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School of Biological and Behavioural Sciences

Beyond enjoyment: Using technology to enhance student outcomes

Dr James Pickering visited Queen Mary in November to give a talk on using technology to enhance student outcomes, attended by academics across the School of Biological and Behavioural Sciences, the School of Medicine and Dentistry, the E-Learning unit and beyond. Dr Rachel O'Callaghan, chair of the TIGER committee, shares her thoughts on the event below. You can also watch James' talk in full. 

Like many academics, Dr Pickering encourages the use of technology to support learning; after all it is highly likely that technology is here to stay and as educators it is important for us to engage with it and try to use it. Early in his talk, Dr Pickering shared his past and present experiences of using technology to support anatomy modules at the University of Leeds; he has created podcasts, screencasts and even a massive online open course (MOOC) - possibly one of the hardest and most challenging things he has ever done he says! But his strongest message was this; ‘It is taken for granted that technology-enhanced learning is of benefit to the learner but does technology actually enhance learning and how do we measure this enhancement?’

Students today enjoy using technology and they provide glowing feedback when we try to use innovative technology to support their learning but there is currently little evidence to say that technology actually enhances their learning; this is an important question and Dr Pickering argues it is absolutely key. He talked through different theories that describe learning and memory processes to introduce a deeper understanding of how technology can be used to enhance learning. He also discussed some encouraging data that he has collected to compare the retention of information over a 4-week period with textbook or screencast as the primary method of learning. Interestingly, the students who had used the screencasts to learn performed better when tested immediately after the learning period, at one week and at four weeks. These results suggest technology may be used to effectively enhance learning and that learnt knowledge is retained for longer - a positive start!

To me, what it comes down to is this; students should enjoy learning, this helps them to better engage, which is what we want but the teaching practices we use should also aim to enhance their learning and this is something we need to carefully consider when designing technology to support learning.  
Dr Pickering is a very engaging and interesting speaker, I thoroughly enjoyed his talk which was informative and hugely thought provoking. 

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