Digital technology amplifies the obvious

Digital technology in various forms is now well embedded into teaching at university. The use of PowerPoint seems ubiquitous – barely a lecture goes by without the support of a slide presentation. And what is interesting is the way in which the projection of PowerPoint slides also projects the lecturer’s views on teaching. It bares all, whether you intend it or not.

Lecturers who claim to be interested in student engagement have their bluff called when they then have a slide presentation without any room for questions because they are so full of content. The structure of the knowledge within the presentation is also transparent, with linearity usually dominating (Kinchin et al., 2008). Use of technology gives signals about you as a teacher that will be interpreted by students.

It is also interesting to see how practices that are self-evidently sensible suddenly become ‘innovative’ once they are set in the context of “flipped classrooms” or “lecture capture technology”. For example, we can find  recommendations such as ‘keeping on-line pre-class videos short – about 20 minutes to maximize student engagement’. Well this is surely also a good idea in the analogue classroom too. We know full well that students find it difficult to remain engaged for a full 60 minute lecture, but the logistics of timetabling 20 minute lectures on campus means that in the analogue world it is just not practical. The digital environment enables us to do this in practice.

So too comments such as “sequence your materials logically“, “offer support to colleagues“, or “manage your students’ expectations” are all quite sensible as guidelines for the digital world, but are equally well suited to the analogue teaching environment too.

I think we have to be a little wise to the re-invention of good practice. Maybe some of our younger colleagues are hearing these things for the first time. That’s fine, so long as they do not walk away thinking that all these valid classroom tips are uniquely valid for the digital teaching environment. The digital-analogue divide needs to be bridged. Good teaching is good teaching, whether you are using a VLE or a chalk board.  But if the application of technology is helping to push these ideas to the fore, that can only be a good thing – surely?


Kinchin, I.M., Chadha, D. and Kokotailo, P. (2008) Using PowerPoint as a lens to focus on linearity in teaching. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 32(4): 333 – 346.


2 thoughts on “Digital technology amplifies the obvious

  1. Walther Hermann and Erika Isayama

    Hello Prof. Kinchin,
    Reading some of your posts, which I liked pretty much, I was wondering about a distinction I usually make between learning process and/or content. As I often see, most of the technology presently used in learning and teaching still focus on content. And as you considered, almost always presented in a sequencial way, far from the need to get deep learning or meaningful learning. I think that the teachers have to change their paradigm in order to include strategies and new processes to make contents available and evoke some new responses on their students, as you mentioned in this post, they don’t have even questions pauses to involve their audience. I also think that the interactions needed to support the conections between different concepts, which students are supposed to make in their minds, seems a sort of handmade or “mindmade” task – are the technologies available capable to allow this level of interactions?
    Considering the outcomes that game designers get on capturing the attention of their players, what do you think will happen when the contents we would like our students to deeply learn were offered in a game format? The games I reffer to, usually capture the attention of the players longer than many teachers, lecturers or educational softwares are able to. Would it be possible to structure knowledge in a technological way in order to get meaninful learning?
    What we usually find in the teaching environment is that educators only use technology to communicate their contents, without adapting or changing the way they structure them, I mean, the problems we find in the analogical environment are all alike those we see in digital ones. Herbert Simon cites that rich information creates poor attention – and technology makes easier to get lots of information. Were our educators caught in a trap made out of technology and information (I considered the epistemological hierarchy of knoledge: data, information, knowledge, intelligence and wisdon), since there are too much information and short time to process and assimilate it? Perhaps they are trying to teach in a more convenient way instead in a better way… What do you think about these ideas?
    Are they too many?


    1. ikinchin Post author

      Some good points.

      I think you are right. There has been a lack of imagination in the way technology has been used in education. Rather than change the way we teach, technology is often used to transmit content more efficiently. Ehy not have more educational games? As you say, student attention seems to be about 20 minutes when studying online, and yet online games can keep a student’s attention for hours at a time.

      We need to reformulate the way we teach and not just Re package content.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s