Learning and teaching with technology in higher education

How can teaching with technology support student active learning in higher education?

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This systematic review was commissioned by the Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research and answers the following research question: How can teaching with technology support student active learning in higher education? The systematic review was conducted in collaboration with SLATE (Centre for the Science of Learning & Technology) and has explored how technology is influencing educational practices in higher education institutions.

The systematic review has 5 chapters. Chapter 1, Introduction, presents strategies and policy initiatives for digitalisation of Norwegian higher education. As a result of an increasingly diverse student population and the expected exponential growth of demand for education provision, higher education institutions currently face major changes. The Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research has recently taken several initiatives to promote technology use in higher education institutions, both on infrastructure, and related to teaching and learning. The eCampus- programme was initiated to provide accessible and robust ICT solutions and to support the pedagogical use of technology. In 2013, the MOOCs commission was appointed to investigate opportunities and challenges arising from the emergence of Massive Open Online Courses and similar offers. The commission reported a series of recommendations, including a targeted fund, the development of a national MOOC platform, digital competence development for teachers, and increased use of open educational resources.

A systematic mapping of the effects of ICT on learning outcome1 showed that it is how digital tools are implemented and used pedagogically that matter for students’ learning outcome, not the technology itself.

This finding is confirmed in two recent reports from NIFU 2, 3. Having found that students self-organise a scaffolding peer support system to compensate for insufficient interaction with teachers, a study of the first international MOOC developed at the University of Oslo, concludes that new pedagogical practices appears to be in the making for online learning. This indicates that digital technologies must be integrated into course designs and their use facilitated by teachers because it is not the digital technologies per se that solve teaching and learning challenges.

The Status report on Norwegian higher education5 showed that higher education institutions are not fully exploiting the possibilities in digital technology. Norwegian students reported that they only to a small degree experienced pedagogical use of digital technology in their education. This problem is not exclusive to Norway. The EU Commission argues that member states should be supported in developing national frameworks and infrastructure for integrating new modes of learning and teaching across the higher education system. Across OECD-countries, the expectation is that digital technologies and pedagogy should be integral to higher education institutions’ strategies for teaching and learning, and in parallel, a competency framework for teachers’ digital skills must be developed.

Chapter 2 describes the systematic review method. Electronic searches for studies published between 2012 and 2018 were conducted in seven databases September 2017 and January 2018. Additional supplementary and hand searches were conducted, and the process yielded 6526 hits. Due to the large number of papers, text mining technology was used to assist the identification of relevant studies. After the first stage of relevance assessment, 71 studies with potential relevance for the systematic review were identified and read in full text. 35 studies with high or medium quality and relevance are included in the systematic review. A configurative synthesis suitable for analysing findings from heterogeneous studies has been conducted.

Chapter 3 presents the 35 included studies, in five subchapters. 3.1: Institutional level and decision making, presents five studies with findings of particular relevance for higher education leaders and administrators. These studies cover themes such as learning analytics (LA), learning design and MOOCs and provide information about big data, knowledge utilisation, evaluation and big-scale initiatives that require leaders’ attention, funding and institution wide training and support to reach the potentials inherent in new technologies. The studies show the need for institutions to establish systems for continuous learning, where data gathered is systematically transformed into action-relevant knowledge that can be used to design learning environments better adapted to students’ individual and social needs. Successful learning designs support student active learning by allowing them to communicate, produce, experiment, interact and engage in varied forms of assessment. Learning Analytics has the potential to support this work through providing useful big and small data.

In 3.2: Learning and teaching across contexts, ten studies with relevance for department heads, lecturers and students are presented. An underlying assumption in the studies is that teaching can no longer be the sole responsibility of individual teachers. Having investigated the potential educational benefits of a combination of capture technologies (recorded lectures) and a variety of traditional classroom practices across digital and physical learning contexts, studies report inconsistent findings. While researchers perceive capture technologies as a potentially productive learning design, research cannot establish positive outcomes.

A behaviourist learning paradigm, where instruction is perceived as content delivery, seems to dominate higher education teaching practices, even when teachers use capture technologies. Researchers report that both teachers and students are challenged when learning happens across formats. Blended and hybrid learning requires increased time commitment from teachers, and students are expected to develop skills in goal setting, monitoring, time management and self-evaluation, in addition to a range of self- regulation strategies. In the studies included in this category, the need for institutional and technical support for staff is a major issue.

In 3.3: Emerging educational technologies and innovative learning, ten studies investigate the potential of emerging technologies and what is required of institutions in terms of facilities, organisation and staff development for these innovations to impact the institutions’ teaching practice. It is argued that institutions must develop policies for how they want to educate young technology users. Augmented Reality is a promising emerging technology with educational potential as it projects digital materials onto real-world objects, enhances and expands students’ learning experiences and facilitates collaboration and student active learning. The included studies show that emerging technologies, such as games, must be goal directed, competitive, and designed within a framework of choices and feedback to enable teachers and students to monitor learning progress. Playing and designing games can contribute to active, engaging, and authentic educational experiences. Introducing new technology does not, in itself, guarantee innovative practices in higher education institutions. Instead of taking the opportunity to introduce student active teaching methods, staff tends to adapt new technologies to traditional practice. The dichotomy digital/non-digital should not overshadow the fact that pedagogical quality is the most important issue in both face-to-face and technology supported educational provision.

In 3.4: Collaborative learning, five studies are presented. There are indications in the research that when students work in groups, responsibility tends to be dispersed. This highlights the need for learning designs that support collaboration and activate each student. Students in higher education are expected to learn to argue. In academically productive talk (APT), students build on prior knowledge and connect their contributions to domain concepts to support their claims and arguments. Encouraging students to make their knowledge sources explicit is considered vital in academic environments. Studies also find that student collaboration happens more spontaneously in apps designed for social media use than in more formal learning technologies. Depending on the design, Wikis are perceived as a favourable tool to support collaborative learning. A review of research on telecollaboration reveals traditional online practices with email dominating the communication. Researchers also ask why academics don’t recognise their own responsibility for professional development in the area of technology use in teaching, but expect external initiatives.

In 3.5: Barriers to technology use and innovative teaching, five studies are presented. The studies show that there are significant barriers to technology use in higher education institutions. One paradox identified is that academics appear not to be using a scholarly approach when implementing technology in education. Research indicates that pedagogy is a more fundamental barrier to innovative teaching in higher education than technology use. Therefore, the conclusion in all five studies is the obvious need to ensure that the focus of staff development programs in higher education is on instructors’ perception of teaching first, and then on technology. Knowing how to use technology is important, but not sufficient, if the institutional goal is student active learning.

Chapter 4 presents the configurative synthesis. The included studies reveal a consistent pattern: while researchers assume the transforming potential of technology, studies find few examples of sustainable innovative teaching practices in higher education. The overall picture is that traditional ideas about how students learn still dominate and that instead of challenging the tradition, technological devices are adapted to the tradition. Technology is a tool with the potential to transform teaching and learning, facilitate collaboration and communication across contexts, and support student active learning. However, this potential is not realized unless teachers and staff use technology in a pedagogically appropriate manner. Researchers suggest that teachers abandon a behaviouristic perspective on learning and adopt a socio-cultural, constructivist approach. This requires that institutions prioritise professional development. Institutions should take the initiative to developscholarly teachers who are research-informed, inquire into their own professional learning opportunities, and disseminate their findings. The status of teaching must be heightened, the knowledge base for teaching strengthened and an infrastructure developed for continuous inquiry into questions of importance for pedagogy and didactics.

Chapter 5 concludes and lists knowledge gaps in the research on the use of technology in higher education identified in this review.