Why hasn’t technology revolutionised teaching in Higher Education?

I’m currently working towards an MA in Academic Practice – it’s been quite interesting so far and is focusing on research methods (however it is taking up a fair chunk of my time, which is why I have been quieter recently!). This is just a short one exploring some ideas that recent readings have sent whirring around my head.

This weekend I’m reading Why hasn’t technology disrupted academics’ teaching practice? Understanding resistance to change through the lens of activity theory (Blin & Munro 2007). This is a follow up reading after having read Technology Enhanced Learning and teaching in higher education: What is ‘enhanced’ and how do we know? A critical literature review (Kirkwood & Price 2014),  which has highlighted to me how many technological interventions in learning and teaching are trying to replicate existing teaching and learning processes.

In this post I’d like to quickly explore a couple of ideas raised by Blin and Munro (2007) as to why learning technologies haven’t had more of an impact on how and where teaching and learning happens.

Is teaching really valued by the institution?

The authors explore some research done by Brill and Galloway (2007),  which state that the room for technological innovations in an institution that rewards staff only on research and not on teaching, will be slight.   I think this insight is useful, and points towards the necessity for institutions to truly support and encourage excellence in teaching. If the institution explicitly or implicitly (I.e. through promotion guidelines) values research over teaching practices then perhaps we should not be surprised if the full transformative potential of technology is not explored.

Academics have many different claims on their time and if innovative teaching is not rewarded or recognised and time and support for exploration and research is not provided, then why would things change? At an institutional level there needs to be support for evidence led explorations of how technology can truly be used to enhance teaching and learning practices. Without this support and recognition, the potential transformational effects of technology will be left to occasional enthusiasts. I have put emphasis on ‘evidence led’ as the paper written by Kirkwood and Price (2014) also highlighted that many incidents of technology enhanced learning is technology driven.

Is the customer always right?

The authors also explore the conflict between the emerging binary student status; student as pupil vs student as customer. This is another interesting area to explore in terms of the potential impact on technology enhanced learning and not one I had considered before reading this paper. This discussion is around research done by Scanlon and Issroff (2005). Technology is frequently seen as a way of providing students with additional resources. For example, VLEs are often discussed as a way of adding value to the student experience, a way of providing them with a little more flexibility with their studies – however it is typically used as a method of passing files to, and receiving files from, students (Kirkwood & Price, 2014). Generally the VLE is used to support traditional lecture/seminar approaches to  higher educational teaching, not as a way to transform student experiences. That’s not to say academic staff do not have the student experience at heart, just that we are trapped within a mindset of replication.

Blin and Munro (2007) use Scanlon and Issroff’s (2005) research to explore the impact of students’ expectations of what efficient teaching and learning is. All students will have a level of expectation as to what teaching and learning in higher education looks like. This will be modeled from their own culturally based experiences of previous education and also exposure to images of university teaching portrayed in media. If students place value on being lectured to in a “sage on the stage” model, because this reflects most closely their concept of higher education, then is a technological approach that disrupts this going to be welcomed? Do we, by making the student customers, feel more compelled to provide them with an educational experience that they recognise and value- even if there may be more effective ways to teach?

Across institutions we place significant value on student satisfaction, and rightly so, however if students dislike being challenged by new methods of teaching that they do not recognise, does their position of customer make them always right? Do they feel ‘short changed’ by self directed learning because it challenges their expectations of the role of student/tutor? I do not have any answers to these questions right now, but it has raised an interesting consideration and one I will discuss with my academic colleagues to see if it has a conscious or subconscious impact on their willingness to experiment with more innovative approaches to learning and teaching technologies. Please do feel free to share your thoughts on these topics, I’d love to hear them!


Blin, F. & Munro, M. 2008, “Why hasn’t technology disrupted academics’ teaching practices? Understanding resistance to change through the lens of activity theory”, Computers & Education, vol. 50, no. 2, pp. 475-490.

Brill, F., & Galloway, C., (2007). Perils and promise: University instructors’ integration of technology in classroom-based practices. British Journal of Educational Technology, Vol. 38, no. 1, pp. 95-105.

Kirkwood, A., and Price, L. (2014). Technology-enhanced learning and teaching in higher education: what is ‘enhanced’ and how do we know? A critical literature review. Learning, Media and Technology, vol. 39, no. 1, pp. 6-36.

Scanlon, E. & Issroff, K. (2005). Activity theory and higher education: evaluating learning technologies. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, vol 23, no 1, pp. 83-94.


5 thoughts on “Why hasn’t technology revolutionised teaching in Higher Education?

  1. Pingback: Why hasn’t technology revolutionised teaching in Higher Education? | Flexibility Enables Learning

  2. My comment on my Facebook page:

    “I like Kate Soper’s take on technology in higher education. She’s absolutely right that if a university basically doesn’t value teaching undergraduates, then that teaching won’t be done very well … whilst at the same time a whole new generation of young people are growing up (here in Sweden, at least) who use technology quite naturally and aren’t used to using ink on bits of mashed up trees, sitting still listening to the ‘sage on the stage’ and get their information from Google and social media. It’ll be interesting to see how traditional universities cope with their arrival to the ‘hallowed halls’!”


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