In yesterday’s post, we looked at the complexities around the term technology-enhanced learning and some of the critiques of how it is used. Today, we will explore the common assumptions around the use of technology in teaching and learning – and do some myth-busting.
Take a look at this piece from Inside Higher Ed: “Online Learning Shouldn’t Be ‘Less Than'” by Sean Michael Morris. What are some of the key points that Morris makes in regards to perceptions of online learning? Have you had similar experiences?
Myths: Overly Positive?
Myth #1 Digital natives are naturally good with technology!
The concept of the digital native (someone who is naturally good at technology as they were born in an age where it is ubiquitous) has been widely debunked (Helsper and Eynon, 2010; Jones and Czerniewicz, 2010). University students and teachers all come from a wide range of backgrounds, and we cannot assume any particular level of technology knowledge. A related perception that technology is complicated and time consuming to learn and use is not necessarily correct. Again, it is a question of choosing technology that is fit for purpose, and ensuring that there is adequate understanding and support for the people using it.
Myth #2 Technology in education is revolutionary as it disrupts old forms of teaching and learning
Some of us do wish, but not necessarily. Institutional culture can domesticate new technologies, with new apps and new software and devices put to the service of existing structures and systems. Simply adding a new technology does not inherently change teaching approaches – in fact, in many cases technologies are used to replicate existing didactic methods of delivery (Selwyn, 2007).
Along with this overall assumption, it is also often thought that free and open technologies will democratize education and make it available to groups that previously missed out, especially in less developed countries. The potential is certainly there and we have seen benefits in such countries already. However the digital divide persists and it often still benefits mainly better off groups. It is up to all of us to make sure we make education accessible to all regardless of life circumstances (Stone and O’Shea, 2018).
Myth #3 Teaching online is much cheaper
Again, not necessarily. The myth is that distance education courses are cheaper to deliver than traditional face-to-face or distance learning, due to the ability to digitise expensive text books, and deliver to mass student audiences with a minimum number of teaching staff. However, it has been found that e-learning requires as much, or more, teacher presence as face-to-face teaching, so cutting teaching staff on this basis will not work and will lead to high student drop out rates (Bawa, 2016). So on the contrary, e-learning is expensive. Digital text books usually still cost money, although there is an increasing amount of material available as Open Educational Resources. Other additional costs include the computer technology infrastructure, maintenance, support, training, and personnel for teaching as well as student and teacher support.
It is also often assumed that traditional face to face course materials can simply be transferred to an online environment. While such resources can certainly be drawn upon, the online environment requires different design thinking to compensate for the absence of physical, face to face communication cues.
….or Doom and Gloom?
Myth #4 Technology dumbs down learning
This perception is that deep and meaningful learning can only take place through face-to-face interaction with an expert teacher. There is some truth that personal contact with a passionate and knowledgeable teacher can greatly enhance a student’s learning. However not everyone is able to attend face to face classes regularly, hence we have online environments for more flexibility and access for all groups. It is still possible for a skilled teacher to have personal presence and quality interactions with their students, using a range of digital tools: it all depends on the design of the online environment. Passive learning that does not enable creative thinking, problem solving and collaboration might fit the “zombie” stereotype. But effective technology practices should encourage collaboration and sharing. Just like face-to-face delivery, technology-enhanced learning can be terrible or excellent depending on the design and delivery of the material (Bawa, 2016; Garrison & Cleveland, 2010).
Myth #5 Teachers will become obsolete
No amount of technology is going to be able to replace the personal feedback, interaction and expertise of teachers. Technology can assist teachers with some more automated tasks they must do such as tracking students, marking and collating results. It also makes learning accessible to many groups who are not normally included, and it increases communication options. However research has shown that teachers are vital for the human interaction students need, and without that teacher presence, there will be a high drop out rate of students. (Guri-Rosenblit, 2005, cited in Njenga & Fourie, 2010).
Related is the idea that technology “dehumanises” everyone. Again, the skill in designing a course environment and a set of activities that are engaging and effective comes to the fore. Leaving students to make their own way through mountains of information and assessments with little or no interaction with their peers or teachers is certainly dehumanising. But this would be the case whether or not computer technology was involved. Large lecture classes with little interaction, crowded tutorials skimming too quickly through large amounts of information, combined with unapproachable teachers, can have the same effect.
- Can you think of examples of “urban myths” regarding technology and learning that you have heard or suspected to be true. How do they compare to this list? Did any of this information lead you to reconsider your views?
- Using technology in teaching can have some serious implications. In an age where it is only just becoming apparent how much of our data in online activities is used without our informed consent, it is timely to consider this article about the ethics of the use of data analytics in education: How Ed Tech is Exploiting Students by Chris Gilliard. What are your thoughts? Do you agree that students are being exploited in the collection and use of their data?
- Neil Selwyn argues for a certain skepticism and even negativity about the use of technology in education in his editorial In praise of pessimism: the need for negativity in educational technology. Share your thoughts – do we need to develop a healthy skepticism, rather than a blanket positivity or negativity on all things technology in teaching and learning?
Technology-Enhanced Learning in Higher Education Certificate
Go here to learn more on getting recognised for your participation in coffee courses.
The Horizon Report 2017 is an excellent resource to easily update your knowledge of the latest thinking regarding technology enhanced learning.
Report: The impact of digital technology on learning: A summary for the Education Endowment Foundation – Higgens, Xiao and Katspataki (2012) has an overview of the impact of technology on education.
