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Q1: What is the relevance of the student experience to the role of the educational technologist?

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Rebecca Galley
25 August 2009

'Although it's true that some of the drive to go "on-line" has come from above through academic development plans and university strategies, one of the main drivers for the development of online learning has been the student body. One of the greatest levers we've found has been student demand'. (Education for Change, 2004, p.3)

Is there any literature that substantiates this view?

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I'm drawn to several comments above.  Both Grainne and Helen suggests that there as yet no literature that makes a direct linkage between learning technologies and student experiences, though Ian highlights it as being of fundamental relevance to the ed tech.  Currently, the best we have are varies proxies. As Helen says: '.. if it can be shown that learning technologists play a role in enhancing and augmenting tutor skills ... ' .   The literature is awash with such attempts and often notes the disjuncture between student and staff ICT (which of course is not necessarily the same as TEL) competencies.   So is our real target staff development?  But then we must take note of various cautionary tales as the one most recently published by Janet Hanson (see refs above) in which she raises concerns concerning the impact of e-learning [sic] on academic identities.  Ruth aludes to this in her 3rd para in her comment above.

Grainne raises a fundamental point - are the relationships ed techs foster predominantly with staff?  Do they / we have any direct exposure to students?   The absence of literature noted above may answer this question as well?

Andrew raises the challenge of using students as ed tech placements.   Close, though not exactly that model, but at Exeter we have run the 1st iteration of a 'Students as Agents of Change' programme.   Some of the projects involved aspects of TEL, working with our ed techs.  A presentation given by 2 Exeter colleagues (Roos Zandstra and Elisabeth Dunne) is available at: at a conference last September at Sheffield Hallam (

Tom Browne
16:28 on 14 September 2009 (Edited 15:07 on 2 October 2009)

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Ian Wellaway
11:10am 3 September 2009

I'm not sure about any literature, but the student experience must be of the highest relevance to the educational technologist. To me, the student is like the client, one of which that has grown up with the internet and does not demand but rather expects a high level of digital technology and innovation in their choice of further education.

So, what websites the student uses for study and personal use is important to know in order to get a grasp of what they expect and what they find easy and efficient to use and what is a bit of a waste of time.

Ruth Brown
11:06am 5 September 2009

I think there may be a distinction between what students expect and what is pedagogically useful and sound in a particular situation.

Equally, it seems to me that there is a danger of seeing eWhatever as a silver bullet; there are situations where it is both valid and practical to employ technology.  But there are also situations where the use of technology is superfluous to engagement in the learning process.

Institutional drivers and student demands should be secondary to pedagogical worth and the need to use technology in deciding its implementation, in my opinion.

Helen Beetham
9:28am 11 September 2009

There is a lot of literature about student expectations and the student experience now, but I'm not aware of any that directly addresses the role of learning technologists or other paraprofessionals. Students are always being asked what they think about their lecturers though... this is an interesting gap in the literature.

Helen Beetham
9:30am 11 September 2009

There is evidence from all of the LLiDA literature review, the Great Expectations surveys by JISC/MORI, and the Learners' Experience of e-Learning programme (JISC) that tutor skills are very important to learners' experience of learning with technology. Indirectly, then, if it can be shown that learning technologists play a role in enhancing and augmenting tutor skills...

Helen Beetham
9:38am 11 September 2009

It's not exactly literature, but the CMALT prospectus has some quotes from candidates and stakeholders which provide anecdotal evidence that well-qualified LTs are seen as central to the changing mission of the sector.

Gráinne Conole
10:25am 11 September 2009

I would agree with Helen, I think there is a gap here in terms of a direct correlation between learning technologists and student experiences, perhaps something worth exploring further. In the meantime a trawl through some of the above literature that Helen mentions specifically looking at this aspect might be useful.

Andrew Middleton
12:05pm 11 September 2009

Before answering this it is important to understand the role of the educational or learning technologist. It is interesting that these two titles have already been used  in this discussion. Lynne Gornall from the University of Glamorgan reported on the longitudinal work that she has been involved with during ALT-C this year. I'm sure most people here will be familiar with that work as respondents to the survey. Her paper at ALT-C 2009 was entitled 'Our careers, ourselves: 'New learning professionals' ten years on.'

Having addressed that question it will be clear that the diversity of roles, and self-perception amongst those who hold them, creates a problem in terms of this question. The answer to the question, I would suggest, is that the subject of student experience is highly relevant to the educational technologist, yet many in the role do not see it as important to engage with the literature or academic debates around the subject in a profound way.

