|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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What does the change in the education system mean in practice for an individual teacher or a learner? For example, when a student enrolls to a new kind of (on-line) course, the student will do all the major course activities in an ICT based working/learning environment. From the teachers’ point of view, a teacher is managing the course activities by using an ICT based learning management tool, system or an education portal and delivers the course by means of ICT. Of course, this process is difficult to separate from the institution’s point of view, because there may be students and teachers participating from different organizations and locations on the same course, and these institutions can have an agreement to form a new kind of virtual institution offering these kinds of learning experiences and courses. Together this development can also be seen as a part of the new global E-learning business. Thus, the same simple application of ICT can form a cutting point for different phenomena, actions and operations at different levels of the education system. This chapter discusses the phenomena at the micro level from a learning / teaching point of view.
The discussions on learning environments in education are not necessary exclusive. The same phenomenon has at least two access points: from the individual learner’s perspective and from the technical perspective. Also, the research of this phenomenon has usually been monadic. The learning research has been concentrating more on the individual learner’s perspective and technical development on the technical side of the phenomenon.
According to the recent meta-research of instructional technology (Driscoll & Dick 1999, Pea et al 1999) the research of these new learning environments is largely fragmented. It is difficult to get a holistic picture of the development, even for the researchers in the field. It has been suggested that there is not necessarily so much need for new paradigms in this field, but synthesizing the existing research to overcome the recent barriers in this multidisciplinary research field (Driscoll & Dick 1999).
Recent learning theory literature often defines the learning environment simply as a place where learning takes place, and which can have different qualities depending of the metaphorically expressed understanding of instruction (see e.g. Wilson 1996). This metaphorical understanding can bring together also systems of information, i.e. how objects/attributes and relations from one domain are connected to objects/attributes and relations in the other domain (Cameron 2002). The metaphorical understanding of concepts can help us to understand how we learn the concepts – but also how we research the concepts.
Table 5. Relation between the idea of knowledge and the nature of the learning environment (Wilson 1996).
|Metaphor about knowledge, knowing||Consequence in the learning environment|
|Knowledge is a quantity or packet of content waiting to be transmitted||Products that can be distributed via different methods, media. (Electronic self-study materials)|
|Knowledge is a cognitive state as reflected in a person’s schemas and procedural skills.||Combination of teaching strategies, goals and means to change the schemes of thought in the individual. (Teaching programme)|
|Knowledge is a person’s meanings constructed in interaction with one’s environment||The student acting and working in an environment with plenty of resources and stimuli. (Collection of tools and resources)|
|Knowledge is a process of enculturation or adoption of a group’s ways of seeing and acting.||Participation in the everyday life and activities of the community. (Collaborative working environment; a system which can also include the above-mentioned items)|
The ideas of learning and knowledge underlying the pedagogical approaches are connected closely to the discussion of the nature of knowledge as a process of teaching and learning. After all, knowledge is an essential commodity toward which learning must strive. W.G. Wilson (1996), for instance, has described the relationship between the idea of knowledge underlying teaching and the nature of the learning environment as shown in table 5 (the author’s comments in parentheses):
If the metaphoric implementation of learning environments in education, as suggested by Ohl and Cates (1997), helps the users to act in these environments, then the research on ICT integration in education based on metaphor analysis could help us to understand real human action on these environments (Lakoff & Johnson 1980).
Because the metaphorical reference to the technical environment usually links learning to these environments, Wilson’s (1996) metaphorical analysis about learning can be used for further analysis of the metaphorical expressions used by the research. A metaphorical approach to understanding new emerging phenomena, like virtuality and virtual organizations has been used for analyzing discourse and identifying the metaphors related these new phenomena ( Schultze & Orlikovski 2001), but also for designing these new emergent spaces and structures like learning environments (Pulkkinen & Peltonen 1998, Mononen-Aaltonen 1998). This research will continue this tradition of metaphorical analysis aiming more systematic analysis of the metaphorical expressions used in the research field.
However, the socio cultural theories in psychology especially, and the so called systemic psychology emphasizes that any human activity cannot be understood separately from its environment and particularly from its cultural (social) context (e.g. Engeström 2000, Toomela 2000, Soini 1999, Weinger 1998, Järvilehto, 1994). It has been claimed that learning theories still underestimate the influence of the social environment in the learning process when social has been seen as a separate context for learning. According to McCarthy (1996) social is not only an aspect is but the environment of the human being. Also Soini (1999) emphasizes that learning theories of this millennium should take social and ecological interaction as its basis. From this point of view, also the technical environments in education can be seen as a part of the social environment of education: ICT applications are social artifacts which have a specific function and meaning in education processes, and usually metaphorical expressions and concepts are used for describing these environments.
