|The paradigms of e-Education: An analysis of the communication structures in the research on information and communication technology integration in education in the years 2000–2001|
In the analysis of the paradigms as communication structures of the research field of ICT integration in education, the structures can be described by starting from the broader description of the research domains, scientific orientations and research interests framing the technical innovations in education, as a part of the broader techno-economic innovation in our society. The aim is to describe first the paradigms from the broader perspective of the research domains and interests structuring the research communication in ICT integration in education, and after that analyze the conceptual metaphors (or root metaphors) defining the ontology of the innovations researched.
When analyzing the paradigms of ICT integration in education we have to remember that all technological paradigms (Castells 1996) are multidimensional innovations shaped by social processes of institutions, economics and culture (Williams and Edge 1996). Technical innovations will always require different social innovations like pleasure, education, business ideas and political ideas around them to become common technology or even a paradigm. This means that the descriptions of the temporal and social dimensions of the innovations are as important as the description of technology when describing the paradigms. According to Castells (1996), a network is the distinguishing paradigm of technology in our society nowadays. The innovations in different fields of research have “discovered” the very same feature in the definitions of the research targets of the field. For example, network technology has been developing hand-in-hand with the concept of distributed cognition. In fact, it is difficult to separate the technical, temporal and the social innovation from each other, but they are rather dimensions of the very same innovation. It is assumed here that the paradigms related to the research of these innovations are structured similarly: the material (technical), temporal and social dimensions are embedded in the paradigmatic structures.
In the research domain analysis, the main observation is that learning and technology as a combined approach covers 67% of research. Orientations coming generally from these two research domains cover 81 % of all the research and only 19% of the research approaches of the field from institutional or socio-cultural approach. From this point of view, the field is dominated by the approach which has been traditionally called instructional technology (Ely 1999) or instructional systems design (Driscol & Dick 1999). Observations in this thesis support the reflections of the researchers representing of this approach, where the main concern of the field is to shift the focus to learning and learning environments from instruction and technology (Kozma 2000). However, some researchers suggest that the focus of the field should be broadening to community, corporate and other settings (Richey 2000).
Research orientations related to cultural aspects of learning in ICT integration form a slender communication structure in terms of volume, although the multicultural problems and cross-border interaction are commonly mentioned in the research. Cultural aspects and cultural dimensions seem to be difficult for research which does not use social theory in formulating the research framework. In this kind of research, the social is usually mentioned as an important contextual factor for learning. However, the social context is neglected in the research because of the difficulty in dealing with it in experimental or statistical research design which makes the social context yet another variable to be measured.
A socio-cultural or institutional orientation to technical aspects in ICT integration is also very slender structure in the research communication. The institutional perspective is more visible in research interests related to the efficiency of the organization to deliver educational services. The problem is that cultural research on institutions could give a better understanding of the ICT integration in educational institutions, and therefore a more critical view of ICT in the development of educational institutions.
In the analysis of epistemic rhetoric, the rhetoric related to realist epistemologies dominates the research field. Statistical and experimental research approaches are distinguishing marks of research with orientation of learning theories or technology and systems design. This is a common issue for both the research orientations of learning and technology. Together with the fact that these research orientations cover the majority of the research on ICT integration in education, the “instructional technology” approach can be seen as the mainstream of the field. The rhetoric related to contextual constructivism contextualizes the research communication related to social, institutional or cultural aspects of ICT integration in education, rather than research communication related to instructional technology.
According to the interest analysis of the research articles, the research field is dominated by techno-economic interests in the sense that the interest in learning and technical research is instrumental and quite parallel with the economic interest in society: learning should happen more efficiently, quickly and cheap. Institutional efficiency can be achieved also through the better performance of individuals. This links the dominating research paradigms of ICT integration in education to the techno-economic paradigms of our society.
According to Castells (1996), each of the techno-economic paradigms has a key feature, which makes the paradigm possible in society The key factor triggering the technological paradigm is usually the affordability and availability of certain technologies, which makes it possible to apply it in certain practical activities in different sectors of society. This key factor can be seen to be influential in the formation of conceptual metaphors used by the research field for defining the research target because educational innovations related to ICT can be seen to develop simultaneously with the other innovations related to the same technology in other sectors of society. These metaphors can therefore be used for describing and naming the paradigms – drawing the line to make difference, as Luhmann most probably would say. By making a difference, it can also tell us what is excluded.
Together with the triggering of technical innovations in society described with help of root metaphors and the development of instructional technologies as a research field with specific interests and research orientations, we can describe the following five techno-economic paradigms defining ICT integration in education. However, we have to keep in our minds that the paradigms are not necessary exclusive categories and the very same aspect can be seen as a part of many paradigms because of the historical layered development of the metaphors (Johnson 1993). Also these communication structures are changing during the time as research communication autopoetically shapes science as a social system (Luhmann 1995).
The first paradigm is related to conceptual metaphors referring to ICT as a physical object. Historically this paradigm can be traced back to the first encounter of IT in education. From the invention of electronic computing (1946) but especially after the time when computers came commonly available in education, when IBM introduced the concept of personal computing, (PC), computer technology was adopted as a new subject in schools. Schools reacted by adopting this new physical object, by creating new subjects to teach, and changed the school environment by organizing computer labs. For quite long the main concern was to teach learners to use this clumsy machine for typing and counting. Still, 20 years later, many of the sample research articles were oriented to the problem of how people are reacting to and adopting technology and technical devices in education. Much research is still testing computer attitudes, computer literacy and general benefits of computers in education. This paradigm could be called also a “PC” paradigm because of the triggering effect of personal computers in all sectors of society.
This paradigm is related to technology, systems design and traditional educational and the social research that follows realistic epistemologies and methods of natural sciences. It aims for a neutral and an objective approach to educational development and it is not specifically connected to any new learning theories, but can often be related to individualistic cognitive approaches and its predecessors in behaviorist learning theories emphasizing environmental determinants and their impact on behavioral and emotional determinants (see chapter 4.6.1 and Bandura 2001).
The paradigm is also concerned with technology as learning content or as an aspect in our lives. Questions include: how to cope with technology, how to take the advantage of it, how much should we invest to it. Many questions are related to modern technology and technical devices without really going into the applications of technology in education and educational processes like learning, teaching and management. The research and development related to computer driving licenses, technology as a subject in schools, teachers’ computer skills etc, can be seen as part of this paradigm. Skill based thinking in general can be related to this paradigm too.
In line with the research orientation concerned with technology as physical objects, also some other aspects of education can be objectified and treated as such. Technical research related to systems design in education can be seen as part of this paradigm. This research is related to packaging the learning materials and content to standard packages, learning objects, granules etc. which can be seen as part of this paradigm. The hot topic in the development work (not necessary research) currently is the standardization of learning objects. The only way the social aspect can be considered in this approach is a multicultural aspect in the design of the materials packages.
The research that is missing from this paradigm is the critical cultural or social research concerning the technologies we are using in our society and education. Humanizing technology, making it affordable for poor countries, etc. could be included in this research, if the interest of the paradigm changed from techno-economic and instrumental to change, understanding and theoretical interests related to technology, education and society.