As part of the Turning Technologies Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) Series, we talk to Simon Lancaster, Professor of Chemistry Education, School of Chemistry at the University of East Anglia, who says “inclusion is the key to successful Technology Enabled Learning”…

What’s the most exciting TEL project/opportunity you’ve worked on and why?

The most inspiring projects are those that are developed to engage ALL students. Total inclusion is a must for successful TEL. I worked on a fantastic project several years ago, alongside the student union to put the means for all students to be able to respond to questions in the lecture theatre, using an audience response system / clickers. It was extremely gratifying to demonstrate to students that lectures do not have to be a passive experience anymore, which to many of them, was a revelation.

We chose to work with a supplier who could offer both the physical clicker devices, and an app, which allowed students to also use their personal mobile / tablet devices. It was imperative to us that we could use a system in this hybrid way, to ensure that every student could be included. I’ve lost count of the number of times students forget their passwords, or have come to a lecture worried about their battery charge!

What is the biggest challenge for universities embedding TEL right now?

Wifi infrastructure. Universities should be able to operate 21st Century, bring your own device type pedagogies. However, the biggest challenge facing many universities is that their wifi infrastructure is simply not ready for the internet of things. I’ve been in the situation whereby we’re running a training session with new lecturers and the wifi has dropped out on me half way through. For the seasoned lecturer, we are used to dealing with this issue, however, it definitely knocks the confidence of less experienced staff members, which is not conducive with institution-wide technology use.

Where is the biggest opportunity for universities to embed TEL?

The lecture theatre – whilst typically viewed as a technology free zone, even in the most traditional of spaces, technology can be used to encourage an active learning strategy.  One area that we encourage with our staff, is to utilise clickers as part of their approach to peer instruction. Our lecturers take a responsive approach. If interested, here’s the link to my keynote from Sheffield Hallam University’s Learning & Teaching Conference which discusses technology in the lecture theatre in more detail:

What is your top piece of advice to other lecturers keen to better engage students through TEL?

Devise better lines of questioning to help students learn something new (and utilise technologies as enablers for cohort-wide consultation)! We need to think much harder as academics about the questions we pose and what assessment for learning actually means. Simply using technologies such as the clickers to determine what your students know, isn’t what it’s all about. We should be using technologies to support students in their learning of something new. As educators, we also need better mechanisms for sharing good questions. At our institution, we actively work with students to develop questions and seek their views about possible answers, so they are contributing to the learning process, we are surfacing misconceptions, and our lecturers get to shake up their assumptions.

How are you using audience response systems with students?

We use this technology to make students think! Technology is never used to simply to find out what they know! We don’t like the term ‘quiz’, which is often associated with the trivial use of audience response systems. This belittles the power of the technology. TEL is about making students think for themselves and giving everybody a voice. TEL should be the first step in facilitating a discussion.

We also do not ask too many questions. The temptation to use a new technology ‘to death’ to justify its worth, can have an undesired effect on the learning process. If you ask poor questions, and too frequently, students see through this and will disengage. You must ask a few powerful questions. Use of technology must be linked to the pedagogy you’re employing.

How can universities embed emerging pedagogies and ‘balance the books’?

Don’t buy technologies just to please students. A current example of this, is universities feeling pressurised by student unions to invest thousands in lecture capture technologies, because it’s the latest thing students think they want. Lecture capture technology might be making students happy, but there is no evidence that it improves learning outcomes, which is where TEL investment must be focused. To achieve this with lecture capture, you ideally need to join it up with technologies such as clickers and active learning models.

Follow the #TELSeries on Twitter by connecting with Turning Technologies (@TurningTech) and Simon Lancaster (@S_J_Lancaster).

Simon Lancaster

Simon is a National Teaching Fellow, he holds a Royal Society of Chemistry Higher Education Teaching Award for innovative use of technology to engage, challenge and enthuse students by blurring the boundaries between the internet and the lecture theatre. Read more here.