e-learning? Isn’t it just learning?

I’ve been trying to attend the JISC innovating e-learning conference 2007
but what with final year assessment and external examination boards coming up, it’s been difficult to participate, even as a lurker!

However, one thing that occurs to me is that sticking the letter e in front of a real-world concept does not give it magical powers! So we have e-learning, e-portfolios, e-assessment, e-etc, but what are they really? Aren’t they just the real-world concepts supported by technology?

Universities are interesting places, the reality is that you get a PhD and a lectureship; they put you on an induction course for a week; and then throw you to the wolves and expect you to be an instant expert in pedagogy. Once you’re through the probation, you don’t even have to practice any form of CPD! Thus, bad habits are formed early and never really corrected. If they did that with primary and secondary teachers and let them out into the world without so much as a PGCE there’d be a national (nay international) outcry.

There are bodies whose role should be be change this. There’s the Higher Education Academy, which is supposed to be accrediting lecturer training, encouraging good standards of pedagogy and transfer of good practice, and to which lecturers are encouraged to join. (This was supposed to introduce the equivalent of the PGCE for new lecturers, but that seems to have gone away.) There are also quasi-educational bodies like JISC which promotes ICT in higher education and has lately been funding and promoting various e-learning activities (including the above mentioned conference).

These and other related bodies beaver away promoting best practice and funding trials but the fundamental problem is that, because the typical university lecturer is not properly trained (nor lets face it particularly encouraged to train) in the basic concepts of pedagogy, the best we can do with new technology is play with it and try interesting things out with our students with the hope that it’ll improve their grades (note I deliberately avoided the word learning here).

Colleagues at the JISC conference are worried about maintaining instituitional control of Web 2.0 technologies while our students are immersed in them,; worried about our students being so far ahead of their lecturers in tech. savvie that lecturers will fall behind; wondering how to get institutions can invest in the new technologies. Unfortunately, he reality is that fundamentally, most of us don’t know what Web 1.0 is; have difficulties with the concept of a learning portfolio, let alone an e-portfolio; wouldn’t recognize a social networking site if it poked us in the eye; and have difficulties enough with our first life!

Here’s my suggestion for institutional transform and lifelong learning. Make it a requirement that we (really) learn how to teach. Make us use VLEs, e-portfolios, blogs and wikis as students. Give us promotion only if we succeed. Make us lifelong learners of pedagogy and then we’ll be better placed to pass on our learned wisdom to our students.

Don’t just stick an e in front of the words, we don’t have the basic vocabulary!

Author: cpjobling

Senior lecturer, College of Engineering, Swansea University