Association for Learning Technology Online Newsletter
Issue 11 January 2008   Friday, January 25, 2008

ISSN 1748-3603

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E-Teaching: Engaging Learners Through  Technology
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E-Teaching: Engaging Learners Through  Technology
by Graham McElearney

In both the Preface and the Introduction, Bostock clearly sets the agenda for the rest of the book.  Acknowledging the importance of e-learning as a 'welcome emphasis on student-centeredness', the book is primarily about the use of technology for teaching:  i.e. the process of supporting student learning through a wide range of activities.  Fundamental to Bostock's approach is the framing of the use of Learning Technology within a blended learning environment; for those of us working with traditional campus-based students this is most welcome.  Equally important is the way the book is structured: rather than discuss technologies by type, the book is organised by teaching and learning activities.  In doing so, Bostock identifies five key 'modes of student engagement', each of which forms the basis of subsequent chapters.  This organisation provides an invaluable guide for teachers who need to know how the use of Learning Technologies maps onto the activities they already do.
 
In Chapter 2, Face to Face Presentations, Bostock addresses the use of technology in the teacher's 'bread and butter activity': classroom presentations and associated activities.  The chapter starts with a good overview of the types of visual display systems available to teachers, including our old analogue friends, the blackboard and overhead projector (OHP), and outlines the pros and cons of each in a pragmatic way.  Following on from this, Bostock provides an overview of presentation software, including a discussion of the use of mind mapping software as a means of illustrating the relationships between concepts.  An overview of producing multimedia content is also included in this chapter, including useful introductory information about still images, digital audio and video.
 
Consistent with the philosophy of Blended Learning, the use of handouts is also addressed here.  I was pleased to notice that Bostock tackles head on the often cited fear held by many teaching staff: that making lecture notes available on the web will result in poor attendance in class.  Importantly the issue of copyright (of both digital and paper-based) materials is also tackled here.  This is an area in which many lecturers are still unclear, and one in which misnomers regarding notions of fair use abound.
 
In Chapter 3, Onsite Learning Activity and Interactivity, attention is drawn to how technology can support 'traditional' teaching activities.  Importantly, 'tools' are distinguished from 'resources' or content, and included here are tools for individual student activities, as well as those that which may support students’ group work activities.  Again, consideration is given to how technology can be used to provide more interactivity in the traditional lecture context, by discussing a range of activities including the use of personal response systems.  Assessment is also introduced here (although primarily from the teacher’s perspective) discussing how technology can help in the process of marking work, and providing feedback to students.
 
Chapter 4, Online Resources for Learning, introduces what most of us would think of as on-line e-learning resources and content, delivered via the Internet.  Challenging the disparaging term 'shovelware', Bostock illustrates how even the simple placing of lecture notes on the web for students can be of great value, either for repurposing contact time, or providing additional help to those students who need it.  Multimedia materials are also discussed in this chapter, with a good overview of technologies such as streamed media, podcasting, and online presentations.  As throughout the rest of the book, each of these is accompanied by a clear pedagogical analysis of their use.
 
The important topic of acessibility is also tackled.Bostock provides good, basic guidance on how to make online documents accessible, and equally importantly, discusses what students need to do to capitalise on the accessibility features of their web browser software.  The chapter concludes by introducing the importance of student self assessment in achieving independent learning, focusing specifically here on the use of online personal development plans and portfolios, and the use of tools such as blogs for reflective writing.
 
Chapter 5, Online Teacher Student Activity, introduces Computer Mediated Communication (CMC) and Computer Aided Assessment (CAA).  Communication between students and the teacher via email is discussed here, providing some excellent guidance on how to manage emails and avoid some common pitfalls, like accidentally replying to all the members on a distribution list – something we have probably all done at some point in the past.
 
CAA is explored in some detail, focusing mainly on the use of this technology for providing summative assessment. In addition to providing helpful advice, Bostock also refreshingly critiques the value of objective testing within the broader context of developing students' skills as learners who can critically evaluate and construct knowledge.  The detection of plagiarism is also discussed, which addresses a very real fear shared by teachers who worry whether they are assessing students' own work, or are simply reading another stolen entry from Wikipedia.
 
 
The use of CMC is developed further in Chapter 6, Online Student Interactivity, in this case focusing on how the technology can be used for discussion and collaborative work.  Important considerations are raised here, such as issues of group size, frequency of discussion activities, and the choice as to whether to assess these activities or not.  The use of wikis is also introduced here as a means of providing students with the opportunity to collaboratively author documents, as are recent developments mobile technology, including the use of text messaging as a means of interacting with students.  The pedagogical value of peer assessment, in which students can gain a better understanding of the assessment criteria and procedures, is also highlighted.
 
The now ubiquitous Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) is introduced in Chapter 7.  This provides a summary of most features commonly found in VLEs, such as areas to mount online resources, self-assessment quizzes, online discussion groups etc.  More specific attention is focused on features such as activity monitoring and tracking, and the ability to selectively release resources and activities based on either date, or student performance in specific tasks.
 
Chapter 8, Designing Blended Learning, provides a very effective 'bookend' to the Introduction. Technology per se is left aside, and the importance of systematically introducing technology into the curriculum is explored.  In particular the key concept of constructive alignment is introduced, along with some practical guidance as to how technology can be integrated with other more traditional teaching and learning activities.  Again this is absolutely essential for those considering the use of LT within a blended learning approach, and one that can be so easily overlooked in guides that focus on the technologies themselves.
 
Overall, the book provides an excellent introduction to the increasingly diverse field of e-learning and learning technologies.  With useful practical advice throughout, the book is comprehensive in its coverage of technologies ranging from the traditional OHP, to the latest Web 2.0 developments.  Each of the technologies discussed is presented in a clear and accessible manner, which should be easily understandable by a non-technical specialist.  Most importantly, the pedagogical uses and values of the technologies covered is made explicit throughout, and as such the book would be an invaluable guide to those new to this field.
 
e-Teaching: Engaging Learners Through Technology, by Dr Stephen Bostock (SEDA Paper 119) is available from the Staff and Educational Development Association Ltd, and can be ordered from their website at www.seda.ac.uk, priced at £16.
 
Graham McElearney
The University of Sheffield
g.mcelearney@sheffield.ac.uk

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