Learning, Teaching and Technology in Higher Education

In higher education, the way tutors teach is a result of their own beliefs and presumptions about teaching and learning. Based on these values and orientations, tutors adopt either a teacher-centric or a learner-centric pedagogical (way of teaching) approach.

But some current research has pointed out that there is transitional orientation between both the approaches.

Teacher-centric pedagogy is primarily concerned with the transfer of information from the lecturer to the student referred as transmissive teaching and the level of involvement in the learning process of the tutor is little/minimal. Whereas learner-centric pedagogy gives more autonomy to the learner in terms of the level of engagement with the Learning Environment(LE) and the learning material, and this approach also allows the tutor to engage in a dialogic process with peers, tutors/lecturers, experts etc. This form of teaching encourages deep-learning involving critical analysis, awareness of a whole raft prior knowledge and also gives the learner the ability to put knowledge gained into practice.

In traditional Learning Environment importance is given to the delivery of lectures to a mass audience with less consideration for students with different cognitive/learning styles. Empirically it could be argued that this results in higher level of absenteeism in classrooms, with learner-centered approach it could be possible to focus on each students learning needs. Tutors would be able to engage more proactively making an impact in the learning process of the learner. In order to make typical class more engaging and fruitful not only for the learner but also for the tutor it is essential that the tutor believes in the need for teacher-student to communicate/interact with each other, and along side they should make provisions to implement interactive activities in their teaching, allowing them to move from a ‘transmissive and didactic’ mode of teaching to a more interactive mode of teaching slowly making a transition from teacher-centered to learner -centered orientation.

Apart from Universities/Colleges following a more teacher-centric approach to learning, the role played by technologies through the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) is weak. Today some Universities/Colleges use an institution-wide VLE as apart of their teaching process but these VLE’s are used mainly as data repository for lecture materials uploaded by the tutors. Arguably this indicate that, academics are being largely teacher-centered when it comes to the use of technology in day-to-day teaching and their exhibition of reluctance towards adopting more learner-centered ideas/technologies associated with it.

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Even though change may be on the way in some departments within Universities some academics tend to debate on issues related to the pedagogy, learning, assessments and to the extent of the use of relevant technology within their teaching process within their own discipline which could be termed as within their own tribe and territory. This sense of discipline based identity and focus restricts academics from seeking and responding to peers from outside their own discipline. One of the main the reasons for this kind of behavior from lecturer’s/tutors is grounded in their own belief and assumptions towards teaching.

Given the potential of latest/upcoming technologies and its implementation into the LE, there is a relatively slow rate of uptake by tutors/lecturers as a part of their teaching approach and there is a general lack of research in the use of these technologies in pedagogically sound ways.  There is a tendency for universities/colleges to use web as a place where courses could be held up in the digital format of traditional lecture notes, with the focus being placed on information delivery more than the learning. To some extent teachers are attracted towards learning management systems (LMS) for it is easy to populate a weekly schedule of reading materials and student activities using the system than to create a complex yet an engaging task based environment which would act as vehicle for enabling substantial learning within the remit of the course.

Traditionally University is a place where students gathered information and developed competencies in various field, where the tutors/lecturers were to some extent experts in that particular field academically or as a practitioner. These experts would transfer knowledge they have gained over the years to their students in classrooms, but all of this can be said ‘true’ up until two decades ago. Today things have changed with the onset of world wide web (www), information is readily available from numerous sources. Much of the information students gathered over a period of time attending lectures or seminars can be easily acquired with a touch of couple of buttons on any search engine within a fraction of seconds. These technological innovations have given student’s access to a whole raft of information directly over the Internet whereby acting as a building block of their future knowledge  - organized, indexed and affordable content, resources and instruction available 24 x 7.

This process of acquiring knowledge gives students control over their own learning process in/out of their classroom. Hence it becomes key to keep the focus on the learner or their learning process enabled by technologies in-build within existing LE(bridging the digital divide). But in order for the University to bring about this change wherein Universities use VLE’s as more than a data repository; taking an active role in the learning process of the learners, lecturers/tutors will have to become more than information experts but collaborators in the learning process working along side students, designing positive ways to work and think.

Bringing about such change in teachers beliefs and working within the University directives on the use of relevant technology and at the same time engaging students with new technological advancements and keeping them motivated through out the learning period would most certainly not easy but wont be ‘impossible’ either.


About the Author
Author: Uday NairWebsite: http://www.pretsels.co.uk
Consultant with over 15 years of experience in the field of 'Business Analysis', 'Strategic Growth', 'Training and Coaching', 'e-Learning', 'Data Analytics', ' Research and Development of Ubiquitous Technologies', ' Project Management', 'Social Entrepreneurship' and 'Innovation'. Worked across UK, India, Europe and the Middle East.

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