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Editorial: Technology and Education: benefits, possibilities and limitations

Justine Vincin, Monash University

 

In November 2012 the New York Times published an article confidently entitled 'The Year of the MOOC' (Pappano, 2012). MOOCs, or Massive Open Online Courses, had burst on to the scene over the preceding 12 months, providing free open-access education with unlimited enrolments. The numbers belie the success of MOOCs. edX, the non-profit brainchild of Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), had 370,000 enrolments for the first round of courses, while provider Coursera boasted 1.7 million students within the first year of its operation. In 2012, eminent institutions scrambled to partner with internet education providers to design and implement courses spanning various disciplines. The MOOC suddenly transitioned from a technological application that was the domain of IT specialists to a readily applied tool of leading tertiary providers.

A year later, however, hackeducation.com ran a reflective article that questioned whether 2013 was the year of the 'anti-MOOC' (Watters, 2013). Despite the continued growth of organisations such as Coursera and FutureLearn and the ever-expanding corpus of universities signing on, the buoyancy of success had begun to be tempered by the realities of the product. Technical glitches and professional clashes led to a small number of mid-course cancellations (Kolowich, 2014; Parry, 2013). A notable provider was accused of favouring elite institutions as partners (Rivard, 2013a), a revelation considered to undermine the beneficence that underpins open education. From an institutional perspective, questions were raised about the validity of outsourcing education without due consideration of staffing requirements (Rivard, 2013b). In short, institutional practicalities caught up with laudable principles that sought to integrate technology and learning.

Judging from this pattern, 2014 may well become the year of reckoning for the MOOC. Their success has not diminished and enrolments will undoubtedly continue to grow. Nonetheless, the blended learning model they provide will move forward with the benefit of hindsight.

It is little wonder that we see the University of Warwick and Monash University making substantial contributions to this growing number of free online courses. In November 2013 the Warwick Business School launched the institution's first MOOC through the UK-based platform FutureLearn, and later in 2014 Monash University will introduce two multidisciplinary programs via the same provider. While still in its infancy, the MOOC joins the growing body of online resources that realise the integration of technology and education, many of which are already in place at each institution and as part of the Monash-Warwick Alliance. As discussed in a previous editorial, Reinvention's joint management is facilitated by the networking capabilities of modern technology, which also enables more students across the world to contribute. In a similar vein, the Alliance offers a joint PhD under supervision from both institutions. Last year, the Monash-Warwick Alliance launched the first International Conference of Undergraduate Research (ICUR), where student presentations were given across continents via live video links. ICUR will take place again this September with additional partners, including Nanyang Technological University (Singapore), Singapore Management University, the University of Western Australia and Baruch College (New York).

These developments showcase ways in which technology is utilised to enhance existing practices in education and research, and reach a broader audience. MOOCs also extend educational models in various ways. Aligned institutions can deliver complex multidisciplinary programs in conjunction with other providers, utilising the expertise of academics stationed beyond the institute's physical location. The latest research can be digitised and disseminated within a tiny fraction of the time it takes to write, edit, print and distribute a printed book or journal. Teaching can also benefit from the 'flipped classroom' model, which enables the transfer of knowledge to take place at home via online lectures, and leaves valuable classroom time for mentoring and tutoring.

Many of these benefits are still institutionally focused and it is only recently that the advantages for students have been discussed, beyond the salient fact that easier access to free education is a very admirable motivation behind MOOCs. In a talk given in June 2013 Anant Agarwal, the CEO of edX, praised the educational capabilities of MOOCs – self-pacing, instant feedback and peer learning, to name a few – while noting that the self-study model enables educators to harness student creativity at the point of origin and at the time when it flourishes, which may not be during standard class hours (Agarwal, 2013). However, such commendations work on a basic set of assumptions: namely, that subsequent generations of students will be adept at, and will prefer, technologically driven education; that students' personal circumstances facilitate these blended learning techniques; and, perhaps worryingly, that statistics of increased enrolments are considered more important than the rate of non-completions or even or failures on those courses.

Distance education can, for many students, be just that: distant. For providers, this means that there is limited accountability when students drop out. The pastoral care aspect inherent in a teacher-student relationship is impossible to maintain when dealing with such vast numbers of pupils. Earlier this month at the Princeton-Fung Global Forum, Gideon Rosen of Princeton University observed that we risk moving towards a scenario in which online learning progresses at the expense of traditional interaction (Day, 2014). Rosen's comments reveal that traditional educators still consider that their role goes beyond the transfer of knowledge, to something more supportive of students' wellbeing. Post-secondary students of the future may well be more attuned to processing impersonally delivered education and showing understanding by the click of a touchpad, but they will be no less individual or complex in their reactions to successes and failures. For all that it offers, a tablet or laptop screen is unable to read the affective responses of its audience when results are published, or see the warning signs that indicate why a student may be falling behind. Despite the numbers and the rapid technological developments, the individual student remains the central stakeholder of education. For this reason higher education must remain student-focused even as tertiary institutes grapple with changing practices in a technological age.

