|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|
“You can’t find a new land with an old map” (Prahalad 2000).
From the history of education we know that basic ideas of education have not changed very much since the medieval time. We can imagine that a teacher or a learner from one of the first universities in Europe most probably could operate reasonably well in the current university. On the other hand, educational researchers often claim that a paradigm shift is happening in educational research which will reform education in terms of methods and structure: from teaching to learning and from classroom to real life, from one time training to life long education and from stand-alone to networking. New concepts in learning and the new information and communication technologies (ICT) have been mentioned as major forces in the paradigm shift in education (Koschmann 1996; Ainley 2000, Smolin & Lawless 2003).
New educational policies, strategies and research programmes related to ICT and learning, “e-Learning” as these documents are often calling it, have been introduced in most countries worldwide to support the new ideas of using ICT to enhance education. Now, in the beginning of the new millennium and the new era of ICT enhanced education, it is very important to evaluate this paradigm shift in educational research – how the small “e-“ can really enhance education in the new millennium.
According to recent research (Farrel, 1999), ICT is not only changing the education system through systematic research and policy-based development, but also through uncontrollable globalization. The global change in our society means that old structures, methods and processes can become obsolete in education. Interactive communication networks, digital publishing and distribution of information in the international education markets have created an information flood which is challenging learners and teachers and the whole education system. The same network can connect people to interact and communicate, but also consume and receive information. According to Castells (1996), the information network is not only restructuring of our communication infrastructure but also our thinking and the way we organize the social systems and institutions. This means functional restructuring and new differentiation in society. In education, it means that educational methods, management, organization and economy are changing parallel to other social institutions changed by ICT from hierarchical to networking and from local to global, from analog to digital and from real to electronic, from business to e-business – from education to e-Education irrespective of the aims of the educational research. The rise of a new global “e-Education” also means that costs of education can rise too high and some of the people and even whole nations can be left out of this development (Rumble 2001).
In order to understand the global change in education, the research in the field of ICT and education should be changing accordingly and developing new concepts and focus areas which correspond to these global changes. According to Luhmann and Behnke (1994) the functional differentiation of social systems makes it basically possible for systems of education and science to develop functionally separately and autopoetically. That means that education and educational science as social systems are developing differently and, at least in theory, independently although they are connected to each other. The structure and concepts in science do not necessary reflect all the views and ideas of practitioners in education. However, the practitioners need new concepts in order to understand change in education. Paradoxically, these concepts are supposed to be developed by the researchers when researching the practices and practical concepts of ICT in education. The confusion of practice and theory is obvious and the concepts created in practice of education have been adopted by the researchers in many cases for explaining the practice.
According to the current constructive understanding of science, research does not only discover phenomena from reality, but also creates reality by naming them (Madill et al. 2000, 12). Of course, it can be a problem for the educational practitioners if the concepts of research do not correspond with the goals and development of the education system of society. It can even grow obsolete in helping practitioners to solve practical educational problems. However, one could claim that in this difference with the concepts of science and practice we have also the seed of development – a new “map to find new lands” and new perspectives to evaluate new concepts of e-Education.
It is argued that the research field of information and communication technology in education is currently diffuse and maybe fragmented due the differentiation of the science and the paradox of theory and practice. Researchers are trying to find new approaches to achieve a better, perhaps more holistic understanding of the current, complex situation in the field of study (Driscoll & Dick 1999, Pea et al 1999, Kozma 2000, Richey 2000). There are already some indications that the researchers in the field of instructional technology or educational technology are applying a new, theoretically more appropriate framework for the field although communication theory, systems theory and learning theories can still be seen to be the main approaches in the research (Ely 1999, Bopry 1999, Kozma 2000). Many field analyses and observations of the researchers aim to set up new research models and steer the development of the research field, which is, of course, very welcome.
However, we can ask, if it is possible to influence the direction of the research field just by announcing new alternative research frameworks and models. Why old research frameworks still exist and even dominate in the research field despite the new research models announced? Most of these announcements are based on ones experience and opinions – not on research as such. According to Luhmann and Behnke (1994) there is a danger to start searching for “imaginary spaces of other societies” if the criticism of the current research is not carried out as research itself. Thus reflective meta-research is needed in restructuring of the research field.
This study aims at contributing to the restructuring of the research field of ICT in education by trying to reduce the complexity and fragmentation of the research field with an analysis of the research approaches and paradigms from a perspective of the research of science and research paradigms in particular. The meta-analysis can be seen as a second order observation of the research field and it will not offer any explanations or causal structures of the development of the research but is rather heuristic and descriptive by nature. According to Luhmann (1986, 132) second order observation can stimulate researchers to search for other possibilities for defining the research and see the blind spots of the current research. It can also help researchers to build multidisciplinary research frameworks and advise in the integration of ICT in education in practice by explicating current presumptions of the research concepts that could have been taken for granted. This research can also be seen as a part of the broader construction of the concept of modern information and communication system of education.
The thesis will emphasize the research process as second order observation. It is essential to “step aside” conceptually and methodologically from the research field that is observed in order to see the assumptions of the research field. The first part of the research in chapter 2 will discuss research field and paradigm as a research object and will set the theoretical framework for the research problems and the methods of this research. The methods are described in more details in chapter 3, although many of the fundamentals effecting to the selection of the methods are presented in the previous chapter.
The contextual analysis in chapter 4 will explicate my own pre-understanding of the research domains in the field for making it possible to select the research articles to be analyzed and as a starting point for the analysis. Because there are no official “boundaries” for the research field, it is essential first to define the basic research domains of the multidisciplinary research field. That will help in selecting the sample articles that are representing the core communication of the research field and will be analyzed empirically. Another reason for presenting ICT integration in education as a context for the research rather than the theoretical framework of the thesis, is to emphasize the different approach of this research compared to the empirical research in the field, which is analyzed here. By following the same logic as the research in the field, there is a danger of not to see the “blind spots” of research communication. This alternative approach is called as “second order observation”, as explained in chapter 2.
The empirical analysis of the articles explicating the paradigms of the research field will be explored in chapter 5. The main results of the analysis are summarized in chapter 6 although the descriptions in the analysis chapter will also contain “results” being descriptive by nature. The discussion in chapter 7 will reflect the meaning and significance of the research findings in the context of current research and the conclusions of the research are presented in chapter 8.