What disciplines contribute to Technology-Enhanced Learning?

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Gráinne Conole
22 December 2009

Technology-Enhanced Learning is by nature inherently interdisciplinary. Researchers come from a range of cognate disciplines; bringing with them diverse espitemelogical beliefs, methodologies and approaches.  What is your 'birth' discipline; i.e. the discipline you initial studied/trained in? To what extent do you think it has influenced your approach in your current work?

 

 Theory and methodology paper

Extra content

Researchers at an ESRC TEL interdisciplinary workshop in November 2008 were asked a similar question. A slideshare presentation for the workshop is available here. They sited a broad range of ‘birth disciplines’, including: Computer science, Plant science, Botany, Veterinary science, Ethnology cultural studies, Psychology, HCI, Philosophy, Fine art, Moral philosophy, Electronic engineering, Chemistry, History of art, AI, Geology, HPS, International development education, Linguistics and AI, Philosophy, Sociology, Maths and Physics.

Similarly authors involved in the ‘Contemporary perspectives in e-learning research’ book (Conole & Oliver 2007) also came from a diverse discipline background: Physical Sciences, Social Sciences, Critical Theory, Education, Psychology, Computer Science, Philosophy and Management Studies.  

Clearly such diversity brings with it strengths; different theoretical perspectives and methodologies; different interests in terms of the focus of inquiry and research questions, but it also results in tensions - differences in definitions and understandings and even fundamentally opposed epistemological beliefs.

Gráinne Conole
12:11 on 16 January 2010

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Gráinne Conole
12:38pm 8 January 2010


My own background is originally in Chemistry, I did a PhD in X-ray crystallography in fact! I then started a career as a lecturer in Inorganic Chemistry. Three things strike me:

  • Firstly that I can still see so much of how I work and think steming from my original Chemistry background; I tend to think visually and in 3-D and have a terrible tendency to want to categorise and taxonmise!
  • Secondly the transition to an educational perspective was very very hard indeed and took me years, but now I think having had a foot in both 'hard' and 'soft' reseach domains is incredibly useful
  • Thirdly that I was drawn into e-learning from a practical perspecitve - what can these technologies offer, what are the issues, coupled with  a desire to understand the emergent theoretical perspectives; emphasising to me the very applied nature of e-learning.

Niall Sclater
12:59pm 8 January 2010


There are probably quite a few people like me whose "birth discipline" was a fairly arbitrary choice made at school. My perspectives around elearning have been shaped far more by the experiences I've had working in the area than by prior studies in an unrelated discipline many years ago!

Wendy Drexler
1:05pm 8 January 2010


I love this discussion.  I'm teaching an online grad course in Distance Teaching and Learning.  There are only 15 people in the class, but the diversity is priceless.  It is one of the many aspects of this field that make it so interesting. 

My undergraduate degree is in criminal justice.  I'm embarrassed to say I'm a law school drop out.  But so much life and learning has taken place since then, I can also say it was one of the best decisions I ever made.  I have always been interested in technology.  I took a business course in high school in 1980 in which we worked on a shiney new computer with punch cards.  That was a little too tedious for me to consider a career in programming, so I set the idea aside.  After college, I worked at a defense contractor buying parts for the MX missile.  I hated the thought of it, and spent one hour a week volunteering at a local high school.  I loved the volunteer work far more than my day job, so I decided to become a teacher.  I  taught math, geography, world religions, contemporary issues, and gifted classes always incorporating technology when I thought it could enhance the learning process.  I took a detour in corporate instructional design and training management before pursuing my Ph.D in educational technology. 

You mention the transition to education from "hard" science.  I experienced a similar transition from education to corporate business and back.  I believe that experience gives me a unique perspective.  It has served me well in many endeavors and makes me a better teacher.  As a result, I have met so many interesting people from all over the world.  It is that connectedness that is so valuable from a learning perspective.  I see technology as the means to create that connectedness for my students.  I'm passionate about the possibilities.

Diane Brewster
1:26pm 8 January 2010


my original academic discipiine was Theology, where I specialised in Feminist theology and Jewish / Christian Dialogue, teaching Adult ed for Birkbeck - where high tech was having a whiteboard not a blackboard.  I did a PhD in Theology and it failed - Bet that's not a common route into TEL :-)

I was originally a high school teacher - and also taught some of the science and maths disciplines to lower school kids. My diversion into TEL came about through my experiences in schools in the late 70's early 80's - the days of the BBC micro - and I became the ICT person for the unit I worked in.

When I was then stuck at home in the 90's with very small offspring I did  a BSc with the OU, choosing mainly Technology (Systems) and computing courses while doing p/t tech support for a company in London, before going onto a MSc and DPhil.

these  converging experiences taught me a few things that have stayed with me and informed my perspective of TEL.

