PJ Evans

Learning innovations and digital education

Posted on | December 3, 2013 | No Comments

An interesting report on Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) from Open University based academics. The report discusses:
1. what is TEL but in terms of technologies “add value to” (enhancing) teaching and learning rather than being indivisible from or enmeshed in teaching and learning. Can you imagine teaching and learning without any technologies (digital of otherwise)? This section does include some useful references to the European and UK policy frameworks including networks such as STELLAR. The framing of education in terms of being a service, as media production and broadcasting (xMOOC?) or as a conversation is useful. The discussion of the education system as being stable and acting as a ‘constraint’ on digital education innovations is also useful – that the education system is the more powerful network and slower to transform which affects what is possible in terms of digital-led innovations in education. So analysis of innovations in digital education should be framed by an understanding that:
New technologies follow complex trajectories often supported or thwarted by other technologies, infrastructural issues, competing standards, social systems, political decisions, and customer demands. [p17].
The report goes on to note that the web was started at CERN as a tool for learning through information sharing. The emphasis here is on innovation occurring within contexts of communities, practices as well as technologies. The discussion of success stories includes mobile learning pointing to the MOBilearn project supported by the European Commission as well as the BBC’s Janala language learning service but doesn’t really discuss the growth of smart phones and tablets as means of going online. In effect, learning technology design needs to be responsive to the requirements of these devices. Other success stories cited include Scratch and xDelia.
In examining the situation for research and innovation in digital education, the report points to certain disadvantages compared to other ‘scientific’ areas in terms of the coherence of the research agenda and the lack of a single focal point for innovation such as a single technological solution. The report notes the difficulties of creating a compelling narrative around how technologies are used to enhance learning. The report notes that: there is a need to reassess the use of computer technology from an educational, rather than a technological, perspective; and develop a more sophisticated conceptual model of how ICT can facilitate teaching and learning in the classroom..[p23]. The recommendations on experimenting in how technologies can be used to enhance informal learning (in the corporate sector), in ensuring research findings are made available inside and outside HE and that research is increasingly undertaken as applied research (mode 2 knowledge production) are welcome.
The section on the innovation process in TEL positions innovations involving pedagogy and technology combining in to emergent practices supported by communities of practitioners operating within wider sectoral ecologies and contexts. Given the emphasis on practice and complexity, the report finds TEL innovations depend on innovators as bricoleurs as someone who makes do with whatever is at hand. However, successful innovations depend on bricolage that also takes the wider learning complex into account and where innovations can take decades to diffuse fully. The report goes on to promote a design based approach to research and evidence-based innovation.
While making a number of recommendations for researchers and [research] policy-makers, the report concludes The focus for future TEL research should be on effective transformation of educational practices, rather than small incremental improvements.

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