This week’s Guardian education section contained two interesting articles on aspects of educational technology, both of which have been written about before in this blog.
Firstly, Peter Scott (professor of higher education studies, Institute of Education) has suggested that Moocs will probably turn out to be little more than an edu-tainment ‘bubble’. Regular readers will know that I am not a huge support of Moocs per se but that they might offer some advantages to traditional delivery.
Apart from the glaring inaccuracy of “The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is credited with being first, and now some big global media companies have piled in. “, when we all know that the first Moocs were developed in Canada by George Siemens et al, Prof Scott also states “Attempts to deliver HE-lite through further education colleges and private providers are never going to get very far” and thinks government perceives Moocs as a solution to this. Again, I think there a plenty of FE colleges now delivering HE and private providers such as BPP who feel that they are delivering HE, but maybe just not the elitist HE that is backed up by hundreds of years of history.
Despite these issues, his reflection on Moocs as a neoliberal fix is perhaps the real issue to be discussed – why are we letting policy makers, venture capital funded companies and university administrations reduce the discussion about the future of mass higher education to the impact of some not very exciting or innovative technology?
The second article discusses the possible future use of learning analytics, another technology like Moocs that are highlighted as one to watch in the Horizon NMC publications. Again there is the danger of looking to this as an example of what Evgeny Morozov would describe as technological solutionism, however, it is clear that analytics could provide some really useful insight int how students learn and whether or not they are engaging with the courses.
Two things leap out to me from this article apart from the benefits we could see in supporting students and those are: cultural changes need and how analytics might be used to look at how academics perform.
Again, as with Moocs, just because a technology exists, doesn’t mean that it will provide an instant solution to a real or hypothecated problem. It is all very well to develop information systems that can indicate how well a student is or is not performing, but unless an institution has developed all its other support mechanisms, for instance study skills support and personal tutoring, together with the appropriate culture change, then the IT solution will not actually lead to benefits in student attainment.
And any analytics system would look at not only how students are interacting with their university, but also how academics and other staff are – for instance in how they use a VLE to support teaching, and how they respond to requests from personal tutees. As UCU president, Simon Renton is quoted “By their very nature, such sources of data do not take into account a range of other contextual factors which are of critical importance when making judgments about individual staff members’ work”.
Two technologies then, which will have an impact in higher education in coming years, but maybe best to look at them through the cynical lens of Morozov’s views on solutionism, and recognise that the real changes will take more than just technology.