Myths around educational technologies are to be found in any higher education institution. These myths are perpetuated among administrators, academic staff and students.
The incorporation of educational technologies requires a strategic plan that envisions educational technology as integral to curriculum development. In many aspects educational technologies are underutilised and need to become better integrated with the curriculum if students are to be better prepared for the workplace. All higher education institutions do have a strategic plan, or maybe, should have a strategic plan, for technology integration, but to which degree are the administrators incorporating the academic staff in the planning and strategizing phases?
Lecturers are the key to effective incorporation of educational technologies, not support services like the IT department and development services, although all these parties play a vital and irreplaceable role in the whole planning process. There is concern over the lecturers’ involvement because of all the myths that are perpetuated among these staff members.
The great promise of educational technology is that it can improve student achievement, motivation, critical thinking and cooperation, but lecturers need to improve their own educational technology literacy levels and need to learn how to adapt their classroom teaching styles and extend their instructional strategies to include greater use of educational technologies.
Educational technology is not an end in itself. The high costs of technology require a justification for technology planning that is visionary and comprehensive. A successful educational technology plan must also focus on improving learning and communication. This necessitates the continuous allocation of resources to equipment and software upgrades; a commitment to ongoing lecturer training by the Instructional Designers and Curriculum Practitioners; and a desire to provide access to global resources.
Unfortunately, because of the complexity of technology and the rapid changes, the use of educational technology can be misguided by myths fostered by a lack of knowledge. Has the institution’s development and support services made the academic staff knowledgeable about technology integration in the university classroom?
Dichotomies, Advantages and Barriers
Research exposes some of these myths, but more importantly, points back to the fact that lecturers and students have myth busting attitudes. All of these myths can create potential dichotomies between lecturers and students, lecturers and the higher education institution, lectures and the higher educations’ support services, and between educational technology and curriculum.
These myths alert one to the risks of the use of educational technology in student success, but potentially also undermine a student-centred focus. A student-centred and learning-centred perspective can bust some of these myths and create an attitude of going back to the future in the face of barriers to learning in higher education institutions. It is best to investigate these myths under the headings of technology planning, professional development, and technology utilisation.
Some higher education institutions have technology plans in place that provide the flexibility needed to respond to changing needs and equipment. Others have plans that are never used or their plans are so restrictive that they defeat their purpose. The question that every higher education institution must ask is: “Is our technology plan flexible or is it restrictive that it defeats the purpose of educational technology integration?”
Myth 1: technology planning is useless because educational technology changes rapidly
The fact is that many plans fail because of a lack of strategic planning. Higher education institutions might attempt to be too specific about hardware and fail to consider in depth how educational technologies can benefit teaching and learning.
Myth 2: the development and support staff (i.e. IT, ICT, Instructional Designers, Curriculum Practitioners) should design the technology plan
The fact is that technology by nature is complicated. Increased specialisation among professionals forces them to cooperate and to plan under complex conditions. Therefore, decision makers must rely on input from administrators, librarians, administrators, support staff, curriculum designers and practitioners, Instructional Designers and IT specialists.
Myth 3: higher education institutions should buy what the workplace is using
The fact is, given the rate at which technology changes, purchases made today are not what students will be using in the workplace in 1 or 5 years time. When planning and strategizing the powers to be mustn’t be overly concerned about what platform and software to purchase, but to rather ask the question: “How will educational technology be used and with what impact?” If the priority is for students to learn more effectively subject-specific content, via educational technology, then software should be chosen that accomplishes that goal and equipment purchased that runs that software.
The technology planning committee should also consider the longevity of a type of software. They should also consider the amount and type of technical support that is provided with equipment warranties. More expensive, high-quality equipment that includes competent technical support and fast on-site repairs will save time and money over less expensive equipment that lacks the level of support.
Myth 4: educational technology means computers
The fact is that higher education institutions need to consider how to incorporate the many varied forms of educational technologies. Various educational technologies are available to higher education institutions. Examples include audio CDs, data CDs and DVDs, bulletin boards, posters, photos, radio, PowerPoint slides, telephones, mobile phones and other mobile technologies, television, integrated Learning Management Systems, Internet, computer-based tutorials, computer-based and paper-based drills, role-play and simulations, word processing, spreadsheets, databases, email, social networks like Facebook and Twitter, Audio and Video Conferencing, voicemail, and screen capturing software like Camtasia, etc.