According to Soini (1999), contemporary learning theories can be divided in to the following approaches based on how “social” has been understood as a part of the learning process: individualistic, situative and systemic. All these approaches have a different definition, how social is constituted in their theoretical frame of reference. When we are talking about a learning environment, we also determine how we understand “social”: an aspect, a context or an environment. This kind of division of learning theories can give a good perspective for understanding the different meanings learning research gives to ICT integration in education.
The significance of the learning environment for the learning process has become a topical issue with the advent of social cognitivism and constructivist learning research in particular. The first promoter of the influence of the social environment was Albert Bandura in the 1960’s, who emphasized the reciprocal relation between the environment and self (figure 6). Cognitive factors partly determine which environmental events will be observed, what meaning will be conferred on them, whether they leave any lasting effects, what emotional impact and motivating power they will have, and how the information they convey will be organized for future use. (Bandura 2001, 3.) In spite of the fact that the social cognitive theory emphasizes social environment in learning, it considers social as an external determinant for individual cognition.
Figure 6. Schematization of triadic reciprocal causation in the causal model of social cognitive theory (Bandura, 2001, 2).
According to Bandura (2001, 7), the symbolic environment occupies a major part of people’s everyday lives in modern society. Much of the social construction of reality and shaping of public consciousness occurs through electronic acculturation. At the societal level, the electronic modes of influence are transforming how social systems operate and serving as a major vehicle for sociopolitical change. The study of acculturation in the present electronic age must be broadened to include electronic acculturation.
The change of focus from teaching to learning has often been called a paradigm shift in education. Bandura’s theory of self-regulation and self-efficacy can be seen as a paradigm shift within the individualistic approach, although it emphasizes the social environment in the learning process. The social context is considered as a determinant for the individual human being. The learning environment can be defined as a combination of the environmental determinants and behavioural determinants the learner can be interacting with.
The idea for ICT integration in education derived from Bandura’s approach is close to Wilson’s (1996) metaphor of knowledge as a determinant - quantity or packet of content - waiting to be transmitted. The applications of ICT could be educational products that can be distributed via different methods and media like electronic self-study materials. The cognitive idea of knowledge would lead to developing ICT teaching strategies (Web pedagogy, etc), goals and means to change the schemes of thought in the individual.
In recent decades a new set of social theories of mind and learning has been emerging. The oldest of these strands is the work of Vygotsky and his followers leading to present day Activity Theory. This, together with work in sociology, has inspired further socially orientated psychological approaches including situated cognition, socio-cultural theories of mind. This loose collection of different learning theories can be called “social theories of learning”. According to Wenger (1998), the common assumptions in these theories are the following:
Humans are social beings. The social is a central aspect of learning.
Knowledge is a matter of competence with respect of valued enterprises.
Knowing is a matter of participating.
Meaning is ultimately what learning is to produce.
So, the social theories of learning integrate the component necessary to characterize social participation as a process of learning and knowing: meaning, practice, community and identity (Wenger 1998). The “environment” for learning is understood as a community rather than a place or determinant. In Wilson’s metaphorical categories, these approaches are close to understanding the knowledge as a person’s meanings constructed in interaction with one’s social environment (negotiation) or in enculturation or adoption of a group’s ways of seeing and acting (communication). In practical applications of ICT integration this could mean collections of tools and resources to interact with or collaborative working environments. Basically it could also be a system which can include all the other metaphors and applications.
Another approach to understanding coexistence of social change and contingence in learning is the so called action theory or activity systems theory, which traces back to Vygotsgy’s cultural-historical work but has been reshaped by many theorists. While individualistic theories usually consider social context as a container where meaningful behavior or “text” is produced, action theory re-conceptualizes this relationship. The activity system and the elements making it up (i.e. tools such as text, actors and the objects at which they are aimed) can be seen as mutually constitutive and always in flux (as, indeed, are the elements themselves). A modern complex organization almost always encompasses several subsidiary activity systems with different interests. In addition, an individual actor can be simultaneously a member of several activity systems with different objectives. (Winsor 1999.)
According to Engeström (2000) a historically evolving collective activity system, seen in its network relations to other activity systems, is taken as the prime unit of analysis against which scripted strings of goal-directed actions and automatic operations are interpreted. Activity systems are driven by communal motives that are often difficult to articulate for individual participants. Activity systems are in constant movement and internally contradictory. Their systemic contradictions, manifested in disturbances and mundane innovations, offer possibilities for expansive developmental transformations. Such transformations proceed through stepwise cycles of expansive learning which begin with actions of questioning the existing standard practice, and then proceed to actions of analyzing its contradictions and modelling a vision for its zone of proximal development, then to actions of examining and implementing the new model in practice. New forms of work organization increasingly require negotiated `knotworking’ (Engeström 2000) across boundaries. Correspondingly, expansive learning increasingly involves horizontal widening of collective expertise by means of debating, negotiating and hybridizing different perspectives and conceptualizations. (Engeström 2000.)
