Technology in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education


Higher education faces an uncertain future in the second decade of the 21st century. The relative homogeneity and state funded protection of the 20th century have ceased and modern universities such as UcLan find themselves exposed to external pressures (Williams 2007). Technology and innovation have always had a place in academic research, but now they are changing the way in which universities teach and students learn (R). Moreover, rapid developments in the educational use of technology (referred to as e-learning) have the potential to radically change pedagogic practice (Williams 2007). For universities who aim to equip graduates with the necessary skills to compete in today's knowledge economy the potential for advancement is significant (Ref).

As technology has become more accessible and easier to use it has increasingly permeated academic teaching and feedback in higher education (Yanosky 2002). Online communication and access to information serve to expand the course or module's range to wherever and whenever the students and lecturers need. The use of technology in teaching is commonly defined as e-learning and has become a key/principal component in many courses. As part of their strategy for higher education the government implemented plans to fully and sustainably embed e-leaning into higher education over a ten year period (DFES 2003). As such the higher education funding council foe England (HEFCE) in collaboration with the higher education academy (HEA) and the Joint information systems committee (JISC) was charged with developing and implementing e-learning in to teaching and learning.

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The purpose of this project is therefore to investigate the use of e-learning/ new technologies and how they can be used to enhance teaching and provide better feedback in sports science.


As a demonstrator/associate lecturer in the centre for applied sport and exercise my role involves delivering lectures and providing practical demonstrations to various groups on different modules across the sports science and sports technology degrees. The idea for this project came from a discussion that I had with a colleague following an afternoon's training regarding the use of podcasting as a teaching tool in higher education. Having completed the training session I was very critical of the role that technology as a whole plays in higher education and was quick to dismiss my colleague's argument with regards to its defence. However, on reflection it occurred to me that (particularly at only 24 years of age) that I have a rather one sided perhaps prejudiced opinion of technology as a whole in higher education. As such I felt that in order to learn more about the area that I should do more reading and research into the efficacy of technology implementation into the higher education classroom, which led me to choose the current topic for my Pg Cert LTHE project.

Why integrate e-learning into higher education

In 2005 the department for education and skills created a report entitled: harnessing technology - transforming learning. Coinciding with this the Higher education funding council HEFCE published an e-learning strategy, which outlined HEFCE's plan for the support of higher education universities and colleges in developing and integrating teaching over the next ten years.

Gregiore et al., (1996) propose that new technology in higher education can serve to enhance the intellectual skills of students, contribute to new ways of obtaining knowledge and generate interest in the subject area to a greater extent than more traditional methods. It was further noted that technology/e-learning allow educators to make use of information sources, collaborate amongst colleagues and develop teaching programs that facilitate student thought and collaboration. Gregiore et al., (1996) go on to hypothesize that appropriate utilization of teaching will serve to change the role of lecturers into that more akin to a mentor or guide, therefore allowing them to interact with students to a greater extent.

Whilst it should be noted that technology itself does not alter teaching or leaning characteristics, what is important to recognize is that it can present occasions and opportunities by which student achievement and leaning can be positively influenced (Honey et al., 1990). Means and Olsen (1993) suggest that teaching allows lecturers to present more complex module material, supports the transition of the lecturers role to coaches rather than simply knowledge dispensers and thus provides a more effective platform for lecturers to become learners and share their thoughts and ideas about curriculum and method. It was further proposed that technology can motivate students further into attempting more difficult tasks and to be more precise and conscientious when constructing their own work.

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Gibson (2001) proposes that technology based student learning environments, allow several pedagogic possibilities. Gibson (2001) suggests that the efficacy of technology integrated students environments does depend on the lecturers skills in recognizing that students develop a preferred and structured set of learning behaviours and thus have their own needs which need to be met through technology based student orientated teaching methods.

