During a recent Elluminate session by Tony Bates (http://mooc.change.ca), he posed the interesting question whether technologies are currently used to enhance rather than transform teaching and learning? In reflecting on his question, I felt, at times, as if I was trying to peel an egg with my feet…
At face value, there seems to be an interesting dichotomy here or an implied nuance that ‘enhancing’ does not result in or contribute to ‘transformation’. This would then mean that the enhancement of teaching and learning by using technologies is not the first prize, and sort of the second best option.
Enhancement may be less radical and more evolutional than transformation – but is ‘enhancement’ really second best? Or is there more to this question than meets the eye?
When the differentiating factor between ‘enhancement’ and ‘transformation’ is the notion that using technology to ‘merely’ enhance teaching and learning; we do not fully optimise the potential or affordances of technology; then I think we are on to something. The appropriate and effective use of technologies offers us opportunities to transform our teaching and learning praxis – and not using technologies to the fullest of its potential makes ‘enhancement’ a second best and lesser option.
But I think the question between ‘enhancement’ and ‘transformation’ addresses a much deeper question.
Using the range of technologies available to lecturers and students in effective ways, questions some of our most basic assumptions and beliefs about knowledge. Merely using technologies to enhance teaching and learning therefore leaves our assumptions and beliefs about knowledge, teaching and learning untouched. Embracing the full potential of technology therefore requires of us to scrutinise our basic assumptions and beliefs about knowledge, learning and the respective roles of lecturers and learners. Actually, without scrutinising our beliefs about knowledge, teaching and learning, optimising technologies may remain ad hoc or mere enhancement.
Some lecturers use technologies to enhance their teaching rather than transform their teaching practice, because enhancement allows them to keep control of what they teach, how they teach and assess it and most probably confirm their identities as ‘the one who knows…”. Enhancement also results in keeping students on the receiving end of the scale – as empty vessels to be filled. Paulo Freire describes this type of teaching as ‘banking education’ – where educators deposit knowledge into learners as empty vessels.
But there is also another way to approach the question…
Throughout the evolution of humankind, advances in technology dramatically altered what we knew, how we stored knowledge, how we shared knowledge, with whom we shared knowledge, and how we assessed the success of the sharing of knowledge. The development of language changed humanity forever. So did the evolution of writing. The invention of the Gutenberg press was another major development. The technology of storing paint in tubes changed painting and the colours that were used forever. Photography changed the nature, stature and function of painting (and painters).
And so I can continue – each technological development impacted on and still impacts on the way we see knowledge, share knowledge, how we store knowledge, as well as issues of copyright and intellectual property.
For a profound exploration on the way advances in technology changed the way we remember and forget, see the Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, Delete: the Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age (2009, 2011). [If you are interested, look at the YouTube video interview with Viktor Mayer-Schönberger at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=drfjOumyFrw]
It is therefore impossible to think that technology does not dramatically alter what we know, how we know it, how we share and evaluate knowing and how we forget (if it is still possible – see Viktor Mayer-Schönberger). It is almost unthinkable that even when we use technology to enhance teaching and learning; that it actually transforms our teaching and learning, albeit in a more indirect and tacit way. There is no way we can use technologies and not be affected by it.
In closing: While I can understand the frustration with the fact that technology is not optimally used and embraced; I also belief that using technology even to enhance teaching and learning cannot leave the way we see knowledge, share knowledge and evaluate knowing unaffected.
P.S. Except for the fact that using technology in transformative ways requires scrutinising our beliefs and assumptions about knowledge, teaching and learning; we should also not underestimate the role an enabling environment plays for students and lecturers in optimising the affordances of technology…