In activity theory, the concept of an “activity system” constitutes the environment where all the meaningful actions, like learning, can happen. An activity system is any ongoing, object-directed, historically conditioned, dialectically structured, tool-mediated human interaction. Some examples are a family, a religious organization, an advocacy group, a political movement, a course of study, a school, a discipline, a research laboratory, and a profession. These activity systems are mutually (re)constructed by participants historically, using certain tools and not others, including discursive tools such as speech sounds and inscriptions. The activity system is the basic unit of analysis for both the groups’ and individuals’ behaviour, in that it analyzes the way concrete tools are used to mediate the motive and the object of behaviour and changes in it. (Russell 1997.)
The subject is the agent whose behaviour (including that kind of behaviour called discourse) the analyst is focusing on. The identity of both individuals and groups is conceived in social terms as the history of their involvements with various activity systems. (Russell 1997.)
Tools (mediational means) refer to material objects in use by some individual or group to accomplish some action with some outcome that is, tools-in-use to remind us that a material thing is not a tool unless it has been put to some use, and the uses of a single material thing may differ over time and across different actions and activity systems. (Russell 1997.)
The object/motive refers to the raw material or problem space on which the subject brings to bear various tools in ongoing interaction with another person. The object is shaped and changed over time to produce some outcome. This is the object of study of some discipline (e.g., cells in cytology, literary works in literary criticism). The object or focus of activity implies an overall direction of that activity, a (provisionally) shared purpose or motive (e.g., analyzing cells, analyzing literary works). (Russell 1997.)
The activity theory has been applied to the collaborative information systems design, the concept design and developing shared virtual systems in context of learning organizations and collaborative work (Tuikka & Kuutti 2000) and it seems to fit well in designing technical tools and resources that can be used in work processes. The theory considers an individual as an active agent in constructing the activity system rather than ones enculturation on the logic of the system, its discourses, tools and resources. Therefore the activity theory can be considered as an individualistic theory despite the emphasis on the social contexts of activities. In Wilson’s (1996) metaphorical categories of knowledge, the activity theory understands knowledge as person’s meanings constructed in interaction with one’s environment.
According to Ernest (2002) the social theories of learning claim to offer a theory of learning virtually bypassing the individual mind. It provides a theory of apprenticeship, ‘legitimate peripheral participation’, that describes how individuals over time can progress from the periphery of some socially organized activity (e.g., tailoring) to becoming fully-fledged and productive members of the community in question (e.g., tailors).
Placing the focus on participation has broad implications for understanding and supporting learning. Learning in this sense is not a separate activity from the other activities we are doing (figure 7). According to Wenger (1999) this means:
For individuals, learning means engaging in and contributing to the practices of their communities.
For communities, learning means refining practices and ensuring new generations of members.
For organizations, learning means sustaining the interconnected communities of practice through which an organization knows what it knows and thus becomes effective and valuable as an organization.
According to Wenger (1999) the communities of practice are an integral part of our daily lives. They are so informal and pervasive that they rarely come into explicit focus, but for the same reason they are also quite familiar. The concept of learning within the communities of practice comes very close to those concepts, which previously have been called “socialization”, but not being as deterministic as socialization is usually considered. However, the difference with the modern theories of social systems is that the psychological approaches consider people to belong to the social system and the social systems theory will draw the line between communication and people: only what is communicated is social (Luhmann 1995 408).
According to this approach, the design of ICT integration into learning is not design of instruction, nor the technology but communities of learners, which allows them to create communities of practices (Bopry 1999). By basing the design on the communities the learner is allowed to adapt to existing worlds of meanings, and in that way also include the institutional perspective in learning. This branch of constructive learning theories can be seen to emerge from systems theory (Bopry 1999), but still remains rather as a psychological theory by constituting the emergence of social as “shared worlds of meanings” into the immediate temporal interaction and agreements of autonomous individuals and not considering social as an active, autonomous system as well. In Wilson’s (1996) metaphorical categories of knowledge, the communities of practices approach considers knowledge as processes of enculturation and adoption of a group’s ways of seeing and acting. The possibility on instrumental use of communities of practice as designed learning environments, remains unsolved problem.