Gráinne Conole
12:20pm 11 September 2009

Have added a link to Lyn's ALT-C presentation. Your comments Andrew made me think about the fact that alot of Learning/Educational Technologists are not as a routine expsed to students and given their brokerage role this is potentially a real weakness. Many of course do have exposure to studens (either in previous roles as teachers/lecturers or as current p/t tutors), but the point is it is not a requirement, more of a sideline...

Andrew Middleton
12:57pm 11 September 2009

Yes, I think this is a real issue. In my own experience I have had to go out of my way to ensure that level of engagement. I'm not too sure of the literature around this (perhaps CMALT..?) but we should persue this disconnect. Also useful to search for lit on the student placement in ed tech - something we are keen on @ SHU.

Gráinne Conole
7:19pm 14 September 2009

Yep agree Andrew I think this is an important area to explore. I think schemes like CMALT help elicit and define what being an educationall technologist/learning technologist actually means.

Juliette Culver
9:20pm 14 September 2009

On a different tangent to this, in web design circles you often hear people talk about the tension between what the clients want and what is actually best for the user experience. I wonder if there is ever is such a tension for learning technologists - between the student experience and what their 'clients' are asking for. Obviously, with both of these contexts, if you can, you try and educate the client but that is sometimes easier said than done.

Gráinne Conole
6:05am 15 September 2009

yes good point juliette - there is almost three levels here isnt there - what the student wants/think they want; what the teacher wants/thinks they need, and the educational technologist acting almost as a broker between the teacher and the potential of the technologies.

Tom Browne
10:45am 15 September 2009

The role of broker is key.  Helen has brought our attention to a paper by Peacock et al in response to Q6 and in the context of e-research.

But explicit examples of such recognition appear to be limited.  Any good examples?    Much literature suggests that TEL is now central to core university strategies.  The student experience and their exposure to TEL is widely reported and analysed.  Staff development re. TEL is almost universally identified as long overdue and absolutely necessary.  But often in the literature the role and presence of an educational technologist is barely noted, sometimes not at all.  The Russell reference noted above is a typical example.   Might it be the case that 'technology' is seen as central but 'technologists' (in our context, of the support staff, learning variety) are not?   How much is TEL meaningfully embedded with staff development programmes?  How TEL-competent are our staff developers?  Would such staff regarded themselves as being, in part, educational technologists?  How much TEL is embedded in e.g. HEA-accredited programmes?  As a former external institutional accreditor for the HEA my answer to my last question is not very positive.

Eamon Costello
8:10am 30 September 2009


I agree with you

"Learning/Educational Technologists are not as a routine expsed to students and given their brokerage role this is potentially a real weakness."

This is actually a fundamental characteristic of the complexification of higher ed. There are now, as a proprotion of total staff, more people in HEIs who have no contact with students.This is an inevitable result of specialisation. People get put into very specialised roles where they can be experts - which is in general a good thing. There may be a problem that the feedback loop from student to Ed Tech is a weak one which is kind of related to the issue that the Ed Tech may feel a lack of ownership of their work, of its real significance.

@Helen: "paraprofessionals" - thanks I just learned another great word :)


Carol Higgison
8:43am 30 September 2009

I've posted a paper written by some colleagues which addressed the diversity of the student skills and experiences - rather than a one size fits all model of the early 2000's. I think it is essential that learning technologist/educational technologist appreciate this diversity and understand its implications on choosing and implementing effective TEL choices. These 'differences' in skills, abilities and attitudes to using technology for learning are also there in the academic staff we support. This issue of diversity over a one technological size fits all issue came over strongly in many of the ALT-C 2009 sessions I attended.


Tom Browne
3:36pm 2 October 2009

The above discussion is really inciteful.  The following are two massive mis-matches:

1. Improving the student experience is of the utmost importance (read any institutional strategy) yet educational technologists often do not have direct exposure to students.

2. Educational technology is now parrotted as being mission critical (again, (read any institutional strategy) but this is poorly translated into comensurate recognition for educational technologists.

Other summary observations:

Ed techs mostly only have a relationship with academic staff.

Many papers are written of educational technology  explorations by academics and ed tech staff are 'invisible'.

There is now much literature of listening to students 'in their own words'  but their sense of satisfaction (or otherwise) is directed to their academic staff.  Again ed techs are largely invisible.

Much of the above means that the ed tech is not often well placed to translate from 'what the student wants' to 'what the student really needs' (presumptious, but fair).

Recognising the diversity of 'positionings' and also the diversity of students, the term 'brokerage' would seem to be the one common denominator in the literature.  This proxy role in relation to a range of stakeholders feeds into much insecurity of the role.   Could Helen's 'paraprofessional' (a new concept for me too)  be viewed as a new assertive attempt at 'positioning'? 


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