Models of e-learning

There are really no models of e-learning per se - only e-enhancements of models of learning1. That is to say, using technology to achieve better learning outcomes, or a more effective assessment of these outcomes, or a more cost-efficient way of bringing the learning environment to the learners. E-learning models have evolved from classroom replication towards models that integrate technology and pedagogical issues. While the first e-learning models emphasised the role of the technology in providing content (information), delivery (access) and electronic services, more recent models focus on pedagogical issues such as online instructional design and the creation of online learning communities.

Content, service and technology model

One of the earliest e-learning models to arise from pedagogic literature is the content, service and technology model (Taylor 2002). In the initial stages of e-learning in the early 90's universities based their e-learning strategy around this model on three key elements, service (to students), content and teaching. The focus of the model was towards the continued development if ICT strategies and the use of technology in order to create virtual learning environments the allowed students to access the information they needed at anytime.

Demand-driven learning model

The demand driven learning model was developed by MacDonald et al., (2001). The model itself is based on the learning managers systems model, whereby technology is considered a support tool used to meet the desired learning outcomes (r).

Figure 1: The demand-driven learning model (Taken from MacDonald et al., 2001).

The key purpose of the model is to encourage lecturers to actively integrate technology into their teaching. The model acknowledges that technology is fundamental to teaching and highlights the importance of investing in ICT to support the development of content, delivery and service. The model also recognises the importance of adaptation: to the changing needs of the students.

Community of enquiry model

The community of enquiry model was designed by Garrison and Anderson (2003) in order to give lecturers an understanding of the features of e-learning and provide information regarding the optimization of student earning through this medium.

Figure 2: The Community of Inquiry Model taken from (Garrison and Anderson 2003).

The community of enquiry model is aimed towards an environment in which students take responsibility for and control of their own learning (Engelbrecht 2003). Given that technology provides significant access to information and communication facilities Garisson and Anderson (2003) suggest that an e-learning environment has distinct advantages as a means of providing student support. Garisson and Anderson (2003) suggest that through the model higher education institutions are beginning to appreciate that the content that the students are exposed to does not solely define the quality of their learning, but the context (i.e. how the lecturer design their sessions) and the staff-student interactions that facilitate learning determine the efficacy of the overall learning experience.

Instructional design models

Conrad (2000) suggests that successful e-learning reflects the integration of institutional methods and technological capabilities used to aid the student in obtaining a pre-determined level of competence in the subject are that is being taught. The Instructional design model for e-learning is based around the process of designing, developing and delivering lecture material and aligning them with conventional teaching methods. This model I feel is the most applicable to sports sciences so far as the pre-determined level of competence is laid out by the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences for sports science graduates and lectures are designed alongside rather than being driven by technology.

Technology in teaching

Mobile devices

Fourth generation 4G mobile phones are now available commercially, they differ from existing phones in that they are fully internet capable and can operate in a variety of environments (R). The authorative horizon report stated that these technologies have a relatively short time to adoption period in higher education (NMC 2005). Chapman (2003) observed students who used mobile phones technology to access their lectures which were broadcast live and then later recorded. Vivvou and Alepis (2005) developed a mobile author system, which can be used by lecturers to create and distribute intelligent tutoring systems (ITS) to their students. After the ITS's have been created the students are able to use mobile technology to have access to the information. The lecturers are also able to monitor their students' progress and communicate with their students during the course. Mobile devices are not used frequently in the Centre for Applied Sport and Exercise Sciences as 4G technology is not yet available to large numbers of people. As such students are not able to access information that this technology would allow. Furthermore it is likely that this technology would have limited efficacy for sports science students; particularly 3rd years as the degree focuses more on the practical aspects of sports science testing and analysis as opposed to traditional lecture formats

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A podcast is a method of distributing digital media files over the internet for download via a computer or mobile phone (Zuniga et al., 2010). Podcasting has a number of different functions in higher education. The use of podcasting is a relatively new concept and its potential has perhaps yet to be exploited (R).

