|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|
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Research on ICT integration in education has emerged from numerous research fields and each of them has been important in bringing some aspect of ICT into the research focus. The academic discipline discussing ICT and education is organized differently in different universities depending the influence of local research orientations. According to Reiser (2001) educational technologies started the emergence of the research field as a discipline in the early 60´s by researching the possibilities of new technologies in illustrating the content of learning. Quickly the content of learning itself became the research object and the research applied communication theory in its orientation. Together with the application of computer technology into instruction, systems design was introduced to the research field in the 80’s. The new concepts of technology and system established the research field as instructional design or instructional technology. (Reiser 2001.)
The research on instructional technology has been developing together with the learning theories. According to Kochmann (1996) the leading paradigms of instructional technology have been computer assisted instruction (CAI) in the 60’s, intelligent tutoring systems (ITS) in the 70’s, Logo-as-Latin in the early 80’s and computer supported collaborative learning (CSCL) in the late 80’s. Kochmann (1996) assume that the shifting element of these paradigms was the learning theories behind the research. Some researchers like Borpy (1999) would go even further in the integration of the field of instructional technology and learning research suggesting that learning as enactive constructivism could form the theoretical framework for the research and it should be called educational technology rather than instructional technology. According to this thesis, the problem of the research field of learning in ICT as a discipline is that it takes the technical development for granted as a neutral tool or a context, and it seems to continue the instrumental tradition of instructional technology despite reference to social constructionism as a theoretical frame of reference in learning.
At the University of Oulu, my own home institution, the emergence of educational technology as a separate research field and academic discipline started in 1993, when educational technology studies were developed separately from mainstream education studies. After that kick start, many debates and discussions have colored the development of the field at the university. The main steps of the different paradigms can be seen from the development starting from technology tests, developing new collaborative methods and applications for open and flexible learning, networking and finally organizing the functions virtually. Although the development struggled with technical issues in the beginning, there was a strong involvement with a holistic and interdisciplinary approach to educational technology. The whole education system was emphasized as well as the different scientific approaches, following the suggestions of Eraut (1989). The research has moved to learning research lately, following the broader development of the field of instructional technology in Finland. Now, in the beginning of the new millennium, the researchers can again searching broader, socio-cultural, organizational and even global perspectives for the research. The trend was first time discussed in the Educational Technology 2002, an annual conference held the University of Oulu (OYT 2002).
If we consider the findings of this thesis, the proposed return to broader educational research rather than instructional design and technology can be saluted with pleasure. Broader educational problems should be taken into the focus of research. However, it seems that learning research has not been able to bring about that change direction as Borpy (1999) suggested; on the contrary it has adopted the technical rationality by emphasizing the constructive approach only in the research framework of reference and not so much in the research design. Also the research interest has been very focused on individuals’ performance, not the uniqueness of the construction.
It is my impression that the field should be developed to be a broader educational and social research field researching the implications of ICT in education globally. This means that education as a social institution should come into consideration. It is evident that the approach offered by social theories is needed in future research on ICT integration in education. The difficult question is HOW we can involve social research into this technically oriented instructional research field? It seems to be a fact that the learning theories emphasizing the social only as a context for or an aspect in learning are not able to bring the social in its own rights to the research. The social dimension is just forgotten immediately in the research design, which emphasizes the research ideal of natural science. Research with a technical approach can basically take into account at least the organizational level of social institutions and systems, but again, the research design favors the natural scientific notion of the social as statistical correlations of phenomena.
In this thesis, the main focus was in the concept of the paradigm as a selective structure in scientific communication. It is envisaged here that these research structures are interacting with the individual researcher making the methodological decisions in the research process. The process can be seen as a self-socialization of the researcher, where the structures are adopted by the researcher voluntarily through reflection. Basically the researcher can make the choices freely, but only within the range of the options that are available. My personal view is that the burden of changing the paradigms of the research should not be put so much on the individual researchers but on the organization of the research in the research institutes. It has been noted that interdisciplinary research needs organizational, economic and scientific support structures to become successful (Kostoff 2002). Organizing research groups and the training of the researcher in multidisciplinary research groups would influence the internal discussion of the group, and at least gives an option for the researchers to connect to communication of different research fields and approaches.
It is notable that the research on ICT in education lacks a global educational and societal perspective. This problem could be addressed by creating research groups together with the educational technology and social sciences that are interested in information society research and the research of technology and people. The new structure of the research groups would most probably influence the research positively in such a way that the social theories could be included into the research frameworks in their own right, not only from the contextual perspective. Research following the technical trends of e-learning or e-education focusing on the problems created by e-education itself may remain obsolete even though the application of “e-concepts” is expanding currently very rapidly in the practical development of education. These “e-problems” of “e-education” will perpetually change together with technical trends and the development of new technical devices. This is not to say that the research field of ICT in education is becoming obsolete although it can be out of focus in some extent. On the contrary, research is needed urgently.
Should the research on ICT in education be developed as a separate discipline or just a dynamic research field studying the relationship between education and technology? According to Ely (1999) even instructional technology is not a discipline yet and any of the current statements concerning the theoretical basis of the field should be considered as tentative. This can be applied to the other parallel research orientations like educational technology, media education, technology education and systems design in education.
There are many proposals for and suggestions to develop ICT and education related research fields into a discipline. Ely (1999) suggests that the research field would benefit from education research, but technology (in broad sense) could be the best in forming a discipline of instructional technology. According to the findings of this thesis, this could lead to a more exact but narrow definition of the field. That definition alone would be incapable solving the global educational problems. Bopry (1999) suggests that we should emphasize the constructivist side of systems theory which is emerging in research on educational technology. If this emergence means also a different epistemological approach and research interests, this development could be worth exploring. If the research remains on the level of individualistic perspectives and instrumental interest, it can hardly bring anything that makes difference in the research field.
An interesting opening in the research field of information society studies has been done by Duff (2001). He suggests that the information society studies should be critical in terms of following popular and governmental appropriations, and the leading disciplines should be sociology and information science. In connection with that statement, the reasoning and conclusions of this thesis support a similar idea in the research of education and technology: critical and socially aware education research and information science could offer a good combination to be added to the traditional technology, systems design and learning research. This is in opposition to the direction offered by the Schott, Grzondziel and Hillebrandt (2001), who suggest continuing with the instructional design paradigm.
Whether technology research, learning research or social sciences provide the best framework for the emergence of future research paradigms and whether it would lead to establishment of a discipline, remains open. One thing we know now, however, is that all these dimensions are needed in the development of the future holistic interdisciplinary research on education and technology. The social and cultural approaches of the research should be emphasized in order to solve the burning problems of global education.