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Problems with the constrained purpose of educational technologies and their orchestration

For the last couple of months I’ve been focused on helping with the redesign of a handful of courses. This has taken place in the context of Australian higher education. The following is a reflection on that experience about what was difficult and what could be done better. In particular, it’s become an exploration into an alternative to what @neilmosley5 calls “the false and simplistic dichotomy” of “pedagogy not technology”. An alternative that owes a lot to @timbocop’s notion of entangled pedagogy and @jondron’s definition of educational technology.

The focus of this work has been helping teaching staff - who are largely sessional/casual - engagage effectively in design for learning with the aim of improve learning processes and outcomes through the creation of tasks, environments and social structures conducive to effective learning (Goodyear, 2015). But doing so without the luxury of greenfield re-design. Instead, working with and re-working what’s available and possible. But with the explicit focus on improving the tasks, environments and social structures. Work that has been reasonably successful and achieved its goals.

What has been difficult about this work has not been identifying the correct pedagogy, or knowing how to push the right buttons on the relevant technology. Within the context of this project that knowledge was available (it could always be better, but it was more than sufficient for the context). The most difficult part of this work has been orchestrating the diverse technologies (including both pedagogy and technology, see below for more on this) into a learning and teaching environment that is conducive to learning and teaching. i.e. what Tim Fawns’ entangled pedagogy perspective views as the important skill, was most difficult.

Why was this the case?

The argument below is that this is because all of the technologies (administrative, design, pedagogical, digital, etc.) present in our context have purposes that are very constrained, generic, somewhat unmodifiable, and largely stand alone. Making it very difficult to combine these disparate technologies into a larger, more cohesive whole. i.e. to engage in design for learning.

Fawn's entangled pedagogy

Concrete examples

The following are a couple of concrete examples. There are many others I could have added. Much of what I’ve been doing has been working around this difficulty. While there’s a contextual uniqueness to much of this difficulty, these types of difficulties are present in other contexts

Concrete example #1 - entirely face-to-face - the control

This is not an example I’ve been involved with for quite some time. Consider it almost a control group to compare against the following examples that have had the “treatment” of contempory Australian higher education applied.


Concrete example #2 - Face-to-face - introductory video

One of the most successful re-designs I’ve involved with has created a course getting feedback like this (all of the credit for this goes to the teaching staff)

…my 19th unit…undisputably the best one, unparalleledon every level…with lots of interactive, interesting and entertaining content

One example of the “entertaining content” are the face-to-face introductory videos. Short, scripted videos introducing a week. Shot in a variety of unique situations that the script links interestingly to the week’s important concepts or tasks. So good they’ve been used by another section of the university as examplars in professional development. However, the production and distribution of these videos required a significant amount of additional orchestration.

Video production required significant orchestration. Jury rigging a phone with external, a tripod, and an IPad into a variety of locales. Orchestration that was done without any institutional support. However, if you took note of the title of this section, then you know the focus here isn’t on the production side. The focus is on distributing the video.

Once a video is produced, how hard can it be to distribute it? How long has streaming video been around? Leaving aside some historical complextiy. The current encouraged institutional option is Microsoft Stream, which comes free with the institution’s adoption of Office 365. Stream is integrated with the institution’s authentication system, Teams etc. Problem solved. But it’s not.

The following image is a screen-shot of a face-to-face learning activity. It’s hosted in a Blackboard course site. To access this page you have to login to the institution’s single-sign on (SSO) authentication system. The same system that O365 and Stream are apparently integrated with. But as you can see, it’s not a single sign on system, it’s a same sign on system. You have to login again (with your institutional O365 account) before the video will be ready to stream.

Not ideal, but not that big of a problem, surely?

Perhaps, unless you have more than one O365 account. It is increasingly common for people to have more than one O365 account. They often have a personal or work O365 account. Then they enrol at University and get another O365 account. If they have a personal account, they’ll often be using that all the time. They’ll always be logged in. They won’t be logged into their University O365 account. Only their University O365 account will work with Stream.

Then there are other possible issues with using Stream. All of a sudden sharing a streaming video on the web isn’t all that easy. Students can have problems, get frustrated…meaning the teacher needs to include handling this in the course.

Face-to-face, but sign-in

In the above image you may be able to see near the bottom an accordion with the title Transcript. This course and its sister courses are often taken by incarcerated students. Students who are not allowed to access the streaming video. Just one reason to provide a transcript of videos.

Good news, Microsoft Stream provides a pretty good automatic caption generating functionality.

insert diagram that shows the hierarchy of the technologies that combine to form the hosted video, echo the Arthur stuff

Concrete example #2 - course profile to course site

Requirement to design assessment and weekly activities/modules prior to the start of the study period. This information placed into the course profile - one technology That same information has to be placed into the course site. There are two difficulties with this

  1. The course profile system’s purpose is to produce the course profile. The information in this systems (two different systems at the institution but both the same) is not readily available elsewhere. It has to be duplicated.
  2. Blackboard Learn’s purpose is to host HTML and other specific content.

insert diagram that shows the hierarchy of the technologies that combine to form the hosted video, echo the Arthur stuff

What is educational technology?

Dron uses Arthurs definition of technology as

“the orchestration of phenomena for some purpose” Dron then defines educational technology as

Illustrating the difficulty of orchestration

Maybe just illustrate this with creating course sites. Perhaps with a bit of content Need to focus on the constrained purpposes of the technologies and then show the result

Above and beyond what the teacher/teaching team is doing the student also has to integrate that with their own technologies for their own purpose


Robot’s as a start…but limitations

Why is this important?