University’s put a lot of value on contact time these days – it’s there in the Key Information Sets (KIS).
What does it actually mean though? Who is involved? What does it say about the quality of teaching and learning, if anything?
One way of representing ‘contact’ is by thinking about f2f (Face to Face contact). This is an expression often used to distinguish engagement that happens ‘in the real world’ from that which happens in virtual learning environments (VLEs). I’m not the first to say virtual learning is no good to anyone – what we want is real learning! While that is somewhat flippant or contentious, it is useful to dwell on this point while thinking about contact.
In higher education we have an uncanny habit of articulating important concepts badly. Often this in because we put quantification before ‘unquantification’. By the latter I mean, knowing the value of that which can’t or does not want to be measured. I suppose it all started to go wrong the day someone said we should measure learning! Learning – that immovable, sharply defined, standardised, thing! Well, there you have it. We have an obligation to measure the unmeasurable when often the best we can do really is measure the affective (how was that for you?) or the indirect (90% got jobs – “that was obviously all because I introduced audio feedback in year 2”).
Returning to the idea of ‘f2f ‘, it would seem the important thing here is ‘faces.’ I wouldn’t necessarily disagree so much with that, though I might disagree more with the common usage of the term to describe ‘being in the same physical place’ i.e. room. The strength of this term is the implied value on the subtleties of human interaction. The same subtleties are hinted at in the expression ‘face time’ and are conveyed, consequently, in the name of the Face Time app on iOS devices (video conferencing or video telephony application). In education, as in all the other aspects of life, we value being with each other and it should not be misinterpreted as being trite to suggest that education needs to be more explicit about the value we find in each other.
What I wanted to flag up here though (because I am obsessed by the idea perhaps) is the idea of ‘v2v’. As far as I am aware other people don’t talk about ‘v2v’ (Voice to Voice) as term to use with or instead or f2f. But it’s time they did!
In the context of Smart Devices for Learning, BYOD4L, and media-enhanced learning, thinking about v2v is quite important in terms of disruptive innovation because we are able to do a lot better by doing things differently now. Put simply, this is because, as academics and students, we can use our voices in real time and asynchronously in many more learning environments than ever before; learning environments that are formal, non-formal (directly related to learning but not pre-determined or timetabled) and informal. And because we are interested in personal and personalised technologies, the interface of the v2v exchange is realistic. Now. This means that we can benefit more from the highly personalised experience of ‘being together’ (as in feeling and benefiting from each other’s presence) in education.
‘Voice’ is fairly complex, representing ideas like style (voicing), presence (being heard and being aware of each other), participation (being active), and speaking (as opposed to communicating through the written word in particular).
What is clear though for BYOD4L is that some of the joy of being together as teachers and learners and as dynamic, emerging communities, is enabled by smart technologies in ways that were’t possible with first generation (PC-based) e-learning. One aspect of of this more personal and personalised domain is the voice-enabled app – the video and audio integrated apps, and to some extent those that incorporate speech recognition functionality.
As I have noted on many occasions in recent years in relation to the audio-enhance learning environment work I have been pursuing, the major difference between now and say 2000 is that the most important quality of being ‘in learning’ is no longer ephemeral: the voices of learners, their peers, their tutors, friends, family and of inspirational people inside and beyond their traditional learning spaces can be captured and engaged to support learning. I say support rather than specifically ‘deliver’ – delivery is only one dimension of teaching and learning.
If we talk about the ‘quality’ of contact time, therefore, advocates of BYOD4L can confidently say we are in a position right now where for the first time any student can surround themselves with the people they value most. How we quantify this is a challenge, but the challenge begins to be met by demanding clarity when terms such as contact are wielded. And, of course, quantifying learning and learner engagement is a bit of a dark art that can only really be challenged by the noise and spectacle of learning in action!
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