Literature Review

Pages: 1 2 3

Literature Review

While there has been an apparent and continuing explosion in technological advances in all areas of life (Manyika et al, 2013), it may be that this is not fully or even significantly reflected in university culture and practices (Brown, 2012). A wealth of research exists, emanating from the UK and beyond, in Europe, Australia and the USA, with significant amounts of time and other resources being invested into this field, and published both in educational as well as computer science journals. The research, while having an overarching field in common, is fragmented, and often outstripped by the pace of advances in technology itself – “extracting meaningful research findings…has been hampered by the speed of innovation, which often renders study results obsolete as new technologies replace old ones” (Altbach et al, 2009, p136). The approach to the literature review is to ascertain the landscape and territory in relation to use and uptake of technology in university learning and teaching, both formal and informal, by attempting to establish themes which commonly appear. Of particular interest is the focus in relation to metropolitan universities. Themes will be noted, collated and analysed for popularity and significance as influencers. This forms part of the research as a whole.

The literature review takes the form of discussion of the themes that most commonly appear. There were 16 main themes noted, these have been loosely grouped into two sections – ‘Strategic’ and ‘Learning and Teaching’, with Assumptions summarised to close. Overlap between themes often occurs, but overall this grouping attempts to connect some of the territory, which otherwise is often overwhelming and unwieldy, and difficult to establish any logic or clarity. Please also refer to the Literature Analysis, which includes tables and diagrams appropriate to illustrate points made in this text, with relevant links. Below is a quicklinks list to aid navigation between sections.



1. Societal Changes

(National or Regional Policy and Requirements, demographic behaviour changes)

The rapidly changing society, both in terms of the nature of the new knowledge economy with all that entails (Tate & Klein-Collins, 2012, and Levine, 2000 in Boys & Ford, 2008), as well as the new levels of institutional accountability for each student they are charged to educate (Oblinger, 2013), demand changes in practice and policy (Boys & Ford, 2008). Many of these changes involve uses of technology that if not always directly involving learning and teaching, do always impact learning and teaching (Guri-Rosenblit, in Altbach et al, 2009). What could be termed ‘indirect driving and restraining forces’ may ultimately have the greatest bearing on the uptake and uses of technology within learning and teaching settings. Institutional forces such as those of cost saving or cutting measures like staff reduction and resources ‘consolidation’, institutional ‘negative equity’, increased sector competition and fluctuating legal or national policy requirements all impact approaches to teaching practice and the importance of learning outcomes, perhaps most especially in the context of the metropolitan university. Technological ‘disruption’ and advancement, as aspects of the continual process of the digitisation of society, also contribute to the changing expectations of the university in relation to its place in that society. The territory is therefore complex, creating a ‘Tower of Babel syndrome’ (Guri-Rosenblit, 2009).

Diane Oblinger, in her Game Changers chapter ‘IT as a Game Changer’, discusses significant changes in society in relation to technology advancement affordances that in themselves may become (or already are) strong drivers towards utilisation of technology at all levels of the learning and teaching process. For example convenience of access, the ‘catalytic role in collaboration’, shared infrastructure and Open Learning. The ‘tools that students use in their daily lives’ are absent from the classroom (Kukulska-Hulme, 2012). Kukulska-Hulme discusses at length the changes in public perceptions and expectations in relation to ‘accessing and acquiring knowledge’ as a result of technology advances, and the consequent changes required in staff and higher education institutions in order to respond by providing more in the way of all modes of elearning, as well as continuous development of institutional ICT ‘capacity’, and individual staff ICT skills. The notion that ‘external conditions’ are significantly impacting on learning and teaching, perhaps with user generated content and online social environments especially relevant.

Brown (2012) puts it like this: “much of the literature in the field sees the effective integration of Web 2.0 in HE as prompting or requiring a paradigmatic shift (Franklin & Van Harmelen 2007). This shift has been characterized using the ‘perfect storm’ metaphor (Brown & Adler 2008), the integrally linked phenomena of emerging technology, societal change (stemming from and feeding into the emergence of Web 2.0), the coming-of-age of the digital generation, and the pedagogical changes that will help people build the knowledge and skills to effectively ‘ride the wave’ of those changes.”


2. Institution Support

The infrastructure, approach and strategic ‘mission’ of an institution is of great relevance to its ability to embrace a digitally scalable and achievable policy and practice in its work. Only by doing this will teaching and learning practice ‘on the ground’ have a strong enough support to be adopted more universally by staff across all disciplines and faculties (Newton & Taylor, 2013). Thinking about Rogers Innovation Diffusion theory, we know that the ‘late majority’ and the ‘laggards’ will not take on new practice until all their needs for trust and proof are met, and institutional level requirements and support are perhaps the only thing that will achieve this.

