Education and technology are becoming a better known duo than Homer and Marge, but what are the pros and cons of edtech in higher education? Here we consider how it can help and hinder the learning processes in higher education.
- Improve long-distance learning
Sarah Singer, programme director of the MA in Refugee Protection and Forced Migration Studies at the School of Advanced Study (SAS), says tech has opened access to postgraduate study for people who, for financial or other reasons, can't take a year or two out of their lives to go and live and study on campus in London. Tech capability allows teachers from across the globe to get involved in the teaching of the course, so they are not limited to using academics from their institution, and can invite subject matter experts to teach certain topics.
They also have a student café area where students can discuss non-academic things, and the tutors have also started developing little introductory videos which are embedded into each module. It is intended to add a more human face to the distance-learning format. They are also trialling selfie videos where students upload a short video of themselves to the other people on the course.
- Encouraging student interaction and engagement
Apps like Meetoo incorporate things like live anonymous questioning and live polling into class. Lecturers can also introduce a hashtag and ask students to tweet any questions during the lecture for review towards the end. This encourages real time interaction with a subject, increasing engagement and removing stigma around asking questions if someone doesn't understand something or are shy. You can also invite subject experts to speak to your class via live video, adding an extra level of engagement.
- Innovation and preparation
By introducing edtech into your classroom, your students will be interacting with you in a way they are more used to - i.e. digitally. This shows you are innovating and reflect student needs and wants (read our How Do Students Use VLEs research here). By incorporating apps, social media, and other methods of learning (e.g. encouraging blogging as an assignment for journalism students, or making them proficient in HTML), you are improving their skillset and making them more employable in an increasingly digital workplace.
- Adaptive learning
Several edtech apps (such as quizlet) will react to a student's learning pace, increasing or decreasing in difficulty to suit their needs. This provides tailored learning, but also motivation to improve. Gamification of learning is a great way to improve engagement, as it rewards users for doing measurable activities. Lemontree, for example, measures and rewards users for things like logging into an e-resource, or visiting the library. There's even a leaderboard, which gives students even more motivation to perform certain kinds of actions as they are measured against one another.
One of the biggest cons of edtech, especially in class, is the temptation to use devices for procrastination. It is easy to switch off when you've got the internet beckoning for your attention, so lecturers must be weary and make sure their students aren't taking advantage of a situation that encourages tech to be used. (A good way to do this is to ask students to close laptops at certain times where listening is essential).
As with long distance course, some students' bandwidth or internet access may be limited, so doing live lectures may put certain students at a disadvantage. However, using screencasts to record these sessions and having people write up the main points from the talk may be a way to overcome these limitations.
As with any anonymous or open question situation, there's always someone who will try to deviate from the discussion or use it to get a laugh. This is often harmless and rare but if it becomes a serious issue then removing anonymity or setting rules and consequences for serious or offensive misuse may have to be universally enforced.
- Different subjects requiring different edtech
There is not a 'one size fits all' for edtech within education. Some students will benefit from blogging as an assignment (e.g. journalism), and others will benefit from flash card apps where term definition is key (e.g. law). The onus is on the lecturer to discover which would benefit their students the most and integrate or encourage their students to do so, which may take time and several attempts.
However, making lectures more interactive with something like live polling is something every subject can use and benefit from. Perhaps the key is starting small with universal edtech (especially to persuade any reluctant lecturers to dip their toes) and building edtech further as it becomes a natural part of class.
- Privacy and security
Putting a focus on tech and using third party apps can be a worry. Is a student's personal information safe, and are they happy to share so much? Jisc reported that FE learners are in fact willing to trade personal information for better grades.
What about students' devices? Are they protected securely, and can a bring your own device policy increase risk of cyber security attacks for university networks? Ensuring students are aware of the risk (offering phishing training, for example, or even implementing a poster campaign around campus) and putting barriers in place to stop cyber criminals should be enough to minimise the risk.
There are some barriers to edtech, but it seems they can often be overcome and that the benefits are likely to outweigh any negatives.
We're attending the ALT conference 2017 as headline sponsors of the Learning Technologist of the Year Award. We will be at stand 16, so come and say hello.