Bawa, P. (2016). Retention in Online Courses:Exploring Issues and Solutions—A Literature Review. SAGE Open, 6(1), 2158244015621777. doi: 10.1177/2158244015621777
Blin, F., & Munro, M. (2008). Why hasn’t technology disrupted academics’ teaching practices? Understanding resistance to change through the lens of activity theory. Computers & Education, 50(2), 475-490. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2007.09.017
Garrison, D. R., & Cleveland-Innes, M. (2005). Facilitating Cognitive Presence in Online Learning: Interaction Is Not Enough. American Journal of Distance Education, 19(3), 133-148. doi: 10.1207/s15389286ajde1903_2
Helsper, E. J. and Eynon, R. (2010), Digital natives: Where is the evidence?. British Educational Research Journal, 36: 503-520. doi:10.1080/01411920902989227
Jones, C. and Czerniewicz, L. (2010), Describing or debunking? The net generation and digital natives. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 26: 317-320. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2729.2010.00379.x
Njenga, J. K., & Fourie, L. C. H. (2010). The myths about e‐learning in higher education. British Journal of Educational Technology, 41(2), 199-212. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8535.2008.00910.x
Selwyn, N. (2007). The use of computer technology in university teaching and learning: a critical perspective. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 23(2), 83-94. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2729.2006.00204.x
Stone, C., & O’Shea, S. (2018). Older, online and first: Recommendations for retention and success. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 0. doi:https://doi.org/10.14742/ajet.3913
The paper by Neil Selwyn is somewhat dated (2011), much has progressed in the online teaching environment in the past 7 years. The statement he makes ‘the noticeable failure of the educational technology community to engage with critical perspectives on the use of technology in educational settings’ I feel is no longer accurate. There has been extensive review, critique and change in the online teaching and learning community. His other statement ‘in short, most people working in the field are so convinced of the benefits of technology in education that they are unwilling to think otherwise’ – is also not a representative statement. While the benefits of technology are appreciated the limitations are also widely acknowledged. The question is really how to make technology work for you as an educator – as a complement rather than as a replacement. Anyone that has had to convert a face to face session to an online session will appreciate the inherent challenges in delivering educational material online – how do you engage the students, foster interaction and peer-to-peer learning, how do you gage whether students are understanding the material, how do you foster a learning community, how do you transmit the passion you have for your subject in online material. Teaching online takes time and investment to do well. I don’t believe there is a need for technological pessimism in education but rather a healthy dose of ‘risk taking’ – a willingness to incorporated technology in teaching – try different approaches – learn from others that have been experimenting in this space for some time already. Technology should be an educators ‘companion’ a friend you engage to complement your teaching not replace the need to teach.
Hi Tam, thanks for your comments! You are absolutely right that much has changed since Selwyn’s original writing of this piece. His more recent work is similar in perspective with updated information – he is still firmly in the “skeptic” camp I think! I chose this piece partly to be provocative as I personally struggle to agree with Selwyn’s points and find them very personally challenging. Though as he notes, I am probably in the ed tech camp that he is skeptical of! I absolutely agree that it is not the technology that is inherently good or bad, but how you use it that counts! Thanks for your great comments – I appreciated them very much.
The beginning stages of putting learning online experienced a wave of enthusiasm from some individuals who, and according to the references, thought that putting your course online was easy, quick, and a good substitute for face-to-face education. Pedagogy and longer term practice has dispelled many of these myths and moved these online practices forward and to a more realistic context for both teachers and students. In agreement with Tam, we now consider more deeply the inherent challenges of delivering online education to meet student needs, especially diverse students needs and learning styles. However, we also now grapple with realisations that we are expected to be available 24/7 to respond to student queries, particularly the night before an assignment is due :). While we need to establish more realistic expectations with our students, we also need to consider how much content we can deliver in one sprint to maintain concentration and engagement, without losing the quality of the content so that we create an effective online experience that does not just ‘fit education’ into our student’s lives. Coffee courses are good example of this! 🙂
Hi Emmaline, I also worry about expectations and time management around student communications in relation to my own time as a teacher/facilitator. I worked on a MOOC in 2015 with 15,000 students that used Twitter as a way to communicate, and the volume of communication and responses was absolutely unmanageable. I found myself answering questions constantly during that course, while having dinner, out with friends, before bed! Every since that experience I have worked really hard to constrain my response times to fit into my regular working hours.
I am quite skeptical of the ‘debunking’ described in ‘Myth #1: Digital natives are naturally good with technology’. After reading the two references (published in 2010 – somewhat old in this context!), I feel that our current or future student body, can in fact be described as ‘digital natives’, or at least as people who have almost certainly used technology in their journey prior to their studies here. While I agree with the authors that someone’s ability to engage with technology is not only a feature of generation of birth, but also other cleavages like educational background, breadth of experience, etc., I think that students are now very used to using technology in an educational environment. Yes, we should be aware of variation in ability to use technology, but different abilities should always be considered from a pedagogical standpoint.
