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The integration of technology has introduced radical changes across all phases of education, including higher education. Technology and change are so closely related that the word innovation is often synonymous with technology. The brave new world is a digital one (well, a hybrid one): networked and bringing with it new opportunities, which has determined new skills and new epistemologies. 

A decade ago, the prevalence of technology in teaching and learning in the university sector was at a very different stage. Now it is exploding and embraces new approaches and ways of working to meet the needs of our learners. Higher education study is no longer confined to the classroom, nor indeed to the normal pattern of study. It allows learning to take place at any time of the day both in and outside traditional teaching rooms or lecture theatres. 21st century learning is truly about lifelong learning. Graduate jobs now and in the future place a premium on the 4Cs ‘super skills’, (Kivunja, 2015), those of critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity, and technology promotes these skills in many ways. The University’s Learning and Teaching Strategy and the work of teaching colleagues and IT Services on our blended learning offering to students is providing an excellent platform for this. 

I am far from being a digital native myself but can easily see ways that technological advances positively impact on our role as university teachers. The first are the skill sets needed by lecturers to utilise technology in teaching. Digital advancement requires a knowledge of new systems, packages and software and these new skills and knowledge must be gained quickly! Apps, social media platforms and texting allow students to connect with peers and have greater interaction. Online formative assessments, flipped classrooms, Google classrooms and digital library resources are common place. Interfacing through tablets and smart phones, teaching through Teams and using breakout rooms are becoming a regular part of our pedagogical repertoire. 

A second way is through the interactions with student learners themselves. Rote learning and prescriptive transmission of facts are ineffective. Our student population live and work in a fast-changing environment where new knowledge is the currency. They are used to active learning methods, quick and frequent feedback on their work and opportunities to link with others to extend their learning. We as university teachers are facilitators of learning, more coaches than instructors. The role requires understanding of the importance of social and emotional learning to enable them to connect with students and progress their learning.  Check-ins on student wellbeing at the beginning of sessions, polls to gauge states of being are regularly included in remote teaching sessions. Research tells us that focusing on the social and emotional aspects of learning improves academic attainment. We need to continue to be flexible to accommodate our students’ needs and underpin teaching with understanding of how learners learn and thrive in remote learning environments. We need to be attuned to students’ emotions (not easy through a camera lens) and manage their emotions from a distance. Teachers and students are learning together. They share ideas, collaborate with each other at the click of a mouse or through conferencing that is available instantly on a range of mobile devices. 

It isn’t without its challenges. Writers like Muller and Goldenberg (2020) have acknowledged that students will be better equipped to deal with remote learning if they have been supported in developing skills and attributes such as independent learning, self-regulation, time management and metacognition. Technology offers much potential and complements more traditional pedagogies very well through a blended learning approach. This is an exciting time and provides many opportunities for teachers and students alike. Welcome to the age of the digital pedagogue.

 

Dr Jonathan Doherty is a Senior Lecturer in Education at Leeds Trinity University. Jonathan is a media spokesperson for the University, is a regular blogger and has appeared on SkyTV and local and national radio commenting on events in education and education policy issues. He has appeared twice in 'Whos Who in the World' for his contribution to education.

 

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