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Unit 2-2

Page history last edited by Gary Motteram 5 years, 7 months ago

An icon indicating that this is Unit 2


Unit 2—Section 1: Technology in Education: strategic developments


The development of technologies appears to go in cycles. As one group of technologies appears to be converging, then a new set arrives. These often challenge the market position of the old ones. There is a period of readjustment during which it is difficult for users to make effective decisions and then market leaders emerge and the cycle begins again.


Nevertheless, the current period had been one of reasonable stability with certain standards asserting themselves. In terms of operating systems whilst recognising developments through XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, 8 and 9, this has become a pretty stable interface to be found in institutions and cybercafés all over the world. Other important operating systems in the world, Mac and Linux, have increasingly significant followings and play central roles in education in increasingly large parts of the world. We are now seeing the growth of the use of tablet PCs, particularly the iPad and Android systems, although this market is growing rapidly and apart form Apple iOS is still quite fluid. These newer mobile tools are rapidly replacing desktops in many areas of education.


The World Wide Web is similar. When it started, there was one browser—Mosaic. After a lot of shake down, Internet Explorer emerged as a market leader, although Firefox has amassed rapidly growing support and is now recommended by many main players. Google came into this market with its Chrome browser, now available for both PC and Mac, and this has become increasingly dominant and in 2014 took over the role as the most used browser. The Mac also has Safari which you can also use on a PC and of course has significant penetration through the iPad.


Perhaps the most significant areas of intense development has been that of access. Cybercafés have already been mentioned and access seems to be changing worldwide. A Guardian article in 2008—Behind the Great Firewall—looked at internet use in China and any of you with experience of working in the Chinese context might be able to report further on changes there. And of course much has been made of the role of Facebook and Twitter in recent political upheavals: Internet role in Egypt's protests. And yet as I post this link, I am also aware that not all you will be able to view it as it is a BBC website source that may be blocked in certain regions of the world (although if you use the Manchester vpn, this should get around it). You could try the Al Jazeera report of the event.


So we know that technology, the Internet is increasingly in the home, in the workplace and on the move, but as it grows, so does reticence to provide open access in some settings. Apart from issues of the dichotomies between ubiquitous and controlled access, the big change in recent years has been the push towards broadband and related to this is the fact that increasingly content can only best be accessed with higher broadband widths. The recent developments of TV on demand is a good example.


Within this access picture is the mobility issue (m-/ u-learning), that is the impact of wireless technologies (see ALT-J Vol 17(3) for some interesting articles).


A 2005 initiative by the UK Further and Higher Education Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC), is dedicated to exploring mobile and wireless technology use in different post-16 and Higher Education settings. The full report is available in archive now but the case studies remain useful exemplars and can still be accessed: JISC mobile learning case studies. On the same page, if this areas is of interest, there is a link to an 'Innovative practice with e-learning guide' and various planning tools. Another interesting site to keep an eye on is the NESTA Futurelab research reports on teaching and learning with ICT. There are reports on a range of issues in technology in school education including mobile learning and digital games. These reports are added to quite regularly. There is also the Horizon Report published each year showing trends and developments. As a counter to this have a look at Stephen Downes' comments on the latest report.


The impact that all this has on education can be extensive. However, one thing that is sure is that the technologies that this course unit explores are finding their way into education at an ever increasing speed. This has been particularly true in the UK primary and secondary school sector where investments into hardware, infrastructure and more recently teaching training has been systematic. BECTA had for many years been a local source of a range of support and research reports for practitioners but has recently closed due to UK government spending cuts. However, an archive, albeit rather not terribly friendly to use, is available at BECTA. We'll be returning to teaching training and development issues in the latter stages of this course unit.


Similarly in the Higher Education sector change has been perhaps less rapid in terms of general investment but the educational technologies rhetoric is now figuring much more strongly. Higher Education realises the need to provide for this widening audience but the calculation of real investment is a major challenge. There are various papers that expand on various strategy aspirations and you may find similar in your local contexts.


HEFCE is the Higher Education Funding Council for England and is responsible for generating strategy documents which aim to inform forward planning in our sector. Here is an extract from the executive summary of the 2005 e-learning strategy document which has informed developments in our own use, for example, of Blackboard in all teaching settings and modes http://www.hefce.ac.uk/pubs/hefce/2005/05_12/:


Our goal is to help the sector use new technology as effectively as they can, so that it becomes a 'normal' or embedded part of their activities. That does not mean telling universities and colleges what their aims for e-learning should be, nor how they should go about reaching them. But it is about describing overall aspirations for how e-learning can transform learning and teaching, and about supporting institutions in setting their own visions and plans.


