Shakey ground: The Temptations of technology

I was looking for a song lyric that had been bugging me when I came across an old 1975 video of The Temptations and I ended up watching it (am easily distracted). It didn’t have the lyric I was looking for but it did help me to reflect on an operational issue I am currently facing- an experience of ‘technology (only partly) enabled learning’

I seem to always want to change things. I think a part of this is always wanting to push myself to keep learning. Change keeps learning alive. Perhaps we only learn through change? It also means I find myself on shakey ground or is it shaky ground  – even the word is unstable.

Tempted by change and drawn toward the affordances of technology I tend to jump in and give new technologies a go. Act now- reflect later.

This semester I have been teaching 150 students in a health ethics module. I’ve been playing around with audio assessments as I realise that so much of their assessments across their degrees are in written form, yet as future health professionals so much of their communication will be oral. I started last semester with asking students to use their phones (or some other device) to record an audio response to one of the assessment questions and to provide an accessible link so it could be graded. I thought this would be an easy task! However this caused all sort of issues and many students, despite videos I made with suggestions for Apps that would help with this, were unable to easily manage this process.

This semester I decided to try a different approach and use one of the audio tools embedded within our institution’s LMS, Blackboard. I figured that maybe the Blackboard team would at least be able to support any glitches along the way, which is very helpful when I am the only staff member appointed to this paper.

So, I’ve been using Voice Thread. Students are provided with a link and (simply!) record their response, save and submit. You guessed it- not so simple in practice!

Despite a short Youtube clip plus screen shot instructions from the Blackboard team some students still had problems making and saving a recording. The Voice Thread tool allows students to save a recording without submitting. the submit button seems to not be in an intuitive position. It is difficult for the grader to know whether work has or has not been submitted. Load times are slow so getting started with accessing audio files for grading takes a while with 150 students. Next semester I have close to an additional 100 students so this becomes a real issue. Furthermore, Voice Thread currently sends a notification to students when feedback has been given. Ideally it would be great to have the ability to time release feedback to ensure all students get feedback at the same time.

On the plus side,  Voice Thread allows for audio feedback and it’s been a lot of fun listening to my students and then providing an audio recorded message for them. It is a nice connection to complete an online paper.

Reflecting on my dabbles with audio assessments makes me realise that my relationship with technology is very trusting – I am tempted and leap in. Invariably there are issues. In many cases technology creates small pockets of time when I am seriously frustrated and within that small window I have a distorted sense of my precious time being used up at an enormous rate of knots. But there is something that continues to draw me to try new things, to continue to be tempted, to dabble, to sometimes fail and to continue learning along the way.

The shaky ground is familiar territory- continually creating an environment where personal and learning boundaries can be stretched. As The Temptations say in the clip:

“Standing on shakey ground (standing, standing)…And I love standing on shakey ground”



Wider Context #CMALT: Understanding and engaging with legislation, policies and standards.

This post links to the following element of CMALT:

Wider Context
a) Understanding and engaging with legislation, policies and standards

[Statements here should show how relevant legislation, has influenced your work. You are not expected to have expert knowledge of all of these areas, but are expected to be aware of how they relate to your current practice. These issues will vary depending upon the country and Government policy.]

New Zealand legal context

Education Act 1989

For my first piece of NZ legislation to reflect upon I have chosen the Education Act 1989, specifically Section 162 (4) (a), which sets out the requirements for being a tertiary institution in NZ.

Section 162 Establishment of institutions

Section 162 (4) (a) (v)

In recommending to the Governor-General under subsection (2) that a body should be established as a college of education, a polytechnic, a specialist college, a university, or a wananga, the Minister shall take into account—


that universities have all the following characteristics and other tertiary institutions have 1 or more of those characteristics:

(i) they are primarily concerned with more advanced learning, the principal aim being to develop intellectual independence:
(ii) their research and teaching are closely interdependent and most of their teaching is done by people who are active in advancing knowledge:
(iii) they meet international standards of research and teaching:
(iv )they are a repository of knowledge and expertise:
(v) they accept a role as critic and conscience of society;

Section 162 (4) (a) (v) of NZ’s Education Act (1989) provides the requirement for universities in NZ to “accept a role as critic and conscience of society”.

