E. Bond, T. Goodchild

University Campus Suffolk (UNITED KINGDOM)
This paper is an ethnographic exploration of the experiences of academics using learning technologies at a new university in the UK. At its core is a focus on the quality of the educational experiences for students, with the overall aim to enhance that quality.

Universities are striving to exploit an increasingly media-rich environment to create greater accessibility to education. Although the use of technology is often viewed as a catalyst for change in learning and teaching, it is actually underpinned by the demand for quality improvement. However, technologies cannot magically transform learning and do not exist apart from the institution but are integral as part of the socio-technical network. It is essential to understand how technologies develop, how people use them and the implications that they have on learning and social cohesion in the educational environment. This paper examines current debates on technologies in education and explores the theoretical approaches to studying technology from a variety of perspectives. The paper investigates the reality of people’s relationships with media technologies in everyday life at the university and the diversity of those lived experiences in relation to social change, educational ideologies and wider social divisions. This paper puts academics’ experiences and perspectives at the heart of an exploration of learning with technologies, and explored their perceptions of quality in technology enhanced learning.

This study has utilised a mixed method ethnographic approach. Academic staff were purposively sampled across all academic staff. Data was collected either via online asynchronous methods or unstructured face to face interviews in order to effectively include a wide spectrum of teaching practices and attitudes. The ethnographic approach include elements of virtual ethnography facilitated through a collaborative discussion area on the institutional VLE. Anonymity has been maintained throughout.

As with many higher education institutions, there has been heavy investment in the Virtual Learning Environment (BlackBoard) at the university and an activity analysis additionally provided data as to the extent and variety of online engagement with students by academic staff. Data was also obtained as to effective implementation of web 2.0 technologies within the ‘Blackboard’ courses. In the analysis of interview transcripts, discussion forum entries and photographs, and VLE ‘online data’, the study focused on the participants views and experiences and considered some of the positions offered by Actor Network Theory (ANT) as a lens through which to understand the data.

The diversity of students’ and staff experiences, skills motivations and capabilities is very fundamental to developing, supporting and promoting the innovative use of e-learning and learning technologies in learning, teaching and assessment. This paper presents the initial findings of the study and discusses possible recommendations for improving the quality and level of meaningful engagement by academic staff with learning technologies in a Higher Education environment.

Initial findings:
1) The perceived barriers to using technologies in learning and teaching.
2) Some possible recommendations to improve quality in teaching and learning using technologies.
3) Consider strategies for staff development opportunities to develop both confidence and competence in technology enhanced learning.