Podcasting allows sessions to be simply videoed/recorded as a podcast, thus allowing students to be able to access the podcast at any time. A number of lectures in the centre for applied sport and exercise sciences have supplementary podcasts available on e-learn to aid teaching. This is particularly the case when performing practical demonstrations and giving instructions for different tasks which are complex, so that the students have the option of replaying the podcast or listening in stages to ensure that they grasp the concept or problem (Rowntree 1994).

The pedagogic literature remains scant with regards to the efficacy of podcasting. What literature there is somewhat contradictory regarding the inclusion of podcasting into a normal teaching routine. Kurtz et al., (2007) suggest that a significant increase in dissertation marks of their students was associated with the integration of podcasting into teaching. Evans (2008) proposes that students are more receptive to the material presented in podcast form and believe that they are superior to text books in helping them to learn. Conversely, Cann (2007) found using both a quantitative and a qualitative analysis that audio podcasts were un-popular amongst students. Deal (2007ab) suggests that podcasting cannot significantly influence learning, when used as a purely archival technique for classroom lectures. Thus it appears that more pedagogic research is needed to determine the true efficacy of podcasting and its potential role as a learning aid n higher education.

Nonetheless, podcasting is used frequently in the Centre for Applied Sport and Exercise Sciences as a tool to supplement both lectures and practical sessions. For example the xs 1400 module has podcasts on e-learn to supplement the PowerPoint slides that were associated with a particular lecture. The podcasts have a number of functions eg. They may explain a particularly complex aspect of the lecture which students typically find difficult to understand or they may simply discuss the session but with real world application ie. To a particular sport or exercise setting.

Second Life

Second life is a web based 3-D virtual world developed by Linden Lab and has attracted educators by offering a number of applications for student interaction. Research suggests that over 100 institutions worldwide have used second life as a Teaching tool (Joly 2007). A number of higher education institutions are now offering full classes in second life (Zhang 2007).

Second life provides students with the opportunity to engage in linked blogs and wiki pages, and allows lecturers to create and publish module content in the 3-D environment. Studies regarding the efficacy of second life as a teaching tool are scant. Yet, it does appear to have significant value as a social network tool where the visual context of the programme give students the feeling of having experienced a real class (Zhang 2007). Therefore, given second life's appealing teaching features and its potential application to a number of educational scenarios, more and more institutions are mow using the program as an innovative tool for learners.

As second life is still very expensive it is yet to be developed fully and integrated fully into higher education; it is not used in the Centre for Applied Sport and Exercise Sciences. However the program may have particular application into sports science. For example to conduct a practical lesson in second life rather than in the laboratory would allow distance learners the opportunity to be in such sessions without actually being there.

Web 2.0

A popular area of progression in pedagogic literature is the use of internet programs referred to as web 2.0 (Anderson 2007). Web 2.0 is related to web programs that aid participatory data sharing, and cooperation on the internet (Eggers 2005). Web 2.0 allows users to work together and collaborate with each other in a social media dialogue as creators (prosumers) of user-generated content in a virtual community. Examples of Web 2.0 include social networking sites, blogs, wikis, video sharing sites, hosted services, web applications, mash ups and folksonomies (Eggers 2005). Green and Hannon propose that Web 2.0 represents a 2nd stage internet service that allows online collaboration and sharing. Web 2.0 applications include blogs, wiki's and social bookmarking.


A wiki is a collaborative Web site whose content can be edited by anyone who has access to it [20]. Perhaps the best example of a wiki in action today is 'Wikipedia. Wikis, and in particular Wikipedia, represent a promising principle that can significantly transform the Internet information age; they have greatly grown in popularity in recent months and years [17]. Wikis can be used as a source for obtaining information and knowledge, and also as a method of virtual collaboration, e.g., to share dialogue and information among participants in group projects, or to allow learners to engage in learning with each other, using wikis as a collaborative environment to construct their knowledge or to be part of a virtual community of practice (see '2').


