In one of the worst ed tech articles I’ve read in years, Morris and Parker, attempt to find a link between technology use in a new, home grown social network and “engagement” in the classroom. On the face of it this seems reasonable. Students use a social network ergo they get engaged in the course. However this ignores the fundamental rule about educational technology – it is not the tool but the way it is used that matters.
The article initially got me feeling uncomfortable when it attempted to make the case that there is such a thing as a “technological pedagogy”. We’ve long argued that technologies (from clay stylus, to blackboards to Second Life) can and are being used to support and enhance many types of pedagogical instruction and interactions (see Jon Dron and my Learning technology through three generations of technology enhanced distance education pedagogy). Morrie and Parker go on to present a straw dog, later torn down, arguing that “the rhetoric and packaging accompanying many of these new technological teaching tools suggests that usage alone will increase student engagement and learning.” Who has ever argued that? Technology can afford new ways of thinking and acting, but it doesn’t by itself change engagement or learning. This is of course an old argument see (Clark and Kozma) from the 1990’s. But I think we have learned that doing the exact same activity with a different tool, is not likely to change outcomes.
We learn that a rather large (187 person) American undergrad Political Science class was surveyed (33% return) after one-term use of a social network tool. Nowhere in the article do the authors say how the tool was used, if use was rewarded with marks or associated with learning objectives, what pedagogical principals were implicitly or explicitly used to design the learning activities, what training or experience the students or teacher had etc. etc?
The survey instrument too was home grown. I am unsure why a standardized tool of measure engagement was not used – there are a number readily available. But in any case the authors choose to focus the article on the underlying constructs of their instrument and its psychometric properties, these students perceptions were then tested for relationship with amount of activity on the social network
The validity of the survey is questionable. Multivariate analysis shows that the survey items were associated with three constructs: 1 – Learning Community (LC), 2 – Constructivist Pedagogy (CP), and 3 – Equity (EQ). The amazingly bad part of this experiment was that the first two constructs (Learning Community and Constructivist Pedgaogy), were derived from Likert scales which asked students their perception of what the teacher did!!! How would one expect correlation between student engagement and social technology use by asking questions about what the teacher did or how constructivist was their pedagogical interventions! What were those interventions? The final Equity Construct assessed the balance between teacher and student input, but again does the technology alone determine that?
The authors conclude “that usage of an award winning engagement tool is not enough to create a greater sense of engagement under the conditions adopted in this course.” Exactly!! and why would they expect differently unless they actually modified “the conditions adopted in this course”.
I continue to believe that use of high powered social networks can and will be associated with increased engagement, but to do so, these tools must be skillfully woven into the objectives, assessments and activities of the course. Finally, ways to assess engagement that are pedagogically compatible, relevant to the learning activities and outcomes of the course and the students and finally that reflect real learning are critically important. The authors of this article are more concerned with psychometric properties of a home grown survey instrument, than in the effective use or the valid assessment of networking learning technologies integrated with effective pedagogy!
Anderson, T., & Dron, J. (2012). Learning technology through three generations of technology enhanced distance education pedagogy. European Journal of Open, Distance and E-Learning, 2012/2. Retrieved from http://www.eurodl.org/?p=current&article=523.
Morris, R. C., & Parker, L. (2014). Examining the connection between classroom technology and student engagement. Journal of Teaching and Learning with Technology, 3(1), 1-15 doi:10.14434.jotlt.v3n1.4720