Clifford Lynch in ‘A Matter of Mission: Information Technology and the Future of Higher Education’ (‘The Tower and The Cloud’, Katz, ed, 2008), writes on the duties of scholarship, namely the custodianship and dissemination of  knowledge (scholarship) set in the wider remit to disseminate that knowledge on a global scale, in order to attempt to meet the ever growing (and currently unmet) demands for access to higher education. The mission of an institution, while perhaps being global, is first being ‘local’, yet may still mean that to effectively ‘disseminate’ that knowledge, they need to offer a much more flexible and diverse course structure to their local populations (Cavanagh in ‘The Postmodality Era: How “Online Learning” Is Becoming “Learning”, Game Changers, 2013).


2.1 Strategic Policy

A variety of papers and texts make commentary on the importance of ‘top down’ and ‘bottom up’ influencing factors in relation to uptake of technology in learning and teaching. The UCISA Technology Enhanced Learning Survey (TELS) from 2012 rank ‘Central University Senior management support’ and ‘School/Departmental Senior Management support’ at 2 and 3 in the top 5 important influencing factors (after ‘Availability of TEL Support staff’ at number 1) in ‘encouraging the development of TEL and processes that promote it’. It is not clear, however, what form this support should take, but TELS do go on to ask questions about strategy and policy documents (internal and external), and their perceived effectiveness in promoting technology enhanced learning. However, the drawback of surveys such as the TELS is that no indication is made as to what ‘effectiveness’ actually means, so the usefulness of statistics such as this in practical terms remains questionable.

Understanding “the intractable problem of getting faculty to take seriously their own professional development with regard to new technologies for teaching and learning” (Kukulska-Hulme, 2012)  might be in some way explained by “…(the) resistance is (also) associated with academics driving institutional policies who may ‘adopt pedagogies that actually structure, constrain and contain the somewhat anarchic and more radical potential of (Web 2.0) technologies’ (Ravenscroft 2009, p.2). (Institutions) tend to opt for closed-platform Web 1.0 type technologies conducive to teacher-driven pedagogical approaches and not to pedagogies based on student contributions, and the networked and collective learning possibilities of Web 2.0″ (Susan Brown, 2012). Brown also found evidence of top down and bottom up influencing factors both being required: “(t)here needs to be a bottom-up and top-down convergence of ideas among academics on the ground and those forging Teaching, Learning and Assessment strategies particularly in relation to aims”, recognising “the fact that no academic context is hermetically sealed”.


2.2 Faculty Adoption

Themes surrounding factors at play which influence faculty adoption appear frequently in many academic studies. This theme, whilst significantly concerned with learning and teaching also fundamentally operates at a more strategic level. Without institutional and senior faculty management level policy and strategic support, faculty wide change will likely not happen.

Franziska Zellweger Moser, in ‘Faculty Adoption of Educational Technology’ (2007), reports the need for faculty ‘buy in’ as essential in order that curriculum design and learning and teaching practices change. She demonstrates a ‘Faculty Educational Technology Adoption Cycle’, and states: “faculty support has been identified as a critical factor in the success of educational technology programs, (but) many people involved in such efforts underestimate the complexities of integrating technology into teaching.” Intrinsic and extrinsic forces however, bring to bear a variety of pressures in any tutor, to achieve changes in teaching practice. Zellweger Moser talks about Early Adopters (Rogers 1995, 2003) and the importance of professional support being offered early in the cycle of technology adoption. If (faculty) professional support is offered too late in the cycle, this can result in mediocre quality of efforts, and can in turn create negative experiences which are passed on to other staff (Early Majority), resulting in lower rates of adoption further down (Late Majority, Laggards). Creating a cycle of positive and high quality experience is therefore very important to successful adoption.

Newton & Taylor (2013), talk about the importance of a “shared vision and energy that touches all parts of the organisation”, and the need for staff to be given the time to ‘upskill’ and to integrate their work with technology and curriculum (re)design support,  “…institutional recognition, if this is the way the university wants to move, that all staff at some point will be freed up so that they can devote time and energy into developing the new skills…” There is also a need to create parity across an institution so that expectations are clear and aligned for all staff, therefore a requirement for change management in transition to digital learning and teaching.

That “higher education institutions are currently challenged to look for innovative ways to develop their faculty, particularly in light of new economic realities that put pressure on resources”  remains a problem across the sector, and “…it has been instructive over the years to reflect on how we can engage faculty in critical assessment and adoption of new technology if they perceive that it will bring them no personal benefit or that they have no time” (Kukulska-Hulme, 2012). Though “the needs of students may be perceived as relatively remote from the needs of faculty”, perhaps the increasing need for more convenient and flexible learning provision (Oblinger, 2013, ch3) will help to drive change forward.


3. ICT Support and Training Provision

Technical support and Elearning Support provision, in both training and perhaps ‘helpdesk’ formats are very significant influencers, and their presence or absence form key driving or restraining forces in uptake of technology in learning and teaching. How much of this is down to perception rather than reality remains unknown, as much of the information surrounding this is anecdotal or dependent on an individual’s interpretation of support and training. For example, several questions were posed by TELS (2012) which list relevant ‘support’ type responses as choices in Likert scales. But it is not clear who is responding, what their knowledge and expertise is, or how they might interpret notions of support and training (i.e. to what level, in what, when, how etc).