**Note – in posting this I have been having tech issues! Problems with the CAPTCHA Code. Hopefully I’ve sorted it #notadigitalnative
Hi Edie, sorry to hear you are having trouble! I hope the CAPTCHA stops giving you trouble! (We were getting a LOT of spam comments previously so needed to increase the comment security, unfortunately.) You are right that those references are now somewhat dated, but in terms of the educational literature I don’t think the term is used anymore due to these “debunking” reports which had substantial evidence. Much of the contemporary literature focuses around digital literacies, which are the skills and knowledge needed to function effectively with digital technologies of all kinds. This approach is used as it does not presume generational trends, but rather gives a lens for understanding how individuals may need to develop digital skills in a range of areas to become “literate” in the online world. One of the things that digital literacies literature discusses is that while students may be very familiar with technology in social aspects of their life, it may not extend to scholarly, academic, or professional digital skills, or knowledge of related issues like security, copyright, privacy, and critical evaluation of online content. The La Trobe University framework is a great example – https://www.latrobe.edu.au/library/about-us/digital-literacies-framework as it covers a range of types of digital literacies, and the UK’s JISC group does a significant amount of work in this space as well: https://www.jisc.ac.uk/rd/projects/building-digital-capability
It’s interesting to compare your comments with Alison’s as well – would love to discuss further! 🙂
Hi Katie. Yes, I like the term digital literacy much better than digital native. It captures the idea of exposure much better. I note that students (even in primary school) are being exposed to responsible online behaviour in the classroom, and making a digital agreement. Big advances.
This article raises lots of issues, and myths, that are relevant for me and the specifics of my teaching environment. In relation to Myth 1- that digital natives are good with technology – I think its important to consider that regardless of their tech capabilities, student will still present a range of communication and learning preferences that should be accounted for in pedagogical design and delivery. At SOAD we have a huge mix of ages, backgrounds, and, with the introduction of non-art students into our courses, artistic abilities. Regardless of age, often students are specifically studying art because they have a preference for concrete manipulative learning (I call this thinking via making), so even if they are totally tech savvy, they still learn best through handling stuff. This doesn’t preclude TEL, but rather points to a specific set of circumstances for its application.
As with the choice of any teaching method, technology based methods should be chosen in relation to their effectiveness in delivering the learning outcomes – what is the best way to facilitate student achievement of that particular skill/understanding/set of knowledge/behavior.
Thanks Alison, I think you have given us a perfect set of guidelines here on how to use TEL effectively! The key advice is to make sure you match your teaching approach to the characteristics of the learners, use
TEL when circumstances mean it is desirable or appropriate, and ensure the choice of technology is based on what learning outcomes you wish the students to achieve.
I do have beliefs that on-line courses are cheaper to deliver and the teaching/learning quality is compromised in on-line only courses. Students need the disciplines (sort of) as in the face-to-face teaching environment. Teaching is dynamic two-way process. At least in my experience, I keep observing student’s body languages and facial expressions to understand if they are confused over a particular point and I would elaborate straight away. This part of implicit communication is missing fro online teaching. I still believe certain level of direct communication (not over on-line chat, or online streaming) that the lecturer and students being in the same space is critical for learning.
Thanks Hua Deng, it is certainly true that teaching is a dynamic, two way process as you say. And this is far easier and more obvious in face to face situations, generally. It is best to think of a fully online environment as something that calls for a different approach, with the intent to facilitate as much of that dynamism as possible. There are tools to assist with this such as real time video conferencing. However the way the chat and forum activities are designed and moderated can also help.
Hi Hua Deng and Jill,
I agree that being in the same physical space has some advantages, and I agree that a fully online course has other advantages. I suppose that some courses and teaching techniques are better suited to face-to-face learning, and others to online learning. Regarding body language as an indicator for feedback, in my experience, that works well when the instructor has the time to re-explain a point or correct a misconception, or when a lesson or course is designed to expose misconceptions for the purpose of correcting them. In online learning, when students have the opportunity to discuss and debate points, they often expose their ideas through text and sometimes using images, audio, or video. It’s just a different way to express themselves that others, including the instructor and online classmates can respond to, hopefully leading to purposeful learning.
I also used to think that online courses must be cheap, and they may be cheaper to run, but not necessarily cheaper to establish. I read an estimation somewhere that creating one hour of an online course can take 100 hours of work.
I have found this contradiction around how online courses are “cheaper” than face-to-face to be very interesting! While they may not require physical teaching spaces, I suspect they are actually much more expensive to build in terms of time (as you mention it can take a significant investment!) but also in terms of expertise from TEL support staff (like myself), video or multimedia production staff, etc. It may require expensive software, video recording studios and equipment, and so on. I suspect institutions feel they are “cheaper” in the sense that they don’t need to pay teachers for contact hours, though as we have discussed many times over the coffee courses, teacher presence in an online course is absolutely essential. I think many institutions have not yet sorted out how to appropriately pay course convenors, tutors, and other staff for building online courses?
When people are new to teaching online, they tend to be skeptical about how effective they can be compared to classroom teaching. Most teachers I’ve talked to say that their online students are generally much more engaged than their face-to-face ones. No commute time might give them some extra time to study or they may feel more relaxed studying from home. As I said yesterday, being able to learn at your own pace makes a big difference which is not really possible in a classroom context because, depending on the activities, there are always those who race ahead and others who require more time.
Interesting point, Rowena, that you have heard from colleagues that online students are more engaged than face to face ones. This could also be due to many of them being mature age students who might have already done some study, motivated to progress their careers and balance family and work with study.
Sean Michael Morris in “Online Learning Shouldn’t Be ‘Less Than’” (April 4, 2018), suggests that one perception is online classes are run to save teacher’s time. My experience is that students don’t perceive online learning as time saving or lacking in engagement, if it is well designed.
I have heard all these urban myths presented and even believed some. What changed my view of technology and learning was being an online graduate student.
Students should not be exploited in online learning any more than they should face-to-face.
