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Educators, not students drive technological innovation in learning

I’m going to start with my premises. I’ve tried all sorts of rhetorical tricks to fancy up the prose, but I think this needs to be direct and clear. This is, in part, inspired by projects I’m working on ( Social Media OER’s for educators, resources for twitter teaching, seminars on Digital Literacy, Cognitive Load concerns for Social Media novices and in designing for Instruction). Fundamentally, though, it’s an evidence based account of how to technologically innovate in institutions.

It’s also, in part inspired by a recent #Icollab chat, and my reflections on how the participants – many of them educators who are social media novices – enthusiastically, and publically engaged with a new technology, to ask themselves and others questions about how they could engage with and utilise the tools in their own practices.

It;s evidence based, it’s also, to me intuitive, and in line with my experiences, as a student and as a teacher.


Educators tend to be motivated, and geared to innovate. This is not universal, but is pronounced.

Students tend not to lead technological innovation in classrooms. (Dahlstrom et al, Margaryan et al)

Students tend to look to their teacher to show them how and why they should use technology in their learning. (Dahlstrom et al, Margaryan et al)

The primary drivers of a student’s technological innovation are their prior experience of education, and their tutors use of technology in their classrooms. (Dahlstrom et al, Margaryan et al)

Student’s use of technology is often quite conserative, particularly as a consequence of prior educational experience. (Dahlstrom et al, Margaryan et al)

If you want to level up your institutions technology use, you need to level up your staff use. (Dahlstrom et al, Margaryan et al)

Educators often quote lack of time and training as reasons for not experimenting. (Dahlstrom et al, Margaryan et al)

Students whose use of technology is class is unstructured tend to do less well on standardised testing than students who don;t use technology. (Fried)

If you are afraid that your students might be distracted by the devices they use informally in your class, you may well be right. (Fried)



Students don’t lead innovation in education. Teachers do.

Students are influenced in their technology use by several factors. The myth of Digital Nativeness is not, really, one of them. Students actively look to their tutors to show them how and why to use technology in their learning. Without this structure, their technology use tends to be fairly conservative, and at times, undermines learning goals and outcomes. Students are responsive to VLE usage, and this has an effect on their overall technology use. They are highly responsive to their tutors technology use, and to the technology use demanded of them by their courses. They value consistent, structured and relevant use of technology directly applicable at the time of demonstration.

If you want to innovate, depend on developing your teacher’s and your VLE.

If you want students to use technology well, their teachers will have to show them. By using VLE’s well. By demonstrationg how they should use technology in classes, and showing them why in contextually useful and approrpriate ways. Educators need not to assume their students are digitally fluent and technologically literate when it comes to their own education, but rather assume they will have to take the lead in developing these skills as part and parcel of their courses.

This involves using VLE’s well, and using technology themselves in the ways they will require or desire their students to use them.

If your staff don’t structure their students use of technology, their students use oif technology may well be damaging their learning.

To innovate, staff need time, training and support

Institutions need to support their teachers in deploying innovations, and in using the VLE. with time, resources and training. If you want your students to develop digital literacy, digital literacy needs to be fostered amongst staff. They are the primary vectors.

Educators need to be able to negotiate students desires for privacy, as well as excellence. Students don;t generally want their tutors to know about their private lives, and worry about finding out innapropriate things about their teachers when using social media. So, have a professional account, and have them use an academic account.


Dahlstrom, E., Walker, J.D., Dziuban, C. (2013). ECAR study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology. [ONLINE] Available at:https://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ERS1302/ERS1302.pdf. [Last Accessed 15 October 2013].

Fried, C. B., (2008). In-class laptop use and its effect on student learning. Computers & Education. 50, pp.906-91

Margaryan, A., Littlejohn, A., Vojt, G. (2011). Are Digital Natives a myth or a reality? University student’s use of digital technologies.. Computers & Education. 56 (e.g. 2), pp.429-440


Argument and evidence


Dahlstrom et al are major contributors here. Their survey is of over 100’000 undergrad students across 14 countries. And it finds, clearly, that students want teachers to lead in technology. They want to be shown, in class, as part of their study, how and why they should use technology. They want better VLE usage. Their use of technology in learning, when left to their own devices, is conservative. Margaryan et al have similar findings. VLE usage by the course, technology requirements of the course, and tutors use of technology are the key drivers of technology uptake amongst students. Where courses used technology, there was some evidence of transfer into informal learning of technology usage by students.

Fried’s findings are that unstructured laptop use in traditional lectures correlates with lower self reported understanding of lectures, self-reported lower amounts of attention being paid, and lower scores on standardised tests, as compared to non laptop users. Laptop users admit to, in general, spending 17 out of 75 minutes emailing, IMing, surfing, game playing, etc. A student’s own laptop use was the largest reported distractor in class – it was larger than all other reported distractors combined. Unstructured laptop use damages learning.

Margaryan et al found no evidence for a digital native primary mechanism for the uptake of technology, rather arguing that institutional and tutor technology use had a larger effect than age on students technology uptake, as well as previous experience of technology use on their education. Tutors drive technology use and expectation amongst their students. Tutors suggested that the primary barrier to their experimentation with  emergent technologies was time.

Both Margaryan et al and Dahlstrom et al find students using a small and limited range of fairly conservative technologies when left to their own devices, and requesting a fairly conservative range of pedagogies.

Margaryan finds a possible correlation between a subject’s VLE use and it;s student’s use of tech. Both Dahlstrom et al and Margaryan et al find students actively requesting more consistent and better VLE use by educators.


MOOCS, motivation, and presentation styles

I’ve taken a few different MOOCs lately.

Moodle MOOC.

