The Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) Research Programme ends this year and a final public event showcasing our hardware, software, and thematic work is set for 6 November at the Royal Society (see www.tel.ac.uk). [The 17 minute documentary from the final public meeting is here.]
It’s an obvious time to assess where we are, where we started from, and where we are going. TEL was a result of 2003’s ‘consultation on e-learning’ and ‘An e-learning research agenda’ report calling for interdisciplinary research into technology’s potential for improving education. The programme initially formed part the Teaching and Learning Research Programme (which ended in 2010 - see www.tlrp.org).
The initial call stressed the importance of interdisciplinary projects and set four research challenges: Personalisation, Inclusion, Flexibility and Productivity.
Seven development projects were funded in 2006-2007; 2007’s seven led to eight large projects running in the period 2008-2012. I became director in 2009.
In my three years overseeing TEL (and one of its projects) I have seen some impressive stats generated: over 400 publications emerged from a group of 150 researchers in 30+ universities for example. Partnerships have been forged with practitioners, policymakers and the public sector. Innovative software, hardware and pedagogies have emerged, winning prizes in some cases and achieving real impact on improving learners' experiences.
TEL has spanned a period when the focus on value for money and ‘impact’ for academic research has sharpened and we have striven to develop accessible, engaging formats for presenting findings.
Interdisciplinary working has remained a challenge with researchers reporting a good deal of time spent agreeing the meanings of words with differing definitions in computer science and social science for example. Getting this balance right is difficult but the technology-enhanced learning discipline is becoming more established. More specific courses and jobs are appearing and more people have a foot in both camps.
Another challenge was simply keeping pace with technology. Projects conceived in 2006 had to adapt to the quantum leaps of recent years. But the core principles remain whatever the specific tools may be.
The idea at the heart of TEL is to design educational hardware and software in unison with practitioners and students, so that technology and pedagogy are synergized in the learning setting.
Just as at the start of the programme, technology-enhanced learning is once again a political hot potato. The Education Secretary’s comments about education being almost the only sector of British life not revolutionized by technology chimed with many in the TEL community.
The throwing open of school ICT curriculums in the autumn represents an opportunity, and we hope the body of work produced by TEL can provide some guidance and ideas for practitioners. The recent ‘System Upgrade’ report in particular is intended for this purpose.
Future funding is unclear, but the work done in recent years by TEL and many others has helped the discipline take root as a permanent fixture, bridging the gap between technological innovation and pedagogical implementation.
For more on TEL and how to attend the 6th November event go to tel.ac.uk.
[Richard Noss is co-director of the London Knowledge Lab, an interdisciplinary collaboration between the Institute of Education and Birkbeck, two colleges of the University of London. He is Professor of Mathematics Education at the Institute of Education.]