I am not so much skeptical of technology in teaching, as not expecting it to make a radical change, as the students haven’t changed. Claims have been made for edtech, since the invention of writing.
Tam, the online teaching environment, I suggest, has made its way into what are otherwise conventional campus based courses in the past 7 years, to the point where I doubt there are many university courses which are at least part on-line. Rather than convert face-to-face material to on-line, I suggest it is easier to go the other way around.
My approach to engaging students, on or off line, is with assessment. As an example, in the ANU techlauncher program students give peer feedback and then are in turn assessed by their peers on the quality of their feedback. The students do attend face-to-face tutorials, but they also use an assortment of project management on-line tools for interaction and it would be feasible to do the whole thing on-line.
Edie, I work with computer students who are very capable of using digital tools, but they still have difficulty writing a post with a suitably professional tone.
ps: Yesterday I had to have five goes at getting the CAPTCHA code to work. Today it worked fine. Don’t feel it is picking on you in particular. 😉
I replied to post on the “Day 1” portion of this course regarding ways to guide students to post in constructive ways (be it with a professional or simply respectful tone). Have you found or developed methods that are effective for building students’ communication skills?
Hi Tom and Dan
When I used to run a blog as participation in one of my courses I worked with the Education office in my college to develop scaffolding materials to assist students in understanding what was expected and appropriate posting. The materials ‘What is a blog?’ (I first used this in 2009, so not everyone familiar with this and certainly not as an assessment piece); ‘Writing a blog post’ ; ‘Making a blog comment’; as well as a ‘Blog rubric’ were really helpful to get students into the right frame for using this as an assessment piece. It is really important to be clear about the expectations.
I have come across some of these myths, anecdotal, but after reading some of the myths here in detail it is obvious that online learning environment is quite complex. I have never taught online but I might in the near future and am designing a course for online teaching so right now its quite challenging to balance the pros and cons for all the thoughts out there on online teaching and learning. However, having said that, in my case, I have asked myself, what do I want my students to learn and from this starting point, online teaching and learning then looks positive.
Thanks Jenny, and that is a great starting point. From there, and also bearing in mind student characteristics, you can choose the mix of technology that you believe can help achieve those outcomes.
I share Edie’s scepticism about the debunking of myrh one. In twelve years of teaching the same course I have noted a clear trend towards digital literacy in students.
I actually agree that there is a need for healthy scepticism about technology in education because there is a seductiveness about novelty, and we’re all prone to it. I use technology in teaching a reasonable amount, I’ve taught online courses and I’ve also benefitted from excellent MOOCs, but I also see my kids spending time trying to cut and paste into a clunky ppt activity that is delivered through Google Classroom and think that if it weren’t for the poor functionality (for whatever reason), they could have had 10 minutes extra trampoline time and some fine(r) motor skill practice with handwriting. I am also sceptical about any promises about online testing, which tends to be seen as a solution for all sorts of things. There is a general perception that if tests are online, they are somehow more objective, regardless of what or how they are assessing learning.
I have certain opinions about online courses simply because I completed a 2yr Masters Degree as an online/distance student. This was more than 6 years ago that I graduated and I would hope that it has been updated since then. My main problems were that it was not very engaging, and I’m not referring to the material, I missed out on gaining understanding through the discussion process. But this also goes back to my comment yesterday in which technology can be useful in educational settings as a means to be more inclusive of different learning styles of students. What I found out about myself is that I do not learn effectively in a purely online setting and require, at least part of the time, the face-face interaction of a classroom.
Whilst I can understand why people may believe in these myths about online learning – for me it was always about convenience. I wanted to do that Masters Degree, but I didn’t want to give up my full time job and move across the state to do it. When I found out you could do it by distance I thought that was perfect, until I realised how ineffective it was given how I personally acquire knowledge and understanding of topics.
As for Myth 1, which seems to have generated engaged discussion, my experience has been that whilst there is a trend towards increased digital literacy in students, it also depends on the students circumstances and exposure. With the availability of various technological/digital resources increasing all the time, I often find groups of students that are more capable with certain types and less so with others, as they followed their interests or those of their friends and family. Plus with international students, they may not have the same level of access as here for example.
As mentioned yesterday, this space is somewhat unfamiliar to me. As such, I found the article by Sean Michael Morris very helpful in raising key issues and concepts surrounding online learning. Thank you for sharing.
I have both participated in and created online courses and can see how and why some of these myths exist. Hopefully with further education and online literacy we can work to improve our offering and thus debunk these myths.
The main concern I have in using technology in teaching is in regards to access, inclusion and equality. I am increasingly learning how it can both enhance and hinder ones learning experience and with the rise in EdTech, I feel this is an area that needs to be further explored. Our office recently participated in the IEAA Webinar – ‘Global EdTech: Trends, Innovation and Disruption’ which shed some light on this (although admittedly most went over my head!).
Looking forward to further learning.
Hi Samantha, I’m a big fan of Morris’s work on critical digital pedagogies – if you would like to read more I recommend the journal he facilitates: http://hybridpedagogy.org/
How technology can hinder & help inclusion is a key challenge as more and more learning begins to happen online – I’d love to hear about your experiences and see if we can help find some strategies together to foster a good experience for all students.
What are some of the key points that Morris makes in regards to perceptions of online learning? Have you had similar experiences?
The key point made is around the idea that online learning is somehow ‘less than’ learning in the class room. I have completed lots of MOOCs in the past, and I guess I would say that it is much easier to ‘pass’ these courses – mostly because the assessments have to be of the rather simple kind (e.g. multi-choice) to enable high-throughput/automated marking.
