‘Cool’ or just ‘Sad’? – What motivates learners to participate in and use technology?

This session at the JISC CETIS conference 2007 discussed the motivation factors behind learners use of technology, asking can we embrace the new technologies and social software that is now so pervasive, and should we try to incorporate these into more formal learning situations?

The group consisted of those very experienced and knowledgeable in this area, which naturally gave rise to a very lively discussion & debate of the issues.
Andrew Ravenscroft from London Metropolitan University kicked off the session presenting his views on œEducation 2.0? Designing ambient pedagogies and meaningful experiences for future learning.” Andrew gave an insightful overview of a project developed in collaboration with other partner institutions which has produced an Open Source tool called InterLoc (collaborative Interaction through scaffolding Locutions) that is incorporating mobile, multimodal and Web 2.0 tools and approaches.

Andrew argued that they are trying to tackle motivation issues in the design of the learning and believe that they are genuinely realising new pedagogies in this area. With regard to the debate over formal v informal learning, Andrew argued that the distinction is a slippery dichotomy, with lots of ambiguities abound in this area; maybe where we are is as close as we want to go, may not be able to go further? In the system that they have developed, they are trying to give the learners ˜active practice by doing and also developing their digital literacy, underpinned by the belief that learning is not separated from technology and questioning ˜How can we make the practices using learning technology ˜feel more like natural technologies that they use?
The system promotes synchronous dialogue “ Andrew argued dont really get quality interactions with asynchronous communications and what is perhaps needed is a œGrolsch pedagogy “ slowing things down.
Many of the developments and comments prompted lots of discussion and debate, which continued throughout the session.

Hazel Hall from Napier University addressed many of the issues arising in the session in her presentation œMotivating Learner Engagement in Online Environments: the relevance of social exchange theory. Hazel provided a background overview of social exchange theory and discussed its applicability in the education sector, particularly when analysing the use of technology. Although social exchange theory may sound very complex, Hazel assured us that it is ˜not hard really, its common sense and explained it to us beginners in a very easy to understand way! Her work has been investigating the use of blogs by students, which is led by teachers and is part of the assessed work on a particular module. Trust was noted as a highly important factor, and the results re existing social relationships were interesting. Hazel noted the need to encourage people to work online with a view to giving them the advantages of working face to face, feeling part of a team. This sparked an interesting discussion about replicating the informal, gossip type dialogue – ˜mundane interaction is the glue of interactions

The discussions continued and participants also pondered on related questions:
Social Technology – Is the motivation to use it part of a “them and us” syndrome?

  • Should we be using social technology in an educational setting or let students get on and use it as they see fit, and just hope that informal learning and collaborations will take place?
  • If students use it for their own purposes (including education), do they feel more empowered in the management of their learning (personalisation)?
  • What about those learners who are not as technologically adept, or prefer a different learning paradigm, or who do not have access to the same technology as their peers? Are they being left behind or are they developing different strategies?
  • How can we harness the way technology is used socially by students and put that into an educational context (and perhaps, more to the point, should we be attempting to do so)?
  • Can we take the parts of the design that students like from the non-educational tools and incorporate that into the design of educational software? Would it work? Or is it a way for students to carve out their own private space away from tutors?

As one may imagine, consensus was not always apparent, even regarding the relevance of thinking in such a way. The discussion is summarised below:

  • Complexity of area
  • Fit for purpose “ effectiveness
  • Blurring of technology and spaces
  • Openness & structured systems?
  • Range of choice “ not either or
  • Need to think about impact on staff and students – social environment
  • Personalisation “ challenging for institutions
  • We are listening to learner preferences “ now more than ever
  • Coolness “ transitory, and coolness- functionality
  • Sad is the new cool!
  • Dont have to be cool in universities
  • Not permitting use of technologies “ needs to be challenged. Control
  • Learner designed learning, integrating user owned technologies
  • Rapidly changing environment
  • Self learning as a private space- dangers of intervening in this
  • Not ˜them and us “ is it possible to empower all?
  • Need effective and reliable VOIP tools

Which left us to decide on a summary picture and sentence. Being a debate on whether something is ˜sad or cool opened up to many humorous possibilities “ penguins looking upset (cool as in cold – yet sad?!) and a man dressed as a woman (and thinking he was convincing.) However, the analogy of the ˜dad dancing at the disco, embarrassing the teenager was very apt, as he may think he is cool but could well be very sad indeed….
YouTube clip of dancing dad

Copies of the presentation Slides are available from the
Conference website

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