|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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The convergence and integration of different technologies into our work in all sectors of life has led us to think more holistically also in developing new technologies. Quite often individual technologies and tools are seen as parts of an information system. This section explores the possibilities of the concept of information systems to provide an integrating approach to multidisciplinary research on ICT integration in education.
The term ‘information system’ itself is interpreted quite differently by different groups of people. It seems to be interpreted in at least three different ways (Verrijn-Stuart 2001, 6):
As a technical system, implemented with computer and telecommunications technology.
As a social system, such as an organisation or an institution in connection with its information needs.
As a conceptual system (i.e. an abstraction of either of the above).
In complex systems all these three interpretations can come together. Verrijn-Stuart (2001) sees the information system as semantic layers based on different meanings of information:
Physical layer: the physical appearance, the media and amount of contact available.
Empirical layer: the entropy, variety and equivocation encountered.
Syntactical layer: the language, the structure and the logic used.
Semantical layer: the meaning and validity of what is expressed.
Pragmatic layer: the intentions, responsibilities and consequences behind the expressed statements.
Social layer: the interests, beliefs and commitments shared as a result of communication.
Physics, empirics and syntactics, together, constitute a domain where technical and formal methods are adequate (Verrijn-Stuart 2001, 9). This forms the physical layer of the information system, which can be researched by using the research orientation of natural sciences. However, semantics, pragmatics and the social domain can hardly be explored with those methods. Thus, whilst we may attempt to confine our thinking about the computerised parts of information systems within a limited framework of formal concepts, we will find difficulties if we aim at finding a similarly neat and tidy solution for the semantic, pragmatic and social domain (Verrijn-Stuart 2001, 9).
An idea of dividing the information system in different layers according the essence or ontology of the layer fits well to Luhmann’s (1995, 87) social systems theory, which is based on understanding that different systems of material, temporal interaction and social systems creates the dimensions needed for meaningful experience. All these dimensions are involved in a meaningful operation or action and therefore should be considered when researching and developing information and communication systems.
A considerable body of literature has demonstrated that information systems need to be situated in the local context of use. For the information systems in education to work, it is necessary to strike a balance between sensitiveness to local contexts and a need to standardize across contexts. (Rolland & Monteiro 2002.) This is very important in education due the trend of cultural globalization. According to Pelgrum (2001), contextual factors (read cultural and organizational among the others) can be seen to be the most influential in explaining why schools and teachers are not adopting ICT into teaching and learning but complaining about a lack of computers or lack of pedagogical knowledge instead. Integration of ICT into real life learning environments is not only a technical or pedagogical innovation but also a social innovation. The social dimension consists of a variety of phenomena ranging from individual interpretation processes to the organizational level constraints, "hidden agendas" and broader cultural phenomena, such as the dominance of language or certain role players (like teachers) and the general values of society. The social layer of the information system of an individual school returns the problems of the system to the global and cultural level, and back to the broader phenomenon of globalization in education.
Due to the complexity and heterogeneity of education systems, current research orientation has not been able to create understandable holistic view of new ICT based information systems in education. These systems could be better approached by new multidisciplinary methods such as those, where the systemic or ecological approaches can group together.
In structuring the broad framework for the research and development of information systems, Verrijn-Stuart (2001) proposes the following points, the most important conceptual dependencies and pathways of understanding, beginning with information systems:
Information systems exist exclusively within organisations, to support their work, and to fulfil their information and communication requirements. To understand information systems, we therefore need to understand organisations, what they are, how they work, what their components are, and what their structure and behaviour is. Organisations can be viewed as social systems, organisational systems. In this view, information systems are specific sub-systems of organisational and social systems.
To understand the information and communication requirements within organisations, we have to understand the notions of information and communication. These issues are related to cognitive science and to semiotics.
Information systems, organisational systems and social systems really are systems. To understand them, we have to understand systems in general.
Systems are specific conceptions (in the minds of people), and can be represented in some (modelling) languages. Thus, in order to understand systems, we have to investigate the issues of conceptions, models and languages. Again, these issues are closely related to cognitive science and to semiotics (b).
To be able to investigate any of these issues on firm ground we have to rely on some basic ontological view, as well as on some suitable philosophical position.
Finally, the practical implementation of any computer-based system requires understanding and expertise from computer science (and its application).
The proposed framework still tends to remain technical, and socially disconnected, although language and semiotics are included to the framework. It has also been suggested that the logico-analytic philosophy alone behind the information systems design does not necessarily provide the best results from the users’ point of view (Benoit 2002). Also Williams (1997, 300) emphasizes that technology should not be considered to be separate from society. This means that the so-called technical development and the layers of the information system (see above) do not start from technology itself, but the socio-economic system actually shapes the technology that is available for us.
Technology is always socially defined and the layers of information system can be seen emphasizing the ontologically different nature of these dimensions as Luhmann (1955) has showed in his systems theory. Therefore the layers form a socially meaningful continuum rather than separate layers (figure 5). In the context of ICT integration to education, this also means that different technologies are relevant in different societies and we can actually talk about socially appropriate technologies which we can apply to an education system (Pulkkinen 1999, Pulkkinen & Ruotsalainen 2001).
If we take the social shaping perspective to technology as a starting point for understanding the information systems in education, we have to extend the system by considering the social layer as a communicative system which is a historically emerging system – not only a layer. It is a system which carries and communicates our concepts and understanding of the physical world we are living in, and the concepts of technology as it appears to us in our every day activities. If the educational organizations are seen as a part of historically emerging educational institutions, rather than simply organizations, and we consider the social communicative system of education in the context of global education, the framework of information systems could be amalgamated to a social systems approach as a general framework for information systems. From this point of view, we can talk about information and communication systems in education.