A related Web information sharing technology is the 'blog'. A blog is a Web site that contains dated entries in reverse chronological order (most recent first) about a particular topic [28]. Entries contain commentary and links to other Web sites, and images as well as a search facility may also be included. Because blogs engage people in knowledge sharing, reflection, and debate, they often attract a large and dedicated readership [29]. They can also engender the drawing together of small virtual groupings of individuals interested in co-constructing knowledge around a common topic within a community of practice.

Blogs and wikis emerged rapidly as a popular

application and have been widely adopted for use in higher education during the past

three years (Lin et aI., 2006). The rise in popularity of blogs and wikis is probably

attributable to their scope for interactivity, especially the creation of opportunities to

engage actively in communication between the person who launched the site and

other users (Sandars, 2007).

Gaming and simulations

Gaming/simulation software provides an interactive environment whereby simulations can be created and problems/questions can be presented (Williams 2007). Aldrich (2003) provided a detailed review of an e-learning simulation model and highlighted the potential of such programs in a number of educational scenarios. Paris (2003) suggests that simulation tools will be central in the next generation of e-learning materials. Paris (2003) further proposes that the principal attraction of these simulations (particularly for younger students) is that they resemble computer games. The horizon report endorses this method of teaching and suggests that this method of co-operation lends another dimension to learning. Williams (2007) suggests that the aim of the game/simulation should not be to have single winner but to facilitate the achievement of an outcome by a group, emphasizing problem solving and teamwork.

This method of teaching is used in a constant but limited manner in the Centre for Applied Sport and Exercise Science. The xs1700 introduction to sports physiology module includes two multiple choice exams and revision for these exams typically involves use of the Interactive learning response system. This involves students in groups answering a series of practice questions to prepare for their exams

Social networks and knowledge webs

It has been proposed that social networking is the mechanism by which e-learning as a whole will become a more collaborative prospect (R). In recent times social networking which makes use of web 2.0 media technology, has received much attention in higher education institutions as a significant number of young people are now making use of these public systems such as MySpace and Facebook (Ovelani and Saunders 2009).

These social networking systems allow individuals and groups to create, find and share knowledge (Selwyn 2007). Significantly the capability of these social networking platforms to allow communication controlled by the user makes them quite different to conventional virtual environments (Ovelani and Saunders 2009). Social networking allows the individual or group users to decide what they want to discuss and who they work with (Hinchcliffe 2007), thus social networking has the capacity to allow learning where the student is at the centre of the activities.

The scope for this mechanism of student led teaching as a compliment to tutor led work is considerable and may serve to resolve the problems associated with very large group teaching and situations where students have difficulty making it to all of their lectures (Ovelani and Saunders 2009). Furthermore, social networking also offers an alternative to large classrooms or lecture theatres that are not purpose built for interactive teaching (Ovelani and Saunders 2009). The horizon report HMC (2005) proposed that the widespread use of social networking in higher education will occur in the next 3-6 years commenting that social networking enables interactions and facilitates quality and effective communication.

Although it is likely that a significant number of students from the Centre for Applied Sport and Exercise Sciences are involved in social networking to some extent, its integration into teaching in centre is extremely limited. However it may have significant influence on student learning. The xs1100 Introduction to Biomechanics module uses small scale social networking called BLISS, whereby students log in at a specific time (usually class time) and are able to discuss (sometimes with and sometimes without the lecturer online) the current work on the module. This is obviously only for a short duration but students respond well and enjoy this part of the module. Thus a larger scale introduction of social networking into not just this module but into sports science teaching in general may be beneficial.

Intelligent Software Agents

Intelligent software agents are defined as simple robot programs that collect information from the World Wide Web (Williams 2007). Intelligent software agents have the ability to take over from humans in that their software carries out a set of operations on behalf of the user with a set degree of autonomy (Rhem 1999). Using software such as this as a platform for e-learning was proposed by Tang (2005), whereby the students' interests and knowledge are employed to locate and filter information from the internet. Chen et al., (2005) proposed a similar system in which the program is able to match the learner's ability with the difficulty of the course material in order to provide students with individual learning paths. The horizon report suggests that ISA's have a relatively short time to significant adoption period of 2-3 years in higher education (HMC 2005). Roberts (2002) suggests that ISA's could represent a radically transformed future learning environment.

