Andrew Marunchak, eLearning Technologist at the University of Hertfordshire looks at the challenges when adopting emerging technologies in learning and teaching.
Something as nebulous as the notion of an ‘information age’ is perhaps best described by metaphor. Imagine, if you will, a raging river within the centre of which stands a protruding rock. Through erosion, this rock is shaped by the forces of an unrelenting torrent which it is unable to control and eventually its identity, insofar as it has one, will succumb to the ‘chaos’ of its surrounding environment.
It is, without a doubt, overly dramatic but serves to communicate the principle that, every day of our lives, we are exposed to an ever increasing volume of information. Where we differ from the rock, which is inanimate, is via the means of taking action based on our own discernment; we decide whether something is worth paying attention to.
The role of the traditional educational establishment is changing rapidly, information is not quite as exclusive as it once was and, in the future, its prevalence will force us to question how best our time developing relevant subject knowledge is spent. We are no longer gathering around an oasis in the desert, we have a choice.
Restricting information is difficult given the number of mediums it is channelled through, whether that be in paper-based form, blogs, video sharing, text messaging or audio podcasts. We are on the verge of these aforementioned examples integrating almost completely seamlessly with our daily lives through innovations such as tablet computing, smartphones and perhaps even the imminent prospect of Google Glass.
In the history of our race, information has never been so accessible. The affordances it provides us with are numerous though, insofar as downsides are concerned, much of it is often ‘noise’ with a distracting influence. Therein lies the role of the modern university, to use as many vectors of dissemination as are available to us to their greatest effect - thereby informing the student of that which is useful.
There are exciting developments on the horizon. As the visual medium becomes more accessible to people through computing, we will begin to see a convergence of disciplines which have, traditionally, been deemed mutually exclusive by consensus. Everything from elaborate technical visualisations to explorable 3D environments are now within our reach. Such are the fruits of the unison between computer science and creative arts. Though as wonderful a vision it is, we need to take accessibility into account. What good is something so beautiful if it can’t be seen by the majority of users, what are the alternatives?
Those are some of the questions we need to consider when working towards future trends which, in practice, is something of a balancing act. At the forefront, new technologies exist in something of a niche area and being too far behind, in the past, is an exercise in redundancy. We have to be malleable otherwise we risk sharing the fate of that rock in the river. Rather than standing against overwhelming forces, we move with them and guide their flow. That in itself is a metaphor for cultivation and our progressive evolution.