By Carolyn Lewis, Managing Director, eLearning Marketplace Ltd
EDUCAUSE Center for Analysis and Research (ECAR) has published their Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology, 2016 and it makes interesting reading. The research, in which 71,641 respondents from 183 institutions in 12 countries and 37 U.S. states participated, looked at the importance of technology to students, their technology experiences and preferences and their views on how technology affects them.
The research highlights that:
- 46% of students say that they get more actively involved in courses that use technology.
- 78% of students agree that the use of technology contributes to the successful completion of courses.
- Laptops remain the most important device for academic success, smartphones are being increasingly used by students, with a 9% increase in use since last year, whereas tablet use is decreasing.
- A large majority of students said they prefer courses that have some blended aspect to their design.
The report found that “students’ technology experiences are shaped by their perceptions of the adequacy of their instructors’ technology skills and their attitudes toward technology”, and students believe that teachers do have the necessary skills to use technology effectively in their teaching. This is contrary to what we hear and is evidenced in the UK, for example only last year the BBC reported that “Technology has the power to transform how people learn – but walk into some classrooms and you could be forgiven for thinking you were entering a time warp”. However, there was a more positive view from BESA in their annual ‘ICT in UK State Schools’ report that said that there is a 3% rise in the amount of time students are exposed to ICT during teaching time, with a forecast that this will rise to 58%, an 8% increase, in 2017. Director of schools at Instructure, Samantha Blyth, said that “There is clearly no lack of enthusiasm for technology among UK teachers and there is broad support for the principle that it improves learning”.
But should we be getting so hung up about teachers integrating technology into their teaching? Well in my view teachers should be preparing students for their future; life and work skills, and without doubt this must include the use of technology, but the right technology. Also where technology can enhance the learning process then it should be embraced by teachers, with the added benefit that learning by doing also builds confidence in tackling new technology applications.
Identifying the right technology at the right time to enhance teaching, learning, achievement and skills does bring huge benefits. But, do teachers have the necessary knowledge and skills to implement this practise; it seems that in many cases the answer is ‘no’. It is also a misplaced belief that giving every student access to a tablet, a strategy of many schools, is going to make a positive difference particularly if teachers don’t know how to make use of them; and are tablets the right device for every situation anyway? Over 70% of UK schools now have access to tablets in the classroom, but in the US undergraduate students’ use of tablets is decreasing and there is a preference for laptops and smartphones. The telegraph reported at the end of 2015 that in the UK ‘classroom technology is rarely used by half of teachers’, most likely because when surveyed over a third of teachers said they were unsure of how to integrate technology into their teaching. However, in the same survey teachers also said that they believe that technology can improve students results when used correctly.
I have written on numerous occasions about the benefits of blended learning; combining the knowledge learnt online with hands on practical application of the knowledge with expert support. I certainly believe that teachers now have a better understanding of blended learning, but still require support in planning and implementing the model. According to BESA, in the UK effective blended learning with innovative use of technology is mainly found in outstanding schools where teachers are the most highly trained.
When it comes to developing student’s work skills, I believe there is a lack of understanding by teachers in all aspects of education of how business is utilising technology in the workplace and the skills required to meet employers’ needs. Many educational organisations ban social media in class, but thousands of employers, including the eLearning Marketplace, use social media as a business tool. Its use is very different to the personal and social application and requires a good understanding of online safety, security and brand implications. How many teachers fully understand and explain cloud computing and file sharing for example? The US research found that students believe that in using technology they are building skills that are expected of them to succeed, and there is a belief that technology used in class will benefit them in their chosen careers. What is not clear is what skills are actually being developed and whether it is also the belief of US employers that school leavers’ ICT skills are meeting their needs.
We appear to be moving in the right direction in developing the use of technology in education and I hope this continues, because as an employer I would like new employees to have at least a basic understanding of the fundamental technology processes that our business is built on. Also to have the confidence to apply their knowledge and skills to new systems because they have been taught the appropriate transferable ICT skills.