Technology in Feedback

Feedback is an integral feature of effective and efficient teaching and learning, and can be one of the most powerful ways in which to enhance and strengthen student learning. Feedback enables learning by providing information that can be used to improve and enhance performance. However, Bloxham and Boyd (2007) and Hounsell (2008) suggest that conventional methods of providing feedback do not exploit feedback to improve their work. This as such has the effect of reducing student opportunities to progress following feedback (Higgins et al., 2002), which in turn negatively influences the students experience. The national student survey in 2007 suggests that students are generally dissatisfied with the feedback that they receive (HEFCE 2007).

The most frequent use of teaching to provide student feedback is via computer based examination or testing using multiple-choice questions (Denton et al., 2008). These mechanisms of feedback can provide detailed feedback for each question more efficiently than conventional methods. It has been proposed that students like the immediacy of this feedback as it keeps the assessment and results closely connected (Charman (1999). In addition it has been hypothesized that electronic tutor comments by email may serve to enhance the way in which students receive and engage with their feedback (Bloxham and Boyd 2007 and Price and Petre 1997). Using this method students are able to receive feedback individually and privately, allowing them to respond to feedback in different ways and at different times (Price and Donovan 2008). Computer based feedback is used extensively within the Centre for Applied Sport and Exercise Sciences. The xs1100 Introduction to biomechanics and xs1400 Introduction to sports physiology use this technique extensively, for both the marking of coursework and exams. This method is generally well received by staff but is limited to multiple choice exams and can only detect a single correct value (The xs1100 exams are comprised of maths problems whereby students work out problems and type the answers into the answer boxes, however different methods of rounding up/down can influence the answers slightly).

Examples of student feedback in electronic form include the track changes and comments function in Microsoft Word, allowing the supervisor to annotate and change the student's original manuscript or add comments to the document (Plimmer and Mason 2006). Some institutions have their own programs/systems in place in order to produce and return feedback (Joy and Luck 1998), such as electronic marking sheets, feedback templates and computer supported feedback generation programs (Denton 2001a and 2001b). However as Denton (2001a) acknowledged, despite their perceived value marking assistants are not widely utilized in higher education. Marking assistants have been trialled in the Centre for Applied Sport and Exercise Sciences but were not found to be user friendly and as such are not used frequently. They are used now merely to help provide generic feedback to students prior to the distribution of individual feedback.

A key area of teaching integrated feedback is audio feedback. Audio feedback reflects recorded, verbal comments on student assignments, as opposed to or complementing traditional pen and paper feedback (CLT 2010). Audio feedback is used extensively by other members of staff in the centre of Applied Sport and Exercise Sciences, the sheer volume of students on some modules means that it is a more efficient method of giving students feedback on their work and the students generally engage well with it. The utilization of audio feedback began in the early 1980's as developed by Olsen (1982) who reported that students engaged well with the process as it displayed a sense of considerateness on the lecturers part that extended beyond the traditional written feedback technique. Olsen (1982) proposed that the perception of the lecturers tone of voice allowed the students to appreciate and take on board the feedback to a grater extent a opposed to the more hostile approach students often take to written feedback. Mellen and Summers (2003) found that students were more likely to positively view audio feedback, and also reported that audio feedback served to encourage students to revise their work and become more confident in their writing as a result in comparison to conventional feedback methods.

These findings present audio feedback in a favourable light; however the literature with regards to audio feedback is mixed. Kim (2005) in his psychological analysis of feedback mechanisms observed that, although students viewed audio feedback favourably the process served to reduce motivation. In addition Bargeron et al., (2002) observed that students preferred to receive feedback in text message form as it made feedback easier and quicker to read.

