|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|
The first remark we can make on the basis of this thesis is that we have to consider ICT integration in education as a part of the broader development of techno-economic innovations in our society. Newly emerging, economically viable technologies can trigger social and pedagogical innovations in education. It is quite evident that the metaphors describing ICT integration in education has been developed parallel with the other ICT innovations in our society: new metaphors have enhanced the old ones and inherited some of the features from the previous metaphors. By naming the social and technical innovations in education with metaphorical concepts related to and generalized from the same root metaphors as other technical innovations in our society, the research in ICT integration has remained quite instrumental and techno-economic by nature. In addition, by framing the research of these metaphorical concepts with the existing instrumental research interests in education and natural scientific research designs, the paradigms have remained limited regarding the broader social impact of ICT in education. Some social scientists have already been concerned about the recent “technical” trend in research and development, and have suggested that the social research should be given higher priority in the study of technology (Dutton 1999).
The second remark is that the main educational concern globally is still access to quality education (Sauvageot 2000). One could expect that the research paradigms of ICT integration in education would be related to some extent to that problem. This means that the research interests and problems related to the economic delivery of education aiming for equal opportunities and access to education, which was the main motive of open and flexible distance education (Rumble 2001), could be vital in the current educational situation globally.
According to this thesis, the global issues, multicultural issues and affordability are not priorities of the research field of ICT integration in education. Instead economic interest relates research to efficacy of the delivery, and emerging e-business in education - e-education. Also the individual approach to human performance in learning and technology is more dominating than understanding humans in complex social and technical environments. To conclude, the economic interest of the current research does not meet the global challenge of ICT in education. This has been noted also by some of the international evaluations of ICT integration in education (Peraton & Creed 2000).
Some researchers have expressed doubts about whether technical development is shaped by the social and educational problems at all. Can we develop technologies to solve our problems or do we only develop new technologies that create new problems? The research on technological innovations in society should find new ways of approaching these problems (Dutton 1999). Research which is looking at learning only in the context of new technology can remain superficial and disappear when another new application or a fad appears on the market if it is not related to some of the broader educational or social problems. Research in ICT integration in education, which is solving educational problems of our society, should be seeking those approaches which can provide a longer life cycle for the research than a single technical fad.
It may be a problem for the individual researcher to recognize what is a technical trend and what is a real educational problem. One way of analyzing the extent to which new technical trends may offer something new for the research is to analyze the conceptual metaphor that is used for describing and naming the innovation, and to trace the origin of the metaphor where it is generalized. For example, concepts related to the container metaphor of space can, in principle, bring institutional, cultural and socio-economic questions into the research more closely than research concerning the essence metaphors like tools, flows and objects.
The discussion of the paradigms and technical trends can be enhanced to the current and the future development on ICT integration in education. One new technical innovation, especially in Finland and other well-equipped societies, is mobile computing and ubiquitous networking that is culturing the idea of being on-line everywhere. There was not too much said about mobility in the articles analyzed in this thesis. However, it is worth discussing here because it is currently one of the buzzwords in the practical development in Finland (see Kynäslahti, Seppälä 2003) and some other countries with extensive density in mobile phones and hand held devises. Sharples (2000) for example, sets out a framework for the design of a new genre of mobile educational technology, personal (handheld or wearable) computer systems that can support learning basically from any location throughout a lifetime.
Mobile technology is promising, but it will not change the basic idea of the e-paradigm based on the “platform” metaphor though it will make it more personal and accessible. The idea of individual learners choosing the resources and tools will have fulfillment in the development of mobile computing. Or is it just a weak signal of a new emerging paradigm at the moment? If the idea of mobile network computing will develop to a techno-commercial paradigm, the correct name for it could be the “m-paradigm”. What will be the root metaphor for this paradigm, if not “platform”, is not clear at the moment.
More new innovations are coming from technical research. Time will show us the next integrative techno-economic paradigm in education. It could be a combination of mobility and the virtual space paradigm, too. When the e-paradigm introduced the idea of being on-line when connected, mobile computing took the idea a bit further: we are carrying on-line access to the Web with us or we are carrying the Web with us. The demand for more integrated systems has lead to the idea of ubiquitous computing: wearable computers, computers integrated to our everyday objects like the house, the stove and the fridge. The idea of ubiquitous computing will integrate on-line computing into our bodies too and the interface between the computer and the human body will be blurred. This means that we will not only carry the Web, but “we are the Web”. This paradigm could be called hypothetically the “u-paradigm” coming from the idea of ubiquitous computing, if this technology will trigger the potential of economic grow.
If research will follow these new innovations without bringing any new ontological concept to be developed, they will remain fads of some existing paradigm. We can even think that after the research and development reached the metaphorical concept of “space”, which is still obviously difficult to sell at educational markets, the techno-economic development has stuck to “platform”, “flow” and “tool” based paradigms by emphasizing different delivery channels and mobility as the next step. In application of learning theories this can mean returning to a more individualistic perspective where the vision of individual learners interacting with each other or receiving on-demand content via a new mobile channel will be guiding the development.
From the education point of view, the space metaphor could have led us to examine virtual organising of education, virtual communities and virtual institutions more closely. Now the development of these issues may remain aside due the ideology of mobility with an individualist (consumer) view to the applications. Maybe ubiquitous technologies can turn the development back towards systemic thinking and development of comprehensive communication systems in education. Of course, only if it becomes commercially feasible.
Finally, from the educational point of view, the mainstream of the development of ICT integration in education (learning environments, management systems, delivery systems) has led to an immersion of the learning theoretical foundation of the development into the techno-economic paradigms – and in a sense has led to the fading of a broader educational view of the research. The problem of the future research and development on ICT integration in education will be that the techno-economic mainstream of the research will set the expectations for the future research needs, and this will shadow the emerging social and cultural research on ICT integration in education.