Embracing the digital age and the 8 second rule (part 1 in an occasional series)

As the new academic year begins I am particularly looking forward to teaching two undergraduate modules focussing on maths and science. As part of these I am planning to use an e-portfolio and v-portfolio as part of the assessment process. The reason for this use of digital technology follows an interesting interaction with a colleague.

I would describe my personal relationship with digital technology as variable. As a child we had a computer – a ZX Spectrum – and played the odd game (Treasure Island Dizzy was a favourite). Once at secondary school I opted for home economics over IT and abandoned the subject aged 13 as we spent most lessons learning to type on BBC computers. Many of my peers didn’t even see a computer in lessons and were taught IT lessons using typewriters. Despite this I went on and used PCs at university and gradually learnt how to type (my school IT teacher would be so proud). As I have appalling handwriting being able to word process my essays was suddenly an advantage (my first experience of IT as an enabling tool). In the late 1990s I set up a Hotmail account and used this to stay in touch with friends and family when traveling. I used spreadsheet and database programmes once I began my professional life, outside of teaching, and eventually, when I started teaching, was even given subject responsibility for IT. Despite these positive examples I have never used FaceBook and my smart phone has just a single app (Twitter). I do not have a games console and, although I have heard of it, I would not have a clue how to access Netflix. The last TV show I recorded was probably an episode of Twin Peaks on a VHS more than 25 years ago.

So what convinced me to utilise digital technology in the assessment of modules this year? At the end of last year I asked a colleague for some guidance on hosting an assessment portfolio online (mainly to save paper). My colleague (for sake of ethical anonymity lets call him Robert Derekson) began tutoring me – and showing how I could use the Scottish national intranet for teachers (GLOW). This platform has received some criticism, mainly due to usability issues, and is often described as ‘clunky’. As Robert showed me how to us eth blog function, create a post, and categorise these, and link them to pages I began to feel a sense on panic – it was too complicated, I couldn’t cope. I blurted out ‘STOP… I don’t understand, I can’t do it!’. Robert looked at me, his eyes narrowed, and he pounded the desk, and in his inimitable Dundonian accent exclaimed ‘RICHARD… It has only been 8 seconds!’.

This prompted me to engage in some rather rapid personal reflection, or reflexion. This was a true critical incident. I often wish students, colleagues and the teaching professional in general would be more open to trying new things and giving things a go but here I was giving up, after only 8 seconds. I felt rather ashamed of myself. It was time for a change of mindset, more growth based perhaps. So this week I again met with Derek, sorry Robert, and have made plans for making the most of the features in GLOW. Next week the two modules begin and I plan to share this story with the students in the hope that they can embrace the technology too. I’ve also linked this blog to the GLOW University of Dundee EduShare page (please check it out – if you can navigate your way to it!).  After all this I feel quite proud of myself – and in future I’ll try to give new digital technology more than 8 seconds consideration.

Follow the digital revolution within the University of Dundee School of Education here: https://blogs.glowscotland.org.uk/glowblogs/uodedushare/