Educators will adopt new tools and practices if they believe that they, their students, and their institution will benefit from the change

The complete interview can be found on the website of OEB Learning Technologies Europe GmbH. October 26, 2017 , Inteview with Lauren Herckis

Being ready for uncertainty means being ready to adapt – quickly, fundamentally and often. How should an institution, an educator or a learner change to keep pace with new technologies? Are schools, colleges and universities agile enough? Plenary Keynote Lauren Herckis, an anthropologist specialising in faculty culture and the use of technology at Carnegie Mellon University, USA, shared insights and advice from her research here.

 1.    Your research started over two years ago, and we have seen a few great headlines on its outcomes. One of the findings is that educators’ resistance to trying out new technology is linked to their ‘fear of looking stupid’ in front of their students.Can you tell us more about the background of the project, your research, and your expectations?  Were there any surprises or any findings you did not anticipate? 

 ….’Educators innovate in myriad ways and stick with what they believe to be tried-and-true teaching tools and practices whenever they can. What we found is that educators’ resistance to trying out new technology is proportional to perceived risks as well as benefits. Educators care about student outcomes, about their own fields of specialisation, and about professionalism. They are excited to try new things if they believe that students will fare better, it will advance their field, and they will maintain high standards of professional performance. Educators are reluctant to try new things that they think will take up a lot of valuable time; make it harder for students to understand key concepts; get in the way of student-faculty relationships; fail when students or faculty need it; leave students feeling bored or dissatisfied; waste students’ time; or give students the impression that they don’t know what they’re doing. Educators are glad to try out new technology if it will improve experiences for students and instructors, and benefit their field and institution. But teaching and learning are complex, and innovations always entail some uncertainty. There has to be a good reason to take risks with something that’s already working, and that reason is going to be different in different situations.

To date, the specificity of each context has proven a really thorny problem: If each faculty member is different, each tool or technology adds something new, each student unique, and each institution quirky in its own way, how can we identify generalizable guidelines? A key result of this research is the acknowledgement that we need a coordinated, evidence-based approach to identifying the best ways to support faculty, promote improved learning outcomes for students, and enhance educational offerings across the board. …..’


You can read the complete interview here.

2.    Can you take us beyond the headlines: What are the main challenges related to this resistance to avoiding new tools, pedagogical styles and methods?
Educators will adopt new tools and practices if they believe that they, their students, and their institution will benefit from the change. This means that the biggest challenge is making sure that an educator sees the value of the innovation clearly and believes that using it will not risk wasting students’ time, create more work for educators, or otherwise cause problems. The development, adoption, implementation, and sustained use of innovative teaching tools and practices constitute a really complicated endeavour. Each instance involves lots of experts who have to work together. Collaboration is challenging, especially when it involves working with people who have really different expertise, perspectives, and priorities. Because of this, single cause-focused policy initiatives will fail because they don’t take this complexity into account. Embracing the complexity and identifying strategies to address it in the implementation of new teaching methods may be daunting, but my results say that supporting innovation means doing just that.

3.    These outcomes are important due to the complexities of implementing innovations in higher education. They suggest new ways in which faculty might be supported in their efforts to improve learning. What practical recommendations or suggestions do you have for educators, senior-level management in HE, education-technology providers, or technology implementers and administrators, etc.?

4.    In the process of your research and talking to the educators involved, did you observe a change in their attitude? Did you see them let go of their reluctance as they perhaps became aware of their own fears? Have you gone back to those people and seen changes in their attitudes toward the use of technology as a result of your research and time spent with them?

5. Can you let us know more about your anthropological approach and how it helps decode our behaviour? 

6.    Where will you/your research be going next?

7.    Could you please tell us a bit about your background and the person or people who have been your biggest personal influences?

8. Is there anything specific you are looking forward to at OEB?

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