Is teaching lost in centrally supported technology

Something I am sure all LTs and IS peeps will have noticed this year is that due to the pandemic adoption of centrally supported IS tools have grown. In some cases, tool growth has been larger than ever expected (causing a slight cost headache) and some tools less so but we have seen staff and students turning to the tech to teach, study and socialise (pub quiz galore).

There are numerous pedagogical debates around delivery of education and questions whether the tools supplied and supported by a mainly non-academic group (IS) are fit for purpose? Whether these tools stifle creativity, delivery and learning by forcing users to adopt a set style of delivery (digital cookie cutter courses)? Both are very valid however consider the education market and the financial arena colleges and universities compete in, then consider the importance of stability, universal design and stability starts to change from expected to essential. And don’t forget the government regulation needs to be met to ensure accessibility and data protection. These are now core ingredients on any procurement process for a tech Tarte Tatin and just like that Tarte not everyone will like it (some people will prefer a cheeseboard…….weirdos).

Teaching isn’t 9-5 or 8-4, its 24/7 and although I am not a teacher I do work with colleagues who teach online, on campus, bit of both (hybrid, fusion, upside down cake) and they are available night and day for their students thus the demand for systems to replicate that demand but maybe not the delivery.

Demand is big, we need core systems to be available and reliable so a 1-hour outage of core teaching and learning tools can cause ‘Reputational damage’, stress (hand-in headaches) and frustration. In a weird way there’s more visibility of tech tantrums and issues than we have of the content quality and delivery hosted on these platforms.

The load on core systems is 24/7 and there is usually no good time to make changes hence we live in the agile delivery world where changes are (dependant on agile adoption) no longer big bang but can be drip fed incrementally thus tools evolve over time. Sounds great but tools that change weekly or monthly introduce change and change can be good (e.g. they added that button it makes the user experience better) or change can be bad (e.g. they removed that button it makes the user experience worse). Tools that change once a year or never risk stagnating and not evolving with the demand or needs of the users (staff and students).

We live in a digital world and I am a digital person (I think Madonna sang that) were interfaces are updated with new options, better styling, improved features on a rolling basis. The digital world we are surrounded by is constantly evolving so expectation of the tools we deliver is pretty high and some may argue unrealistic due to the underlying principle of the tools to facilitate the delivery educational content (to a consumer or creator….).

The sacrifice is that the tools centrally supported, maintained and delivered might not meet individual, course, school or college requirements. So, what happens? Do users go off and build their own tools (open source or paid for services), do they flag issues and escalate or do they adapt their teaching style to meet the requirements of the technology. From a user’s perspective that missing functionality may be core to academic’s style of teaching.

Technology can be an enabler but it’s not the complete solution and the ability for learning and teaching tools to adopt and evolve in all honestly is slow. Open source tools need communities to contribute and grow products and those communities can split into differing ideologies due to numerous reasons. Paid for services are even slower with one eye on the balance sheet and another on market competition. So, we may find ourselves in space where the tech slowly changes (but its stable) and teaching is lost in a tool that does this but not that, where we need multiple tools to provide broader support for differing pedagogies however risk saturating the learning experience by provisioning multiple interfaces and platforms which all need to meet demand, be stable, meet govt regulations and be useful.

(lost in the wood)

(lost in the wood)


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