Tech for tech’s sake?

At the University of Derby, staff are very clear that they don’t want to adopt technology for technology’s sake

Responses from Dr Ruth Ayres, Dean of Learning Enhancement, and John Hill, Technology-Enhanced Learning Manager, Department of Learning Enhancement, University of Derby

Q. Is there still a reluctance to embrace technology in schools from a teaching point of view, and what can we do to help promote the use of edtech in all schools? 

A. There is a mixed model in universities – many academics have embraced new technologies and are utilising a range of digital tools and technologies to enable greater interaction in the classroom with opportunities for example, for students to vote and respond to questions from the tutor, as well as engage in collaborative activities with both the tutor and other students on a range of mobile devices in the classroom in real time. There are examples of innovative practice through simulated learning and the use of augmented reality. In addition, many lecturers have adopted a ‘flipped classroom’ approach through, for example, the use of video materials and they are also extending the flexibility of their teaching resources via Lecture Capture.

Where there is reluctance to embrace technology, it is usually due to staff not being aware of the functionalities and/or application of tools/technologies for enhancing student learning in their disciplinary context. Staff are very clear that they don’t want to adopt technology for technology’s sake, but need to see the added value of adopting tools/technologies for student learning in their subject area. It is also helpful to identify any time saving associated with adoption of the technologies. 

Tools and technologies which are intuitive to use tend to be more widely adopted, as academics have limited time to spend on extensive training. The adoption of technology by members of staff can also be related to digital literacy, e.g. their digital capability to adopt technologies or their confidence with digital tools. The promotion and support of digital literacy is central to the greater adoption of technology.

Q. Are budget restrictions a major factor as to why we are seeing a digital divide between teachers and their students? What can we do to improve this? 

A. Adoption of a particular technology will often require a specific set-up and certain necessary IT infrastructure. The cost of this, together with site licences and maintenance budgets, can be prohibitive for some institutions. Similarly, as technologies are evolving so rapidly, it is difficult for institutions to provide all students with the latest device. It cannot be assumed that all students have one or more mobile device, so institutions tend to offer some in-house mobile devices for students to borrow and it is essential that these devices enable students to effectively conduct their studies.

Technologies are ever evolving and students are experiencing these constant changes in the online social spaces they inhabit, therefore students are often adapting to new technologies before academics and institutions. 

Technologies are ever evolving and students are experiencing these constant changes in the online social spaces they inhabit, therefore students are often adapting to new technologies before academics and institutions

Continual staff development is necessary in any institution to ensure that staff do not fall behind students in terms of their digital literacy skills and their understanding of the latest digital tools and technologies available to enhance student learning. At the University of Derby, we are leading an institutional Digital Derby project designed to enhance the digital literacy skills of both staff and students and we offer staff development in technology-enhanced learning through our Learning Enhancement Department. 

To help reduce the digital divide, institutions need to encourage a culture of innovation and experimentation among their staff so that new technologies and pedagogies can be developed at a sufficiently fast pace. A culture of partnership between teachers and students where technologies are experimented with together can also help to reduce the divide. 

Q. How often should schools look at training teaching staff to use the latest edtech, or is it more important that educators show initiative and take responsibility in keeping up with new developments? 

A. We would say it was more important for educators to show initiative and take responsibility for keeping up to date with new developments, although this needs to be strategically driven by the institution. By providing a culture in which innovative practice is encouraged, supported and recognised, institutions can drive pedagogic enhancement.  A strategic ambition of the University of Derby is to innovate the curriculum through the development of flexible and dynamic modes of delivery. 

While the appraisal system and observation of teaching process are both effective tools for enabling conversations about the latest educational technologies and staff development needs, the adoption of technology is often driven by peers. Increasing the opportunities to showcase innovative practice in technology-enhanced learning such as conferences, case studies and workshops are key in raising awareness of what is possible and allow cross-disciplinary sharing of good practice. At the University of Derby, we run an annual Learning & Teaching Conference and a series of staff development activities and events throughout the year.

Q. Do you think tech suppliers should as standard supply teacher training on their technology products?

A. Yes – ideally the products should be designed with input from stakeholders such that they meet educational needs and are relatively intuitive and simple to use. A quick online training package with the option of some face-to-face support if required is useful. It is also desirable to have additional ‘super-user’ telephone/email support available during the first year or so after adoption as most questions tend to arrive sometime after training when people have begun to use the product. Support at the ‘point of need’ is critical for users. 

Q. How important is it that teachers embrace social media rather than shy away from it? Do the benefits of using Twitter and Facebook to engage with students outweigh the potential risks? 

A. It is important for academic staff to have an understanding of how social media can be used to enhance student learning on academic programmes of study through awareness of appropriate case studies, for example. Equally, they need to be aware of some of the potential issues and pitfalls that can arise in using social media. There can be benefits with engaging with social media for academic purposes and at the University of Derby we have developed some Guidelines for Academic Practice with Social Media for academic staff.