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Aalto University Collaboration Design educational tool Social Software

Who chooses the tools for teaching? You or your IT department?

“- – if we put before the mind’s eye the ordinary schoolroom, with its rows of ugly desks placed in geometrical order, crowded together so that there shall be as little moving room as possible, desks almost all of the same size, with just space enough to hold books, pencils and paper, and add a table, some chairs, the bare walls and possibly a few pictures, we can reconstruct the only educational activity that can possibly go on in such a place. It is all made “for listening” – – for simply studying lessons out of a book is only another kind of listening; it marks the dependency of one mind upon another.” (John Dewey, 1907)

Who chooses the tools for teaching and learning? The topic comes and goes. Today, in your teaching you may want to use a tool you found online. It can be a cloud service provided by some company or institution that operates in the World Wide Web. You try it out and find it useful.

Then your IT department hears about it and don’t like it, because you are using something the university is not supporting. These days they may even waves the GDPR flag for you.

In my case this was the situation with Zoom (pronunciation). I started to use Zoom in teaching and research six years ago, in 2015. Already at that time it was the most accessible, fast to use and reliable video conferencing platform in the market. Luckily, at that point, I could buy a license to the service for my research group. I also talked about this cool new service for some people in my university’s IT department and asked if we could have a university wide license. They were not so exacted, but still tolerated that I used it. All good.

At some point, I heard that our university got a license to Zoom. Actually, it happened because the CSC – IT Center for Science, a company partly own by our university got it up and running in their own servers. For some reason, however, our university’s IT department didn’t tell anyone in the teaching faculty about it. So, when I accidentally heard about it, I naturally stopped paying my license and moved to our institution’s server. All good.

When moving to the remote teaching mode last spring, I helped tens of my colleagues to get their teaching going on with Zoom. I think that without Zoom our teaching would have practically collapsed. It really saved the last spring. As well, last autumn and this spring the most important tools for teaching are still Zoom and our own course management system called MyCourses.

Another very useful tool for teaching, especially in art and design, is Miro, an online collaborative whiteboard platform. During the pandemic, in many art and design schools, but also in design consultancy, Miro platform have really been a life saver. We may assume that its role in both will stay strong also when we return to campuses.

In the last couple of years Microsoft has strongly invested in developing their Teams product. It is obvious that this is done because of the success of Zoom. In our university we have a license for Teams, too. Somehow it is funny that now all administrational video conferences are on Teams when for teaching everyone uses Zoom. Teams works somehow, when Zoom is robust like the famous toilets of old trains. it is simple to use and provides the most essential video tools for teaching and group work. No doubt, that with students I prefer to use Zoom.

In our university we also have license to Google Drive, that provides the tools that are most commonly used for co-authoring research publications, often across institutional and international borders. In our university administration de facto tool is Microsoft OneDrive. Now the university is also taking in use SAP, to manage business operations and customer relations. I have a very weak idea for what the SAP will be used for. Let’s see.

I am fine to use different tools for different purposes. For me, and I assume for all teachers and researchers, the key reason to choose a tool is that it works for the purpose. The teaching situation is quite unique “business operation”.

The tools used are not only tools to deliver something for a customer, like teaching a student, but they also may promote and simulate or hider and inhibit students’ activities. What is crucial in learning is anyhow what the students do.

In a good learning environment, with meaningful set of tools students have a dynamic interaction with the tools and the environment. You can’t really educate anyone directly — from one mind to another. Education takes place only by the means of the environment and the tools provided. It is a tricky business operation.

In her dissertation, A Design Framework and Principles for Co-designing Learning Environments Fostering Learning and Wellbeing, Tiina Mäkelä (2018), demonstrates how some learning environments are able to support learning and wellbeing, when some are not. Although, Mäkelä writes mainly about physical learning environment many finding in her study can be applied to digital domain, too.

Now when more and more digital tools are taken in use in teaching and learning we should ask who chooses the tools?

You or your IT department?

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