Is EdTech Still Relevant?

This post is a submission to the OpenBlog challenge #OpenBlog19.

As people who work in the business of supporting educational technology you’d be surprised (and probably a bit disappointed) if we said no EdTech is not still relevant, it’s not. But it’s a question that’s fairly regularly asked. It normally starts along the lines of “But surely everyone …” and is followed by at least one of the following:

  • Knows how to use a computer
  • Has a <insert device of your choice>
  • Understands how to use <insert software / tool of your choice>

Despite the myths of digital natives and ubiquitous device usage, what educational technology requires more than anything is thoughtful planning, and careful consideration. Yes, many of us have multiple devices, yes, we know how to get a list of search results (of varying qualities and usefulness), but do we know how to use what we have to provide high quality learning? Is our student’s attainment linked to technology now? Is attainment the only factor we should be considering?

Those myths can lead us down a Daedulus like labyrinth, so what is the ball of yarn to guide us towards the exit? Well, there are two pieces of research that may help us unravel these questions. Firstly from the U.S Dept. of Education in which their report in 2014 states, “Technology is not a silver bullet and cannot—by itself—produce the benefits we seek in learning”. So does this mean that the presence of technology does not lead to an improved attainment?

A picture of scores and analytics –
https://unsplash.com/photos/qwtCeJ5cLYs

Do marks matter?

To further back this up, this study’s research aim was to find, “whether the dependent variable (final marks obtained by the students) and the independent variable (VLE visits) are correlated to each other”. So, does the constant use of likely ubiquitous platform, the VLE, lead to your student’s attaining higher results? Just the abstract provides you with a clue to unravel this one and it reads, “The results showed that the number of VLE visits did not have a direct impact on the final marks obtained by the students.” It shows that visits to the institution’s VLE does not correlate to a student’s attainment. Just imagine all the VLE admins and research projects that look to highlight visit stats quantity and frequency to their VLE as a better student experience. It turns out, more visits may not necessarily equal higher scores!

“number of VLE visits did not have a direct impact on the final marks obtained by the students


Chowdhry, S., Sieler, K., & Alwis, L. (2014). A Study of the Impact of Technology-Enhanced Learning on Student Academic Performance. Journal of Perspectives in Applied Academic Practice, 2(3), 3–15

So are we at a dead end for EdTech? Is a pointless medium for learning, should we just go back to pen, paper, slate and blackboards? The use of an iPad in a classroom isn’t of itself educational technology. If the activity its used for isn’t supporting and developing learning; if the use of tech isn’t bringing something that can’t be achieved with pen and paper, then it’s just using the iPad to hit your IT target. After all an e-tablet is just a tablet right?

So are we saying that EdTech should be thrown away into the growing tech waste pile? Well the U.S report (Learning Technology Effectiveness) offers a hint towards the maze’s conclusion, stating,  

“the potential for positive effects when technology is a key ingredient in well-designed learning systems”.


U.S. Department of Education (2014). Learning Technology Effectiveness.
Someone learning at their computer –
Photo by Startup Stock Photos from Pexels

Positive effects?

Firstly, it’s pointing out that EdTech may not only be there for the sole purpose of student attainment, it can have other “positive effects”; like the on-boarding of students to a technology-enhanced world that they’re entering, or already in. Secondly, a “well-designed learning system” matches up with the Chowdhry et. al (2014) report stating, “However, for one of the modules there was some correlation between the final marks obtained by the students and the way the modules were structured around the VLE.”. So, the devil is in the design of the learning and not the technology itself.

And this is where we start to consider what these VLE clicks really mean. Are they interactions with high quality learning materials, activities that encourage deep learning and active engagement. Or are they frustrated visits to a module site that contains old materials and broken links in the hope that something will have changed since the last time you looked? Are they evidence of searching the maze for the feedback you thought would come today (but you’re not quite sure because the date of feedback return isn’t on the site). Or do the show that the students have escaped the maze and are heading for daylight of deeper understanding, better marks and above all enthusiasm for learning.

The profession of educational technology is as relevant now, as it was in the early days. Knowing how to send a text, and stream music isn’t the same as understanding how to design a high quality online assessment. And pretending that it is devalues the profession.

Changes forever?

However, are we destined to always come back to the maze’s dead ends with “Technologies that were supposed to change education forever”? Or do we need to say EdTech is dead to progress through this constant educational maze of myths and dead-ends and focus on the learning not the tech.

(Featured image of class with pens and paper from
https://unsplash.com/photos/jEEYZsaxbH4 )

Student painting with a VR headset on –
https://unsplash.com/photos/3eAByt3-eOw

This #OpenBlog19 post was co-written by Kate Wright and Dan Course.

Surprising learning!

Back in my Year 10 Design Technology lessons I remember our teacher cheerily telling us about “jigs”, a tool you make to keep re-using and it creates perfect re-creations of your work.

Well, the perfect was a bit far stretched with my level of craftsmanship, but it did the trick for my potpourri wall mount still hanging in the family home.

The fact is though, the lesson reared its head again when I was thinking about how far we should “jig” / template our online master modules. Should everything follow a pattern to make sure its easy for a learner to get learning in repeatable and re-used activity patterns, or would that cause more problems that it solved?

Does work which has been overly “jig’d” lose its surprise and engagement?