Audio feedback is used extensively in the Centre for Applied Sport and Exercise Sciences, particularly in modules such as xs1100, xs1400 and xs2400 that involve large numbers of students. Module evaluation questionnaire responses (MEQ'S) suggest that the student perception of this form of feedback is either very positive or very negative. Students who perceive audio feedback positively liked the amount of feedback that they received in a short audio clip, whereas those who perceived the process poorly felt that it is too informal and that verbal feedback is de-motivating in comparison to written feedback.

Implementing technology into teaching

The majority of higher education establishments have strategies in place centred around the integration of technology into teaching (OECD 2005 and 2007). Models have been developed within the pedagogic literature that focuses on the implementation and development of e-learning within an institution (Williams 2007).

The first model to be developed was the Pedagogic evolution model by Maason (1998). The model presents three strands of e-learning implementation along a timescale which e-learning in implemented and progressively matures from no e-learning integration to a fully integrated e-learning strategy in place. At the centre of the continuum is an intricate wrapped structure whereby technology is incorporated into existing course materials.

Meredith and Newton (2004) conducted an investigation of higher education institutions and documented the stages of development and implementation of e-learning. To conceptualize their findings Meredith and Newton (2004) developed the Convergence of three factors model (Figure 3), which suggests that e-learning can only be successfully implemented as a result of an ideal convergence of three key factors pedagogy, technology and learner capability.

Figure 3. The convergence of three factors model: Taken from Meredith and Newton (2004).

The Zensky and Massey (2004) e-learning adoption cycles model (figure 4) also suggests that different e-learning implementation factors move at different rates, but in four rather than three cycles of adoption. The first section reflects the improvements which are made to existing courses although not altering the core structure of the modules involved. The second section reflects the integration of course management systems such as virtual learning environments. The third cycle reflects a course management focussed situation, whereby teaching is implemented into existing courses to supplement existing materials. The fourth cycle reflects the final stage which involves the re-design of existing materials in order to best take advantage of new technologies.

Figure 4. e-learning adoption cycles model - taken from Zensky and Massey (2004).

Graves (1999) developed the S curve model (figure 5) for the adoption of technology into teaching. In many ways e-learning is at the innovation and early adaptors stage of the model. At the early and late majority stages of the model the implementations that have emerged as being successful are developed in to full teaching products (Williams 2007).

Figure 5. S curve model - taken from Graves (1999).


In conclusion the integration of new technologies into both teaching and feedback is clearly in its infancy, yet the potential for enhancing teaching and learning appear to be significant. Having completed this project I feel that my long held aversion to technology in my teaching has been reduced. The review of the pedagogic literature conducted for the project has shown me that certain aspects of technology do serve to facilitate student learning. As such I have integrates podcasting into my teaching for the first time. Furthermore I also have used audio marking for the time and found that it was very well received as a whole. These are things that I would not have even considered doing prior to commencing with the Pg Cert and this project. As a result of the successful pilot work I conducted this year, it has been agreed that for the next academic year all BL2101 practical will be replaced with a series of online 'virtual' practicals, for which we are currently preparing. These will be supplemented with tri-weekly tutorials to provide any additional support needed. Additionally, the WebCT assessments for BL2301 are also currently in the process of being reviewed with a view to replacing some completely with PBL tasks and amending others.

But significant challenges also loom. For all of its benefits, technology remains a disruptive innovation and an expensive one. Faculty members used to teaching in one way may be loath to invest the time to learn new methods, and may lack the budget for needed support.

Student issues present similar challenges. While students' collective technical sophistication by all accounts grows each year, skills barriers will continue to present a challenge to institutions offering e-learning. All institutions will face this challenge to some extent, but some classes of institutions (such as public community colleges) may find this of greater significance than others. This will compel institutions catering to a less technically savvy student population to establish mechanisms to help students determine if e-learning is appropriate for them. Likewise, these institutions may be more likely to require technical training and support for e-learning students.


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