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Technology: driver, solution or symptom?


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Keynote, "Enhancing Professional Learning and Teaching Practice through Technology", Writtle College, 4th June, 2010.

Keynote, "Enhancing Professional Learning and Teaching Practice through Technology", Writtle College, 4th June, 2010.

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  • Conole, G., Smith, J., &White, S. (2007) A critique of the impact of policy and funding. In Conole, G. & Oliver, M. (Eds), Contemporary Perspectives in e-Learning Research , 38-54. London: Routledge.
  • Bradwell, P. (2009) The edgeless university. London: Demos. Available online:
  • Prensky, M. (2001) Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants, Part II: Do They Really Think Differently? On the Horizon, 9 (6).,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part2.pdf
  • Bradwell, P. (2009) The edgeless university. London: Demos. Available online:
  • Standish Allsop & Tompsett paper Latour
  • Cuban L. (2001) Oversold and Underused: Computers in the Classroom, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Bennett, S.; Maton, K.; Kervin, L. (2008). "The ‘digital natives’ debate: A critical review of the evidence". British Journal of Educational Technology 39 (5): 775–786.
  • Quote: Bahman Jamshidnejad
  • Mayes, J T (1995) Learning Technology and Groundhog Day. In Strang W, Simpson V B, Slater D (Eds): 'Hypermedia at Work: Practice and Theory in Higher Education', University of Kent Press, Canterbury.
  • URLs last accessed 2 nd June, 2010
  • Standish, P. (2000) Fetish for Effect. In Blake, N. & Standish, P. (Eds), Enquiries at the Interface: Philosophical problems of online education, 167-186. Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Price, S., & Oliver, M. (2007). A Framework for Conceptualising the Impact of Technology on Teaching and Learning. Educational Technology & Society , 10 (1), 16-27.
  • Oliver, M., Price, P., Boycheva, S., Dugstad Wake, J., Jones, C., Mjelstad, S., Kemp, B., Nikolov, R. and van der Meij, H. (2005) ‘Empirical studies of the impact of technology enhanced learning on roles and practices in higher education’, Kaleidoscope project report D30–03–01-F.
  • Hammond, N. & Trapp A, (1992) CAL as a Trojan Horse for educational change: the case of psychology, Computers and Education, 19, 87-95. Soloway, E. (1997) Scaffolding Learnings and Addressing Diversity: Technology as the Trojan Mouse In Proceedings of CHI 1996 Sharpe, R., & Oliver, M. (2007). Designing courses for e-learning. In H. Beetham & R. Sharpe(Eds.), Rethinking Pedagogy for a Digital Age: Designing and delivering e-learning (pp. 41–51).London: Routledge.
  • Transcript

    • 1. Technology: driver, solution or symptom? Martin Oliver London Knowledge Lab, Institute of Education, & Higher Education Academy
    • 2. Overview
      • A familiar problem: technology and change
      • Three accounts of the relationship between technology and change
        • Driver
        • Solution
        • Symptom
      • What are the implications of choosing each?
    • 3. What’s the problem?
      • One side-effect of rapid technological progress and the rhetoric that dominates policy is the continuing but elusive suggestion that technology can ‘transform the ways we teach and learn’ (DfES, 2005)
      • Conole, Smith & White, 2007
    • 4.
      • Billions of pounds invested in technology internationally
      • High hopes for educational transformation
        • Wider access
        • International participation (markets)
        • Scalable solutions (economy)
    • 5. So… the purpose of this talk
      • … why is this still a topic for discussion?
      • Not offering a weight of evidence
      • A set of questions
        • What is this evidence of?
        • Are we looking at this problem in the right way? (For various definitions of ‘right’…)
    • 6. Is technology driving change?
      • In an expert roundtable conducted by Demos, one participant used a telling analogy to describe the current predicament of the higher education sector: ‘This seminar feels a bit like sitting with a group of record industry executives in 1999.’
      • Technology undermined certain business models that sustained the music industry, but the threat was not to music itself, only to the way that current business models worked.
      • Bradwell, 2009
    • 7. And it’s not just universities that will change…
      • ‘ Digital natives’ learn differently, work differently, play differently and even have different brain structures… apparently
        • Prensky, Tapscott, Oblinger & Oblinger
      • This is a result of exposure to and use of digital resources (esp. games)
    • 8. The changing nature of knowledge, too?
      • The implications for universities are enormous. Open and collaborative learning and research might seem a threat to universities (since both can be done outside such institutions) but it can also emphasise their importance. The noise of information and knowledge needs filtering; students need guidance and expertise. They also need the ‘brand value’ of institutions and the validation they provide.
      • Bradwell, 2009, p25
    • 9.
      • If that’s all Universities are needed for – sifting and branding – we might as well give up and hand our work over to Wikipedia right now
    • 10. Let’s stretch that point
      • “ Video gaming leads to surge in rickets”
        • Metro, 22 nd January, 2010
      • “ PowerPoint made me do it!”
        • … and crashed a space shuttle, and so on
        • Obviously silly, but of the same rhetorical form
    • 11. What’s the line of argument?
