First cut list of barriers to TEL

Here are some things people quote as reasons NOT to get engaged with TEL. How real do YOU think they are? This may form part of further research…


Issue Real? Do what about it
There’s no way that (my subject) can be taught online N  
Online assessment won’t work – we need discussion each time N  
I need to see it in their faces N Improve the confidence of the teacher
I haven’t got time Y People need time to prepare. So give them preparation leave. Also consider ‘wizards’ which allow content to be prepared easily.
I need to know my students N This can in fact be better online, with a different but richer set of contacts
Students may SAY they want blended learning, but it’s not really of value N  
The software tools I can access aren’t good enough to develop quality content ? This could either be a training issue (perhaps the tools are fine) or it could be real
The benefits are not clear to me N  
I’ve just got used to the old version of the software, and now you’ve damn well changed it all! Y Lots of communication, carefully planned releases, high-touch, walk-around training.
I am a research professor. I’m not interested in online learning. ? Perhaps leave this person in their lab? Or, in the future, an online persona may be part of a senior academic’s prestige or reputation. So encourage them to build one. The Prof can be the persona of the course, without having to do the heavy lifting!
I am interested, but my tech skills are low Y Use student digital mentors/student technology assistants or some other sort of digital literacy programme. Remember that turning a luddite into an enthusiast can be a real bonus. Also use champions – exemplars of excellent practice (National Teaching Fellows?)
I don’t really know who is doing what Y Spread the word about successful case studies. Encourage academics to engage directly with software suppliers.
I want to use product X but the IT department say to use product Y Y This is tricky. Academics will do what they want – this needs careful liaison and discussions.


Removing barriers to TEL – what’s this work about?


Our work aims to:

  • Break down barriers between academics and Technology-Enhanced Learning (TEL) – it’s not a bolt-on!
  • Enhance institutional policies on using TEL

Preliminary thoughts on technology in education

Kirkwood & Price (2013) comment that TEL is problematic – it conflates both the need to reflect on adapted teaching practices, and the implication that somewhere along the line it has actually enhanced learning, so this suggests the need for evaluation and measuring the ‘enhanced’ learning.

It is useful to consider different types of technological tools available in the institution and then focus critically on ‘how’ and ‘why’ we use it in education, so there is a case to start with the pedagogy and principles. The extent of technology that can be used in a curriculum is therefore open to how it fits with the subject practice and with institutional objectives.

We also must consider student needs and expectations – that includes their digital literacies and prior experiences. We might think about how we can enable greater flexibility in online learning for students, using technology. And fundamental principles of assessment and feedback for learning, and how students embed this in their practice, are also crucial. Finally, how can technology support the peer and collaborative learning that features in so much of the espoused pedagogy in HE?

In practice, what do we really know? We mustn’t neglect existing effective practices. Benefits include convenient communication, flexibility, sense of community and collaborative and peer learning. Challenges to be mindful of include information overload, low participation and feeling isolated.

Considering the underpinning systems

  1. The biggest decision is what you do, not how you do it.
  2. IT architecture needs to accommodate both local difference and consistency / supportability.
  3. Don’t underestimate the project and change management – academic and institutional culture and technology! Teaching practitioners alongside IT people alongside pedagogists, with input from students, seems the only sensible approach.
  4. If TEL is supporting a presence-based programme, then tools must be easy to use, training must be available and academics’ different working methods must be supported.
  5. Where a university is looking to use TEL extensively in online delivery, then starting with pilot schemes would be useful to create a robust platform upon which subsequent programmes can be built, without wasteful reinventing. Some external input is often useful.
  6. Think about accessibility. As well as being legally required, consider how people with a range of needs can access and engage in every way with the environment.

Questions on the application of technology

  1. Is there a risk of assuming that technology enhances learning without really knowing if it did, or understanding how or why?
  2. What are the capabilities, or ‘affordances’, of technology for education?
  3. What are the connections between capabilities of technology and pedagogy?
  4. What tools, technologies and resources are appropriate? (e.g. online/mobile technologies)
  5. How will you structure student interactions (with tutors and peers) and support at a distance?
  6. How can e-learning tools and resources support specific activities/outcomes and specific learners’ needs?
  7. How should online learning be organised to maximise students’ choice and autonomy (locus of control), opportunities for feedback, consolidation (practice) and integration and opportunities for collaboration and peer learning?
  8. How can institutions support innovative pedagogy, taking balanced risks?

Ann Thanaraj, Barrister, Programme Leader for Law, University of Cumbria

Steve Williams, Director of Information Systems and Services, Newcastle University