Issues with Technology Enhanced Learning

Building with utopia signphoto credit: {Guerrilla Futures | Jason Tester} via photopin cc

It’s understandable that some get caught up in an utopian bubble with regards to technology enhanced learning; YouTube, Twitter, Flickr, Blogs, Diigo, podcasts, smartphones, tablets etc. are increasingly being used and promoted as useful to incorporate within educational settings. In times like these where there is a real technological push it can be helpful to take a critical stance and stop for a moment and question the reasoning behind what we have done.  Well in other words in this weeks readings (mostly written a decade ago) we got the chance at looking at some of the (imagined) negative effects of using technology in eduction and how certain scholars predicted a somewhat gloomy future for the HE sector due to computers and technology.
The readings included Cuban (2001) who looked at the use of computers in teaching in Silicon Valley and unveiled that Stanford University professors only used computers for administering / preparation purposes and only a small enthusiastic number used them for teaching purposes. Lecturing and the idea of knowledge dissemination was dominant. Another reading that stood out to me in times of austerity was Noble (1998). He predominantly raised arguments about how replacing face to face teaching with online “counterfiet” leads to ” lower standard ” learning experience for students and that the rethorics used to bring technological changes derive from the interest of money saving not in the student / learning. Noble argued that this commercialisation of education was a threat the principles of higher education. In the article by Hara and Kling (1999) some light was shed on students frustrations with online learning. There were mainly two aspects that were problematic. First one was technological including lack of students skills, poorly chosen media and bandwidth issues. The second aspect was in areas of communication with the tutor including slow response and poor instructions. I guess it is pretty obvious that any type of learning whether online or not needs more than just tools to harness the potential learning outcomes.
Amongst the readings Brabazon (2001, 2007) provided a case for the lecturers/academics fighting the problems of increased workload as well as student information illiteracy. Brabazon’s writings included elements I could sympathise with and recognised therefore they stood out to me.
“The key question is whether or not valuing flexibility above all other attributes is actually a stable foundation for our higher education sector.”
I guess this is not just a question for HE but for the whole education sector and libraries too. Are there types of learning that should not be flexible?
”Internet–based learning is a response to consumerism and the reduction in government funding. This has been an unfortunate context for the expansion of online pedagogy. The language of computer–based systems — cost savings, efficiency, and productivity — has masked the public interest and investment in information technologies. For example, while outlay in computers increased an average of 24 percent per year through the 1980s, investment in other business equipment declined. Technology is driven by the competitive business sector and while it simplifies the management of educational tasks, the Windows environment poses very specific challenges for university teachers. This technocratic consciousness has meant that, as Aronowitz and Giroux have realised, “the central question regarding learning is reduced to the problem of management.” In this environment, a teacher’s behaviour has to be controlled, scrutinized and evaluated. Radical ideas and expansive research are crushed into modules, criteria and bullet points, being rendered consistent and predictable.”
Well in times of austerity the above rings more true than ever. This argument can perhaps even be applied and linked to the developments of the MOOC trend we see.
“The long–term consequence of computer ubiquity is that organisations and individuals are committed to banal tasks and (jacked–in) skills. Such activities have transformed teachers into managers of information and designers of Web sites”.
I think there has been no doubt pressures on academics and their ability using new technologies. Some teachers are harnessing the opportunities technology can offer and perhaps don’t mind ‘banal’ tasks. However I am also aware of eLearning professionals / Learning technologists who do provide the additional support and know how required to deliver blended learning and learning online. Having said that I believe some teachers will argue that there is a pedagogical interest for teachers to remain involved in the development of learning management/web designing.
“This powerpointing of knowledge and the decentring of critical thinking will result in the systematic mark(et)ing of the sciences and economics over the humanities. The information line replaces the poverty line. The illusion of access promoted by computers provokes a confusion between the presentation of information and the capacity to use, sort and interpret it. Students have difficulty matching research needs with indexes: such a difficulty is only intensified through databases.”
I could really see myself agreeing to Brabazon’s decade old arguments, time has not narrowed the gap but issues of poor research skills, critical thinking and general lack of study skills are prevalent still today. Students I work with can exemplify this confusion about presenting text as opposed to understanding it. Then we have issues of plagiarism and a behaviour of trying to find shortcuts for instance reading reviews about books rather than actual books. One of my concerns is if this “misbehaviour” carries on until university much more is it at risk in terms of money and future. Do we have sufficient time to bring a change in sixth form? I believe no hence  information literacy has to be part of secondary schooling throughout the years. I also agree with Brabazon that there needs to be a public debate, criticism and critique of our education system.
So past experience is telling us about what consequences HE/ Education faced when adapting to technology. I believe that whilst some of the issues are outdated there are some  actually worth being aware of even today:
1Lack of time and resources
It’s a valid question to ask why lecturers should infact be pressed to also develop online modules as part of their lecturer duties. It makes more sense to either let information technologists do it or just be involved with the online module development, dedicating yourself to that type of eLearning professional role. There is clearly an underestimation with regards to of time and costs involved with developing multimedia learning. Interesting blogpost on this issue by Everitt (2013) sheds further light on this matter.
2. Using technology to deliver pedagogically grounded learning
If universities become consumers then ultimately they are not in control of the tools but only of ways to implement them into learning situations. This may also raise credibility issues as if certain technologies are used due to sponsorship or special deals. Or the other way around if technology is used to deliver poorly designed learning.
3. Poorer student learning experiences
It has been recognised that student voice is an important aspect whilst developing learning experiences and there are certainly more research being carried out with regards to this.However  uneven  distributed access with issues for interntional students and students with disbilities. Students are not all ‘digital natives’ and some lack adequate skills required in online learning as well as HE in general, this information literacy gap has to be adressed.
Having gone through the possible negative issues with TEL I presume that there will be both good and bad examples of technology implementation in the education field.I believe that there is no stopping of this development that we see as ultimately (web 2.0) technology can provide the means for collaboration , knowledge building, community based learning, flexibility etc. Students as consumers will have a say by going where they get value for money as well as the type of learning experience the seek.
Brabazon, T. (2001) ‘Internet teaching and the administration of knowledge’ [online], First Monday, vol.6, no.6, htbin/ cgiwrap/ bin/ ojs/ index.php/ fm/ article/ view/867/ 776 (last accessed 18 June 2013).
Brabazon, T. (2007) The University of Google: Education in the (Post) Information Age, Aldershot, Ashgate Publishers.
Cuban, L. (2001) Oversold and Underused: Computers in the Classroom, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press, ch.4.
Hara, N. and Kling, R. (1999) ‘Students’ frustrations with a web-based distance education course’ [online], First Monday, vol.4, no.12, htbin/ cgiwrap/ bin/ ojs/index.php/ fm/ article/ view/ 710/ 620 (last accessed 18 June 2013).
Noble, D.F. (1998) ‘Digital diploma mills: the automation of higher education’ [online], First Monday, vol.3, no.1, htbin/ cgiwrap/ bin/ ojs/ index.php/ fm/ article/ view/569/ 490 (last accessed 18 June 2013).