With recent news of a school in Bolton ditching pens and paper for iPads, is the e-learning ‘battle’ being won? Peter Shukie, programme leader of education studies at University Centre, Blackburn College, argues that, ‘whatever is being done with technology new battle lines should be drawn in our approach. It ain't what you use - it’s the way that you use it.’
I recently attended a Jisc Regional Support Centre Higher Education Conference and Shukie’s strong views and opinions on the use of e-technology got me thinking about how and why we end up using certain technologies for learning.
Shukie divides educators into two tribes: the standardisers and the creatives. The standardisers follow a system of hierarchy, of ‘masters’ of education. They dictate to learners not only what they should read, but now also the kind of technology they should use. He equates them to X Factor judges dictating how someone should sound and what they should look like. If we’re not careful, he thinks we will be using technology to create a one-dimensional learning experience when, as I believe, it could be used to share and grow the ‘ecology for learning’ in many new ways.
So, how do we ensure learning exploits technology and not vice versa?
Shukie believes that Prensky, internationally acclaimed speaker, writer, consultant, and innovator in the field of education and learning, didn't get it quite right with his Digital Natives concept. Shukie’s Digital Pioneers project, carried out with undergraduates in 2012, which were all within Prensky’s grouping, did not find that learners born into a digital age had different expectations of learning.
Shukie’s project asked learners to create a learning resource using any technology, any pedagogical philosophy and any learner group to explore the potential of technologies in teaching and learning in the 21st century. What Shukie found was that in almost every case, results were reflective of a ‘master’ teacher-at-the-front-of-a-classroom style of teaching. Only a handful of learners explored ideas that used technology to take learning to different places, both physical and online, or looked to provide learning at different times from different ‘leaders’. Shukie discovered that you can’t remove stereotypes that years of teaching from the front of the classroom create. That is still what people think education is.
His suggestion to get people away from this conception is to use a musical analogy to encourage educators to explore different approaches to the use of technology within education. This aims to avoid heading towards an ‘e-learning singularity paradigm’, where specific technologies are dictated by institutional ‘masters’ as the ‘proper’ tools for learning as a result of best practice research.
He recommends three other approaches that instead, allow learners to use technology to decide what is best for them and help link skills required directly with community and workplace needs:
Shukie cites the development of the small-scale COOC (community open online course) project as a better way of learning than a MOOC (massive open online course). His course is open to local communities with an interest in a subject, using online discussions to develop their own way of learning. Unlike MOOCs, the emphasis is on localised learning opportunities based on contributions from informal enthusiasts, who have limited (if any) formal teaching experience. He believes this will generate a wider discussion and progress learning beyond the usual academic suspects.
Punk, or EduPunk
This is an approach reacting against the commercialisation of education, where accreditation is generally unimportant, and where learning is self-generated with the community deciding the content. An example is the University of British Columbia's course "Wikipedia: WikiProject Murder Madness and Mayhem". The course involved creating articles on Wikipedia where student and teacher became peers. In its essence, learning takes place when learners feel inspired to discuss ideas, not at appointed times and places.
The principle of ‘open’ is important to fulfil this ambition. I think knowledge should not be bound within the confines of a costly journal, but should be publicly and freely available.
Folk, or Folksonomy
An approach to create knowledge through tagging, originated by people, not experts. Again this means that the interests of a community dictate course/learning content. A basic example could be Twitter, as only popular content is tagged and circulated within the community.
Today, you may see projects that crowdsource, asking the general public for their views and opinions. This method is being used more and more to expand our knowledge of a subject area. Used within an educational community this could help inform course content, themes of interest and demand.
Is Shukie a dreamer? He does recognise that we may have to wear ties on Tuesdays and have some learning dictated to us – otherwise, as he says, ‘who would choose to learn about fire safety training?’ But he hopes that if you enter the teaching profession, it’s your choice whether you become a standardiser or a creative. His belief is that learning and teaching methods are not just there to create consistency, efficiency, fiscal sustainability or even achievement. Education is about generating another set of voices for the future.
So, in summary Essa Academy in Bolton shouldn't put away the iPads, but make sure that those shiny screens do not outshine the minds of the people using them.