Comparing like with unlike

I am updating myself on publications relating to educational podcasting from the last few years and I wonder if a phenomenon that has always been evident in that literature and which in my opinion held back innovation is going to plague innovation in the area of smart devices for learning. The paper I am currently writing is about the audio-enhanced learning environment and it considers the many different ways in which the recorded voice is being used to enhance learning.
The phenomenon is that many authors write about podcasting and, to put it very crudely, attempt to explain why it is good, bad, or, as is usually the case, received differently by different students. The range and type of methodologies used to reach conclusions and make claims to knowledge is also frequently niaive and is often based on research methods that are appropriate to other, non-Education disciplines. This comes, I guess, from expectations that, to be valid, research must be precise and measurable. Educational innovation is often good because its methods are fluid and adaptable or emerging. Attempting to prove educational value by specifying and quantifying phenomena is often inadvisable. It would be to misunderstand the power and purpose of education and the way we incorporate methods.
But what is educational podcasting? That’s my question here – still! I’m not going to cite anything in particular here as that would be unfair, but I don’t need to. Look at most literature on lecture recording, for example, where it is described as podcasting and you will find people trying to tell you that podcasting is good or bad. It’s meaningless of course because actually what they are talking about is the very particular use of ‘podcasting’ – though of course it’s usually not podcasting (a quite particular technical method for distributing audio recordings that is interesting enough, but typically never part of the real story – students don’t really need to subscribe to podcast feeds in the way it was imagined circa 2005). This is all discussed in the Digital Voices book.
So, looking at smart device learning, or should I say Bring Your Own Devices for Learning, or just Mobile Learning, or technology enhanced learning… or any of the myriad pedagogic methods that are facilitated by smart mobile technologies, we can see it is complicated and almost inevitably misleading to talk about anything!
What should I talk about and how should I talk about it? I’m not sure, but I want to sketch out a few principles that might help:

  • focus on the pedagogical intervention, not the technology – the intended difference in engagement and outcomes of the intervention by the tutor or by the student
  • be very clear about the context (who, what, why, where and only then how) and situate accounts in time from a student’s point of view and a tutor’s point of view (background, current motivation, future aspiration)
  • find and present the right balance of active, cognitive and affective engagement – is this about what the student does, what they think, or how they learn?
  • always ask hard questions about methodology and methods in reflecting on or evaluating the initiative. Some methodologies don’t allow you to tell the valuable story and results in case studies that appear to have little purpose. What is it that is valuable about what you are doing? – hypothesise for a moment. Be critical. Right, now think about the best way of confirming and explaining this. You will often find yourself using a qualitative methodology. This can include the use of numerical data (through quantitative methods) if that helps, but just because you are using quants to inform your study doesn’t mean that your overall methodology is or needs to be quantitative! Look to discuss findings that lead to possibilities. Being of pen-ended should empower most educational readers, much more than fallacious claims to knowledge based on dubious methodology.

OK, so there’s more thinking to be done here, but for the moment, can I encourage you not to talk about technological innovations in Education, but to talk about what you and your students are doing educationally?
Would you say all your students are alike? No. Don’t hold back innovation by making spurious claims. Appreciate the richness of difference and the implications of this on student-centred pedagogic research.
Finally, here are some wise words from Kazlauskas & Robinson (2012, p.328),
“Although educators should not avoid the tantalising innovations afforded by technology, they need to be aware that the caricature of the 21st century student as an avid consumer of any and all technology does not necessarily transfer to the learning environment.”
Being technology-focused becomes a blunt instrument that inevitably will create problems of inclusivity. Being student-focused allows us to bring the technology to create an appropriate environment.


Kazlauskas, A. and Robinson, K. (2012). Podcasts are not for everyone. British Journal of Educational Technology, 43(2), pp. 321-320.


About amiddlet50

Educational developer working in academic innovation in higher education in the UK
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