Can you think of examples of “urban myths” regarding technology and learning that you have heard or suspected to be true. How do they compare to this list? Did any of this information lead you to reconsider your views?
I have to say that I’m unconvinced that Myth1 isn’t actually true! I just think that familiarity goes a really long way with technology. I agree that this can be overcome with enough motivation, but lack of familiarity with technology is certainly a major hindrance for *ahem* the older people in my life (very anecdotal, I know!). Just like all teaching, it’s critical to think about, and try to compensate, student’s difficulties in any learning environment.
Do we need to develop a healthy skepticism, rather than a blanket positivity or negativity on all things technology in teaching and learning?
I agree with Tam here that there is a need for ‘risk-taking’ rather than pessimism with respect to TEL. In particular, I think TEL can be a really positive thing when done well to complement face-to-face teaching.
An urban myth I often encounter is that online learning is easier than traditional face-to-face learning. This myth is multi-layered. It implies that, by not engaging in deep qualitative learning, online learning is easier to understand. This is inevitably followed by the assumption that, since the content is less difficult, assessments will be easier to pass. This, in turn, leads to the assumption that online learning fosters procrastination; since it is easier, students don’t need to put in as much effort.
I have never believed these linked myths. If anything, online learning requires more motivation and time management. Similar to myth 4 above, these urban myths fail to realise the realities of engaging in online learning.
Hi Bhavani, that’s a myth I have encountered regularly as well, that online learning is “easier” or not as rigorous as face-to-face. But I agree with you, as without face-to-face contact there is somewhat more pressure on the individual to motivate themselves to do the work as there are no regular class times where they might be forced to engage with the material.
I have encountered this myth too. Related to this, I think there is also a myth that online education is easier and quicker for the teacher. However, I have found the opposite. Even if you create shorter video lectures of chunked content, in place of the typical one hour lecture, I found that these are a lot more time consuming to write and produce than an in person lecture. The absence of time before and after the lecture when students can informally approach the lecturer to ask any questions also leads to a marked increase in emails. The administrative burden related to online education seems to be something that is often overlooked.
Hi, Rowena and Jill,
There is probably a bit of self-selection of people there affecting engagement. But I do find it surprising (and a bit counterintuitive) that students may find online courses more engaging. The MOOC statistics say that completion rates are really really low – in the range of 5-15%.
In relation to Myth 3, I used to think that building an online course takes approximately the same amount of time as creating a face-to-face course (and therefore costs the same). I have since learnt that in fact it takes much more time – upwards of 100 hours per hour of learning (https://www.learndash.com/estimating-elearning-development-time/). I have also now experienced it with the using Wattle – setting up quizzes takes as much time as it would running that quiz in person. Automatic marking, of course, is great help, but that can only work reliably for multiple choice tasks. Even one-word short answer quizzes can go wrong in so many ways and require checking. I guess the aim here is to figure out where exactly technology can save time and use that strategically.
I guess that, overall, the key points I take away from this lesson is that TEL shouldn’t be thought of as some magic bullet, nor as a threat to traditional teaching. I’m not sure if anyone still does have these ideas about TEL! Like any good teaching, it just requires careful planning to integrate it in a useful way. In the end, it comes down to the skill of the teacher to understand how technology can contribute to learning and to implement it well.
I haven’t been teaching for long enough to hear skepticism or urban myths about TEL, just complaints about how much time and effort it takes to prepare resources such as course Wattle sites! If anything, I think teachers are the ones who can struggle with it in trying to implement it effectively, especially those who flatly refuse to adapt the methods the have used for decades. As for students, well I have some who have had some minor challenges getting used to technological resources and tools for my current course, but they adapted very quickly, even mature age students who fall outside of the “digital native” generations.
Hi Christina, fantastic comment! I just wanted to add that in my everyday work as an educational designer I hear a lot of these myths from academics around ANU and elsewhere. They often come up when we are working on putting new courses or programs fully online.
I have no experience in online-learning or online-teaching. But this post reminded me the experience I had when I was an undergraduate student.
It was more than ten years ago. The university required that powerpoint slides should be used in each and every class. One math professor strongly refused to use any “technology” in his lectures. He thought math should be taught step by step. It was too time-consuming to transfer the process into a sequence of lecture slides. He insisted to use the chalk and the blackboard. Regardless of the “traditional teaching method”, his lectures were so well-presented that the students had to arrive at least half an hour early to guarantee a seat in the classroom.
On the contrary, there was a physics professor who used slides. His slides were usually full of monstrous equations. This is somewhat exaggerating but his “explanations” were like:”Look at this page… Any questions? (Silence in the students)… OK, no question. Then let’s look at the next page…Any questions?…(Silence again)” Although this professor was an excellent researcher, the students described his lectures as a disaster.
So it’s not the question whether technology is “bad” or “good”. It depends on how we apply it, keeping the students’ diversity in mind.
Hi, I do not agree with the ‘online learning/teaching is somehow “less than” face to face’ statement in Morris’ article. I believe it depends on the quality of the teaching whether this is face to face or online. I am sure we can all recall face to face lectures with zero interaction where the lecturer spat out information for an hour and when it was time for questions, none were asked as half the room was asleep. On the other hand, I have participated in some great distance learning that were indeed very engaging and most inspiring.
