I’ve been giving some thought to Sian Bayne’s paper “What’s the matter with ‘technology-enhanced learning’? ” (2014) and the many issues that are encapsulated in this simple, three-word phrase.
Can technology enhance our ability to ‘learn’ in the same way as it can enhance the capabilities of our bodies to lift heavy objects, travel at speed, survive in hostile environments, or fly? Bayne suggests “it makes no sense to see ‘learning’ as open to mere ‘enhancement’ by the operations of an externally applied technology ‘solution’”. However, I’m interested in finding out if there is any evidence to indicate that (to paraphrase Daft Punk) learning can be faster / deeper / stronger with technology. For example as an optician I’m interested in finding out whether e-reader and tablet PCs are conducive to quicker reading and improved comprehension (through easier access to Dictionary and Thesaurus look-ups for instance). From an optical standpoint the increased contrast of back-lit displays should be beneficial, particularly to older readers, but the first few papers I’ve found on the subject indicate that there is a lot more at play beyond the factors one might expect, such as resolution and contrast. I’m still researching the topic and when I have looked at more of the evidence I will summarise it in this blog.
I do agree with Bayne’s premise that what technology actually enables us to do is enhance the way we teach. In this respect, we have always used the technologies of the day as teaching aids, whether that is moving on from word of mouth sharing of knowledge to recording it in written form, or disseminating through other new media technologies such as image capture and projection, or audio and video recordings.
Bringing together the points Bayne raises and the wider definition of bodily enhancement covered by Miller, V (2011) perhaps we can take Bayne’s argument one step further and state that rather than ‘technology-enhanced learning’, what we are in fact referring to is ‘technology-enhanced teachers’.
After all, today’s teachers can use technology to aid learning in ways that would have been considered science fiction only a few years ago:
- They can slow down and speed up time to show learners processes that would be impossible to see without the aid of technology, either because they happen too quickly or too slowly, or because they would be too dangerous for a human observer to be close to.
- They can enable learners to see the impact of their own actions in real time through rich simulation of anything from basic fractions through to complex economic and mathematical modelling – for example Utah State University has been building a library of ‘virtual manipulatives’ since the late 1990s*. Similarly electronic or mechanical sensors can also be used to demonstrate physical, chemical and biological processes in real time.
- And they can overcome barriers such as time and distance, allowing learners from different parts of the globe to experience each other’s country and culture, or earth-bound classes to take part in experiments conducted in space.
These teacher could already be considered to have ‘cyborg properties’ through their physical connection to the technology as they control it through input devices such as a keyboard, mouse or presentation ‘clicker’.
So perhaps rather than ‘technology enhanced learning / teaching’, or as I would prefer ‘Technology assisted learning’, we should be referring to Technology enhanced teachers. This centres the technology firmly with the teacher and, rather than technology threatening to replace them, it would differentiate them from those who are not ‘technology enhanced’.