Monday, 8 April 2013

Who does the driving? Technology or pedagogy?

Thought I would blog on this one. Please do comment if you have anything to add.

Perusing through the ocTEL mailing lists, I have noticed that a few people are talking about who does the driving in this relationship. The commonly held view is that pedagogy should come first and technology should be its slave. It is religiously cited by Learning Technologists and academics against their ISS division.

This blog post wants to make you think about whether this is such a no-brainer.

Taken from a post on the JISCMail list:

The temptation given the many different technologies evolving every year is that we say “How can I adapt my teaching to make use of this technology” rather than “Is there a technological tool out there that will enhance what I do?”

How can I adapt my teaching to make use of this technology? vs Is there a technological tool out there that will enhance what I do?

My take is that reality is less clear cut than this. Most innovation happens in the no man's land or 'the rub' in between pedagogy and technology, and who is to say what is the 'driving' force, when both conditions are necessary? When you are considering the adoption of a new tool, it can be useful to run it past your existing pedagogical practices, but that is no guarantee that your learner's experience will improve as a result. It may get worse as you get used to the new tool. The risk here is that you are perfecting the 'mechanical horse', rather than rethinking the learning process.

The question goes further back than this. Are my current teaching practices appropriate? Who do they serve? I think the problem is that online technology and traditional teaching are not always comfortable bedfellows. The technology wants to disrupt everything in its purest form, and the traditional teacher wants to domestic-ise it. For example, many teachers ask me how best to use the VLE, but behind this question is 'how best can I use the VLE in support of my lectures?', so it gets used as a resource repository, a self-testing centre, and sometimes an FAQ. 

9 times out of 10, teachers are not looking for this answer: 

"get rid of your lectures and spend that time co-creating knowledge with your students in online discussions and resource sharing exercises"

they are looking for this:

"why don't you try adding MCQs so the students can do formative quizzes, and the VLE will do the marking?"

So the internet-as-p2p-communication tool gets used an a autonomous 'hole in the wall' portal for fact checking.

This is because most teachers will compartmentalise their 'VLE stuff' away from their 'lecturing stuff' so hobble its potential from the start by not integrating the VLE activities with their classwork. For the student to take the VLE work seriously, there must not be a break in between classwork and VLE mediated homework. (You're surfing the same wave, right, albeit with different feeling 'sections' and 'bowls')

Getting back to the main question (Is there a technological tool out there that will enhance what I do?), the argument could now be framed:

What can (careful use of) this technology bring to my students? which puts the technology back in the driving seat, at least rhetorically (and perhaps thats where this question belongs full stop).

I think the recent rapid emergence of new technologies such as podcasting or mobile real time communication really makes us rethink this chicken and egg question. Sometimes technology will afford something you haven't already thought of, or suddenly make possible a new way of communicating (such as using public channels on lecture captures for peer support and resource sharing) which can enhance practice in unexpected ways. Similarly poor use of a tool (such as not moderating forums or over use of MCQs) will inhibit the learning even if the theory is right.

It is certainly easier to evaluate each new technology on the basis of how it affects our current practice. We need to first question if our current practice is acceptable, or if it hobbles the potential of the technology. e-Learning takes us back to the primary question, not to be used as a gloss for existing practice.

Perhaps it ends up like most domestic car sharing arrangements: both parties get a chance to drive sometimes, but always with the 'support' of the other half (shouting out instructions and directions, sometimes down the phone at someone else)      :-)

(and isn't it all really about getting there, safely, without the kids falling out or being sick?)


  1. I agree teachers are not looking for an answer that changes everything they do (I am reminded of the reality shows where an expert goes to a failing business and tells them how to change to succeed - time and time again they refuse the advice, because what they really wanted was to be told how to keep doing exactly the same stuff and succeed).

    Technology is disruptive because it changes the rules so what was true before is no longer true (it wasnt practical to send your students a letter each week, it is practical to send them an email)

    In the last mooc I did I started putting down my thoughts on what technology IS in relation to education
    I will try to expand on it a bit if I get time on this mooc

  2. cheers Joseph, I've subscribed to your blog to keep up. I think you just have to watch some richard feynman videos on youtube to realise that teaching is about inspiring changes in a person's mindset. Technology is part of that, but nowhere near as important as the inspiration. Its not a paint your pedagogy by numbers using technology and templated platforms. The basic truth about learning (and perhaps something you don't understand unless you've done a philosophy course) is that that mindset change may not happen for several years after.

    Perhaps teaching is more about mindset-midwifery rather than knowledge-transfer...

    I recently had a eureka moment which had its roots in a teacher from my PGCE several years ago. I wanted to write to her to praise her for being such a good teacher, and I didn't even realise it at the time. (ps and she never used technology, or 'learning outcomes'.

  3. Interesting post. Especially striking is this half-sentence:

    "The technology wants to disrupt everything in its purest form..."

    Is it the technology that is doing the driving? Apart from the teacher, are there not other, shadier figures trying to elbow their way into the driving seat? How about the corporate interests behind the tech? And how about schools and governments that see an opportunity to cut teaching staff and increase class sizes, and use the tech to keep tabs on pupils and teachers? How about teachers who are tired of eking a living teaching offline, and dream of bigger bucks online?

    Perhaps its less like a polite car-sharing agreement between neighbours and more like an ugly scheme to privatise public transport.

    By the way, also liked your post about Sugata Mitra. Hope you don't mind the plug, but our rather more critical comments about the same man are here: