Human factor behind integrating technology into learning



The integration of technology into learning and teaching is one of the big changes taking place in higher education institutions globally. The rationales behind technology integration are multifaceted.

First, the globalising societal impacts of fast-paced technological changes necessitate the integration of technology into curricula and instruction in higher education.

Second, technologies are entrusted to ease the ever-rising financial burden that follows the massification and universalisation of higher education.

Third, technologies enable and facilitate the internationalisation ambitions of higher education institutions.

Fourth, technology-supported learning appeals to non-traditional learners such as working adults and distant learners.

Fifth, technologies support real-time and asynchronous communications between professors and students.

Sixth, quality instructional content is increasingly made freely available thanks to technologies.

Seventh, technologies aim to improve the quality of learning generally and to enhance student learning outcomes in particular.

In today’s higher education arena, higher education institutions seem to integrate technologies into their functions at a much slower pace than other industries but with high expectations.

The critical question now is no longer whether technology is useful or not, but how it can be used in an optimal way. What does successful technology integration in higher education mean? What conditions or factors determine successful integration?

Studies that aim to address these questions have been conducted for decades. Still, our understanding of success and success factors in technology-supported learning environments in higher education is far from complete.

A number of alternative explanations could be provided for this. Digital technology integration is a recent phenomenon and mature integration and theorisation need time.

In addition, technologies come in various forms and capabilities such as computerised grading; electronic textbooks; simulation technology; gamification; flipped classrooms; active learning classrooms; massive open online courses; collaborative distance learning environments; and learning management systems. As such, it becomes a challenge to study these forms of applications and their impacts.

Also, the extent and method of using particular technologies vary among professors, partly due to the nature of courses and contextual factors as well as professors’ viewpoints and attitudes.

Technology-supported learning environments are also constantly changing, partly to better suit emerging needs.

Lastly, most of the studies conducted over the past two decades are case studies that reported how and to what extent a particular technology or learning environment has been used to support particular courses. Generally, scholarship on technology integration in higher education appears patchy and inconclusive.

To better inform further discussions and then to identify the implications for policy-making and professional development, we aim to identify (a) the most significant success indicators, and (b) technology integration determinants (factors and conditions) based on our extensive research on the topic and contemporary developments in higher education and society.

Success indicators and success factors

Despite the presence of national and institutional policy instruments and arrangements, technology integration seems to be ‘checked’ by a plethora of factors. The specific factors that challenge technology integration might differ across countries, regions, states, districts and higher education institutions due to the application of various technological tools and methodologies.

However, a common core of success indicators and success factors that transcend specific contexts of application can be identified. To enable meaningful integration and then evaluation, it is essential to establish generic performance indicators and associated challenges.

One of the leading think tanks, the Online Learning Consortium, formerly known as the Sloan Consortium, identified “five pillars of quality online education, building blocks providing the support for successful online learning”. These included learning effectiveness, access, scale, faculty satisfaction and student satisfaction.

These could be considered as success indicators in online learning, although their relative significance to other indicators seems limited. Factors that support learning effectiveness are categorised under course design, learning resources, faculty development, learner characteristics, pedagogy, interaction, assessment and learning outcomes such as student satisfaction, retention, achievement and performance.

Systematic and comprehensive reviews of studies published over the past two decades seem to indicate that faculty characteristics and professional development are among the most significant factors that affect successful integration when compared to factors related to student skills, resources, content and policy.

Faculty viewpoints, attitudes, motivations, skills and competencies are some of the most significant factors that challenge successful integration practices.

To ensure successful technology integration and its scalability and sustainability, policy-making, planning and evaluation need to capitalise on the human factor – the philosophy faculty have about higher education-society dynamics, knowledge, teaching, learning, the role of technology and professional development.

Recognising and managing the human factor can enable higher education institutions to smoothly ‘steer’ all other factors, including course design, resources, pedagogy and interaction as well as assessment and evaluation, to their advantage.

Implications for policy-making and professional development

Successful technology integration in higher education (be it in purely online or hybrid/blended formats) should consider the following conceptual scaffolds. The scaffolds could be considered as the core principles that can guide and sustain effective technology integration:

  • • Contemporary developments in society bestow a special currency on knowledge production and application and technology use more than ever before.
  • Knowledge is a social artefact and should be considered as transient, changing and not absolutely objective.
  • • The fundamental task of higher education is to support students to improve their higher-order thinking, including metacognitive and self-regulatory skills. Synthetic and analytic thinking skills, self-awareness and confidence as well as communication skills are vital to cope with the fast-changing world. These should be considered core success indicators. Trying to gauge successful technology integration through assessing student achievement on traditional tests and examinations does not comply with the logic and capabilities of technology.
  • • Technology application is ubiquitous; it supports and facilitates all forms of communication, course content management and knowledge production, management and diffusion.
  • • Teaching-learning transactions or interactions lead to knowledge construction and validation. Teaching should initiate, facilitate and promote individual or personal meaning-making and social validation of knowledge.
  • • As society is in flux and as knowledge is changing or is constructed fast, teaching in higher education should be viewed as a continuous process of learning and researching. Engaging in professional development programmes that address faculty needs should be regularly organised. Professional development programmes that focus on the routines of course design and planning and technology skills acquisition should be considered only secondary. Faculty ideas about society, higher education, knowledge, learning, teaching, assessment and the role of technology should be considered the primary areas for engagement or training.
  • • To create a sense of ownership and to ensure maximum participation, faculty must be meaningfully engaged in making policies and plans as well as in developing faculty training programmes at departmental, institutional, district, state and-or national levels.

Ibrahim M Karkouti is assistant professor of educational leadership at the Graduate School of Education, the American University in Cairo, Egypt. Teklu A Bekele is associate professor of international and comparative education at the Graduate School of Education, the American University in Cairo. Bekele has been studying and publishing on technology-supported learning environments in higher education for a decade. His studies have focused on exploring philosophical, theoretical, methodological and policy issues in and for research. Bekele’s recent research also considers emerging higher education-society linkages, examining how and to what extent reconceptualisation of research, teaching and learning justify the social significance and relevance of higher education.

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