The revised 2009-2012 strategy http://www.hefce.ac.uk/pubs/hefce/2009/09_12/ has some interesting moves within it, expanding reference to management, infrastructures, services:

The first edition of our strategy talked about e-learning, but in the past three years, terminology, practice and contexts have developed. The term 'e-learning' can now sometimes be too narrowly defined to describe fully the widespread use of learning technology in institutions. We think it is more appropriate to consider how institutions can enhance learning, teaching and assessment using appropriate technology. We wish to focus on the benefits and the outcomes from using technology to support learning and related processes, which will be different in each institution. Underpinning infrastructures, management practices, architectures and services have an impact on learning, teaching and assessment, as do services for learners more generally.


This discussion about 'normative' practices is one raised in other places and many of you may be familiar with Stephen Bax who explores this in the context of English Language teaching. If you haven't read his article on views of technology integration, you should do so. It has wider applicability. Bax (2003, 2006) argues for a view of Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL) not in relation to specific methodologies but in terms of how it may become as accepted or as 'normalised' as a tool such as the pen. (See also Pennington (2004) for a similar article in this area—Search on Google Scholar for: Martha Pennington + normalization).


The discourse of normative practices is not necessarily always mirrored in actuality and Bax recognises that we are not yet at this stage in most educational contexts but the rhetoric of 'normalisation' is clearly apparent. It is an interesting starting point to examine how these ambitions are being articulated in local contexts and this is what you will be invited to do in task 1. In terms of our local context, the University of Manchester has gone through enormous change in the last few years and e-learning developments are high on the agenda. Here is a quote from the University's 2003 Information Systems Strategy providing a rationale for such developments. Note how this envisages impact on type of learning, scope of learning (in terms of timeframes), locus of learning:


There will be increased emphasis on learning rather than on teaching with students being encouraged to learn by finding out, by exploring a whole range of information sources using the Internet to do this.


The University will be competing globally for students. Students will often be located some distance from Manchester. The traditional three-year course will be supplemented by courses more in line with life-long learning. Selected courses will be offered through distance learning. Financial considerations may encourage the University to consider collaborative teaching (particularly at first-year level) with other universities in the region. Students in five years time will arrive at the University in possession of many information skills learnt at school. They will expect to use these skills as basic elements within the learning and teaching experience at University.


Much learning and teaching will be location independent and at times which will be determined by the student rather than the lecturer. The student may be in a hall of residence or at home, in the Manchester region or some distance away from the City - indeed in another country. Students will wish to access the learning material at times of their choosing.


All these trends will require a response from Information Systems. Indeed, the capabilities of Information Systems will make them possible. The two key enabling IS technologies in these developments will be networking infrastructure and the Internet. The Internet will provide the means whereby students obtain access to the learning material, to university services, to libraries and to world-wide information sources. Providing all students with the network infrastructure wherever they may be would be difficult at present. It is costly to provide network access in halls of residence let alone in homes. However, commercial providers are now making sufficient bandwidth available at affordable prices to individual homes. Therefore, the University should assume that soon all students, wherever located, will be able to access the Internet with bandwidth sufficient to exploit the many learning opportunities which are presented.


As reflected in the HEFCE strategy quoted earlier, the attention here is to Information Systems, ie aiming to underpin both admin and pedagogical developments though there is still evidence of tensions! Decisions about interfaces between admin and teaching, decisions about which VLE to buy and support, decisions about training and development are not always in tune with pedagogical aspirations or the needs represented by every type of programme. However, it is true that the life of the distance learner today is very different from a few years ago when as tutors we couldn't rely on email contact, a relatively stable virtual learning environment and digital resourcing such as e-journals, technical support for conversion of different media materials in any way that meant we were offering an equitable service to all. Now the technology has developed so much, universities are taking advantage of the potential of e-learning for distance and distributed learning.   


However, how far down the e-learning route institutions go, and what exactly e-learning means, is a source of debate. An example in our own university setting. As infrastructure develops and systems become increasingly integrated, technology seems to driving in other subtle ways that also need questioning. From the academic year 2008-09, for example, all undergraduate course units (not just programmes) were required to have some 'Blackboard presence'. As tutors acclimatise themselves to the potential implications for their practice, a 'basic' set of content (course descriptions, assessment information, communications tools, calendar) is required. This is still causing quite a bit of debate as for many tutors, used to regularly seeing their students face to face, this 'requirement' is challenging their established beliefs about their practice. Colleagues teaching a range of subjects, some still very lacking in confidence to use anything more than day-to-day tools, are being challenged to not only set these spaces up, but to think about populating them with content that blends with their usual face-to-face approaches. It is now becoming less a matter of tutors moving towards normalised practice because the technology plays a specific role; it is more an institutional directive that sets certain expectations. Admittedly these may also be student expectations nowadays and this is also one approach to encouraging teachers towards technology use, and any thoughts or reflections on your own experiences would be interesting.

