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The challenge of enabling Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) in higher education

Barbara Wilford

My interest in the use of technology for learning originates from my initial professional role as a Clinical Diagnostic Radiographer. This led me on to teach Diagnostic Radiography and undertake research in this area. More recently my role encompassed leading the use of technology in the higher education curriculum at Teesside University. I have experienced diverse attitudes to using technology in pedagogy. The focus of my Education Doctorate at Teesside University explores this area. I am currently researching the academic use of TEL in pedagogic practice.

In this reflection, I want to begin by considering the term TEL. This term (TEL) is defined by Kirkwood and Price (2014) as the application of information and communication technologies to teaching and learning. I argue that much of the literature fails to give a clear explanation of how technology can be applied to pedagogy effectively. TEL is preferable to ‘e-learning’ because of the emphasis that is placed on ‘enhancing learning’ (Guri-Rosenblit and Gros 2011 cited in Kirkwood and Price 2014). Kirkwood and Price (2014) argue that the term ‘enhancement’ is important because of the association with increasing and improving quality. I am interested in the wider issue of the quality of learning supported by the use of technology. This can enable learners by empowering them and in turn providing a positive opportunity for the development of digital skills.

In our role as educators, we have to provide opportunities for the development of digital skills to support living, working and learning in a digital age

I argue that if we are to enable the next generation of practitioners to implement the ‘NHS Five Year View’ (2014) we need practitioners to apply digital skills successfully. We are going to see the increased use of digital health care across the sector (Imison, Castle-Clarke, Watson and Edwards 2016). Students commencing programmes in the fields of health and social care are going to need to become aware of how to apply technology in an empowering way. In our role as educators, we have to provide opportunities for the development of digital skills to support living, working and learning in a digital age.

Within my ‘work in progress’ I have completed 22 interviews with academic staff who are from diverse health and social care backgrounds. The interviews have explored the views of the practitioners to technology and pedagogy in health and social care. The emerging picture reveals that personal, social and professional factors influence the application of technology to pedagogy. Whilst some research participants have been immersed in the use of technology in their everyday professional practice experience, others have had very little exposure to this medium. This impacts on levels of confidence in applying technology to pedagogy. Those participants who have experienced greater exposure to technology in professional practice tend to use TEL in their pedagogic practice. Yet personal and social factors also influence this area. The practitioners may not be particularly literate with technology because they do not like technology (a personal factor). Their peer group may not have placed an emphasis on technology (a social factor).

The context in which the participants operate has a huge bearing on their engagement with TEL. In some Universities, there is a clear emphasis on applying technology to pedagogy. These Universities also provide the necessary support to engage with TEL effectively. This is part of the strategic approach within the wider organisation. At an individual level, engagement with TEL is supported through the operationalisation of the curriculum.

These emerging findings reveal a complex picture of ‘divergent digital skills’ and ‘willingness to engage with TEL’ being determined by the participants’ personal, social and professional factors. What is fascinating is the interplay between the message that TEL is important alongside these personal social and professional factors. Perhaps this research reveals an opportunity for true co-creation and learning between academics and students?



Guri-Rosenblit and Gros (2011) E learning: confusing terminology, research gaps and inherent challenges, Journal of Distance Education 25 (1)

Imison, C., Castle-Clark, S., Watson, R., and Edwards, N., (2016) Delivering the benefits of digital health care. Research summary. Nuffield Trust

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 39 (1) 6-36

NHS England (2014) NHS Five Year Forward view. NHS England