Jig Lover

this lady loves jigs
She loves jiggin’ – Photo by Alina Vilchenko on Pexels.com

Erm… what has stuck with me as I take on more leadership and planning is the brilliance and dullness a template can bring to your team’s work.

In online learning design, consistency is king / queen / non-gender denomination ruler. It means our IDs can re-produce high-quality learning experiences by following a simple learning design pattern. This also has the knock-on effect of making our learners feel safer and more comfortable with their learning. Often online learners can feel lonely and concerned that they’re not following instructions correctly, promoting them to reach out and check, which in turn can be a waste of their time.

This consistency means we can produce learning outputs quicker and have our learners have a better, safer learning experience.

Jig Desipe’zr

lady bored at desk
Oh look another innovate video and mass discussion where no one listens and everyone posts… Photo by Min An on Pexels.com

The flip side however is consistency brings dullness and boredom, there’s a potential for the surprise of learning to be lost.

“Oh another video and discussion”, “oh another vote and discussion… “. Think how many of your learners signed up, or manages to complete a module spending their free time learning about a subject they are bored rigid with. So, repeatable patterns too much can breed boredom in a subject the students care about, whoops! Not cool.

That means in our template work we need to introduce consistency, but also allow room for our IDs to be creative and try new modes and formats for learning, allowing the user to enjoy a spark of fun or surprise in the weekly habit to complete their online masters.

The Half Jig Suprise

some jigging and room for surprise in the smoke
Ohhhh, what learning is hidden in the smoke! Photo by Trinity Kubassek on Pexels.com

A harmony must be struck between learning content that is repeatable, familiar ground with disparate learners but also with breathing room for the fireworks, surprise and excitement and creativity from our IDs to make engaging learning experiences for our learners.

Our template isn’t perfect, but maybe it shouldn’t be. It allows for repeatable learning patterns, but the review process attempts to indicate where we should be making something “different” or “surprising” for our learners.

Q&A Forums and learning online

Online learning often hinges around good student conversation to build rapport, but importantly, easy flowing conversation for students to be able to construct learning together. The sharing of thoughts, references and ideas for the group to talk and critique on allows students to all form a higher understanding of their content.

With online however, there’s always a concern to make sure learners are doing their own thinking before jumping on the bandwagon. The gut feeling is it’s easy to jump into a forum and borrow someone else’s work or just take it, thus plagiarising other students’ work or not engaging properly. So, Moodle has Q&A forums. It’s a forum, but… you can’t see any other student’s work until you’ve posted something and waited 30 minutes. After that’s expired, you can read and engage with your other students.

Seems great right, however, for busy online learners it’s actually worse. For students doing a part-time masters, the Q&A forum causes more problems than it solves.

Why though?

Cognitive Load; we’ve found, being able to read other students replies and thoughts before adding your own works better with students who are time poor. Often the act of waiting for 30 minutes before reading any other replies means you’ve already had to move onto a later topic already. So going backwards again to a previous subject causes more cognitive load, anxiety and stress on an already time poor learner.

2ilk2e

Higher order thinking; as I mentioned before, online learning works best with conversation to build learning. The concept of refusing students to immediately see each other’s submissions to advance their own doesn’t work. For time poor global post-graduates, reading the topic or activity and the present critique means your next post advances the group’s thinking rather than pulling it back to the earlier thinking. It’s like turning up to a discussion 2 days after it started and announcing your, now potentially primitive thoughts before joining in. It means you then have to write an initial post, then re-write something else to play a part in advancing your group’s thinking.

2ilkbk

Rapport building; all of our students are 100% online, live all over the world and have very different work and learning patterns. Being able to plug straight into the latest conversation and potentially catch someone else who’s online at the same time is of such high value to students. It’s a chance to build rapport by joining in with your fellow students on the off-chance, it’s a chance to not have your learning experience feel too lonely.

2ilkki

Use Forums, standard or blog-format. Anything that encourages students to converse freely and, as a trusting group, advance all of their learning.

*** In the future ***

I’d love to write a blog post on these great questions set by Christine Lewinski, however, time ran out! But they’re such good points, it’s worth including them

What do academics designing modules need to keep in mind as they develop the engagement for the week when there are latency periods. (Note: that latency in response time is one of the hallmarks of online learning and is generally viewed positively)

What do learners taking modules need to keep in mind as they plan their engagement such as how to subscribe to forums in order to be alerted when there is new activity. (It may be that the instructions focus on the negative “you have to wait” aspect? Can this be addressed more simply?)

What do module leaders need to know in order to manage the communication for the group once it goes live. As in some elements are instant in their feedback while others have built in delays to allow for reflection, etc.

Breaking ground for global online learners

Where have I been for 9 months?

New baby? Commercially, yes. For the last few months since leaving WMG I’ve been leading an aboslutley brilliant and dedicated team to deliver a whole new breed of online learning.

2 weeks ago, as Senior Instructional Designer and manager of the Exeter University & Keypath UK partnership, my awesome team delivered a ground-breaking new online Masters programme to a very large cohort of global students.

I can’t really write too much about the programme for commercial reasons, however, it’s big on, “Community of Inquiry” and has broken new ground in taking Exeter University’s marvellous content to a variety of online global learners.

Also, Moodle doesn’t know what hit it!

This didn’t happen without some amazing, and did I say dedicated team members and very very supportive leadership at Keypath.

Go check out the marketing page here, https://online.exeter.ac.uk/