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Technology a silver bullet for success and retention?

Technology a silver bullet for success and retention?

Over the last few years and more recently I have come across this question while in conversation with a number of faculty members. Can technology help increase my student retention and success rate?
A valid question but should we view technology as the silver bullet to remedy this issue?

My argument is yes/no. Technology certainly can have a positive impact on success and retention but not if it is situated in traditional teaching practices. It is how you use the technology that has the potential to impact on learning and teaching. It is the pedagogy of situating the use of technology appropriately in the learning process.

The potential use of TV and radio in the early days of its release in education are well documented. However the lack of pedagogical underpinning in its use has proved to be a determining factor in its
use to date. Of recent the Internet and all the emerging trends and tools associated with rapid development of technology is potentially facing the same fate.

You can use blogs, wikis, twitter, google+ or any other Web 2.0 tool but if they are situated within old practices, don’t expects things to change just because you are using technology. The emphasis is on pedagogy, and this is what should be driving the use in your teaching.

For example: Using Twitter as a tool for mass communication with the students. The use of Twitter here is for transmitting information to students, situated within transmission mode of teaching
(instructivist). A more pedagogical approach would be to use Twitter to create a community of learners. This empowers the students to be more communicative, collaborative thus creating a social environment that characterizes sharing of ideas, resources, feedback, and questions asked and answered, a process that is driven by the students depending on their need at the time (social constructivist pedagogy).

In my experience it has never been enough to just say to the class we are going to use Twitter or a blog. There is always an element of setting up the class, basically taking the students through
the process of setting up an individual account. If you are using a blog or Twitter, showing and allowing time in class to follow each other. But the most important element is the modeling of the use of the tools by the teacher. This is where you as a teacher show the students what’s possible and discussing how it is helping you as a teacher and discussing with the students how it might help them. We have heard and read about digital natives but knowing how and applying the know how for effective use is a process I have observed to a step too far for an individual to make without support or scaffold. This is why modeling and technological support for students by the teacher is important. The use of technology has to be shown to students as embedded in the course, the teacher needs to drive this process by modeling in class.

The effective use of technology is dependent on many factors but more importantly on how the course is facilitated and how (what purpose) the technology is used for.

This semester, I am involved in a project with languages students and staff. This wiki has more information on the project: http://projlanguage.wikispaces.com/

This is the 8th week since we started the project and here is a feedback from a staff member who is not directly involved in the project but has keen interest:

“I just had to signal to you the incredible work being done on this course – I’ve seen some great technology-driven initiatives in this institution over the past couple of years but the work that Lecturer 1, Lecturer 2 and Staff from the Central Unit (and the rest of the ESCP team – not to mention the students) have done on this course has blown me away.

It embodies so much of what we have been trying to achieve – learning that is situated in authentic contexts, is scaffolded, reflective and student-generated – all based on a conversational framework and all mediated by mobile devices. I think the ongoing blog/situated/mobile learning approach on this course opens up real opportunities for all our students to choose those areas that interest them (future employment or a particular mainstream study area).

This represents real innovation and a real success story for the programme, the department and indeed, the institution as a whole.” (Programme Leader)

The wikispaces link shared above has more information on how iPad’s and some Web 2.0 tools are used in the project with languages students.

The key is pedagogy not technology :-).

UCOL Workshop feedback – Reconceptualising Learning and Teaching for the 21st Century Learner

The pictures below are of the feedback given after the workshop by UCOL staff. The outline of the workshop and other resources can be found at this location: http://effectivepedagogy.wikispaces.com/1.+UCOL+Workshop+Plan

UCOL Workshop Feedback

Students and Technology – What the students want/value. What we are doing wrong.

While I find this infograhic informative, it also reveals what we need to be doing in order to move forward. To me it shows how strong a hold traditional pedagogies have in our classrooms. The high use of technologies such as projector and document camera highlight how delivery of content is still the focus of our practice. The fact that when asked, if technology was used effectively, only 19%  (of 3000 students surveyed) agreed that technology was being used effectively and was appropriately embedded within the learning process. Out of the 3000 students surveyed, 55% of the students had smartphones, yet skills such as audio-creation, geotagging and eportfolios were amongst what students wanted to learn more about.

We are not doing it right!

Cattle fence – How LMS is restricting teacher development and creativity and student learning: An opinion

“ICT has penetrated tertiary education, but has had more impact on administrative services (e.g. admissions, registration, fee payment, purchasing) than on the pedagogic fundamentals of the classroom.” (OECD, 2005, p. 15)I would like to start this forum post by drawing an analogy between cow’s in an electric fence and teacher’s teaching using an LMS.

Saturday morning 5 am, 24th July 2011, Hamilton, New ZealandA farmer walks a herd of cow into the pasture that is fenced off from the surrounding patch. The cow’s know their limit and stay away from trying to make their way into new pasture. The electric fence has taught them this! If you dare to make the mistake of trying, the fence will get you!  After maybe trying for a while, the cows finally learn their place and live with what they are given. The farmer herds them back to the shed for milking and after a few weeks of doing this the cow’s know the routine and their way around the farm (perfect conditioning). They would make their way to the shed and back to the patch for grazing. Their life slowly becomes ‘making it to the shed for milking and back to the patch for grazing’.