The focus must be on the information that educational technologies enable students and lecturers to access, and on the connections that will support that information’s flow.
Myth 5: do not invest a lot of money in computer labs because it will be obsolete shortly
The fact is, just because new hardware models and educational software arrive on the market weeks after equipment were ordered does not mean that a purchase cannot meet learning needs and accomplish desired objectives for years to come. Educational needs should dictate the extent to which technology is replaced, and not the other way around. Higher education institutions need to consider how they can repurpose older equipment. There are ways of integrating the use of both old and new educational technologies. The technology plan should include ways and means of utilizing both.
Myth 6: complete the technology plan, build computer labs, then reallocate the funds
The fact is that a good technology plan will consider that educational technology use may and will increase over time as lecturers and students become more comfortable with and knowledgeable about educational technology. The technology plan will also recognise that the ongoing use of educational technology necessitates upgrading hardware, software and skills, planning for repairs and maintenance, and investing in telecommunications access. This is an absolute requirement of the information age. To ensure funding for long-term maintenance and growth, the strategic plan must integrate the workplace needs with curriculum goals. So, the funds should/must not be reallocated to other projects! Are higher education institutions guilty of such practices?
Lectures are the key to effective and efficient educational technology utilisation, and not so much the Instructional Designer or the curriculum practitioner, although they also play a very important role. It is safe to say when educational technology is available it is frequently used with styles of teaching that fail to maximise its full potential. This could be the result of inability, improper training, technophobia, or a lack of practice using alternative teaching strategies. Therefore, adequate professional development is needed if educational technology is to help higher education institutions improve learning.
Myth 7: lecturers don’t take advantage of training opportunities
The fact is that some lecturers are technophobic, afraid to try to use educational technology with their students, due to a lack of exposure or to prior bad experiences. To help overcome resistance, professional development efforts can start by concentrating on those areas that make the lecturers’ job easier, more efficient, or more effective and should address the needs and concerns of the lecturers and the students.
The timing of professional development activities, training opportunities and workshops should also be carefully coordinated. Too frequently, there is a long time lag between training and the opportunity to use what was learned. Equipment may be installed weeks after training is conducted, or vice versa. Lecturers become discouraged by the delay. This might be detrimental to a higher education institution’s effective use of educational technologies.
Furthermore, training needs vary among lecturers according to their skills and comfort levels. Different training opportunities should be scheduled according to the different skills levels of the lecturers. Higher education institutions should vary their training to lecturers in the use of educational technologies.
Realistic amounts of training need to be provided to achieve the desired results. Research shows that 30 hours of training are needed to successfully use technology at a basic level. For a lecturer to have a good operational knowledge of hardware and perform basic troubleshooting requires 45+ hours of training and 3 months of experience. For a lecturer to actively develop entirely new learning techniques that utilize educational technology requires 80+ hours of training and 4 to 5 years of experience. The question is, what are higher education institutions’ training schedules like?
Myth 8: lecturers are not using the educational technologies that are available
Sometimes, educational technology is purchased in response to a particular interest or need or to run a pilot project. A small group of lecturers may be using the technologies frequently, and others are not aware of the extent to which it is being used or think it should receive widespread use. Other lecturers, however, may perceive that its use is restricted. This is exacerbated by housing the equipment in a limited-access area such as a science lab and to only include a limited number of lecturers in a pilot project. Small-scale innovation attempts like these frequently fail because they lack a critical mass of people, funding, or equipment and the traditional system of rewards does not encourage adoption. Few people initially adopt innovation. The rate at which others adopt innovations depends on, amongst others, their perception of its relative advantage and complexity, their level of involvement in making decisions, and the nature of their professional and social systems. Professional development efforts should consider these factors.
There are also other barriers that inhibit the adoption of educational technology in classrooms, e.g. the difficulty finding appropriate media or software, a shortage of time for preparation, unfamiliarity with hardware or software, inaccessibility of educational equipment, poor technical support, and the inability to quickly solve problems. Also, equipment failures in class in front of students are embarrassing and a threat to a lecturer’s sense of competence and authority.
