Sunday, December 12, 2021

The age of the educational technologist

Photo by UX Indonesia on Unsplash

I always enjoy reading Tony Bates' posts that always offer a balanced and informed view of current trends in education. This week's post is a review of educational technology trends of the past year,  A Review of Online Learning in 2021, and has the sub-heading bad but still better. The lessons learned this year are the same as those learned in 2020 only more nuanced. There is the realisation that almost all courses are now blended in some way and this is changing how we design our courses as well as how we design our learning spaces, both on-site and online. There are plenty of new buzzwords in this field and there's a lot of learning by trial and error but we have come a long way since early 2020. 

There are all kinds of new terms for these moves toward blended learning, such as flipped, hyflex, hybrid, and these terms will continue to evolve and confuse, because there is no dominant pedagogical model or even theory for blended learning. Everyone is learning by the seat of their pants, and this may not be a bad thing, at least initially. What is important is that these developments are encouraged, recorded and evaluated, so that eventually best practices can emerge.

One group that has moved on to centre stage during the pandemic is the educational technologist (there are many other names for this role as it is still developing into a profession). Institutions who already had centres of teaching and learning to support staff in using technology handled the transition to online education much more smoothly than institutions who lacked formal support. Today we see a realisation of the need for comprehensive support for teachers in designing and running courses.  Before covid this support was mostly aimed at a minority of teachers - early adopters. That meant there was time for individual support and guidance. But now, when all teaching staff need support, the role of educational technologists and pedagogical development specialists has become a core function. 

When only 10 per cent of courses were online, one-on-one support for faculty was feasible. However with everyone moving toward some version of blended learning, the challenge of quality control and agile course design, especially for blended learning, has become urgent. How do we scale up support for instructors to ensure quality blended learning? The challenge of blended learning means moving from an ad hoc model of faculty development, based on instructors, often reluctantly, opting in, to a more systematic faculty development model that ensures everyone has exposure to best practices in blended learning.

What is important now is that support for teachers is strengthened and professionalised. In some institutions this kind of support is still offered by either the IT department, who seldom have pedagogical experience, or rely on the goodwill of more experienced colleagues, who have to combine their regular duties with being unofficial and unrecognised educational technologists. The recognised educational technologists in turn need career paths, professional development and recognition of their contribution to the institution's core business. Even if we don't really know where we are heading it would seem to be safe to predict that most if not all educational institutions now realise the vital importance of professional support to teachers in managing the transition to a more digitally dependent university.

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