Sunday, 27 May 2012

Technology in the Classroom?

At the recent excellent SCHOMS conference hosted by Hull University the thorny issue of getting teachers to use to technology in the classroom / lecture theatre to the benefit of the students and the staff raised it's hydra like head once again.
It seems that those designing learning environments, in this context at universities, have a dilemma as to what to technology to install in them. Currently the three most contentious are provision for lecture capture, visualisers and interactive technology.
If these were low cost items I suspect they would be installed every where but they are not cheap and there is the matter of scalability i.e. 75 rooms and upwards. You get the idea.
Then there is the question of will they be used? I have witnessed a lecturer using a lectern with a Smart Sympodium interactive screen installed and asking me if it is possible to have, wait for it, an interactive whiteboard. Now to be fair this is not the lecturers fault. It is the responsibility of those making the decision to install technology to inform teachers of a) it's availability b) what it can do c) provide training if required. An engineering company would not introduce a new lathe without training the operative, if they did they would not get a return on their investment.

However I believe there is a far more fundamental question to be answered. Will the technology provide any educational benefit? I am not an educationalist so am not qualified to answer this unequivocally but I do have an opinion.
Our young people are exposed to technology on a 24 \ 7 basis. Mobile devices in particular are becoming more sophisticated on an almost daily basis allowing them to do use technology we only dreamed of just 5 years ago. They have attended schools which use technology far more than HEIs do and then they arrive at university to find an alien learning environment. When they leave university, dependant upon the profession they choose (or fall into) it is likely that they will once again come into contact with technology. So there exists this technological semi-barren land between school and work which needs addressing.

I am not saying that technology replaces good teaching but I am convinced it can enhance it. Make it even more engaging and the inspired teachers could be even more inspiring.
I recently leaned of a lecturer who will be awarded a lecturing award nominated by students. He uses a slide projector and OHPs. I hear some of you say that this proves that technology does not make good teachers and I agree but consider this: slide projectors and OHPs were cutting edge at one time and if the lecturer was to digitise the slides and use a visualiser instead if an OHP how much more could he achieve.One example is that the lecture could be captured  so that students could review the lectures for clrification and revision or if they missed the lecture, and no attendance does not drop.

As stated above a major obstacle to the adoption of technology in a meaningful way is scalability. It is too expensive to install everything everywhere so systems have to change to allow for this. The main change would be timetabling. Most HEIs just match the right number of bums to chairs and I understand that this has been adequate in the past, it is no longer the case.

There needs to be an alignment of capacity, technology and teaching style to suitable rooms. This is not a small task but with the aid of technology (see what I did there) it is possible and should be done if we are to get the best from our investment, provide choice to academics who do or do not want to use technology (I think the latter will disappear by default) and place them in the correct type of learning environment.

Of course it would be really good if there was some research available that gave an unequivocal answer whether or not technology in the classroom provides a better education, not easy to prove with the many variants. My belief is that it does not. It is how the teacher uses technology, hopefully with imagination, inspiration and a desire to do a good job that provides a better experience and therefore  an improved education.


  1. Interesting post, and especially interesting the need to match technology to teacher demand and how it is too expensive to install everything in every room.
    University pedagogy (ies) have always been resistant to change, for all sorts of complex reasons. Some lecturers stick to the teaching methods which worked for them during their undergraduate days. For others, the incentives to learn how to teach effectively with technology are simply not high enough. Put bluntly, teaching is not a high status occupation within a university, that accolade is reserved for publication and research. There are of course exceptions, but few academics are promoted for the quality of their teaching alone and not for research output.
    The ultimate drivers of change in the system will be students. As fees rise so will expectations, and students will simply demand that certain threshold levels of technology are used (such as lectures being captured, notes and content being available digitally, work able to be submitted digitally). Interesting issues to think about.

  2. Matt
    I think you are correct about student pressure. I say earlier in this blog that the fees will change them from passive consumers to demanding customers, along with their parents and the NUS, and I have no issue with that.
    It is also apparent that the students are more aware of what technology is available and so cannot be fobbed off with just getting by. I wonder if the fees will create a redress in the balance between teaching and research.


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