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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.



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