Kukulska-Hulme (2012) cites the importance of faculty support by stating that in order to achieve teaching delivery change, one must instigate adequate professional development fully supported by faculty using collaborative teams, work based learning, show and tell and ‘reverse mentoring’ (the student is the teacher). However, she acknowledges the problems of instigating complex and costly professional development programmes, especially for “a public institution with limited funds […] to find cost-effective yet engaging solutions to the intractable problem of getting faculty to take seriously their own professional development with regard to new technologies for teaching and learning”.

Zellweger Moser tries to address this issue, stressing the importance of support “particularly in competence development and educational technology course design” (.i.e pedagogical support, see later), and “the development of adequate expectations about faculty requirements and how much effort and competence are necessary to successfully incorporate educational technology […] This includes .. the development of a sufficient educational technology infrastructure and a satisfactory framework for educational technology support”. This indicates that Faculty adoption goes hand in hand with support and training. Taylor & Newton (2013) challenge the traditional approach of ‘support hand holding’, saying “…current practices which position one-to-one assistance and face-to-face training as principal strategies are no longer sustainable or effective in building university wide capability in the use of technologies for teaching”, and instead suggest “…access to professional learning opportunities (is) provided flexibly, in different modes, making use of current technologies and recognising constraints of time and place…”.


4. Elearning Support and Training Provision

Kukulska-Hulme makes a strong case for the importance of pedagogical and course design support and training to work closely with technology support, making a clear distinction between the two. Quoting Friel et al (2009),  who “give evidence for the effectiveness of a “collaborative training team” approach whereby technology training is placed into a pedagogical context by means of pedagogical dialogue to complement technology skill attainment; their approach also involved IT representatives providing one-on-one faculty support between training sessions to allow for development of personal technology skills among faculty, and a hotline for immediate problem solving”. This is the ideal then, but both costly and time consuming. Zellweger Moser comments that “time commitment is the prerequisite for an involvement in competence development and an engagement in course (re-)design activities”. Zellweger Moser gives helpful evidence too, on the difference between IT support and (pedagogical) course design support, as well as funding issues when discussing funding sources for smaller and larger course (re) design projects. So, we see provision for support (IT and pedagogical) is closely aligned to faculty adoption and central mission strategy.


5. Motivation, Skills and Training

 (The individual perspective, staff and student)

Staff motivation is widely perceived as one of the most significant driving or restraining forces for technology uptake in learning and teaching. Motivation can be a completely subjective force, dependent on sometimes false perceptions and assumptions as well as on more formal factors such as faculty support and professional feedback. Zellweger Moser (2007) uses Roger’s system of Innovation Adoption to outline this, and in one paragraph sums it up, “…if early adopters experience too many setbacks, their negative reporting may lead to skepticism among the early majority, who will be tentative in their adoption of technology. These conditions discourage quality course design, and negative experiences are likely… As a result of this process, early adopters and the early majority will abandon use of technology, and the late majority and laggards will not even start adopting it”. The idea that some noticeable individual advantage must be attained through the utilisation of a technology is also common – see Mclean et al (2008) in Kukulska-Hulme (2012), Taylor and Newton (2012), who ‘express a typical perspective on this issue: “… academic staff will perceive little need to participate and will spend their time where they derive most personal benefit”‘. For example, if extra work or time or effort is involved, then the ‘what’s in it for me’ level is considerably diminished, to potentially make the use of the technology redundant, but conversely, if time and effort are saved (e.g. automated marking, plagiarism detection, ease of use etc), then use of technology will be embraced. Only innovators and some early adopters (Rogers, 1995, 2003) will put in time and effort to experiment with new technology regardless of cost or advantage to themselves.

Susan Browns paper, ‘Seeing Web 2.0 in context: A study of academic perceptions’ (2012), is notable here for the reported low rate of response to participate in that study. Of the 97 academics who responded to her questionnaire (out of an approximate total of 4250 across the University), 74 responses were analysed, the rest having given insufficient data for analysis. This, in itself, might be an indicator of motivation in relation to issues surrounding technology. Notwithstanding the low response rate, the study goes on to reveal some interesting feedback on perceptions and uses of Web 2.0, especially from the qualitative data gathered.

Student digital skills are sometimes overestimated, so while staff need consistent professional development to up-skill and reconstruct practice, students too may need support and even training. “In terms of technology use, … there were students who reported that they were ‘alienated’, and ‘overwhelmed’, and that they ‘struggled’ and ‘felt lost’ by the technology. It was clear that students’ abilities … in a technology enabled environment were sometimes overestimated, as some students reported difficulty navigating the approaches and technologies presented”, (Taylor & Newton (2013). Conversely, Kukulska-Hulme (2012) suggests ‘reverse mentoring’, i.e. students mentoring staff in skills and uses of technology, as part of faculty professional development initiatives.

To read more from this section, please use the page navigation below