Ideas are central to our need to connect and communicate – and technology has become a pivotal process or tool in that social and intellectual process of connectedness. Has it transformed learning in higher education? Not so much!
Let’s be clear – using technology and/or technology tools does not equate with empowerment of the learning/knowledge formation experience – unless the technology connection allows for critical knowledge connections to form, or transform, the experience of learning. This is a huge challenge, and while I understand that technology is around us (and that in my case I deliver all the learning experiences in my degree programs with technology) I am not convinced that I know yet what online learning is all about.
For example, Steve Wheeler re-iterated the often-stated importance of technology in schools in his recent post Talking Tech:
The personal, mobile device has started to transform learning in both formal and informal contexts. Learning in any place and at any time is going to gain traction in the coming years, and the emphasis will be on personal learning. Students can gain access to any amount of resources and connections that will help them to learn; they can use their mobile phones to connect with others; and also create and share their own content with potentially huge audiences outside and beyond the walls of the classroom. The value of this is immeasurable.
Trouble is, this does not convince me at all that we have made significant progress in understanding exactly what we are aiming for. Tim Klapdor expressed this very clearly in reflecting on the current state of mobile learning:
The reality is that institutions (and the entire edtech industry) have under estimated the paradigm shift required to embrace mobile. It’s still treated as just a feature, or a nice to have rather than the future of computing.
Tim pins down the practicalities of mobile learning in higher education, and mirrors my experience (and huge challenges) of trying to shift a university environment past the bleeding obvious integration of mobile (there’s an BB App for that) (it’s clunky at best).
I prefer to treat mobile as the tool for daily, fast interaction within a cohort of curious learners. It would be arrogant of me to claim to know everything about the subject areas that I may be working in – and so I see learning as a peer education experience. So mobile is vital for ease of connection, and engagement with the very essence of our critical connections – people, information, tools, communication, and more. How else can we genuinely power our minds? How else do we move past the more traditional higher education experience of “I have the content, now you learn it please” model of engagement?
What we have is a an information interconnection between us which can be conceptualized as complexes of activities, tools and values, and for this the personal learning environments we create for students in the higher education experience must represent learning and inquiry that is responsive to these new information landscapes.
More easily said than done – as we are hamstrung by systems and practices that make it hard to liberate the potential of technology and mobile learning. Add to that the culture of openness that has had a significant impact on the educational sphere, as shown by the rise of open educational resources (OER) and open access (OA). While a complete transition to information openness has not yet been realised, educational practices that are entirely focused around traditional, closed and proprietary knowledge systems are in tension with these changing information landscapes.
So I find myself wrangling with BlackBoard, and horrified by the constraints that the Blackboard CSS places on the learning experience. What a contrast to read GitHub for Academics: the open-source way to host, create and curate knowledge which was orinally published back in 2013 at Hybrid Pedagogy. I read it then, and read it again now, and (depressingly) realise that in the normal day-to-day work I am involved in, pure, focused and genuine innovation is well-nigh impossible. Unless of course you are head of an innovation unit, or in some other fancy role, and have time and money to throw at the project of transforming higher education.
I wish! Academics like me don’t get that kind of opportunity.
All I can do is work with my students in my newest degree program, and hope that in some small way we can make critical connections, power our minds together, and move learning forward to the future!
Live long and prosper.