The authors, Kirkwood and Price (2013), state that ‘technology-enhanced learning’ (TEL) interventions are repetitively used in literatures and applied in the education field for enhancing learning environments. However, its exact meaning has not been clearly discussed or universally agreed upon as it is vaguely being denoted as an equipment or infrastructure that supports learning and teaching by enhancing it. Hence, several questions are raised as to how TEL brings enhancement, what exactly is enhanced and how the enhancement is achieved or determined. As such, the main aim is to provide clarity about TEL practices.
Although technology adoption for higher education has become an educational norm world-wide, some scholars question the effectiveness of technology use in enhancing learning experiences. Hence, the authors propose that ‘good practices’ be shared among educational institutions so that effectiveness may be enhanced while redundancy, duplication of effort and expenses, etc., can be minimized. Moreover, other benefits may also be achieved, such as improving efficiency in cost-effective, less time consuming and sustainable manner; enhancing existing processes and outcomes etc. This investigation mainly seeks to understand the ‘enhancement’ achieved through TEL by reviewing literature in this field, especially with regard to what enhancements are conceived and what evidences substantiate these claims.
Teaching + technology = better learning?
Using relevant keywords to TEL, different databases were searched for current articles on the topic, yielding several hundred results. After removing duplicates, abstracts were screened using an inclusion/exclusion criteria to obtain the most relevant articles. Following this, thematic analysis and full review of the articles were conducted with 3 main questions in mind: What types of technology interventions are used; how enhancement delivered through these interventions are conceptualized; and what evidences demonstrate the achievements of these enhancements. The research findings are provided based on these questions. To facilitate analysis and identify themes, salient points were noted on: the goal of the intervention; what enhancement is sought; the methods used for evaluation; and types of evidences obtained.
As articles were examined for the intervention’s goals, 3 themes were identified, each of which can further be sub-categorised.
Differing types of interventions: ‘Intervention type 1’ aimed to replicate existing teaching practices, which either sought to replicate an element of conventional teaching or to compare various technologies for delivering the same materials. ‘Intervention type 2’ aimed to supplement existing teaching practices; these are either to provide current resources to students whenever they require or to develop/ use additional learning resources. ‘Intervention type 3’ focuses on transformation of learning experiences by either redesigning learning activities structurally or investigating how TEL can promote qualitative richer learning.
Different ways in which enhancement is conceived: The teaching or learning enhancement sought using TEL are said to be characteristic of 3 themes, which can again be sub-categorized. Firstly, operational improvement was conceived such as for increasing flexibility in resource material for students and improving retention. Secondly, quantitative changes in learning were expected such as improved student engagement or time-spent in tasks or better test scores etc. Finally, qualitative changes in learning were also sought in terms of better understanding, more student reflection or critical awareness etc. A correlation was visible between intervention type used and conceived enhancement. For instance, Intervention types 1 and 2 i.e. ‘replication’ and ‘supplementing’ are seen to focus on operational improvement or quantitative change, while Intervention type 3 i.e. ‘transforming learning experiences’ conceived enhancements in qualitative changes.
Differing forms of evidence collected to demonstrate enhancement: In each study, the type of data used varies as different approaches and data collection methods were adopted such as interviews, questionnaires, student self-report surveys and performance measures, etc. As such, the conceived enhancement is also seen to be dependent on this factor. For instance, use of only quantitative methods, as in the case of Intervention type 1 and 2, showed enhancement in terms of operational improvement and/or quantitative changes. However, use of only qualitative investigation methods, as in the case of Intervention type 3, showed evidence of qualitative change in learning.
Section (a) indicates there are differing ways in which ‘enhancement’ and ‘evidence’ are conceived in all the literature reviewed. For instance, some studies perceive enhancement in terms of test scores, however, they may not explicitly state their objective to be quantitative changes in learning. Along this argument, intervention type 1 and 2 with goals of ‘replication’ and ‘supplementing’ aimed at ‘doing things better’, while Intervention type 3 intended for transforming learning experience focused on ‘doing better things’. The evidence for enhancement (as depicted in table 3, Kirkwood and Price, 2013), however, is directly present in all the sources and thus serves as positive confirmation of the enhancement conceived.
Sections (b) reflects on the methods adopted for interventions (comparative studies). For instance, comparison of test scores before and after TEL adoption may not be accurate because it cannot be deduced whether the enhancement achieved is due to the technology per se, rather than due to the additional input or time spent on the task by students since more than one variable is being altered. A similar argument is also presented in section (e) which discusses how transforming learning experiences involves structural curriculum changes and the enhancement resulted thereof can be due to any number of other variables.
In section (c), evaluation methods for education are said to require an assessment of four stages – reaction, learning, behaviour and results. Of these, ‘reaction’ is deemed the least important for demonstrating enhancement because opinions vary between students and are subjective. Since, many articles reviewed tended to rely on self-report student surveys, this forms a limitation. Moreover, in section (d) types of evidence used, i.e. data such as test scores, are questioned for their appropriateness in measuring enhancement because the form of assessment tends to influence how students prepare and approach the task. For instance, multiple choice test scores cannot reveal qualitative changes to learning. As such, measures sensitive to complex human interactions are more appropriate evidences for enhancement.
Section (f) states that generalizing findings to other contexts are restricted due the inconsistent manner in reporting them. Although TEL has relatively specific application, a particular technology can have multiple uses and hence its adoption can vary with context. As published reports provide a vague concept of TEL without describing the actual educational design in line with theoretical models, generalisability of their findings is hindered. Hence, a clear idea of TEL will enable better understanding of achievements for future considerations.
Snapshot of the first part of the article
Reflection and Conclusion
Although in certain cases technology-lead approach was adopted to encourage greater use of institutional learning environment, many cases seemed to expect that introduction of technology will itself enhance teaching/learning practices. This could be the reason for the lack of educational reasoning in many interventions. It was also seen that technology was mainly used for reproducing and reinforcing existing practices, rather than for transforming teaching activities which require structural reconfiguration as well as reconsideration of what ‘teaching’ and ‘learning’ constitutes. As for future research recommendation in TEL intervention studies, the assumption of research methodologies, and the associated limitations etc., should be clearly stated and accounted for, while also indicating the extent of generalisability of the findings.
Kirkwood, A., & Price, L. (2013). Technology-enhanced learning and teaching in higher education: what is ‘enhanced’ and how do we know? A critical literature review. Learning, media and technology, 39(1), 6-36.