Technology also allows us to learn from thought leaders from around the world without physically having to be in the same place. This would have been unheard of years ago and we would either have had to travel 24 hours to hear these people talk or never get the opportunity to. I would challenge and say that if used well TEL has the opportunity to be ‘more than’ rather than ‘less than’ on campus learning.
I also do not agree with the notion that online educational material is somehow easy and fast. Indeed, it takes a lot of effort and many hours to produce, especially if they are to be more than just content delivery. There are many opportunities to make these interactive both in real time but also when students have the time to sit down and engage. It is not all positive but I really believe it has the potential to great if done well.
Thanks Jill, great points. It is always good to consider the counter-arguments and adopt a discriminating approach to the use of technology, but as you point out, done well, it can be a positive experience for participants, as well as providing flexibility that large components of face to face teaching cannot provide.
Hi Jill, I am right on board with your comments! In my role as a learning designer (supporting teachers to deliver online), I regularly hear most of these myths – I am often surprised by how pervasive they are! My favourite part of the myth is one you mention – that online learning is quick/cheap to develop, which is not the case at all and can lead to serious problems when trying to develop online courses or programs if the teachers or leadership hold this belief. Thanks!
Is online learning “less than” face to face learning? Well yes… but also no. I view technology as a tool for teaching and, as with any tool, there are times when it is appropriate to use it and times when it is better to leave it in the shed. As I write this comment I’m engaging in online learning. Perhaps I’d have learned more, or differently, if this were a face to face course. But two weeks ago, when this coffee course was actually “run”, I was in the middle of an intense set of lab experiments and I wouldn’t have been able to spare the time. The only reason I’m able to participate in this course is because I can learn at a time that works for me. Which happens to be at home (with a glass of red, not a coffee, I hope that’s OK). So for me right now, online learning is more, not less. And this personal example illustrates an important point, that online learning increases inclusion and access to education for all sorts of reasons: time commitments, geography…
In contrast, at other times I feel that online learning can be far less useful than face to face learning. Or perhaps can only work in conjunction with face to face classes. It is all about context. I think other comments have touched on this. My teaching has been focused on biology, especially genetics and ecology. Students who want to pursue laboratory or field-based research degrees or careers need to be able to demonstrate laboratory or fieldwork skills. So sometimes we need to teach methods. How to collect samples. How to use analytical equipment. Instructional videos are fantastic learning tools and I love being able to refer my students to a video that shows how to use an instrument. But sometimes that is done best as a supplement to a real life demonstration. Lab work can be a lot like cooking. Imagine trying to learn to make a pavlova from a TV cooking show if you’ve never seen a whisk or an egg in real life before.
To address the last point, I think a healthy skepticism is always warranted. What works for some students will not work for others. Technology can help us to reach more students, but there are many ways of learning and I feel that a mixed approach is often most effective to maintain student engagement.
Hi Anna, I would definitely like to take more “wine courses”! You are absolutely welcome to participate whenever suits you. 🙂 As you’ve noted, increasing flexibility and access to learning is (I think) the greatest benefit to online learning. The challenges of replicating essential face-to-face experiences for students studying off-campus and online is a key one, and as you say in this case online learning might work better as a complement for lab or seminar experience, rather than a replacement. This was also discussed by Alison in another comment in relation to studio time in the creative arts disciplines. I think the closest we could get to online labs or studio time might be virtual reality with haptic feedback? But this is likely not a sufficient replacement for hands-on time. Hopefully the next technology to be developed will be teleportation so it is easy to pop back and forth!
Hi Anna, well you are the perfect case in point for the value of online and flexible learning – especially in relation to the ability to indulge in a glass of red in the process! As you say, context is everything, as is design of the course and materials. As teachers, we are really designing an experience for learners – one that we hope will provide deep learning moments and the opportunity to acquire new skills.
One “Myth” that I seem to encounter from those pushing technologies is that once your initial learning of a new system has been done, the new technology will be “easy”. But with the complexity of different systems, different users, updates to systems – even the most established of systems can go wrong. Just this semester I am hearing that my colleagues have had major problems with systems like turnitin or Echo which ANU has been using for many years. So while they (and I) like these systems, it does make it hard to add new technologies while still having to worry about established technologies (so far as having been used for more than a year or two). It also means that the technologies must have many resources to support it
Thanks for your comment, David. I absolutely agree with you that it is frustrating when established enterprise systems are difficult to use or unreliable. You are correct in identifying that technologies need to be sustainable and resourced adequately.
I have heard a lot of these myths and happy to see there is evidence to debunk them. I personally never really believed in them but also did not go out to find the evidence to debunk them. Given my past experience in using some TEL methods in my courses, I would never say that they are any less time consuming or cheap to implement. This requires a different set of skills and a different approach to modeling or planning this content. As I have seen in my courses that technology has not really disrupted my teaching. It has just afforded me an alternative way of helping my students learn.
Neither has it dumbed down the learning process. In fact, if anything, I have been able to work through the problem based tasks in a more exciting way. That being said, I realise that the technical aspects of my courses lend themselves to easily fit the TEL mould. This probably explains the positivity I have towards TEL.
The only Myth that I ‘kind of’ still hold true is the one on the being digitally native. Although I do not think it is a generational quality but there are some (does not matter which generation they belong to) are much better in digital technologies and for them they do not have to spend as much time on learning the tech itself but can focus on the actual learning. We can always try to help those amongst us who are not ‘tech savvy’ to overcome this issue so they can also take the full advantage of e-learning.
