What do university teachers think e-learning is good for?

University in Budapest

This is the title of an article by Gonzalez which appeared in 2010 in the journal Studies in Higher Education. We used this reading last year in Module 1 of the PG Cert (LSE’s teaching qualification) in an introductory seminar about learning technologies. I am teaching the technology and digital and information literacy aspects of this course, with my colleague Dr Claire Gordon, who is a Teaching Fellow at LSE’s European Institute and an Educational Developer in our Teaching and Learning Centre. We decided to stick with the article this year, despite my slight concerns that it focuses on what teachers think e-learning is good for, not what it actually might be good for! This year we agreed to take a seminar each and Monday was the first time I had run this type of session on my own.

Seminars are a little scary for me, particularly as they bring back memories of undergraduate days when everyone sat around a professor’s office not daring to be the first person to say something, or admit whether we had (or hadn’t!) done the reading. They are also a quite different way of teaching to my usual session which is a hands-on training session, a lecture or more commonly these days, a workshop, where I present but have some activities for participants. I started off asking who had done the reading, the session ended up being attended by 14 articulate LSE Graduate Teaching Assistants. Most had read the article, a few hadn’t, so I gave them a few pages to focus on in the first activity, which is the four categories of e-learning that Gonzalez describes. I also asked everyone to briefly introduce themselves, say which department they were teaching in and any experiences of using learning technologies to date.

What is clear is that many of the teachers start off focusing on the way we use Moodle at LSE, which is largely as a way of providing content to students- readings, lecture notes etc. Gonzalez classes this as category A which is the least sophisticated, and most passive way of using e-learning. The other issue that many teachers raised, was what role technology plays in a campus based university where students really want face to face teaching. We moved on to consider the advantages and disadvantages of each category of e-learning. Most concluded that the most developed model of e-learning as described by Gonzalez was potentially very time consuming. The teachers did explore some more interesting ways of using e-learning. One teacher had seen a course at another university that used a wiki in a group project and the ability to see individual students’ contributions was deemed highly valuable. Other teachers seemed keen to explore further the use of discussion forums as a way of communicating more effectively with the students in their class. Finally a number of students raised the problems of using e-learning simply to deliver content, a few talked about students not being able to find material in the Library or being reluctant to read something that wasn’t online.

We finished the session with a new activity, lifted from UCL’s PGCert and released as part of the CPD4HE project, which was a sister project to DELILA. There are a fantastic set of resources on their website which are all licensed under Creative Commons. We used an activity where students had to consider a number of assertions about e-learning and pick the one they agreed with, and the one most open to challenge. The resource is available on their website but it worked really well as a way of rounding off the session. Everyone agreed that e-learning was valuable for widening participation but all felt that e-learning did not free up time for research, or save time and money. I am looking forward to the workshop later in the week when we explore some of the specific learning technologies in more detail.

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