Monday, 1 October 2012

Emerging technologies and authentic learning

On Monday 17th September, I attended a guest lecture entitled Emerging technologies and Authentic Learning by Vivienne Bozalek. It was hosted by the School of Health and Social Care at Brunel University and was held in the rather swish premises of the Mary Seacole Building.
Professor Vivienne Bozalek is the Director of Teaching and Learning at University of the Western Cape in South Africa and she was discussing the project she was currently involved in.
Her lecture was split into three parts: emerging technologies, qualitative outcomes and authentic learning.

Emerging technologies: 
In the first part she explained that an emerging technology wasn’t necessarily a brand new tool, in fact it may have been around for many years; for example, Facebook, twitter or virtual learning environments (vle). What made it ‘emerging’ was the way it was being used, i.e. being used as a self-directing, student-centred and flexible tool. 
She went on to elaborate that students are often using completely different tools to the ones they are encouraged to by their tutors, e.g. using Facebook and Twitter rather than the wikis set up for collaborative working within the vles. If institutions decide to ‘be where the user is’ then this will lead to more engagement but they must be careful not to get into ‘creepy tree-house’ territory. According to Vivienne “the ideal situation would be to utilise the potential of the tools without destroying what makes them special to their users”.
The Gartner Hype cycle, illustrated below, highlights the journey people and institutions go through when considering and taking on new technologies
Vivienne also referred to the Annual Horizon Report, a ten year project which investigates the impact emerging technologies have on teaching and learning identifies the techologies being used and explains how institutions are doing so – I didn’t know about this but think it is worth paying attention to see where we are in terms of our development. According to the report “mobile apps and tablet computing as technologies expected to enter mainstream use in the first horizon of one year or less. Game-based learning and learning analytics are seen in the second horizon of two to three years; gesture-based computing and the Internet of Things are seen emerging in the third horizon of four to five years”.
Ulitmately, the consequences of not being involved and of not showing an interest is that the gaps between effectual and ineffectual teaching and learning will increase as students continually disengage.

Qualitative outcomes: 
In the second instalment of her lecture, Vivienne started by explaining that the qualitative outcomes of the project were stimulating learning environments where students felt safe to express themselves without fear of humiliation and rebuke and where there is space to try out new things and experiment. This led to a discussion amongst the attendees about the types of rules, just like classroom rules, which should be in place to ensure students know how to conduct themselves in a virtual learning space. There tends to be the perception that because students are younger and seem to know what they are doing that they don’t need guidance on this. I think the social rules of the internet need to be taught – people don’t automatically pick up social skills even when they can do quite technical things, like designing apps.  

Authentic learning:

According to Vivienne, authentic learning consists of learners meeting the same content in many different contexts and with varying perspectives. Students need to be immersed in what they are learning and content should not be broken down for them to access readily, instead they should experience it holistically as they will use it in the real world, e.g. tests shouldn’t be multiple choice as people rarely use multiple choice in their everyday, real working lives.
Some of the main things I took away from this are that:
  • My institution is doing reasonably well on the emerging technology front as it engages with students through a multitude of social media platforms – although there may be some tendency to be ‘creepy tree-house’
  • Sometimes people think they are engaging with students by using emerging technologies, however, they are just delivering the same content in the same way but online. To use a soundbite - Technology doesn’t equal transformation
  • There are still serious concerns over online identities and a lack of digital literacy amongst students
  • Reflection and articulation are important for learning but vles are not generally conducive to this. It is up to staff to implement it as part of their programs

If anyone is interested in learning more about the project it can be found at
For those interested in emerging technologies, the Annual Horizon Report is worth a read.
If anyone would like to know more about web safety, you may find these JISC resources useful. There will also be a web safety in higher and further education presentation, held by the Academic and Research Libraries Group, London and South East Committee (ARLG LASEC) on 12th December 2012.
If anyone is interested in Big Data or the Internet of Things, some of the emerging technologies which, according to the Horizon Report will be used fully in a couple of years, there is a strong possibility of there being a conference focusing on them next July, held by the London Information and Knowledge Exchange.

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