When I decided to teach in a fully online university 11 years ago, I spent years “defending” my teaching. It was not common in our country and people were skeptical about it. Some of the comments thrown at me (very similar to the list here) –
▪ By a parent: Do you offer real degrees?
▪ By a student: I want to study online because it is easier.
▪ By a friend: Your job is so easy!
▪ By another academic: I want to transition to teaching online because it’s easier. You just have to put everything online.
▪ By almost every person I meet: I don’t think students will learn as much if they do a course online compared to face-to-face.
▪ An employer: I don’t trust degrees done online because it’s easy to cheat and I bet all of them are cheating.
But wait there’s more …. (to add to the current list that’s in this course)
▪ Let’s do videos because this generation loves videos. (video for the sake of videoing)
▪ Video recording is the reason why students don’t attend my lectures anymore
My main concern with using technology is that it can sometimes become a barrier to learning. Like Samantha, I’m concerned about access and inclusion. A lot of online materials, if not designed and produced with accessibility in mind will not be useful to students and even create frustration.
A really interesting post, Kat. Great to hear your perspective as someone who has taught in a fully online environment.
I was guilty of the idea that the online option would be an easier (than on campus) way for me to obtain a qualification that my employer required me to complete. The course met my needs in this regard but it was not an immersive learning experience. Since working at the ANU I have seen some excellent examples of online course design and teaching strategies that encourage student engagement and prevent participants from being ‘passive’ learners (for example, problem based learning, student-centred weekly online classes as well as active participation in whole group and small group discussion forums). I am hearing many conversations around my workspace about ways that Wattle and other software tools can be used more effectively to improve the student experience, between both professional and academic staff which is heartening.
What is highlighted to me through the reading materials for Day 2 is that teachers are key in the process of teaching and learning and cannot be replaced by technology. The student learning experience can be greatly affected, both positively or negatively, by the input of the teacher through both face to face communication and online learning. The use of technology to enhance learning is very complex and I agree that a healthy skeptisicm towards its use is necessary to ensure that it supports rather than hinders the achievement of learning outcomes. Teachers face many choices in the tools they use to support student learning and technology is one of these tools that needs to be constantly scrutinised for its suitability.
One of the most common things I hear with regards to young people especially, and technology, is that ‘kids today’ have very short attention spans because of technology. I would say that this is one of those urban myths, and instead what has happened is that because there is so much information out there, people have become much better at discerning what is ‘worth’ spending their time on — usually in terms of enjoyment value. This negatively impacts on TEL, because unless teachers produce incredibly engaging materials, students still won’t watch or use it. This is what I suspect is happening with lectures and recorded lectures.
I kind of agree with Selwyn in his assessment that we need a healthy dose of skepticism in TEL (despite being a digital native myself). We do need to think through the consequences of the decisions we make in regards to technology, rather than just pursuing the use of technology because it is there. In particular, thinking back to yesterdays post, the goal should not be to implement technology, whatever the technology, but to aim to solve problems of teaching and learning, and using technology where that will genuinely be of advantage to the students. On the other hand, I advocate for a try, fail, try again approach, which is what he describes as optimism.
My favourite quote from the Selwyn article:
“…..recurring cycle of ‘hype, hope and disappointment’ that has so often beset educational technology over the past 30 years”
Yep – been there! 🙂
I really enjoyed the compilation of myths presented.
Related to the day 1 topic on defintions of TEL, I have been intrigued by the different definitions for TEL described by colleagues from different schools and colleges across the university when we have met to discuss this topic at cross-disciplinary workshops. In one school their definition of TEL was focussed on using technology to streamline educational delivery whilst maintaining personalisation to students. It was absolutely fascinating and something that I think we should be sharing across the institution. Especially since I have always found that engaging with educational technology has been time consuming – learning how to use the tool, developing quality content and resources, testing and testing and testing to make sure the implementation will go smoothly and students will get the best possible educational experience…….. In conclusion, it would be wonderful if we could perhaps harness technology to enhance our collaboration and sharing of innovations that enhance teaching and learning.
I’m with Selwyn when he says ” the pessimistic educational technologist is simply one who adopts a mindset that is willing to recognise—and work within—the current and historical limitations of educational technology rather than its imagined limitless potential”. Noting that this came from a 2012 article, it is still relevant today. Don’t get me wrong, I’d like to think I’m not a luddite, I’ve really enjoyed using a bunch of fun assessment options on a a recent course I convened – which included students producing a twitter take-over, blog posts, podcasts – but I just think we can get carried away with shiny, tech things and forget that students are at the heart of learning. Tech is the transmission belt, teachers and students are the start and end point and nothing can proxy in for great teachers and talented students willing to learn.
I found Sean Morris’s question “When we take our teaching online, do we feel as interested, as invested, as challenged, as engaged, as when we teach on campus? Shouldn’t we? Isn’t it our right as teachers to be able to bring our love of our subject and field, our passion for connecting with students, into a digital environment when it’s called for?” to be incredibly thought provoking. Not just about my right as a teacher but as another paradigm to consider the pros and cons of teaching on line. Much of my passion for teaching comes from discussions with students particularly in tutorials, in many ways lectures are simply setting the stage for the discussions to come. If I think about the options available on line to replicate that interaction, I don’t immediately feel as enthused. However I don’t think this is a reason to avoid the digital environment so much as for me personally it sets a boundary for where it might be a useful complement to current teaching methods and where it detracts. So a flipped classroom whereby the online segment sets students up for the tutorial could be a great option, but the replacement of a face to face tutorial for an online one feels less constructive. However in this coffee course itself, I enjoy reading everyone else’s comments and the debate that can occur right here, so there are obviously some tutorial elements that can be successful recreated. I think overall this probably makes me the Selwyn pessimistic educational technologist – or as one student once called me – a “cheery cynic” about the whole endeavour!