  • Whether you call it Hermeneutics (Theology) or multiple perspectives (Systems) doesn't matter - both recognise the situated and contingent nature of anything involving people. Don't fall into the trap of trying to make sense of TEL solely using the 'scientific' paradigm.
  • Perfectly good, and often great, teaching and learning can happen without any access to ICT type technology.  Teaching / learning is essentially relational (Teacher / Learner / subject ) and technology can enhance & support that.
  • The best technology in the world will not turn a bad teacher into a good one.  Wrong choices about suitable tools should reflect on the person choosing the tool - not the tool itsef. 
  • No 'one size fits all' solutions! E.g. podcasting might be a perfectly sensible choice in one context, not another.
  • Never blame the user! if they can't understand how your system / program works then it's badly designed.
  • failure is really really useful when we learn from it.

re. methodologies  - I'm becoming particularly enamoured ATM with Content Analysis (Krippendorff) it fits in well with my overall Systems perspective and seems to me to be a useful tool in evaluating TEL as it focuses on communication acts and meaning - which seems to me to be central to any TEL 'pedagogy'.  I'm also interested in the work done on Andragogy - the transformative nature of adult learning and wonder whether some of us shouldn't be moving away from pedagogical theories of TEL based on the developmental psychology of children when we want to apply them to adult learners ...

Sacha van Straten
1:27pm 8 January 2010


My first degree was in Classics and I spent 13 years working in radio, TV and interactive media as a journalist, producer, cameraman and editor.

Combining the rigor of textual analysis that I learnt studying Latin and Greek texts, with my desire to communicate ideas to wider audiences, certainly have influenced my move into technology enhanced learning.

I was one of the first videojournalists in the UK and I remember back in the early 1990s colleagues at the BBC thought I was bonkers to head off to help launch a digital cable TV station, where the journalists shot their own footage. I could see the digital revolution that was going to happen and as it turned out, I made a good call. In much the same way I began to dabble in web TV and iTV at the early stages.

I came into teaching in 2002 when I did my PGCE in Classics, but soon moved into teaching Media Studies and now ICT. However, even when teaching Classics I wanted to use technologies I had employed in my previous career, so I suppose for me the move to technology enhanced learning was a natural extension of what I had done before.

On a wider pedagogical level I do lean towards group based activities and situated learning, as so much of my working life has been spent creating, devising and refining ideas in goal oriented teams. 

Now I'm doing the OU's MA in Online and Distance Education precisely because I want to frame my ideas and approaches within a more considered thought system - one that allows me to use a range of theoretical approaches. Also, it's good to put my experiences and ideas up against others who are also using technology enhanced learning in a variety of backgrounds, and from a vast array of personal perspectives.

 

 

 

 

Gráinne Conole
1:40pm 8 January 2010


@Wendy interesting comparison between your transition between education and business and mine between hard/soft disciplines - I agree I think crossing these discipline and cultural boundaries (although uncomfortable at the time) can be really valuable and bring new insights into your professioanal practice.

Gráinne Conole
1:44pm 8 January 2010


@Diane - great great insights! I love all your bullet points and totally agree with them. I have also been struck by how one can come to the same conclusion about the world from very differnt discipline perspectives. My first epiphany in this respect was seeing an understanding of the world in a similar way through advanced quantum chemistry and the novels of Irsh Murdoch - believe it or not!!! [ps don't ask me anything about quantum chemistry now as I can't remember a thing!].

Gráinne Conole
1:48pm 8 January 2010


@Sacha - hope you are enjoying the MAODE! Have you done H800 yet? Again interesting the way in which some of what drove you was the vision of seeing the potential of technologies and a gut conviction as to its important. I think this is a common characteristics of many of us who saw the emergence of technologies in the 80s and 90s and were exerimenting with them. As a new hassled lecturer in Chemistry in the early 90s I remember cutting my admin load by more than half by putting up a web site for my students with a hmtl table gradiously entitled 'a virtual notice board'!

Gráinne Conole
1:50pm 8 January 2010


And some contributions coming in via Twitter:

@Eingang @gconole birth discipline computer science plus been teaching most of my life. TEL is an a nice combination of the two.

@methel @gconole - birth discipline education, 30 yrs prof experience in education, TEL - inevitable (but not exclusive) extension of all practice!

@tuchodi @gconole I didn't know you are a chemist. My degree is in biochemistry (not grad school though). Went into teaching from there.

Steven Verjans
1:53pm 8 January 2010 (Edited 1:58pm 8 January 2010)


What is my 'birth discipline'? hard to say (see list below)

  • At high school I studied Latin-Mathematics.
  • At University I took a Master of Arts in Language & Literature (English, German, Computational Linguistics)
  • Followed it up with a postgraduate degree in business language
  • Followed up by a postgraduate degree in Artificial Intelligence & Cognitive Science
  • PhD in psycho-organisational aspects of technological innovation

As Niall said, in some ways my previous experience is more relevant than my birth discipline(s). My research and professional focus has mainly been on the interface between humans and technology, be it in industrial or learning setting, trying to combine the 'soft' and 'hard' aspects, to translate between the softies (human users) and the techies (technologists).