Current issues in technology and identity form the basis of study in our first article in this issue. Kathryn Smith (Law, Monash University) considers the potential pitfalls of social networking, looking at debates and legislation concerning an individual's right to erase personal information from social media sites. Her paper, 'The Right to be Forgotten: Legislating for Individuals to Regain Control of their Personal Information on Social Networks', analyses the tabled EU Regulation Article 17 and raises questions about the interpretation of features of the subsection.

In this issue we also feature a summative article on current studies into the relationship between air pollution, heat and morbidity, written by Cho Kwong Charlie Lam (School of Geography and Environmental Science, Monash University). His article 'Air Pollution, Heat and Mortality in Urban Populations' synthesises outcomes of three research methods into this relationship and builds a case for cross-disciplinary study in order to advance understanding of the impact of heat and pollution on human health. In our next paper, Classics student Matthew Britten (University of Reading) considers the social dynamics within public latrines of the Roman Empire in "Don't Get the Wrong End of the Stick: Lifting the lid on Roman toilet behaviour." Britten investigates both archaeological remains and written sources for what they reveal about issues of privacy and social class in Roman life.

Our next author, Simona Pantiru (Psychology and Sociology, Sheffield Hallam University) considers how personal circumstances and lifestyle habits influence acculturation in 'The Acculturation Process of Romanian immigrants in Great Britain'. Turning again to internet usage, Eoghan McHugh (Business Management, University of Wales: Trinity Saint David) conducts a questionnaire-based study of consumer habits in Wales in 'Does Location Influence Consumer Behaviour? Analysing Rural and Urban Retail Accessibility in Wales'. Focusing on online shopping habits, the author contrasts buying practices in urban and rural communities.

In our final paper, Jasper Sim (English Language and Literature, National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University) researches English language teaching practices in Singapore. Sim surveys how English language teachers in Singapore treat Singaporean English ('Singlish') usage in the classroom in 'A Feature-based Approach to Evaluating Treatment of Singapore English in the Language Classroom'; factoring in teachers' beliefs about language, he assesses the extent to which Singlish has normalised in current teaching approaches.

Finally, for our book review this issue we turn to sustainability in architecture. Ricki-Lee Van Het Wout (Architecture, Monash University, Australia) and Dr Julie Gwilliam (Architecture, Cardiff University) present their views on the 2013 publication, Green Buildings Pay: Design, Productivity and Ecology (3rd Edition). Reinforced by the inclusion of more than 20 new case studies from across the world, Green Buildings Pay considers how sustainable development is understood from the viewpoints of architects, clients and users of green design.


References

Agarwal, A. (2013), 'Why massive open online courses (still) matter', available at http://www.ted.com/talks/anant_agarwal_why_massively_open_online_courses_still_matter, accessed 21 February 2014

Day, D. (2014), '"MOOC World": Experts clash over differing visions of education technology', available at http://www.princeton.edu/main/news/archive/S39/71/57E81/index.xml?section=topstories, accessed 14 April 2014

Kolowich, S. (2013), 'Professor Leaves a MOOC in Mid-Course in Dispute Over Teaching', available at http://chronicle.com/blogs/wiredcampus/professor-leaves-a-mooc-in-mid-course-in-dispute-over-teaching/42381, accessed 26 April 2014

Parry, M. (2013), 'A Star MOOC Professor Defects – at Least for Now', available at https://chronicle.com/article/article-content/141331/, accessed 26 April 2014

Pappano, L. (2012), 'The Year of the MOOC', The New York Times, 4 November 2012, p. ED26

Rivard, R. (2013a), 'Coursera's Contractual Elitism', available at http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2013/03/22/coursera-commits-admitting-only-elite-universities#sthash.2kpyYKgb.dpbs, accessed 16 April 2014

Rivard, R. (2013b), 'The Fine Print', available at http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2013/05/28/documents-shed-light-details-georgia-tech-udacity-deal#sthash.e6XsHo3U.dpbs, accessed 16 April 2014

Watters, A. (2013), 'Top Ed-Teach Trends of 2013: MOOCs and Anti-MOOCs', available at http://hackeducation.com/2013/11/29/top-ed-tech-trends-2013-moocs/, accessed 15 April 2014

 

 

To cite this paper please use the following details: Vincin, J. (2014), 'Editorial: Technology and Education: benefits, possibilities and limitations', Reinvention: an International Journal of Undergraduate Research, Volume 7, Issue 1, http://www.warwick.ac.uk/reinventionjournal/archive/volume7issue1/editorial/ Date accessed [insert date]. If you cite this article or use it in any teaching or other related activities please let us know by e-mailing us at Reinventionjournal at warwick dot ac dot uk.