Technology Sucks

OK, so that was a deliberately provocative title, and not, strictly speaking, true.

However, technology can suck, and suck big, but not because of what it is, but more often because of how it’s used, and the assumptions made around it.

Because….

For me, there are three conditions for technology to take off.
1. Does it make things better/more engaging?
2. Does it make things quicker?
3. Does it make things easier?

If the answer is no to all of these, then the technology is, as they say, an epic fail. So I’d probably say Turnitin fails, for me, on all three counts: it’s certainly neither quicker nor easier than, say, paper marking, certainly not when plagiarism isn’t an issue for most of the courses I teach on. And it doesn’t bring much else to the party, either, marking and feedback is much the same, you don’t get enormous extra insights as a result.

But take, say, a VLE: it’s not always quicker or more engaging to work with, but it can be, and it does make web based work far quicker to set up, and to repeatedly use: once you have created an online activity, all you need to do is redo the link. So it passes the test. Sometimes!

The other thing is something which has been bugging me for a while. Can we always assume that a learner’s level of ability with and interest in using technology is as high as ours? Most dialogues around elearning revolve around learners having better IT skills than their teachers and tha the teachers feel they need to catch up. But is that always the case? Even amongst the obvious stereotype of the be-Facebooked, Tweeting, texting teenager, there must be a range of skills in IT and in desire to use IT. Amongst adults, I suspect the differences must be even more pronounced. So perhaps we need to be thinking about finding out about our learners before we make assumptions about their skills and interests in technology use. We can then identify how best we can build on this, showing learners how they can support and develop their own learning, in much the same way that we build and develop their existing skills in whatever subject we are teaching.

Technology doesn’t suck, of course not. Teachers can be bad, planning can be bad, learners can be tired, disengaged and all those things, and all of those things might make for a bad lesson, whether or not technology is used. It isn’t what you use, after all, but how and what you use it for, and whether learners want to use it and know how to use it.

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