These can be overcome by providing professional development opportunities, by creating incentives to learn and use educational technology, and by recognizing that comfort and expertise come only with experience. Does higher education institutions incentivise, and if so, how and to what degree? Effective technology planning is needed to help turn scared lecturers into educational technology adopters. Enthusiastic support staff, with a concern for change will communicate their expectations, advice and support lecturers, monitor their progress, and provide a source of motivation.
Myth 9: lecturers will change from knowledge experts to knowledge facilitators
In this myth students are self-directed in their search for knowledge – which assumes an unqualified love of knowledge and a great deal of self-motivation. The fact is, we all know that this doesn’t really happen, and (most) students must be motivated and guided by their lecturers.
This myth also presumes that lecturers and students can readily accept different classroom and campus cultures. Lecturers are normally viewed by students as both information experts and authority figures. Changing their role to knowledge facilitators does not diminish their roles. Instead, it adds the dimension of managing the labour of students who may be working at different speeds on different tasks. The culture of these classrooms can also be more active, energetic, and noisy and may require greater flexibility in scheduling and assessment methods. Professional development efforts must address these concerns.
The desired outcome of technology planning is to impact learning in positive ways by investing in appropriate educational technology and effective professional development. One determination of whether educational technology is used successfully or not depends on how equitably it provides access to information to all students and lecturers. It is about how the educational technology gets used. The ultimate determinant of success is not reaching some ratio of equipment to students but ensuring that knowledgeable lecturers are using technology efficiently and effectively to meet lecture goals and objectives.
Myth 10: although there is no technology plan, get computers in every classroom.
The fact is, getting computers and using them in teaching and instruction is not the same thing. Without adequate professional development, or technical support staff these computers will be underutilised.
For instructional benefits to be realised clearly defined objectives must be established for how the hardware will be used and integrated with the curriculum.
Lecturers in general are not very knowledgeable about how to integrate any type of educational technology into their lessons, much less computers or software. Coming up with imaginative, educationally inclusive ways for students and lecturers to use educational technology remains a difficult task for technology planning.
Myth 11: lecturers will be replaced by computers
This myth ignores the culture of the classroom and doesn’t consider how lecturers meet important social and emotional needs for their students. This myth stems from efforts in artificial intelligence that are applied to instruction. Although highly advanced computer-based tutorials that use artificial intelligence technology are being designed and used that adapt to students’ individualised learning styles and needs, they are expensive and labour intensive to design. It will still be some time before this technology is common in the classrooms and available for all levels and curriculum areas. It is also doubtful they will be able to respond the way lecturers do to changes in the students’ readiness for learning and the social context of the classroom.
Understandably lecturers at higher education institutions are concerned about the role of technology in their classrooms, but it is unlikely that these technologies will ever replace them. Technology planners must rather understand that these technologies are there to support the lecturers and that there must be a synergy between lecturers and the educational technologies in the classroom. The lecturers must understand their students, the classroom setting, and the complexity of the campus environment and design their educational tasks accordingly and it is here where the Instructional Designers and other support staff play a vital role.
Myth 12: educational technology will transform education
The fact is that lecturers, students, and communities can transform education – educational technology merely provides some of the tools and processes that can support educational reform and create pressure for change. Educational technology and media in the classroom do not benefit all students equally and does not result in across-the-board increases in achievement. Educational technology, however, can help lecturers become more efficient and effective and can help improve student motivation and engagements with the learning process.
Myth 13: e-learning does not work
This myth has two points of view: Firstly, IT and network support staff say e-learning does not work because the network or IT is always slow or down because of limited bandwidth.
Secondly, teaching practice is hardly ever rewarded. Lecturers do not bother to develop teaching skills utilising educational technologies and e-learning because teaching is not rewarded enough in higher education. Lecturers believe that only research gets rewarded. Isn’t it time higher education institutions and technology planning committees start thinking of rewarding staff members for using educational technology?
So what does the road into the future for educational technology at higher education institutions hold?
Higher education institutions mustn’t embark on a track that leads to nowhere, or a track that doesn’t make ends meet. Institutions should seek out and bust any educational technology and e-learning myth that wrongfully creates dichotomies, and address any plausible educational technology and e-learning myth with research and actions, starting with technology planning. Technology planning has to be more integrated, more flexible, and requires more research on newer educational technologies and literacy.
In higher education institutions there is a need for a focus on student-centred learning, and a focus on lecturer-friendly teaching – a holistic wellness focus – where best practice is celebrated and excellence for teaching is recognised and rewarded.