I signed up for the Moodle run MOOC, on Moodle. A potentially valuable-to-me course of instruction. I dropped it after the first session. I had no immediate use for it, and too many other immediately useful claims on my time. So the trade-off was never going to work for me.

In addition, the interface I found, well, complex. In an already marginal context, investing time and effort in learning the interface for learning was never going to work. Badging had not quite, but almost zero effect. The fact that badges were given for everything was also problematic. It’s difficult to attribute value to a reward stem when clicking with a mouse is rewarded. There’s a lesson here, but I need to contextualise it further, but it has a lot to do with getting your participants to value a meaningful rewards system. Rewards for everything feels a little “lollipops and electric shocks” to me. I’m an adult, engaged, already motivated and (as many sudents are) sophisiticated learner. Badges don;t feel a good fit for that profile. Additionally, I went to a Christian Brother’s school. If Behaviourism worked on me for things of that complexity, I’d be a priest by now. I’m not.

So, I dropped, rapidly, off the radar and became another of the non-completing horde.

The takeaways here are: keep your interface clear, easy to use, and simple. It should be intuitive. A good usability stress test is a must. Stress the utility of the course to emphasise it to your marginal students. Be careful with your rewards system. It has to be meaningful. A good rule of thumb is, if it doesn;t fit with Nielsen’s heuristics, it won’t fit with a learning context either.

What did work well on Moodle MOOC, for me, was the idea of intro videos. The MOOC instructors did their own lecture videos, but in the first one, they set aside time for the development team to intro themselves, from their workspaces. It was, at times, a little awkward and stilted, but good.

Foundations of Virtual Instruction, Coursera.

I signed up for Foundations of Virtual instruction with Coursera. A standard style xMOOC. Recorded presentations. Multiple Choice Questions. Transmission teaching with automated testing. I consciously dropped off the radar here. Again, utility was an issue. It’s US focused on k-12 teaching, and it’s quite specific to that context. For no particular reason. The course could very easily avoid that. Knowing about charter schools will not really help me get to grips with the design basics for Virtual Instruction. The course was too basic. The presentation and MCQ peppered seminars are unwieldy, awkward, and frankly, wooden.

Attention was tested, during lectires, with MCQ’s on in lecture facts and data. MCQ’s need to be well designed to work. They should, rarely, be without useful feedback. Here, the feedback was either not present, or broken. The delivery and content was wooden, so attention was difficult to maintain. It was difficult to escape the idea that the MCQ’s were there because the content was unengaging 0 the designer was actively afraid of disengagement. Additionally, what was being tested was information that I had no interest in, and gave me no insight at all into the foundations of virtual instruction.

All in all, a course I want to revisit, and look at so,me more, because, well, frankly, I can learn a lot from something I condisre is badly designed. Working out how to fix a thing, and why it doesn;t work is valuable.

Coursera Video Games and Learning.

Coursera’svideo games and Learning, from University of Wisconsin Madison, has me gripped. Initially at least. The utility to me is fairly clear. And, though not immediate – gbl is down the line for me – is clear enough for me to want to invest now for that long term payoff despite my short term , and insanely demanding, commitments. That’s a pretty good bargain to wring out of your online student. Amd it’;s worth considering how they managed to get me to commit.

Clear utility – even though it’s a long term aim and goal – is enough to get me to reshuffle my current, significant, commitments. I know why I should do this course, what I’m going to get out oif it, and why that’s good.

The course level works for me. I’m not a total newbie, but I’m sufficiently ignorant so that it genuinely enlightens me. The course appears level tolerant to a degree. It feels like it might have a reasonably broad appeal.

Presentation style has been key too. The presenters come across as enthusiastic, competent, prestigious, and engaged. The lectures are not slideshows, read from a card or screen. They are shot so that the viewer has a students eye view, they are of classrooms, and they follow a particular pattern. Shots of the screen/slides in classroom are short, with only necessary detail, and are jumping off points for watching polished and prepared individuals speak. The lectirer is the focus. Hands wave, lecturers move around the room, shift their gaze, and speak to the room, and not the screen. In short, it’s an engaging presence, alive, and communicative. And that works.

There are some issues with presentation. Some lectures have upbeat muzak in the background, which is bad design. It’s distracting, and we know from Cognitive Load that if you distract students with music, they will learn less. Certainly, the lectures with music were ones that I retained less information from. Can the music, and trust your lecturers to engage, evoke emotion where they need to, and be as good as they are.

Other lectures had cute, cool, funny animations. Again, we kow that such sewductive details, as the Cogntivists call them, detract from your ability to follow what’s being said. Animations that are on task are useful, especially for things like processes. But where they are off task, they detract from the amount of attention you give to what’s being said. The coller the animation, the more it detracts. Once again, you;ve gone to the effort to find good, engaging, subject competent lecturers. Trust them to be engaging without gimmicks. Because they are.

NO MCQ’S. This was so joy inducing. I doidn;t have to rpove I was paying attention by remembering one random fact from a ten minute lecture. I don’t have to fail mid lecture at something.

Lesson learned: establish your presence, mnake it communicative and engaged, use your slides, but sparingly, and for very specific purposes – ideally flash them up with a short piece of text that the core and then switch back to the on task speaker who elaborates on them. Be passionate in what you say, how you say it, and setup your shots so that can be heard and seen. Think carefully about what you want your students to see, and shoot that, when you want them to see it. Construct your virtual lecture so that you know you have your students attention. so that they want to listen. MCQ’s will not shock your students into remembering. They are no replacement for carefully conceived insructional design, the power of the presenter, and carefull attention to motivation, cognitive load, and utility.  Talk about the things that matter to your audience, and don;t penalise them for not remembering the things that profoundly don;t matter.