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”

 

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