Are you regarded by your academic colleagues and students as a technophobe?
Does your heart sink every time you are exhorted to use some form of online blended learning?
An alternative word for blended may be mixed and that is sometimes my perspective on such approaches to the provision of learning experiences especially as frequently the exaltation appears to come from someone who has no insight or understanding of my contribution to the curriculum.
Amstrad PCW CC Image courtesy of JJ Merelo on Flickr
When I was an undergraduate student; many moons ago, studying nurse education, an optional module appeared in the third year of our studies which seem to be a necessary consideration for the future. The module was entitled “Computer Studies” and I duly signed up with a degree of trepidation but a desire to understand the machinations of my Amstrad Computer in more detail. Looking back it was not a detailed technical module. The assignment for the module involved the production of a word document, an excel spreadsheet and a PowerPoint presentation; items which I now seem able to execute without experiencing the trauma of that module. A particular sticking point for me at that time was that I was uncertain about how to save and retrieve the work that I was engaging in towards the assignment. I approached the lecturer of the module for some advice. She looked at me with that kind of pitying stare that just makes you wish you were anywhere else except standing in the classroom asking what was clearly regarded as a superfluous question. She sighed and said “follow me to the computer lab” where she endeavoured to answer my question. In the process of her efforts somehow she managed to eradicate all of my efforts and so I learnt the benefits of always having a backup. Why am I recounting this tale? Is it perhaps because I was frustrated by the experience? At the time it was devastating because I had to commence the assignment all over again. Time; as for many students, was a scarce commodity for me. At the time I was the ward manager of a paediatric unit and studying for my degree part time; juggling shifts and studying. At the very least the experience honed my time management and organisational skills. However, it also encouraged me to persevere in the face of adversity.
This brings me to my more recent endeavours. One of my responsibilities in the School is to introduce Pre-Registration students to professional standards of practice and behaviour. I have the privilege of engaging with such students every year of their studies as they develop their knowledge, skills and attitudes towards the implementation of professional standards. In year one students undertake an activity through Blackboard which is based on the Nursing and Midwifery Council websites and The Code. In its early stages this activity was probably quite dull for students due to the repetitive nature of the question format and fairly demanding on personal teachers who are required to discuss the activity with their personal students. This activity has now gone through several iterations with the latest format due to be presented to the students in the March 2016 cohort. The activity now utilises several different questioning formats, provides immediate feedback to the students and is less demanding on personal teachers. Progress.
In years two and three students are presented with pre-reading via Blackboard; this may involve looking up websites, reading documentation of viewing PowerPoint slides before attending of face to face session. In year two the activities are focused around the conduct and behaviour of students and the session is delivered to the whole cohort which may be up to 300 students. In year three the activities are focused around the conduct and behaviour of Registrants and the session is delivered via seminar groups of up to 30 students.
Secretive / CC Image courtesy of Dina Spears on Flickr
I have been encouraged to try out some apps both before students attend the session and in the session itself as a means of gauging knowledge. However please be aware that on the face of it some apps may appear to be incredibly helpful on first review but not all of them able to deal with the numbers of students then I engage with in class. One app in particular; in the version available to me, the maximum number of respondents is 50, and so not feasible for me to communicate in whole cohort settings. Unfortunately, I only discovered this fact when I tried to use it with a large cohort of students.
Kahoot / CC Image courtesy of The Daring Librarian on Flickr
I have had more success with an alternative app both in large cohort and small seminar groups. However; connecting to the app or directly to the website for the application via Wi-Fi has proved challenging both in the large lecture theatre and smaller seminar classrooms. This appears to be a capacity issue with the Wi-Fi connection but the students’ ability to connect also seen to depend upon the device they were using. Students have used phones, tablets or laptops all of which seem to have experienced some difficulties in making the required connection. For the most part students appeared to deal with the connection difficulties with good humour; however, slow connections disrupted the flow of the session. I have used both the quiz and survey formats via this second application and found the survey format more useful in a class setting to promote discussion of differing opinions. The quiz format tended to draw out the competitive instincts of the students and was less productive in stimulating discussion.
Padlet / CC Image courtesy of Mrs.Meyer WSR Art on Flickr
For future large cohort second year groups I am going to try out an application which allows students to post their thoughts and comments electronically during the session and provides a record for them to refer to after the session when they are completing their follow-up activities. In addition I hope to use a type of instant messaging system which will allow me to adapt the content of my presentation to the specific needs of the students as the session is delivered.
If I am honest I think am quite reticence about further of developing the range of applications I utilise during teaching sessions. The prospect of the students not being able to engage effectively with the applications, various technical difficulties and my own less than confident competence make me cautious about expanding the repertoire of applications I utilise. However, it would not be accurate to describe me as a technophobe but perhaps I would prefer the hitherto unknown term “technotrier”. I am sure that I have; at times, tried the patience of my School’s Digital Teaching and Learning Manager as I raise what I am quite certain are naïve questions. Perhaps the students too have had to be tolerant whilst I try out newly acquired skills. I am still convinced of the power and value of face to face education; reinforced by the positive feedback of a greater than 90% excellence rating from a group of masters students (at least those who were able to connect!) who recently attended a third year fitness to practise session which I facilitated. This was despite subjecting the group to the use of various digital technologies. They even clapped in appreciation, something I appreciated for a session which; although is always interesting, is also frequently challenging.
I am committed to being a “technotrier”. I am active on Twitter @chadwick_ruth and constantly amused and bemused about the acquisition of followers and what prompts individuals to engage.
I have started a blog as a space to muse on the professional traits of nurses, https://musingsazpro.wordpress.com/ no-one is reading it yet; but it is early days.
There really is no substitute for experiential learning but I hope I will always have the courage to reject technology when using it would be just for the sake of it.
Ruth H Chadwick
Senior Lecturer / Student Facing Procedures Lead
School of Nursing Midwifery Social Work and Social Sciences