luke will continue research at Imperial through a PhD in education.
Luke found that students are using technology to facilitate self-study. “Many of the students I spoke to actually learn a large part of their core curriculum outside lecturing hours,” he said. “University is clearly a facilitator of learning but more self-directed learning goes on than is perhaps realised. Where learning takes place in independent study, tech is a key enabler in that process.”
While Luke’s research didn’t explore the tools students use for this self-directed study, from personal experience he names laptops, PCs and handheld devices: “Students use mobile phones within lectures as they provide really quick access to information. Instead of turning to friends or asking the lecturer, students will often just Google something.
“Tech is also used to record information. More students now use laptops instead of pen and paper to take notes in lectures,” added Luke.
Control of the Learning Journey
In Luke’s experience, for the most part students are adopting these technologies themselves to help facilitate their studies and the devices are their own.
While this helps them gain access to a broad range of information types online, Luke thinks there’s another positive in students taking the initiative, and it’s a psychological one. “When students feel that they have ownership over their own learning, it helps them to feel in control of their learning journey,” he explained.
In Luke’s experience, virtual learning environments (VLEs) provide useful structured access to course content and important study information. “But they must be user friendly,” stressed Luke. “If information is stored in complex folder hierarchies that are difficult to navigate, it takes students ages to find what they’re looking for. After all, they’re used to Facebook and Twitter and the really user-friendly websites that they visit every day. They want the same kind of intuitiveness from a VLE.”
Technology’s Potential to Do More
It’s important therefore, for technology in higher education to be intuitive and easy to use but it can do much more than just provide access to course information, in Luke’s opinion. “Students use VLEs now to access material such as course notes and to know when lectures and coursework deadlines are,” he said. “But outside that, they also use things like YouTube to pull resources from a range of sources. There’s always something new out there, for example voice recognition that allows users to access information in a few seconds. That could be built into libraries.”
Higher education is getting on board with the kind of learning experience technology can help facilitate but Luke suggested there will always be a time lag between the availability of technology and its take-up inside education.
Adopting Technology Successfully
Luke puts this down to a range of factors, with managing change and securing buy-in playing a key part. He sees collaboration across education and the role of technology providers as being key to addressing this.
“I’m a strong believer in bringing in different perspectives,” he explained. “An institution can become its own bubble, with everyone sitting on the same page. Having the fresh eyes of people who have been in other institutions and who have seen other practices could be crucial to providing thoughts on change management and facilitation.”
D2L thanks Luke McCrone for sharing his insights on technology in education. The thoughts expressed here are Luke’s own.