Working Practice: "How will using Learning Technology affect my work?"
Academics and those who support teaching activities are naturally concerned about the impact of using Learning Technology. Concerns about abilities, roles, daily schedules and what will be involved are very common and are addressed here:
- I'm not sure I understand what is meant by the term 'Learning Technology'.
- I'm concerned that using Learning Technology will occupy too much time.
- Will I be replaced by web pages?
- Will students stop coming to my lectures?
- Will I have to learn new skills?
I'm not sure I understand what is meant by the term 'Learning Technology'.
Basically, Learning Technology refers to any use of technology within the process of teaching/learning. If you have encouraged your students to discuss a topic via email, for example, then this could be called learning technology. Often people use the term to refer to technologies specifically designed for education, such as the online 'Virtual Learning Environment' (VLE) software being used by many universities. Moodle is the main Virtual Learning Environment used at UCL.
I'm concerned that using Learning Technology will occupy too much time.
Like any new area of work, it takes a little while to become comfortable and familiar with the range of ways in which you can use technology in your teaching. If you're worried about how much time it takes to use a particular technology, that probably means that you're still becoming familiar with it.
If you stop and think how much time you spend on the phone, on email or on the internet, you might well find that this takes up a large chunk of your working day. However, you're not spending time on these things for the sake of it: you're using them because they help you to do your job.
The same is true for teaching with technology. People only use technology that helps them teach. For example, there are a number of things that are easy and quick to do that are likely to save you time. Putting handouts up online is simple to do and saves regular copying and distribution, especially if students lose their copies. Similarly, putting up a page of "frequently asked questions" and their answers may save you having to repeat yourself to individuals by email or at the end of teaching sessions. There are other ideas for ways to use technology elsewhere in this site.
If you are aware that you're spending a lot of time using a particular technology, you're probably still at the stage where you're learning how to use it. It might be worth asking for help from the Support and Training at UCL .
If I get stuck who can help me?
The E-Learning Environments team are your first port of call. We provide support, advice and training. Our Support and Training page list other people who can help as well as the ELE Training Courses that are available.
I've heard mixed views of LT. What do my peers think?
You can find out what your peers at UCL and the wider Higher Education (HE) community think of Learning Technology by joining one or more of the mailing lists that are available to the HE community.
Will I be replaced by web pages?
Many academics who start to use technology are initially worried that by putting their materials online, they might become obsolete and be made redundant. There are also concerns that putting materials online might mean that you lose your competitive edge, or that other people will take your ideas.
These are serious concerns - they have been written about by several well known authors, such as David Noble. However, experience to date suggests that such worries have proved largely unfounded in practice.
Placing teaching materials online is not the same as putting teaching online. There are many studies and much educational theory that explains why it is important for students to have a teacher as well as resources. In fact, many successful online courses find that there is initially greater demand for teaching and support staff, and that this demand has to be managed by explaining to the students what they should expect from taking part in the course. Resources such as lecture notes are simply the tip of the iceberg - without the specialist background, examples and experience of communicating these ideas, the resource itself is relatively useless.
Whilst putting materials online makes them easier to find (and easier to copy), this is not necessarily a problem. First, the legal position is clear: unless you say (explicitly) that you give people permission to copy these resources, the copyright remains with you. In addition, the Intellectual Property Rights and moral right to be recognised as the author remain yours. So anyone copying your materials without permission is breaking the law. If you remain concerned, you can place your materials within a password protected environment (such as the college Intranet or the software Moodle).
When these two points are considered together, it becomes clear that putting materials online can be safe and convenient. It can raise an individual's profile (for example, though other institutions asking to use your resources) and saves having to replace lost handouts for students, amongst other things.
Because of these advantages, institutions such as MIT OpenCourseWare have taken the step of putting all of their teaching materials online.
Will students stop coming to my lectures?
When first faced with the prospect of putting their slides, handouts or lecture notes onto the web, most academics wonder what effect this will have on student attendance:
- "Will students stop coming to sessions?"
- "Will they still take notes in lectures?"
- "Will the benefits of having these materials online (such as not having to make and distribute copies, not having to make additional copies for students who missed the section, being easy to find and update in future years, and so on) be outweighed by associated problems?"
These are good questions, to which there are no simple answers. The reason for this is that although most people assume they know what terms like "lecture" mean, in fact, people lecture in very different ways. In addition, students develop quite varied expectations about what 'ought' to happen in lectures. So how students will respond to lecture notes being put online will depend largely on the specifics of the course. However, some general conclusions can be drawn:
- If students believe that the sole purpose of lectures is to convey information (a "transmission" model), and if they also believe that the online materials cover all the content from a lecture, it makes sense for them to save time and effort by not attending.
- If students think that lectures are about transmitting information but believe that the information contained in the online materials is only partial, they will probably still attend in order to get the missing information. If students recognise that a lecture is more than just transmission (for example, that it is supplemented by illustrations and anecdotes that the lecturer hasn't included, that it involves interaction with peers, that an opportunity is provided to ask questions, etc.) then they are still likely to attend.
- In summary, research in this area has shown that students are pragmatic and sensible: if a lecture is really so bad that it can be replaced by an online handout, they will take the easy option. However, lecturers who ensure their classes are varied, stimulating and richer than the handouts have reported no problems with declining attendance.
- "What can I do to ensure that attendance does not drop?"
As explained above, student attendance is helped by making lectures active, engaging and rich. Several things can be done to support this, including:
- Being clear that lectures are about more than just presenting information - explain this to students, so that their expectations match yours.
- Using a varied lecturing style which might include (where appropriate) use of different media (such as video), use of a range of technologies (such as PowerPoint or electronic voting systems), invitation to students to question the lecturer at various points during the session, and so on.
- Inviting students to discuss concepts or examples in small groups for short periods during the lecture and then feed back to the entire class.
- Putting 'partial' handouts online - for example, containing diagrams without labels - and expecting students to complete these in lectures.
Will I have to learn new skills?
To be able to make the most out of Learning Technology you will need to become familiar with these two broad areas:
- how technology works, and
- how students learn from a computer screen
- The first part is very well documented and ELE Training Courses will assist you to learn the necessary fundamentals.
The second part is more tricky because academia is only just beginning to understand the process of computer learning. This means that predicting the outcomes of any technological implantations upon student learning is quite difficult. Nevertheless there are several tried and tested heuristics that most academics choose to employ.
- Also, see the advice for concerns about developing materials.
If you have a specific question contact E-Learning Environments and we'll try and answer it for you.
Page last modified on 16 may 12 14:58