learning landscapes in southern africa

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Learning from the rhetoric of academics using educational technology

Andrew Deacon and Catherine WynSculley, Centre for Higher Education Development, University of Cape Town
 
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A challenge for educational technologists working with academics across higher education institutions is encouraging more effective use of technology in teaching. Thus for example encouraging academics to consider social constructivist inspired designs for learning over those where technology is primarily used for the transmission of information. It is however generally perceived that academics often do not acknowledge these broader concerns of higher education development as being especially important. A common strategy of higher education reformers is to work with a small number of academics who are interested in changing their teaching practices and to act as change agents. Here we analyse aspects of such processes that impact on staff development initiatives and the designs of computer-based learning activities. We analyse two projects where educational technologists have been working in collaboration with academics at the University of Cape Town.

The first involves an exercise created for architecture students. Here students create an intermediate image depicting architectural change in a street facade over time. Questions are automatically generated depending on how the students constructed their image, requiring students to draw on theoretical concepts in architecture in formulating responses. The second was developed for film students and involves creating a short film sequence and accompanying script. Students must demonstrate their grasp of film theory concepts by answering questions and developing the film narrative.

The academics who used and helped develop these exercises subsequently gave seminar presentations describing the projects, which were videotaped. Drawing on rhetorical analysis we have investigated how these academics chose to communicate with their peers the benefits of using educational technology. Here rhetoric concerns the argumentative modes of persuasion that involve appeals to the emotions which encapsulate the judgment about the outcomes of the learning activities we developed. The rhetorical analysis is thus only concerned with how the speaker persuades their audience to address the 'rhetorical crisis' involving improving aspects of teaching and learning and does not involve analysis of the factual basis for any of these claims. For example, analysis of epideictic rhetoric offers insights into the ceremonial style of the academics' seminar presentations. We also ask questions about each seminar presentations' rhetorical situation that includes the audience, purpose and context. Each has a theme, an organization and a style reflecting its historical situation. While it might be straightforward for an educational technologist to distinguish 'description' from 'approach' in a presentation, we must identify how the clues about such differences are provided to the general audience. The presentations were developed entirely by the academics for an audience of academics interested in using educational technology in their courses.

A number of interesting observations emerged. Academics spent much effort talking about the work students produced, why it impressed them and how this was a product of collaboration with educational technologists. Possibly not unexpectedly there was almost no discussion of the educational technology and learning theories. We suggest that using rhetoric and other related analytical tools open up interesting reflective spaces for educational technologists to learn how academics function as change agents.