Thinking through the interface between technology, pedagogy and donkey years’ approaches

In my last post, I wrote about the need for innovation in our approach to teaching and learning including supporting students to develop critical thinking skills. One of the things I alluded to in that post was the relevance of new technologies in teaching and learning. Upon further reflection, I realised that I may be falling into the trap of promoting change without giving adequate thought to the need for a period of transition. I say that because, change, particularly in the adoption of new technologies in teaching and learning, can be more effective if some of the greatest lessons of prescriptive teaching and learning are taken on board. Hence this need not be done abruptly.

An old schoolmate, who is now a faculty at a university, explained to me that one of the major problems of that University was the lack of interactive boards (more on this also in a future post). To this friend, adopting this technology would modernise teaching and learning and potentially enhance student engagement. Interactive boards are useful tools in the learning process, just like other Edtech tools. However, they can only be as effective as the capabilities of the person using them. Much thought therefore needs to be given to the development of capacity for the use of these new tools prior to fully adopting them.

Further, the acceptability of introducing such tools and the potential of their reception by academics and other higher education stakeholders needs to be taken into account. This should include an understanding of the potential resistance that the introduction of such tools is likely to face, and the potential backlash or disruption to the learning process that could be caused if they were to abruptly replace existing ways. It needs to be acknowledged and stated at the outset that these tools do not replace the role of the lecturer, because at the end of the day, they are only as interesting as the person using them makes them. Therefore, any attempt at adopting new technologies to improve the quality of teaching and learning needs to be inclusive, integrate a strong capacity building component and ensure the buy-in of all concerned.

More than a decade ago, I was involved in the process of thinking through the potential behavioural responses to the introduction of a virtual library for Nigeria’s higher education system (funded by the Japanese Government and implemented by UNESCO). In our reflections (I co-authored a paper with prof. Dele Osah-Ogulu), we imagined a scenario where there was resistance because library staff became concerned that their jobs could be on the line if this new tool was introduced. We therefore recommended a process of introducing the virtual library that assuaged everyone’s fears and offered opportunities for learning and growing in the adoption of the tool. We recommended a process that enabled the new technology to be effectively integrated with old ways of working. The approach we recommended drew from what psychologists describe as systematic desensitisation, used to treat various types of phobias and anxieties.

I recommend the same approach for any process of adopting new approaches to pedagogy, including the integration of technology in teaching. Simply abandoning the old system may not improve learning outcomes or student engagement, neither will it on its own make learning more interesting. A systematic process of introducing new approaches and technologies might enable lecturers think through ways in which the new technologies help to simplify their teaching while allowing students to adapt to the new form. Take PowerPoint for example, it could be a powerful tool in teaching, as lecturers could integrate high definition photos and embed videos in them to illustrate aspects of their curriculum. But the effectiveness of PowerPoint as a tool is also contingent on how well a lecturer is able to use it and how interesting he/she is. Also, the level of engagement students have on platforms like blackboard will depend on their digital literacy and the confidence with which they are able to adopt and adapt it in collaboration with various other tools.

In summary, while advocating improvements in the way that academic courses are delivered in higher education institutions, I also make the case for a careful integration process that enables both lecturers and students to benefit from change and gradually absorb it. That way, the change from old to new would be seamless, more efficient and become an enabler of learning, drawing on well established and familiar, as well as new and interesting approaches.

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