Relating this back to the topic of my blog: Cattle fence – How LMS is restricting teacher development and creativity.

Don’t get me wrong, when I say the electric fence teaches the cow’s what the boundary is. There is no electric fence when teachers use the LMS per se. However we are very well aware of how people behave when a new technology is introduced, especially in teaching: apprehensive, fear, what’s the point, I don’t need it, what I am doing works for me and my students, I don’t need to change anything …. we have heard it all – I argue that these factors form the invisible fence for the academics who are just starting to try new technologies in learning and teaching. They find refuge in using the LMS because it is very well supported by the institute, help is only a phone call away! After using the LMS for a few weeks, technology is not bad or difficult to use in teaching after all! Just as the everyday expectation from the cows’ is to be milked and grazed (this routine conditions them) – the use of LMS over a certain period does the same for the teachers. While the invisible electric fence is at work every step of the way. Again just as the cow’s try and break for new pasture, the teacher’s do the same, they go out and explore on the web, however the process of exploring something to materialising may never eventuate. The invisible fence gives them a shock every time they try and finally settle for LMS – where the invisible fence is to some degree negotiated for by institutional support available.

Impact on learning and teaching

Technology itself is not capable of bringing change to teacher pedagogy. While its role in the process of scaffolding teacher pedagogy is of importance, unfortunately technology alone is not the answer to problems relating to learning and teaching. Now, relating back to the opening quote, absolutely, yes, it does not change anything for the teacher or the students rather just makes things easier to manage and control.

Let’s take Moodle for example: the underpinning philosophy is social constructivist but can we positively say that that’s how teachers are using it, absolutely no.

“….. technology is not being used innovatively in education. It is both a strength and a weakness that technology can sit quite comfortably within current approaches to education; it is a strength that we can stay with those educational practices we are most used to, but this is also its weakness.” (Reeves, 1997, p. 220).

While LMS has the potential to enhance learning, the lack of pedagogical knowledge of how to use it perhaps causes more harm than good. By encouraging staff to use an LMS are we in fact nurturing the invisible fence? In my opinion, yes we are and worse, I feel that we are limiting creativity and teacher development as well.

Stat: MootNZ11 Martin Dougiamas while talking about pedagogical progression in using Moodle, outlined that almost (anecdotal) 90% of the users are stuck in the repository phase – meaning use of the LMS is to transfer content.

How often are we likely to come across a new web service on LMS? Probably never! How often do you think we’ll come across other academics who are doing things differently and offer the opportunity to learn from? In my experience of working with academic staff and staff development for over 8 years, for some, the LMS becomes the ‘internet’, it becomes the whole world. This thus creates a fence that keeps the staff from exploring further, exploring the whole world because for them the LMS is the universe. The seductive templates, modules and ease of use factor binds the staff in habitual practices, uploading pdf’s, creating forums that will probably be never used. And before you know it, you are instructing your student’s what to do. This of cause does not sit well with adult learners, taking instructions again!

I myself have a few problem with LMS’s. I first started using LMS in my first year of teaching in 2003 and for me at the time, the LMS meant the whole world, it was the next big thing. I would spend more than 6 hours I day creating things on Moodle … as you do because it is so easy. And after a while you find that design is what is driving your teaching. Everything you know about education goes out the window and whatever is available in LMS becomes the driver. The biggest of all problem for me is student ownership of their own learning and control over the content they create. Helen Barrett (2011) outlines the four critical elements for selecting technology while implementing student portfolio (Student-generated content – they own it, let them manage it.):

  • “online space for students to store their work that is either initially owned by the student, accessible after graduation or can be easily transferred to a student-owned space any time (individual documents must be accessible by URL) – Digital Archive
  • online reflective journal (blog) where students can keep a contemporaneous learning record, with the ability to contribute evidence in audio, video, images and text from mobile devices or computers (individual blog entries need to be “tagged” or assigned classifications for ease of retrieval) – Electronic Documentation of Learning
  • an online system to aggregate and present evidence (artifacts and rationale) of achieving “gen-ed” student outcomes plus requirements of specific majors – Showcase/Presentation Portfolio
  • a data management system to collect and aggregate faculty evaluation data of students’ summative portfolios – Assessment Management System”

(Barrett, 2011, n.n)

I would like to add to this list another element that is perhaps equally important:

  • student’s ability to network with other students and experts from around the world to build a personal learning network – Connection (Connectivism) – Personal Learning Ecology
The core element underpinning the five factors above is student-ownership – ownership of their own learning, community and content.Question: What happens to all the content generated by the students in your course in a LMS at the end of the semester?

While the list above is for teachers to consider while implementing student portfolios, it could be also be used by the teachers for their own development.

Some good discussion here: http://www.markdrechsler.com/?p=712Reference

Barrett, H. (2011, June 2011). Generic tools requirement for e-portfolio development. http://blog.helenbarrett.org/2011/05/generic-tools-requirement-for-e.html
OECD (2005). E-learning in Tertiary Education: Where do we stand? www.oecd.org/dataoecd/55/25/35961132.pdf
Reeves, T. (1997). Evaluating what really matters in computer-based education. In M. Wild & D. Kirkpatrick (Eds.), Computer education: New perspectives (pp. 219-246). Perth, Australia: MASTEC.