We wanted to lead from the pedagogy rather than from the technology. Any innovation in education will engage with technology; in some ways we take that for granted. What we need to think about is what is going to be effective.
Professor Mike Sharples
A report published today suggests that higher education institutions and schools in the United Kingdom are not fully exploiting existing and ongoing innovations in teaching, learning and assessment.
Entitled Innovating Pedagogy 2012
, the report has been prepared by members of the The Open University’s Institute of Educational Technology (IET) and the Faculty of Mathematics, Computing and Technology, and it identifies ten areas of focus for the future of pedagogy in our online, interactive, digital age. While the innovations and the technologies which facilitate them are often already in existence, the authors argue that more needs to be done to consider their development and implementation in practice.
I spoke to Professor Mike Sharples, lead author of the report and Chair in Educational Technology at the IET, to discover more about the objectives of the report, how changes based on pedagogical innovation will benefit teachers and students, and how learning can escape the classroom walls…What were the motivations behind the report? What does it hope to achieve and who is it aimed at?
The motivation comes from the fact that, as well as some very exciting developments in technology for education over the last ten to 20 years, there have been some equally exciting developments in pedagogy, by which I mean the process of teaching, learning and assessment. These have been much less well-understood and less well-publicised.
We wanted to bring opportunities and innovations in teaching, learning and assessment to the fore. We’ve written this report on ten emerging developments in pedagogy for the future to try to highlight and raise interest in them. The aim is to start discussion on whether higher education (HE) establishments and schools should be thinking more about new methods of teaching, learning and assessment.
We wanted to lead from the pedagogy rather than from the technology. Any innovation in education will engage with technology; in some ways we take that for granted. What we need to think about is what is going to be effective. A problem in the past has been that schools and universities have installed new technology without properly thinking about how it can be applied effectively to improve teaching and learning experiences. We are doing the opposite by asking what the effective teaching and learning opportunity is, and then
asking how it can be enabled by new technologies. In general, how can the ten themes benefit learners and students? Can they also benefit teachers?
I think they can benefit students and learners in HE and school education by giving them new ways of learning. We are moving away from the norm of having a teacher presenting material to students which they then copy down and try to get into their heads. And we’re moving towards an understanding of learning as a complex activity which involves peer learning, collaborative learning, learning online, self-directed learning, and inquiry-based learning, where learners carry out projects individually or in groups. There is a whole new set of opportunities for learning that haven’t really been investigated or developed in the way they should’ve been. We’re still thinking far too much in terms of the teacher standing in front of the class and delivering teaching content.
For the teacher the benefits lie in the ability to manage these new forms of teaching and learning more effectively, making use of opportunities provided by new technologies to initiate learning in the classroom and let it continue at home. We know that this sort of peer learning and project-based work is really effective. It is not just the 40 minutes you get in the classroom session or hour-long lecture but how you extend the process outside the classroom that can make learning effective. There are more opportunities now to manage that through technologies for supporting collaboration, and for learning analytics so teachers can understand how learners are engaging with their learning outside the classroom. Why do you think these innovations have not had a profound influence already?
In both HE institutions and in schools you often come across the ‘we’ve always done it this way so we’ll carry on’ attitude. It can be very hard to change existing teaching and learning structures. In university lecture theatres and seminar rooms it’s very difficult to make the transition to learning online. It’s the same with schools; schools set up barriers between learning in the classroom and learning at home. This means that the very productive learning young people do through social media and by collaborating over the web cannot be done in a classroom at the moment.
One of the things this report does is to ask how we can start to break down those barriers, how we can connect learning in and out of the classroom, and how we can use new technology to assist these new forms of collaborative learning, peer learning and learning for assessment. Should there be more overlap between learning in formal and informal settings, social and conventionally educational interactions?
Yes, I think that’s one of the main developments in teaching and learning over the last five to ten years; the recognition that young people and adults do a tremendous amount of learning outside
the formal education system. There is even more opportunity for them to do so now via social networks, Wikipedia, and other ways of learning through the web, but this needs to be managed and supported. The real question is how you make a meaningful connection between learning inside and outside the classroom, and also how you extend it to other areas like learning on field trips or in museums. Connected – or ‘seamless’ – learning is central to what’s being called the new ecology of learning.Changes are afoot in the world of publishing with the advent of open access. How can publishers and academic institutions interact and collaborate to support pedagogical innovation?
To some extent I think academic institutions and publishers have been caught by surprise by the rapid growth of e-books and online publishing. At the moment e-readers are mainly used for reading novels or leisure reading, but increasingly students are starting to adopt e-books for their academic reading.
Publishers have to adapt not only to electronic reading but also to the rise of self-publishing, small publishers, open access publishing and other forms. Wikipedia was obviously one of the forerunners which took the world by surprise and disrupted the whole market for encyclopedias and online reference sources.
We’re very much in a period of transition at the moment. The opportunity is to build new business models around this and for universities and schools to look on it as productive rather than threatening. Currently, it is very easy to read e-books but it’s not very easy to share them, to annotate texts or to make notes on them. A whole market is opening up for publishers and software developers to develop new socially connected e-books and e-content. What can we learn from those who have already implemented tools like Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) more extensively?
MOOCs originated in large part from one academic in one Stanford institution, who decided to open up his artificial intelligence course to the general public and was amazed by the response he received. Now, we see massive courses with up to 100,000 people taking part.
The idea is that it is not just the lecturer supplying content, but large communities learning together, studying academic subjects in an informal way. This is a new way of learning that is not about a traditional accredited university course; it’s about communities of learners getting together because they’re interested in something.
The three questions universities like The Open University need to ask are how we can incorporate this into our offering, what the business model should be for it, and how you might accredit it. Some students want to get credit for that learning that they do online or informally. There are new methods such as badges – rather like scout or guide badges – whereby you can accredit learning activities and give students recognition for the work they do to support other students.For more information and to read the full report, please click here.