In the last ten years, the research on social systems has enlightened the nature of social in learning. From a social systems point of view, education is a systemized process of self-socialization. Educational arrangements aim to achieve something, which cannot be left to chance socializing events (Vanderstraeten 2000b). While learning theories have defined social as a context or environment for learning, the social theories, especially critical theory, have for a long time been interested in the school as a place that functions as an active mechanism in the reproduction of social structures of culture (Bourdieu & Passeron 1990, Kivinen & Rinne 1985).
From social systems theory, we can say that the educational institution is a specific environment, which is different from other institutions in our society in that the goal of the institution is learning. The education system is interacting with other social systems in our society, but has its own character. It reproduces the structures needed in other systems, but it still has its own specific structure that selects the communication to belong in the education system rather than to other systems in society. The current educational policies would like to break the barriers between working life and education. However, education as a social system emerges through its own autopoetic processes, and therefore learning in educational institutions is always different compared to working life.
The social systems theory is very close to the activity systems theory and the theory of communities of practice, but the main difference remains in the role of the actor in changing the system. In activity theory, the main belief is that system dynamics can be ruled by an intentional individual or group of individuals using tools and resources for changing the system; in the social systems theory, the social system dynamics is considered to be separate from the intentional interaction system having its own emergent ways to change (Luhmann 1995).
The concept of learning can also be seen as a part of the communicative structure of the education system. Socialization comes about by living in a social environment. In education, intentional communication enables the learner to confront both the information and utterance component of communication (Vanderstraeten 2000b). So the intentions within the same activity system can be in conflict. Historically, educators have tried to avoid this by methodological arrangements and basically the paradigm shift from teaching to learning can be understood from this point of view. Indirect arrangements of events in the learning environment returns education to socialization but cannot guarantee the particular results (Vanderstraeten 2000b). Therefore learning theories and didactics have always emphasized the guiding role of the teacher, or the teacher as a master or an expert, and never really trusted in the power of learning environments. That is the reason why there are always some other processes involved in a learning process which distinguish the institutionalized learning from socialization, and defines education as a separate system in our society. So, the information and communication systems in education are a slightly different from the “real life” information and communication systems. The closer the information systems in education correspond to the systems in real life, the more effectively education can socialize individuals to operate in these systems. If they are exactly the same, the education system no longer exists as a separate social system in our society.
If processes supporting learning (like teaching, guidance, criticism, management, etc.) are considered as essential structures of the communication system of education to distinguish it from real life systems, then the applications of ICT in education should be seen to be a more active part of the communication and information systems of education. It would be a mistake to consider these systems only as learning environments because they have different purposes for different individuals operating within the system: while a learner aims for self socialization, the teachers and managers may have some other interests and goals for the learning process. These aims may also be in conflict.
By combining the learning theories and social approaches to education, we can see that so called learning environments are basically an essential part of the communication system of education, which is arranged specifically for facilitating learning and developing desired human activities. These systems are based on knowledge, the structure of knowledge and learning, practical arrangements (tools and resources) necessitated by learning, which are connected with time (temporal), place (physical environment) and repetitive rituals (seen as a system functions or, process in constructivism) which together provide the social organization (social environment, social system) for learning/teaching.
What does this mean in practice when the ICT component comes into the picture as an active element of the system? It can basically mean many different technical, social and practical arrangements, like:
physical premises, hardware and software that are used in studies or teaching activities in a traditional classroom situation (such as a computer room with access to the Internet or a videoconferencing room).
a decentralized set of tools, services and resources offered through the information network (such as interactive Web pages offering resources and tools for learning, etc.) for learners.
a metaphor of a place or a community for studying (virtual space) created with the help of information and communication technology (ICT) in which an attempt is made to offer similar social communicative activities as in a concrete place or community. (Virtual workshop, virtual classroom, virtual school, virtual university)
An information and communication system of education.
The variance of names, meanings and metaphors given for these operation environments and systems is huge. Research on learning environments and information systems in education is currently diffuse, due multiple research approaches and multiple theories applied in the field, as we have learned from various evaluations. Do the constructive learning theories provide a common framework for the research field like Bopry (1999) suggests? Does technology offer the best organizing concept for the field as a discipline, as Ely (1999) suggests? As we have seen from the analysis of ICT integration at the different levels of the education system and the uncontrolled global impact of ICT on our society, culture and education, research based only on learning theories or technology is inadequate in understanding this complex phenomenon without a broader understanding of education as a social system. It requires a interdisciplinary research approach and theoretical framework. From the social system point of view we can see that not only the design, tools and learning environments are changing together with the development of information and communication technology, but also the processes, structures and the social systems themselves are changing while the communication is changing. This means that the information and communication system of education is a fundamental entity in education and basically defines education as a separate system in our society.
|Educational institutions in turbulence||Up||From multidisciplinary research to interdisciplinary approach|