Show & TEL: Making technology-enhanced learning work in HE

Neil Morris, author of Study Skills Connected, a new book on using technology to support Teaching & Learning, visited Reading last week to speak about ‘Making technology-enhanced learning work for staff and students in Higher Education’ as part of our Teaching & Learning Seminar series.

Neil, who lectures in neuroscience at the University of Leeds, has conducted a number of research studies investigating the impact of technology on students’ learning experiences, and was able to share with the audience – over 30 colleagues from academic and service departments – some of his approaches and experiences, as well as data collected from use with his own students.

Technology-enhanced learning is providing many challenges for institutions and individuals in terms of competence, rapid pace of change, pedagogic advantage and time investment. In this seminar, Neil explored technologies which are proven to enhance students’ learning and engagement, and which are easy to deploy and scale up to a departmental, faculty or institutional level.

The seminar was structured around three main uses of technologies in Teaching & Learning:

The NMC Horizon Report 2012 Higher Education Edition identified mobile apps and tablet devices as the biggest emerging trend in HE Teaching & Learning. Neil gave an overview of a project he initiated to harness tablet devices to enhance student learning, where 25 students were given iPads pre-loaded with a range of educational apps, and had their use of the tablet device monitored over a period of 10 weeks.

Students spent an average of 3.5 hours a day using the device for studying. One student described their experience as ‘revolutionary. This has changed the way I approach a class. I feel totally prepared as I get the lecture slides without having to print them, take notes, record, reference and if necessary look things up, all in the palm of my hand’.

Given the support nightmare that Bring Your Own Device is turning out to be for many businesses and institutions, growing student expectations of technology use, coupled with the demonstrable impact on their learning, pre-configured devices issued at registration suddenly seem a very attractive solution.

Neil’s talk was powerful stuff, focused on immediate and strategic value, driving cultural change with staff and students, and technologies that offer long-term, realistic and sustainable improvements in student learning. Neil spoke frankly about difficulties, limitations and even failures, but was able to demonstrate genuine impact and effectively dispel many of the myths and perceptions surrounding technology-enhanced learning.

Personally, I was particularly struck by Neil’s examples of using technologies to enhance face-to face-interactions. Most of teaching in HE still happens in a traditional lecture format so it is in this context that technology can bring about the most dramatic transformations.

Neil and his colleagues have all been given audio recorders to record their lectures. Recordings are uploaded to their VLE Blackboard straight after the lecture. The results have been astonishing. Students listen to the majority of the recordings and they listen to most of each audio recording, often multiple times. They are happy with an unedited recording, preferring access to recordings immediately after lectures, when they write up their notes. There is no evidence of students not attending lectures as a result of having access to recordings, which have been also invaluable to students who have had to miss lectures for valid reasons.

Most importantly, audio recordings are transforming students’ use of contact time. ‘The bit that gets me very excited is that students are saying they are concentrating more in lectures because of the knowledge that there is a recording’, Neil explained. ‘They can actually absorb and think about what is being said instead of frantically writing it down. If you do nothing different, they’re changing their behaviour, they’re using the time more productively.’

Following the seminar, Associate Dean Julian Park, who chairs the Digitally Ready Project Steering Group, brought together a small group of people with an interest in educational technologies to have a discussion with Neil over a late lunch. The group compiled a list of eight issues and priorities which will be presented to the University’s Sub-Committee on Delivery and Enhancement
 of Learning and Teaching (DELT). Perhaps Reading will soon have more of a strategic steer and see a move towards University-wide policies, infrastructure provision, and implementation plans.

Our Teaching & Learning Seminar series continues on 30 April with a talk on ‘Digital literacies and skills for twenty-first-century learning’ by Steve Wheeler, Associate Professor in Information & Computer Technology at Plymouth University.

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