This week’s readings introduce us to some comprehensive frameworks for evaluating technology for use in teaching and learning. However, I think that there is room for introducing some more considerations and I was inspired by the readings (especially, Bates’ catchy acronym) to create a framework that incorporates the ideas from the various authors and also introduces a couple of new considerations. And of course, in order to make the framework memorable, I had to come up with a catchy acronym of my own – L.E.A.R.N.I.N.G. T.E.C.H.S.
Learners: Whether you call them students (which Bates uses for his framework) or learners, they have to be at the top of any list of considerations for learning technology. I prefer the term learners because the term students implies a more formal and regimented learning environment, whereas learners can be applied to both formal and informal learning. For instance, the twenty times a day that I access a wiki, an online dictionary, encyclopedia, podcast, news or youtube, I am a learner, but I don’t think I am a student. However, the few times a day that I access UBC Connect on Blackboard, I am both a student and a learner. Thus, the term learner allows us to examine a broader range of activities and a more comprehensive set of considerations because we can evaluate both formal and informal learning experiences and environments. Bates’ consideration regarding interaction among learner, between learners and instructional media and between learners and instructors is relevant in both formal and informal learning experiences.
Ease of Use: Bates writes extensively regarding this consideration and he identifies interactivity, reliability, orientation and interface design as the most important considerations with respect to this factor. These considerations must be evaluated for all users of the system – learners, instructors, administrators and support. The technology must also be evaluated for other aspects, such as the ease with which external, open access and learner developed modules can be incorporated into the learning experience.
Accessibility/Agility/Adaptability: Learning technology must be flexible and offer configurability for all users. This flexibility should be available so that all users can customize the experience to fit their needs. Nel, Dreyer & Carstens discuss the importance of accessibility. However, adaptability and agility ate equally important considerations. For example, one of my pet peeves when accessing UBC Connect on my phone or tablet is that the interface is not adaptive for a mobile platform. I would like to customize the interface so that my favourite hot links are readily available when I access the system on my phone. However, this level of configuration is not available, and as a result the user experience is awkward and frustrating. The interface must offer options for users to configure the learning experience to best fit their needs and style of engagement.
Review: Reviewing the learner experience and the success of the learning technology introduces a dimension of evolving design. The technology considerations must be subjected to rigorous review based on learner feedback, instructor and administrator experience and an evaluation of student performance. This will allow the considerations and the technology to evolve.
Networking: Bates discusses networking in the context of using social media and use of open access resources. Nel, Dreyer & Carstens evaluate the use of the Internet, email, WWW, IRC and other connectivity tools. Networking is always a key consideration because building strong networking enables connectivist and social constructivist instructional models.
Instruction: Bates discusses this consideration under the title of teaching. I prefer the term instructionbecause it opens up the activity to a diversity of styles, media and forms. An important consideration is whether the technology enables a diversity of instructional styles and whether it permits interaction between learners and instructors in a diversity of forms and through fluid, adaptive feedback channels.
Nvironmental factors: (Let’s face it, the word loses nothing if we make the ‘E’ silent, and I need an N to express LEARNING in the present perfect progressive tense that it deserves.) Bates introduces Organizational factors as a consideration, but I think we need to broaden the scope and consider the learning (e)nvironmentin order to make informed decisions regarding learning technology. Organizational factors are more formal and focused, whereas an analysis of the environment considers the ecosystem of learning, the diversity of organisms, inter-relationships among organisms in the ecosystem and the impact of technology. Frank and Zhao have conducted a brilliant analysis of technology use in schools from an ecological perspective. Their paper is available online.
Guidance: Guidance is less a factor in making choices about learning technology, but certainly a key consideration in successful implementation of learning technologies. Guidance and support must be available to students and instructors so that they can make the best use of the technology and avoid any frustration stemming from lack of familiarity with the technology and its capabilities. To this end, administrative and support units must develop and deliver development programs for learners and instructors, as well as offer ad hoc, on demand service and support.
Technology: The technology in itself is one of the primary considerations. Bates, as well as Nel, Dreyer & Carstens evaluate different technologies with respect to their affordances and constraints. I believe that technologies that offer flexibility in terms of instructional styles, media and learning styles provide the greatest value in terms of learning experiences.
Expense: Bates identifies time and money as the variables that must be evaluated quantitatively with respect to the cost of development, delivery and maintenance of learning technologies. I believe that delivery and maintenance (i.e. the enduring expenses) are factors that are often overlooked, whereas design costs are weighted more heavily. For learning technology to maintain relevance and continue to add value, the expenses related to delivery and maintenance (upgrades, edits, new versions etc.) must be carefully considered.
Communities: Learning communities enable connectivist and social constructivist learning. However, communities are not restricted to the number of students enrolled in a classroom or the number of people subscribing to an educational video feed. Each of these members of the community brings the norms and perspectives of other communities with them when they engage in interaction and learning. These communities of practice and affinity spaces enable enriched social learning experiences. The ability of a learning technology to allow diverse communities and their network of mentoring to flourish must be a key consideration.
Heuristic A.I.: Is it too much to ask? Can’t the same artificial intelligence that understands patterns of behavior on my son’s (and mine) video games be employed towards understanding, predicting and responding to learning behavior? For example, Multidimensional Computer Adaptive Tests. Isn’t it about time that learning technology caught on?
Security & Privacy: Once again, a topic discussed by Bates and especially relevant as technologies move towards cloud-based solutions and breaches acquire greater impact and frequency. The learning technology must provide a safe environment for learners, instructors and all stakeholders in the learning experience.
So, that’s L.E.A.R.N.I.N.G. T.E.C.H.S. in a nutshell.
Bates, T. (2014). Teaching in digital age http://opentextbc.ca/teachinginadigitalage/ (Chapter 8 on SECTIONS framework)
Chickering, A. W., & Ehrmann, S., C. (1996). Implementing the seven principles: Technology as lever. American Association for Higher Education Bulletin, 49(2), 3-6. Retrieved from http://www.aahea.org/articles/sevenprinciples.htm
International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). (2008). Standards for teachers. Retrieved from http://www.iste.org/standards/standards-for-teachers
Nel, C., Dreyer, C., & Carstens, W. A. M. (2010). Educational technologies: A classification and evaluation. Tydskrif vir letterkunde, 35(4), 238-258. Retrieved from http://www.ajol.info/index.php/tvl/article/download/53794/42346