I have skimmed the NMC Horizons Report, and I found parts to be very deterministic and not considering the full consequences of using and implementing technology. Let me provide a couple of examples:
(1) In the the section on page 6 titled “Expanding Access and Convenience”, the report notes that “people expect to work and learn anywhere” and universities are developing instructure for students and staff to always be connected. They seem to gloss over the mental health and wellbeing for individuals to always be connected to school and work. I think that its important to give students access to technology to enable learning, but students (and staff and academics!) need to learn boundaries and keep spaces apart from the university to be in good physical and mental health.
2) Relatedly, on page 8, there seem to be an assumption that innovation and ‘deep’ learning can drive technology and improve learning. I just do not see that as a clear trend. If we want students to engage in active learning and critical thinking, technology and focusing on innovation can be distracting. Improving Turnitin, for example, to better detect plagiarism may act to drive students to purchase essays instead of grappling with important issues/topics in writing that help in developing critical thinking. I am certainly for creating new techniques that improve learning with technology, but I would rather use a proven technology. I think its important to focus on determining if the instructor and students benefit from the technology [and not the software or technology manufacturer].
3) I am also concerned that pushing the measurement of learning is beneficial, if the measurement is done poorly. Developing critical thinking skills and ‘deeper learning’ are activities that vary highly by individual and may take place over time. Broad pushes for standardised testing or use of student surveys are only partial information that may not correlate well above learning. I think there is potential (sufficiently advanced AI might be better able to probe learning ‘depth’ than an exam), but I am skeptical based on how, for example, college entrace exams in the US do not correlate well with student academic success but are heavily relied upon in admission and scholarship decisions as ‘objective’ measure’.
One of my takeaways from the Selway (2007) article you cite is that the ‘lived’ experiences of university students may reside distantly from the construction of learning technologies and the administrative mangement of classes by lecturers. I think its critical to think about what students are experiencing in the classroom, and how we accomodate their needs. Failure to do so may lead to a divergence between technology standards and student learning.
Hi Mike, thanks for your great comments here about Selway and the Horizon Report. Connecting some of the wider issues across all your comments, I think we can see that a lot of the writing around TEL (particularly in the Horizon Report) can be a bit limited, and I appreciate your final comments about the importance of seeing student life as holistic and not separated from classes, administration, technology, etc. Institutional silos can certainly contribute to this issue, as the student experience as a whole is handled by a range of different teams and specialists! One of the things I have always found to be challenging (especially from my role as a learning designer) is that resourcing limitations, university policies, and gaps in training and support for teaching staff often contribute to poor experiences with TEL. Thanks for your insightful comments!
Morris questions the motivation for the implementation of online teaching, raising “convenience” and “efficiency” as examples of poor reasons for replacement of face-to-face teaching with online. He appears to suggest that online learning may be more appropriate for box-ticking rather than actual learning. Although I can see his point, and believe that budgetary and staffing constraints are certainly part of the equation for universities considering TEL as an alternative to traditional teaching methods, this is not the whole picture. I have considered using TEL as a replacement for an existing class unless it has substantial advantages in the outcomes for the students. In my own teaching, a prime example of this is a basic physiological principles lecture which I replaced with an online lesson that incorporated active participation and recall of newly-learned concepts, readily-available access to definitions and formulas for key terms, and formed a reference tool that the students could use in the following years of their program. Rather than replacing the lecture with just the online lesson, I held an interactive session to work through principles that the students were having difficulty with in the online component. In stark contrast, it has been suggested to me that I engage a post-doc with almost no teaching experience, or even particular expertise in the area of study, to “convert” lectures of my choosing to online lessons. This offer speaks volumes on the attitudes of what TEL involves and should provide.
Re the Discussion questions:
An additional “myth” might be that technology-based teaching and learning is passive and shallow. This may often be the case, but will largely depend on the how the lesson is designed. The same, of course, applies to face-to-face teaching – the inability to engage students in the learning process is probably the key factor.
Yes, I agree that exploitation of students’ data is a real issue. I believe that there is considerable lack of awareness on the part of universities who enter agreements with commercial entities for use of their learning platforms. In my experience, very little is known about the collection of students’ data by the staff making decisions regarding the purchase and use of these programs. Often there is not even the facility for students to provide or deny consent. This raises questions about who owns this type of data: is it the student? The university? The software provider?
Re Selwyn’s arguments: Definitely! Any potential benefits need to be weighed up against any negative impacts. It is very tempting to get carried away by the task at hand. I have always found it very important to step back at regular intervals and ask whether I am doing this for myself or for the students!
I love that additional myth, that online learning is only useful for shallow or surface learning! This is one that I encounter regularly in my work and can be very difficult to bust. I wonder if part of the pervasiveness of this is due to the fact that many university academics haven’t had much experience as a student in online courses, or only in surface ones like huge-enrolment MOOCs or similar? I always like to bring up that the online environment needs to be custom-designed to facilitate interaction and social aspects of learning, so if you don’t consciously think about how to incorporate these elements then the online environment will be content-delivery focused.
The recent pandemic must add some more fodder to this topic with schools and universities being forced to embrace technology as the safest option.
We should use this opportunity to improve the facilitation of learning as a way of surviving safely.