      • A common assumption: technology has an effect (on learning)
        • ‘ Affordances’, or things that technology ‘permits’
      • Methodologically, dose/response studies and standardisation
        • Causal assumption, controlled model
        • “ Black boxing” pedagogy: an ignorance about process
      • Should we place faith in the power of technology to change how people choose to act?
    • 12. Is there any evidence of this?
      • “ Over sold and under used”
        • Cuban’s critique of the technology market in education
      • Digital natives?
      • “ rather than being empirically and theoretically informed, the debate can be likened to an academic form of a 'moral panic’”
      • Bennett, Maton & Kervin, 2008
    • 13. “ If you can be replaced by a web page, perhaps you ought to be…”
      • There’s something special about Higher Education
        • Shulman’s pedagogical content knowledge
        • Mishra & Koehler’s technical pedagogical content knowledge
        • Discipline is more than just filtering, and Higher Education is not ‘just’ Wikipedia
        • … although it’s interesting to see
    • 14. So, technology as driver?
      • The evidence suggests it’s more complex than that
      • The arguments emphasise structural influence and ignore agency
      • Some obviously suspect statements … others less obvious, but still cause for suspicion
    • 15. Technology as solution
      • Technology a recurrent feature of policy about education
        • A way of scaling up while maintaining costs
        • A way of transforming learning and teaching
        • Students as better informed consumers
        • Dearing, Kennedy, Friar & Booth reports
      • … where did this all start? (Pop quiz!)
    • 16. 45 years of technology in educational policy
      • Flowers report, 1965
        • Computer use in Higher Education
      • … whatever the educational problem is, technology hasn’t solved it yet
    • 17.
      • In the film "Groundhog Day", the protagonist is forced to experience the events of a single day over and over again. He is free to act in any way he chooses, but whatever he does the day always finishes in the same way.
      • Part of the fascination of this predicament is the awful familiarity of this experience: so often one feels caught in a flow of events which will unfold in an entirely predictable way.
    • 18.
        • People who have been involved over any length of time with educational technology will recognise this experience, which seems characterised by a cyclical failure to learn from the past. We are frequently excited by the promise of a revolution in education, through the implementation of technology. We have the technology today, and tomorrow we confidently expect to see the widespread effects of its implementation. Yet, curiously, tomorrow never comes. We can point to several previous cycles of high expectation about an emerging technology, followed by proportionate disappointment, with radio, film, television, teaching machines and artificial intelligence.
    • 19.
      • E-learning exploits interactive technologies and communication systems to improve the learning experience . It has the potential to transform the way we teach and learn across the board. It can raise standards , and widen participation in lifelong learning. It cannot replace teachers and lecturers, but alongside existing methods it can enhance the quality and reach of their teaching, and reduce the time spent on administration . It can enable every learner to achieve his or her potential , and help to build an educational workforce empowered to change . It makes possible a truly ambitious education system for a future learning society.
        • Towards a Unified e-Learning Strategy (2003)
    • 20.
      • It can leap tall buildings in a single bound, stop a moving freight train and catch bullets in its teeth…
      • ( Not in Towards a Unified e-Learning Strategy… sadly…)
    • 21.
      • E-learning exploits interactive technologies and communication systems to improve the learning experience. It has the potential to transform the way we teach and learn across the board. It can raise standards, and widen participation in lifelong learning. It cannot replace teachers and lecturers, but alongside existing methods it can enhance the quality and reach of their teaching, and reduce the time spent on administration. It can enable every learner to achieve his or her potential, and help to build an educational workforce empowered to change. It makes possible a truly ambitious education system for a future learning society.
        • Towards a Unified e-Learning Strategy (2003)
    • 22. Buy Blackboard!
      • “ At Blackboard®, we’re focused on helping institutions at all levels drive learner achievement by creating personalized and engaging learning experiences, the kind that when achieved on a wide scale can bring about big and measurable change in learning outcomes .”
      • Solutions by Market
        • K-12: “Close the gap between the way students live and the way they learn”
    • 23. WimbaPRONTO promotional materials
      • “ Imagine you are a college student during the first week of school. Your General Chemistry class has 150 students. The first assignment requires you to find study partners. No problem.”
      • … because shyness, problems with registry, dyslexia, work and family commitments don’t count…?
    • 24. WimbaVOICE promotional materials
      • “ Hearing Shakespeare for the first time. The intonatins of a foreign language. When students listen, they learn, that’s the power of Wimba Voice”
      • Thank goodness we don’t have to worry about any of that pesky constructivism stuff any more!
    • 25. Scapegoating
      • Cuban’s account of blaming teachers
        • If technology’s the solution, but the problem’s not solved, it must be teachers aren’t doing it right
        • With expectations this high, is it any wonder lecturers are wary of committing to technology use?
    • 26.
      • There is no shortage of evangelism about the potential of the Internet to transform education today. In part such evangelism is motivated by an understandable conviction that many teachers and parents are unbelievers and have yet to hear the word. The transformative power of the Internet for education should not be in doubt. But neither is it doubted by many of those who fear its effects. […] Technophiles and technophobes alike are inclined to essentialise. Technology, they say, cannot be resisted: it will work itself out for good or ill.