So what is the relationship between these technological drivers and what actually happens on the ground? Collis and Moonen (2001: 41), in one of the recommended background books for this course unit, explore the 'deja vu' and 'pendulum effect' of educational initiatives. They see similarities between what they term the 'you can't not do it' thinking of the early 1980s with respect to computers in schools and the same rationale for use of the Internet in education in these early years of the 21st century. They suggest (p 40):


Knowing that this is the current climate can help the decision maker: he or she must respond, and responding at the present time means supporting technology for some aspect of flexible learning. The why is therefore not so important as the how.


This table presents their analysis:

Push factors Computers in Education, 1980 The Internet and Education, 2000
Technological breakthrough The microcomputer Public access to the Internet and WWW
Social response We must have a computer, in our homes, in our schools We must be able to get on the Internet in our homes, in our schools
Social vision Personal computers will revolutionize society and will create powerful new opportunities for those who can handle them The information highway will revolutionise society and will create powerful new opportunities for those who can handle them
Commercial push A vast new market for goods and services A vast new market for goods and services
Social expectation Schools must not be left behind; all students must make use of computers Universities must not be left behind; all students must make use of the Internet
Vagueness Metaphors and predictions are strong; results are anecdotal Metaphors and predictions are strong; results are anecdotal
Pioneers show the promise Both in theory and practice there are impressive ideas and examples of how the computer can enrich and re-engineer education. Both in theory and practice there are impressive ideas and examples of how the WWW can enrich and re-engineer education.
Educational decision makers must and do respond Every school must get computers; funding must be found; new initiatives are needed; policy and strategy are needed. Every course must make use of the Internet; funding must be found; new initiatives are needed; policy and strategy are needed.
The overall movement is unstoppable Computers are pervasive throughout society; you can't not do it. Interconnectivity via the Internet is pervasive throughout society; you can't not do it.
The rich will get richer An incentive and a fear An incentive and a fear


Whilst there may be dangers in being carried along by technological inevitability without really engaging with the evident cultural shifts in educational practice (and maybe this accounts for some of the failed initiatives), Collis and Moonen do, however, argue that there is one key difference in the current climate, and that is 'convergence' of technologies, pedagogies and institutional approaches.


This relates to increasingly fuzzy boundaries between truly distance and distributed learning. Traditional institutions are able to provide more opportunities for extended classroom boundaries, flexible learning environments, interaction and communication making use of computer mediated communication whilst not fully engaging in distance learning as we and you are experiencing it. In many of our courses there are significant similarities between onsite and distance teaching practices. Miurhead (2005: 245) describes the following and ends with a pertinent question:


The Internet provides valuable resources for preparing courses, and resources abound across the World Wide Web. Increasingly, the majority of faculty members prepare course materials that can be distributed electronically through a variety of means to entire classes. These learning materials often follow a course structure and incorporate a learning path for students. Where an LMS is available, faculty are using such systems, Internet resources, and online library resources to post additional course materials for student use. Students access learning materials outside of scheduled lectures and use these materials independently of their face-to-face classes. Students and faculty then come together within a formal or virtual context of a college university or a school to explore and discuss the learning materials in small or large groups. Is it then possible to define all educators as distance educators?


Before thinking more about distance learning, the first task will encourage you to spend a little time investigating your own contextual scenarios.



Task 1 - Exploring national and local developments



  • How has technology impacted on initiatives at institutional, local or national level in the country in which you work/live or a country you have worked or lived in recently?


  • Are you aware of national strategies that are impacting on the way education will look in future years? Are there initiatives for e-learning in the various sectors of education? Are there online or distance learning initiatives that are likely to drive certain areas of activity?


Try some search activities to see what you can find out. You may locate similar information to that we have pointed you towards in the UK context. This might be at national or local level; it might relate to higher education or school ambitions. If you find useful sources, please add these into your postings on the Forums also on to the wiki -- if you asked for editor rights.


Contact your 6 degrees partners, in the first instance and see whether you have had similar experiences in the use of technology in your countries, or institutions, then discuss how you might summarise this and add it to the Canvas Forum. Use the email system in Canvas to contact colleagues and try to meet up synchronously if you can, but asynchronously, if synchronous meetings are not possible.


Report back on the forum (Unit 2 -- Task 1) so we build a picture of activity in your different regions/ countries/ institutions.




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