#15toptips for Student-Centred Teaching 15: Develop your pedagogical ‘tech’ toolkit – it could be the key to enhancing the learning of your students

Let me make one thing clear from the outset. I am not a ‘techie’. I rely on my oldest daughter to sort out my Wi-Fi hub when it crashes occasionally at home, and I never did figure out how to set my old VCR recorder to record a TV programme in advance. Needless to say, I also haven’t as yet figured out how to record TV programmes using the ‘box’ that replaced my old VCR. Some things never change.  I’m aware of this failing, and keep promising myself that I’ll do something about it – but as long as my daughters are still living with us, I guess there is little urgency to develop this particular skill. Online banking remains a complete mystery to me. So I think its fair to say that my relationship with technology in my personal life has always been a ‘troublesome’ one. If I confess that I’m now thinking of investing in a record deck with an old fashioned diamond-tipped stylus so that I can play my old vinyl albums which have lain forlorn in my garage for the best part of 30 years, I think you’ll have some idea of my attitude to technology. I’m not one of the ‘early adopters’ that new gadgets are marketed at these days – I’m more of a ‘reluctant adopter’ who uses technology when it becomes difficult to avoid it.

However, when it comes to my professional role as a university lecturer I’ve always recognised that it’s important to keep abreast of new developments in technology that impact on how we teach in higher education, and how students can learn. Many years ago I realised that relying on old fashioned 35mm colour slides, overhead transparencies, and slide projectors simply wasn’t sustainable. Not only did it take ages to choose the right slides to put into my carousel (remember those?), but I was forever mislaying my OHP sheets. And then the unimaginable happened – they started withdrawing slide projectors from teaching rooms. The writing was on the wall. Reluctantly I adopted PowerPoint as my key teaching tool – which I then quickly realised had a host of unexpected benefits that actually made teaching much easier and less burdensome. I could simultaneously display multiple images and could annotate images in myriad ways to explain and exemplify complex processes in an accessible format. I could quickly re-purpose and redesign slides, thereby cutting-down prep time. I didn’t have to cart around boxes of slides and piles acetates – everything was accessible from my desktop or a tiny memory stick. This piece of technology – one that nowadays comes in for a great deal of criticism – actually transformed my teaching and I think made my sessions more engaging for students and helped them to learn more effectively. To this day I remain convinced that PowerPoint is one of the most important teaching tools ever devised – it’s just that it is often misused.

Soon after this transition to PowerPoint I was faced with another technological ‘step-change’ that had the potential to revolutionise learning & teaching in higher education – the arrival of virtual learning environments (VLEs). Rather reluctantly and with some trepidation I attended a training session on how to use my university’s preferred VLE. At first it looked a little scary. But I realised (again) that the writing on the wall – make the change or get left behind. Pretty soon I was using the VLE routinely for supporting the delivery of modules and within a pretty short space of time my VLE sites were amongst the most sophisticated (in terms of breadth of content) and the most ‘utilised’ by students in my department. Once again, the emergence of a new technology transformed the way I engaged with my students, and the way they engaged with each other. It fundamentally changed the student experience for the better, making life much easier for students with various learning disabilities in the process. It also made life much easier for me – I was able to ‘roll-over’ (reuse) modules, or re-purpose elements of one module in another, rather than having to start again from scratch. I could help students to utilise their time between classes in a more focused way, and support their development as independent learners. I could provide a richer array of learning objects and resources and guide students to use them effectively.

More recently I’ve started to develop my use of other technologies where I know these are likely to help me do my job and support the learners I work with – in my case academic staff colleagues. I now write this blog for SEDA – my first foray into the ‘blogosphere’. So far these have attracted over 4,000 visits from academic colleagues in the USA, Canada, Australia and Ireland, as well as the UK and many other countries. It has enabled me to engage with a much wider audience than ever before, and I hope the ideas I have promoted have helped my peers to enhance their own practice. If I’ve inspired a few of you to try-out new things, to experiment with new approaches and take some ‘pedagogical’ risks in the name of enhancing learning, it will have served its purpose. I’ve also recently started to use Poll Everywhere in almost all the CPD sessions I run since it helps to engage colleagues, enables them to be active participants in the sessions I lead, and ensures that I can capture feedback, ideas, suggestions and examples of innovation in nuanced ways that were previously impossible to achieve. For me, it has become a key tool in ensuring my own practice is built around active and collaborative learning. The medium is the message.

I must also mention Twitter. Again, I started out as a rather hesitant and skeptical user of social media, but Twitter has rapidly become a key mechanism for keeping in touch with developments in the HE sector, keeping in touch with colleagues, engaging in debates, sharing practice, and promoting the CPD my service provides. One of the Twitter communities I find particularly useful is @LTHEchat If you haven’t tapped into this lively debate about all things learning and teaching in HE, give it a shot. Recently I passed the 500 ‘followers’ milestone – something which has happened in less than a year. I now can’t imagine how I managed without it. Some of my Anglia Ruskin colleagues are now using Twitter in innovative and dynamic ways to enhance the engagement of their students and to drive different kinds of peer learning. I suspect similar examples of creativity can be found in most universities and colleges.

The moral of this particular (and very personal) tale is that we have an obligation as HE practitioners to maintain and develop our skills so that they keep pace (as much as possible) with changes in technology in the field of education. These are the ‘tools of our trade’ and we need to engage with and master those that are most likely to help us enhance our teaching and support the learning of our students. Even if we avoid or fail to engage with commonplace technologies in our personal lives, we cannot afford to do so in our professional roles. Our students will need to be equipped with a range of digital skills in order to cope with 21st century technology-driven workplaces and professional roles, but we need to provide a role model by utilising the technologies available to us, or provided for us by our institutions. Recent research suggests that students want to engage with different technologies in their degree studies, but want us to champion and embed them in our teaching. So if you haven’t mastered a technological tool that might help you develop a different dimension to your practice in the last couple of years, take 20 minutes this week to check-out the CPD opportunities focused on technology enhanced learning and teaching (TELT) provided by your institution’s staff development unit – it could be 20 minutes very well spent! My own service promotes a TELT Menu (adapted from Sheffield Hallam University’s menu) that you might find a useful source of inspirational ideas and practices. See: http://www.lta.anglia.ac.uk/TELTMenu

15 Top Tips for Student-Centred Teaching


Dr Adam Longcroft spent more than 20 years teaching undergraduate and post-graduate students at the University of East Anglia in the fields of landscape archaeology, history, education and professional studies before joining Anglia Ruskin University as the new Deputy Head of Anglia Learning & Teaching in August this year. He served as UEA’s Academic Director for Taught Programmes for 5 years – a role in which he had a major influence over the University’s approach to teaching and learning and enhancing the student experience. In his new role Adam is focused on enhancing the provision of continuing professional development for academic colleagues at ARU. Adam won an individual award for teaching excellence in history from the HEA in 2005, and is both a National Teaching Fellow (2007) and a Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (2015).

We invite you to join the discussion using the comment box below in response to Adam’s questions.

  1. What technological teaching ‘tool’ have you most recently started using and why?
  2. What benefits has this new tool had for your teaching and/or supporting the learning of your students?
  3. What is the biggest obstacle to developing your skills in technology enhanced learning and teaching?
  4. What technology are you looking to master next, and why?

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