    • 27.
      • “ Fetish for effect”
        • That’s handy: we can buy that!
        • But Standish identifies a problem:
      • Thinking of technology as something other and objectified, on this view not only misunderstand the machine: it misconceives human being.
    • 28. Technology as solution?
      • Appealing idea, but hardly convincing
        • High on promise, low on evidence of success
      • High risk
        • Alienation of teachers, managing expectations
      • No explanation of how ‘potential’ (Promise? Marketing? Hype?) will be taken up in practice
    • 29. Technology as weathervane?
      • If both of these views of technology are problematic, is there an alternative?
      • How can we talk about technology and change in a way that avoids determinism and recognises choice-making?
    • 30. Technology as effect
      • There are traditions of work that position social action as the cause of technology
        • Social Construction of Technology (SCoT)
        • Design sciences
      • There are also traditions that look at how people and technology are configured in ways that produce social effects
        • Actor-Network Theory
    • 31. An illustrative case
      • European project on teaching and technology
      • Paradox: how can literature claim both that educational change is slow and staff are resistant, but also that technology is transforming education?
        • Cuban’s slow revolution?
        • Moore’s law and the chasm in technology adoption?
    • 32. The framework
      • Adoption of Blackboard by course teams
        • Interviews before and after a period using the VLE
      • Use of Activity Theory to describe cases of technology adoption
        • Describing practice as purposeful action involving the use of tools in a social context
        • Distinction between Activity (roughly, strategy), Action (tactics) and Operations (how tactics are implemented)
    • 33. What happened?
      • No change in teacher’s role, using technology or face-to-face
        • ‘ I’m looking for some kind of contribution, any contribution, and if I don’t get that then I know there’s probably something wrong. It’s when people are chipping in their bits and then all of a sudden it goes quiet. That’s the danger sign. You do pick up on odd stuff like that – it’s just transferring what you normally do in normal situations to a virtual environment .’
    • 34. At the same time…
      • Old practice:
        • Scan the room, listen for things to go quiet, look for non-contributors, etc…
      • New practice:
        • Click this link to generate a list of contributors, click this link to reveal students’ patterns of reading online materials, etc…
      • Almost unrecognisable as ‘the same’ practice but seen as the same by them
    • 35. What’s going on?
      • Strategically, no real change
        • Overall aim is still to support learners
        • General tactics are the same (monitor for signs of disinterest, unhappiness, etc and intervene) and responsibilities unchanged
      • Operationally, total transformation
        • The practices undertaken are different, but the object (the purpose) is preserved
    • 36. So was there ‘transformation’?
      • Technology was adopted
      • Practices were changed, new tools were adopted
      • The choices that were undertaken (which were numerous) were informed by a consistent set of values (aims, ideas about roles), which were preserved
    • 37. What drives change?
      • People instigated changes, in response to others’ demands or to reflect personal interest
      • Technologies were chosen that allowed them to preserve or extend their professional values
      • Choices about technology use – at a detailed level (not “our institutional VLE is…”) – reflect and reveal these values
    • 38. The Trojan Mouse
      • Hammond & Trapp (1992): CAL as a trojan horse for educational change
      • Soloway (1997) – “Trojan Mouse”
      • E-learning is often talked about as a “trojan mouse”, which teachers let into their practice without realizing that it will require them to rethink not just how they use particular hardware or software, but all of what they do.
      • (Sharpe and Oliver, 2007, p.49)
    • 39. So what weathervanes could we watch?
      • Just a few examples…
      • Growing interest in students’ use of technologies: a sign we’re becoming more student centred
        • ELESIG and learner experience research
      • Interest in new forms of collaborative knowledge production
        • Wikis, blogging, and similar Web2.0 developments
        • Journal special issues like Learning, Media and Technology ’s social web
    • 40.
      • A view of learners as people, not just learning machines
        • Work on retention, student choices and technology use, like the Writtle supporting transition… project, Leicester’s IMPALA4T, etc
        • Not just ‘informed consumers’ but social actors (making social uses of technology)
    • 41. Where does this leave us?
      • … or at least, me…
      • Suspicious of simple accounts of technology causing change
      • Sceptical about buying technology as a way of solving our problems
      • Fascinated by what our choices of technology reveals
    • 42. Evidence of technology driving change?
      • Evidence… but of what?
        • Simple black box interventions?
        • The care and attentiveness of staff?
        • The resilience of learners?
      • Transformation… but of what?
        • Purpose or values?
        • Processes?
        • How we look at and think about learners?
    • 43. To what is this a challenge?
      • Lecturers who claim that “this isn’t on my radar”
        • Why not? Why isn’t this important to you? (Don’t blame the technology!)
      • Institutional expectations
        • Why are they investing in this? What is technology a symptom of, and is there some other way we should be thinking about it?
    • 44. So…
      • Technology use as politics
        • What we choose to use, and how, reflects values, choices and compromises
        • Not merely about rational choice and evidence, but also about sense of identity
      • An opportunity to pause and reflect
        • What are we saying about the way we see learners?
        • What are we saying about what we want our institutions to be?