Liveblog – CALRG reading group on ‘What’s the matter with ‘Technology Enhanced Learning’?’

This week in CALRG, we discussed Sian Bayne’s paper: ‘What’s the matter with ‘Technology Enhanced Learning?’ (available online here). Below is a liveblog of the group discussion on the topic, with each bullet point representing one idea that was shared by someone present (whose views are not necessarily my own). As this was written live, please excuse any typos.

  • Why this paper was selected: we were thinking of people new to TEL and thinking about getting them to reflect on the area, what the area is doing, what it has done in the past, and what the focus is. One thing you should do at the start of your research is define your terms. Our field is one that we haven’t quite decided what it is called. This paper is a provocation — what might be wrong with the term we currently use.
  • The article relates to discourse analysis and the impacts of discourse on what’s being said. There’s an issue with the word ‘enhancement,’ as it implies an idea that we are using what is already there and tweaking it a bit to make it better. There are ties between this paper and the current MRes curriculum at the OU, where they are covering discourse analysis.
  • Kirkwood and Price paper is mentioned in this article [available here] — connection to IET department, as they both work for the OU. Reading this paper is a good next stop.
  • Kirkwood and Price are very critical in their paper about the use of the word TEL, so it is interesting that she would adopt it counter to her own argument. Similarly, I don’t see much of what we do here in Sian’s account of TEL.
  • In any writing, the author promotes their position in the language used in their writing. The types of words they are using show their feeling toward the subject. In this paper, it seems that she’s being critical of Kirkwood & Price. She calls their article a “brave account”
  • That makes sense, if they are being brave in promoting TEL. However, you wouldn’t use that word about the Kirkwood and Price article, if you read the paper, as it is rather critical of TEL
  • Kirkwood & Price do review some of the studies in the field, though, and what concepts people have of ‘enhanced’ in current research. She’s not looking at what happens under this label, whether or not we like the label. Terms come in and out of fashion, and you have to keep that in mind. What matters is the research and practice being conducted underneath the label.
  •  She makes a criticism of ‘learnification’ of education, but there are some areas where the learner is essential, such as incidental learning.
  • I liked the criticism of ‘learning’ actually, because on page 16, when she’s talking about reducing education to learning — that’s critical and important. When you think about what your research is trying to help, and you’re only thinking about the learning aspect of it, you aren’t thinking about the system in which they are learning. Education as a system needs to be considered critically — what is being taught and what the purpose of education is in society.
  • Yes, but I think there’s a false dichotomy set up in this paper. The author assumes that the move should be away from learning and back to education, as if the teacher is neutral in that. It’s good to not forget to take that step back, but it feels like lots of things in this field are in reaction to something that feels negative at the time. Example: ‘computers & learning’ was in reaction to instructional technologies focused on the teacher. Computers & learning was a shift to talking about learning, and it moved us on from this teacher-centered view. That’s not where we should stop necessarily, but for me it doesn’t hold the negative connotations that Bayen’s pointing out.
  • Bayne didn’t overtly say this, but, in a way, she’s using the wording of TEL to de-humanize the idea of teaching. From a tech point of view, we can replace a facilitator with technology, but we can’t replace a teacher. If we take it to a more neutral view of technology as an object, then we can start saying we can remove that teacher element. That student-centered view of learning is pushing away from the necessity of the teacher. But we can control technology to not be that neutral party — that’s what Bayne’s saying.
  • Why should a teacher be privileged over a learner?
  • I’m not saying that, but the shift in language makes them not people any more, they are an issue that we can now replace. A specialist becomes a facilitator, and then he’s out the door. We’ve dehumanised that position until we can replace it.
  • If you take a scholarly approach towards analysing a term, you should start with your primary sources, but Bayne started with Google terms. However, TEL was coined quite recently, and all the documentation of it are there [available here, here, and here]. It came out of a meeting on October 1, 2001 with a group of people who came together to discuss aspects of how the European Commission should support the next projects. Groups looked at different aspects, and argued we needed a more integrative approach, arguing for using the term ‘Technology Supported Learning’. Bayne is saying the term has no cultural linkages, but when the term was first introduced, it was emphasizing the need for cultural linkages and understanding the human in learning. The word ‘Enhanced’ soon replaced ‘Supported,’ with the goal of implying an empowerment of individuals to build competencies in social and cultural environments. The very original definition emphasized these intertwined notions of learning. It was originally derived from a post-humanist idea of education, which the author is arguing for. Secondly, anyone can play language games and take terms out of context. We can play these same critical discourse approaches to words used in this piece, but it isn’t necessarily productive. The piece is not critiquing TEL as a field, it’s critiquing the words used to describe it. The argument is not engaging with the practice, but rather playing with what the author thinks the words mean in terms of her own cultural and academic perspectives. It has nothing to do with what we’re actually doing and was not the original intention of the term.
  • It’s interesting to hear some of the negative reactions to this paper and it would be interesting to see if that’s true across the field. Is this reaction a broad perspective across the field, or is this more about the use of TEL in our own department? Are there implications from this piece for what the outcome of practice is in a broader spectrum?
