Guest Post: Personality and Teaching with Digital Technologies

This guest post is by Louise Drumm, a doctoral researcher based in CRLL and GCULEAD. Her PhD is on the role of theory in university teaching with digital technologies. Previously she has worked as a learning technologist and lecturer.

During the course of my doctoral research I’ve had the pleasure of talking to 25 lecturers in two institutions about their teaching. When I crunch the numbers they had over 438 years’ experience teaching in higher education between them. That’s a lot of ‘on the job’ knowledge which I’m trying to tap into. What struck me about how they described their decisions about their teaching, particularly in relation to technology, is that they often followed a hunch, an instinct of what would work. This implicit knowledge, while tricky for me to identify formally, is obvious when you consider the subtleties of interactions between lecturer and student as a means, not just for the learner to learn, but for the lecturer to get feedback on their teaching. I was struck by the number of interviewees who valued the lecture as one of the best means of gauging understanding of their students: they can get a feel of the room and what is happening, even when students don’t speak.

So what about when they are not in the room with students, what role does the personality of the lecturer play when using digital technologies? Yes, we can all remember the charismatic lecturer who would pack out the lecture hall every week, but when technology is involved, does that need evaporate? From what I can see, I think not. For a start, the decision whether to use technology is usually quite a personal one, driven by need or curiosity. Often it takes an individual outside their comfort zone and challenges their own image of themselves e.g. there were a number interviews where someone declared themselves a ‘Luddite’ and then proceeded to show me creative ways in which they were using technology in their teaching. Secondly, the use of technology does not remove the personal, in some ways it is an embodiment of their personality and what they perceive as important in their teaching e.g. the importance of group work with wikis, or colourful data visualisation. Finally, what keeps the use of technology working is the unfailing tweaking, updating and monitoring done by lecturers every single day. In this they are passionate, dedicated, if a bit exhausted. Not one lecturer said to me: “It runs itself”. However, all of them saw benefits to student learning in their use of technology, and this is what drives them in their continued use it. That’s why personality is important. These modules will never run themselves. The experience and interest of lecturers is central to the success of any integration of digital technologies into teaching and learning.

The personality of a lecturer is important across all modes of teaching, it just manifests differently with technology and perhaps allows for different expressions of ‘charisma’. Discussions around digital technologies often spiral into breathless excitement about their potential for innovation in education, but it is passion and experience of their teaching staff which drives their everyday use.

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(Image:Zane on ninjago.wikia.com/ CC by SA)

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