How well has TEL contributed to contemporary tertiary education?

By Adjunct Associate Professor Rob Phillips, Murdoch University

An abstract for a keynote presentation for an ASCILITE conference in 1995 outlined a cogent agenda for research into Technology-Enhanced Learning.  The abstract states:

“One of the basic requirements for education in the 21st century will be to prepare learners for participation in a networked, knowledge-based economy in which knowledge will be the most critical resource for social and economic development. Students will need new and different knowledge resources, skills, roles, and opportunities.

The past decade of research in networked learning has demonstrated important benefits:

  • increased access
  • enhanced opportunities for active student participation in collaborative learning and knowledge building

However, the use of new technology does not by itself guarantee improved educational outcomes. There is a critical need for rethinking education, with especial focus on:

  • the need for new designs for learning
  • new designs for the technological environments that can support enhanced cognitive as well as socio-affective activities”

This abstract, and its accompanying keynote address, looked forward to 21st century learning needs, and highlighted the need to engage students in their learning journey. It also focussed on pedagogy – the design of the learning environment.

If this abstract appeared in the 2017 ASCILITE Conference program, I contend that people would consider it was an important, contemporary topic for discussion.

However, some of you may remember this abstract from the 1995 Melbourne ASCILITE Conference, where Professor Linda Harasim [1] spoke about the emergent Virtual-U learning management system. [Aside: History showed that Virtual-U was sidelined by the pedagogically-neutral, but functionally-superior WebCT product, subsequently replaced by Blackboard.]

My question for readers is:

What, if anything, has changed over the last 22 years?

I accept that there have been waves of technologies that have excited ASCILITE people, e.g. discussion forums, learning management systems, blogs and wikis, lecture capture, mobile learning, second life, gamification, social networks, and MOOCs, among others. Much has been written about these technologies as they have risen to prominence, and receded.

There has certainly been an expansion of access to education and learning materials through the internet, with online and blended study opportunities prevalent across the sector in Australasia.

However, how much have these technologies, and increased access, changed actual educational practice in universities? I could argue that, with some exceptions, basic practice hasn’t changed all that much. Where it has, solid evidence of effectiveness is hard to find.

But my purpose in this blog post is not to provide the evidence on either side of the argument, but to get you to reflect on my, possibly provocative views and respond to them.

Can you provide any examples where there is robust evidence of, as Harasim wrote,

“new designs for … technological environments that can support enhanced cognitive as well as socio-affective activities”.

I would love to see such details and to share these with participants at the upcoming ASCILITE Spring in 2 Excellence Research School. On the other hand, if such evidence is hard to come by, then this just reinforces the need for the ASCILITE Spring in 2 Excellence Research School.




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Colin Simpson
Colin Simpson
6 years ago

I’d suggest that educational technology is neutral in this matter and the bigger question is where is the pedagogical innovation that makes use of the affordances of these new technologies? I don’t think that teaching practices have entirely stood still in this time – lecture recording and live streaming have changed the way students go (or don’t go) to lectures and LMS’ have enhanced access to resources and activities. But we’re still largely looking at the S and A of the SAMR model. Even wholly online teaching – which was around in 1995, if nascent – hasn’t particularly shaken things… Read more »

Rob Phillips
Rob Phillips
6 years ago
Reply to  Colin Simpson

Good points, Colin. There has been some change, but not much. Why have we spent all these billions of dollars on TEL? For better access?