  • That’s a good point. I do like Bayne’s general points, but there are some things she gets wrong. For instance, she says term ‘TEL’ is from the UK, but it’s not — it’s European. But the article gets you thinking, and that’s a good start. I think at the OU, we were quite ahead of our time in how we conceive of educational technology. Historically, it was about the science and the system of approaching education and education practice, which is a really broad take on technology. Similarly, our technology faculty had a broad and contemporary take on research. Culturally, it made me think about what our roots were and how the take that Bayne has on TEL doesn’t have to be like that.
  • Her conclusion is directly in conflict with the evidence you found out [of the origins of TEL terminology] — She’s very clear about her views in this, but it is directly in conflict with your evidence
  • It doesn’t matter what terminology you use, you can always play with language. It doesn’t ultimately get us anywhere forward.
  • But I think ‘language games’ is a loaded term. You could say it actually takes a lot of work to unpack what the implications are of words and the meaning words have for different people. Possibly the meaning intended for words when it was set up has lost its roots.
  • But it’s still good scholarship to go back to the roots
  • But there’s a bit more to it. What this paper does do is get us to think about what do we mean about TEL and what assumptions are embedded in it for us. It’s subtly different to each one of us and it provokes us to have this discussion.
  • I had a pre-conceived notion of TEL before reading this, and it did provoke me to have a second look at what I thought was TEL. I do believe that we need to have a better understanding of the social meaning when we use this terminology. Probably there are a lot of scholarly works out there on this topic, and this article challenged me to go find them.
  • I had a problem with how this article separated the words, because together they have an impact. In separating, you get different meanings than when they are together. It’s the impact of the three together words together. It’s the term as a whole, and this article didn’t really consider that.
  • There’s this notion in the paper that you shouldn’t think of technology or education as separate things, you should see them as intertwined. Yes, but there’s a whole blend of work on this, for example: blended activity theory. There is an accepted approach that has been reviewed, and taken that link forward on a strong psychological base. This should have been included in this paper. Bayne’s view is that critical humanism is going to take this somewhere, and activity theory is bringing this forward more than focusing on the teacher.
  • There’s not an engagement in this piece with what project are doing and the focus is too much on the words that are used
  • The author is also using the word ‘enhanced’ in two ways. First, it’s used as the way technology enhances the physical human body (transhumanism), and then it’s applying that same word to the enhancement of learning. The idea of ‘enhancement’ is used differently than this in the TEL community, as it’s more about the way technology will enhance learning progress, not the physical, human body or cognition. The focus in the TEL community is whether technology has beneficial results. So, the author is taking a very different meaning of the same term and using it in two different contexts.
  • The author writes nicely about the uncanny valley and robotics in this piece, but she has’t done a self-citation in the whole review. That might be good practice, but she’s written stuff about this. She has a nice paper about understanding the black-ness around presenting yourself digitally. It’s interesting that these were not included.
  • In my own work, I’ve used the word ‘enabled’ rather than ‘enhanced’ because I’m looking at organisational learning and this wasn’t possible before technology, as opposed to TEL which is being put forward to enhance an education activity that was there before.
  • Idea of enhanced as an improvement: It’s problematic when you start thinking about improvement in learning because it sets you up for having to be able to measure that. When using that sort of language, you have to be able to measure and demonstrate the improvement. How do you assess that learning has occurred?
  • We shouldn’t think of enhancement as synonymous with improvement. In the end, it might not improve things at all.
  • When you start  worrying about words, it can sometimes be a good thing. For instance, this paper could sensitize us to negative influences of what we do in research. Also sometimes you end up with words that do mean something, but if you use them in a paper you’re going to get critiqued. Words can become a short hand for what everyone in the field knows, and this can mean different things in different fields. It some ways this is reasonable, but then you get stuck in a cycle of being careful with your words. Example: use of the word ‘authentic’ between sciences and social sciences
  • There are terms that when we see them, we do perceive them in a certain way. One way to get around that is to try to use a non-value-laden terms, but that’s difficult. You do have to watch the language that you use in order to not offend people or to avoid misinterpretation. Example: we used to say ‘informal learning,’ and now we use ‘learning in informal settings’ because you can learn informally in the classroom. The change in terminology makes clear that it’s the location where it’s practiced that’s important.
  • I think that’s important, especially in cross-disciplinary fields here in IET, or in TEL in general. You have to think of the different stakeholders you’re engaging with and what their pre-conceived notions of words are. You can use different vocabulary to mean the same thing. This paper highlights the need to have a shared understanding of the meaning of terms in context. That’s a critical step at the start of any new project, to establish that baseline of understanding and defining the words you’ll use in the project.
  • We found that writing a glossary of shared terms is important at the start of a project
  • Terms that feel obvious to you may mean something different to someone else
  • In this paper, it seemed as though the author felt tension with the idea that education has become an economic transaction
  • If that’s the case, then it’s interesting that the wording of ‘TEL’ is the thing the author is swiping at, rather than the modern, adopted view of students as consumers
  • In many respects the author was right in arguing that you can’t divorce the learning from the context in which it happened, but then there is an assumption that learning has purpose in the first place

Quick links:
Kirkword & Price (2014)
Primary sources from the origins of ‘TEL’ (here, here, and here).

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