Being very aware of my role as critic and conscience of society has always been a core part of my role as an ethics lecturer. In essence, like Socrates, in my role as ethics lecturer in a health faculty, I am trying to facilitate the ‘thinking student’ rather than a compliant, passive health professional. To achieve my own crusade in this direction I am very fortunate to sit outside the various disciplines I teach. Not only is my background not that of a nurse, an oral health professional, a medical laboratory scientist, a psychologist, an OT or any other of the 8 disciplines I teach but the small team of health law and ethics where I am situated resides outside all these departments as well. This creates distance, which may be disconcerting for students who anticipate being taught by ‘one of their own’- a nurse, an oral health practitioner,  but at the same time it facilitates the luxury of being the outsider, the naive inquirer – the person who asks – why do you think that? why do you do things that way? Where do you get advice? What is your purpose as a nurse, as a medical laboratory scientist?

So, you get the picture- I get to ask questions- lots of them. I get to ask questions that have no answers. I get to pose questions to students who are used to answers, to certainty, to absolutes, to things that can be measured, things that count.

I am not diminishing the fact that teaching content and knowledge is a core role of an health educator – to equip future health professionals with knowledge of skills for what can be known. To also equip them with research and enquiry skills so they can adequately keep abreast of knowledge as it changes in their field.

But aside from teaching and research there is this other part of my role- this critic and conscience- what an awesome job description – it is a licence to provoke, to challenge, to be that naive inquirer, to model provocation so that students will learn to think for themselves and, to challenge those in authority if need be.

Within my academic networks we often refer to this role of critic and conscience and as we have adopted many of our university practices from overseas, including the UK, I had assumed this was a common component of being an academic.

It was only when I came across The January 2017 Times Higher Ed article by Graham Virgo, pro vice-chancellor for education and professor of English private law at the University of Cambridge that I realised that this isn’t an attribute or responsibility of academics in other countries. Professor Virgo argues it ought to be and cites our NZ Education Act as legislation to aspire to. As he says, academics needs to “ embrace the freedom to develop new ideas, test received wisdom and examine controversial and unpopular positions.

In a climate where free speech is under threat it is good to know the law protects me but also mandates that I must be that critic. Health care can be a very political industry. Not only do I need to be that critic but I need to help my students develop their responsibility to also be those critics and the conscience of society; to be the ones who stand up for their patients, to challenge inequitable structures and ask the difficult questions.

This law definitely impacts on my use of educational technologies. Technology helps me  to be that critic and conscience but also to foster these skills in my students.

Critic and conscience enabled through technology

The Values Exchange is web and App-based learning community for ethical deliberation of health and social care issues, based on the Socratic approach of questioning. It supports students to consider controversial scenarios independently but upon submission of their views they gain access to the thinking of all other respondents. It has a fairly flat structure in that all users can load scenarios and all respondents get full access to all response. It is underpinned by values-based decision-making, which values all perspectives.

Screenshot 2017-11-09 08.43.40

The AUT Values Exchange home page;

This semester we have explored social issues, for instance the legalising of recreational marijuana and whether more companies should offer reproductive egg freezing but also we have used this technology to debate technology itself, with recent deliberations on whether parents should be banned from posting photos of their children on Facebook or whether CCTV surveillance is justified.  Students report that through its use they build confidence to better understand how they think, and why, as well as valuing being able to learn broad perspectives from their peers – perspectives that are arguable all ‘ethically’ correct. They say this helps them better understand others they work alongside as well as their patients as well as helping them thinking more deeply about everyday issues as well as ethical issues related to their practice.

I see them taking on the mantle as critic and conscience when they tell me they are now initiating family and peer discussions on ethical issues in society and when they get in touch after graduation to post a topical issue for current students to consider. For other colleagues who teach topics with greater objectivity (eg anatomy and physiology), there is perhaps less room for being that critic. That places extra onus on me to carry the critic role given the nature of the topic I teach. I am legally obligated to be outward looking and that role seems somewhat easier with technology.