Illusions About Technology and Learning
Educators have fallen for three illusions that are standing
in the way of the educational enterprise changing in productive ways.
The Three Illusions
The first illusion
is that no change in teaching approaches is needed when technology is added
into the mix. The technology alone will
change learning behavior. "Word processing will lead to more student revision
of their writing.” "PowerPoint will
increase learning by making it visible.”
"Adding an eportfolio to a standard course will lead to greater student
engagement.” This illusion has played
out in many ways, depending on the discipline.
Even though most of us, or all of us, nod at the phrase,
"it’s not the technology,” we continue to somehow hope it will be the technology that makes the difference.
A second illusion
is that, because technology hype so often proves overblown and mistaken,
technology itself can be ignored and we can continue doing things as we always
have. Since the hype itself is often
based on an illusion, we fall into the trap of being deluded by an
A third illusion
is that education will evolve to a new kind of singularity: we will replace "talk and test” with some
other monolithic model of education. Because we have been following one narrow set
of practices for a century, it is logical to believe we will simply move to a
new narrow set of practices. The MOOC
madness last year was only the latest example of this illusion: MOOCs, we feared, would replace everything.
This third illusion is especially dangerous because it prevents us from clearly
seeing the reality all around us: we are
not moving to one completely new model of teaching and learning but to many new models of teaching and
learning. And this process is already
underway: colleges and universities are
constantly adding new options, new pathways, new experiences for learning. Technology
and the Internet have opened almost infinite opportunities for learning and for
building knowledge. Our challenge is not
to find the one new dominant model
but to deal with the many new
Technology Widens the
Horizons of Learning
Technology is not always at the center of the new models but technology does allow them to become
more valuable: technology connectivity
adds value to learning outside the classroom because students can demonstrate
their learning outside the classroom, for example. Technology does not define new models of
learning but it does widen the limits of those models, it does enrich those
models, it does open those models to assessment, it does allow these new models
to be collaborative, and it does allow learners to add to their resume because
students have tangible evidence of their learning. Technology also allows students using these
new models of learning to produce evidence of learning that can then be
Multiple and Varying
Learning Experiences, One Mode of Documentation
Higher education is moving toward an almost unimaginable
multiplicity of learning experiences that may not be not pre-unified or pre-standardized
by a curriculum for all, but unified instead by how the results of these
learning experiences is demonstrated. If
all students in a course make a similar kind of showcase eportfolio, then this
act of producing the eportfolio is the unifying effort. The students may have had many more kinds of
learning experiences than students had before in the same course, but they can
still document how well they have arrived at learning goals through their
portfolio. Students can "make visible” their own learning experiences via many
kinds of technology, in visual format, graphics, audio, text, and other media
formats, and all combined in various ways.
Learning, like science, is moving to the need to use "big
data” to find significance and meaning. Big
data is perhaps the most significant aspect of knowledge development and
transmission today. An individual
learner will not collect big data about their learning in the same way that scientists
gather big data, of course, but the concept, the process, is similar: limitations are not imposed on how the
learning occurs, or how the data is collected, but left open. It is in the interpretation of the data that science finds what to investigate;
it is in the interpretation of the data
that learners find what to demonstrate through their portfolios for course
evaluation, a job interview, an application for graduate school, for a
promotion, or any other life opportunity.
Construct the Content of the Course
This distinction, organizing after the fact instead of
before the fact, is a difficult concept for those of us who have been planning
courses for years or decades. It is hard
to allow students to work on a task or a problem and proceed in multiple ways,
follow different paths toward a solution, without intervening. It is hard not to over-define the task so
that the outcome is pre-determined.
It is also hard to have trust that students might find
solutions we teachers had not thought of before. And, it is hard in many cases to trust that
our students will care enough to work toward an imaginative solution or that
they will engage sufficiently with the project to find even a satisfactory
solution. But this is a real life
test. Employers have complained that
graduates often cannot work on unstructured problems; they have not been given
the chance to work in that way.
Still, however, we can maintain disciplinary standards of
knowledge representation as our students choose evidence of their work,
individual or group, and make a case for their solution to the problem or task
or assignment. Instead of pre-defining
the outcome, we educators can judge the varying outcomes to see how well our
students understood disciplinary concepts.
Going from lockstep to variability can be uncomfortable; we
are not telling our students the three points we want them to remember; instead
they may come up with five points that are not quite what we wanted but which
may equally well express the same important disciplinary concept.
This more constructivist approach to learning may seem messy
compared to talk-and-test. But more
learning may occur. The other illusion
we educators have labored under is that, when we talk, students are learning. Both we educators and our students fervently
wished for this illusion to be true because it is so easy to talk and it is so
easy to pretend to learn.
Below is a list of actions a department or program or
college could undertake to move to portfolio learning, one way to work
productively in this confusing new age of multiple ways of learning:
away from course-centric to learning centric:
the course starts and stops, learning does not.
learning goals for whatever courses learners do take that can help them arrive
at a degree-level learning outcome.
the learner’s eportfolio at the center of the course: it is the teacher’s responsibility to aid the
development of the ongoing learning portfolio of all students in the course
(they come into the course with an eportfolio and they leave with an enhanced
with a larger scope of learning experiences (high-impact educational practices),
relevant co-curricular and non-curricular experiences as well, that can be
included in the portfolio.
the portfolio the basis for evaluation of the student’s learning during the
colleagues in the discipline in the evaluation of the student portfolio
faculty evaluation on the quality of the portfolios produced in the faculty
member’s courses over time.
the measure of learning outcomes be how well graduates do in their careers over
the first 5 years after graduation.
A business model based on the development of a student's portfolio – not credit hours -- would complete the transformation of an
institution from a teaching academy to a learning academy. This new business model would change the institution’s
goal from knowledge acquisition to knowledge creation, from memory to learning,
and from rote to real.
The Scenario is
It is no longer uncommon to see aspects of the above
suggestions incorporated on a number of campuses today, as variations on this
list, or as a fully developed program.
From this list, however, it should be clear that the "magic”
is not in the technology – although the technology makes it all possible – but
in the re-imagining of education, in reminding ourselves what is important
today, and in facing the reality of how learning best occurs. The magic is not
in the technology, but in how we use it.
Go to http://aaeebl.org to
learn about our first Midwest Regional Conference at the University of Michigan
May 18 and 19.
People sometimes tell me they are not sure they should join
AAEEBL "because we are not doing eportfolios.”
AAEEBL has been identified with eportfolios because eportfolios help
educators and learners take advantage of the many new ways of learning and of
documenting learning. AAEEBL has also
been identified with eportfolio technologies because there is a defined
eportfolio industry. But AAEEBL is
really about educational transformation, about new forms of learning, and about
all the implications of changes in education and learning.
The AAEEBL community is made up of people interested in new
ways for educators to work, new ways for learners to learn, new ways of
learning to be assessed and new ways for learning to be credentialed. This is a community rich in ideas about the
challenges to educators today. Though
eportfolios are a common thread in this community, the community is really
about educational change and not just about one technology.