The methodologies I use span a wide range of disciplines, and combine quantitative and qualitative research techniques, taking multiple perspectives at different levels of analysis (micro, meso, macro).

The MA in language and literature certainly helped in training us to keep an open mind, and look at matters with multiple lenses. An individual uses technology in a specific (organisational or personal) context with a variety of possible goals.

On the whole, we must try to avoid making (too many) assumptions about or looking for generalisations amongst learners.

PS: Oh yes, I am a 'TeacherEducation' dropout...

Gráinne Conole
2:00pm 8 January 2010


@Niall Interesting point and of course increasingly there are those who are coming in as newly formed e-learning professionals, who have done masters and PhD programmes in this area. Clearly these folk will have a different perspective from those coming into the area from other disciplines. Helen Beetham wrote a few years ago about the different generations of e-learning professionals - the first generation mavericks - that's us ;-) with no background in the area, who had some hunch as to the potential of technologies, who stumbled around, experimented, forged new ideas and developments and a second generation with more of a professional background in the area - following what are beginning to become 'percevied wisdoms' about the area. Clearly the two attract and are characterised by different kinds of people - both have benefits and disadvantages. What will happen over time I wonder however as the area becomes more and more established, is there a danger it will stagnate/ossify.

Cath Ellis
2:02pm 8 January 2010


My discipline is literature - and specifically postcolonial literature. One thing postcolonial literature concentrates on is efficacy. Some of the key writers in the field, Ashcroft, Griffiths and Tiffin, suggest that: ‘[T]he validity of the post-colonial lies in its efficacy. What ever its function as an academic discourse, we need to ask how well it has served to empower post-colonial intellectuals and assisted in implementing strategies of decolonization’. In other words - if all literary studies does is help us better understand literature - then we're wasting our time. We have to use literary analysis to better understand the world and  to change it.

I got into eLearning for practical reasons rather than pedagogical in the first instance - I had to teach a cohort of students spread over four campuses several hundred kilometers apart. But the pedagogical benefits soon took over. Interactive online learning environments were the best solution. But I soon realised that I could do things and get students to do things in this environment that I couldn't do in a face-to-face classroom. I've talked about this in a blog post called 'You can't do that in a classroom'

For me - moving into a discipline which required statistical analysis was a challenge - being allergic to numbers and frankly frightened of spreadsheets. So - I'm more attracted to critical pedagogy which really speaks my language.

Sacha van Straten
2:02pm 8 January 2010


Hi Grainne, 

I did H800 last year - in fact you found me on Twitter as I was quoting you in my ECA, which was a timely reminder of how technology can indeed enhance the learning process. In that instance you kindly pointed me to some of your research that was more relevant to my essay and train of thought.

It was brilliant to be able to have dialogue with the originator of ideas I was using, as that gave me an additional insight I would have lacked otherwise.

I'm intending to start H809 next month, so that I can acquire some evidence based research skills, as well as take the time to look at how such evidence itself is gathered and evaluated. 

Although it's been very hard to manage the MA alongside a full time teaching post I think it's vital to my professional development that I engage with ideas and theories of technology enhanced learning; as that's where I see my career heading.

 

 

 

Diane Brewster
2:04pm 8 January 2010


@ Grainne re. world views and disciplines - I cited some of the same authors in the successful TEL DPhil that I cited in the failed Theology PhD - obviously to better effect this time:-) so i'm not surpised about Quantum chemistry and Iris Murdoch.

I'm reluctant to say it all boils down to philosophy:-) but instead will say that in the end, IMO, we have to have solid, coherent, thinking tools and frameworks -  in order to have the ability to move between the different levels of analysis that @Steven talks about.

Gráinne Conole
2:05pm 8 January 2010


@sacha - wow brilliant! I have also found new technologies like twitter liberating as a student of spanish - times sure are achanging. For me as a reseacher in the field its great to be able to connect more directly with other researchers and students in the field and have a more open, peer-based dialogue about the issues. There is so much to discuss and so much that is contested still, the rarified peer reviwed journal, although still important, for me isn't enough - we need more direct dialogue, for me thats a real benefit of something like cloudworks it really does cross discipline and cultural boundaries and opens up the debate in a much more refreshing way.

Diane Brewster
3:14pm 8 January 2010


my original academic discipiine was Theology, where I specialised in Feminist theology and Jewish / Christian Dialogue, teaching Adult ed for Birkbeck - where high tech was having a whiteboard not a blackboard.  I did a PhD in Theology and it failed - Bet that's not a common route into TEL :-)

I was originally a high school teacher - and also taught some of the science and maths disciplines to lower school kids. My diversion into TEL came about through my experiences in schools in the late 70's early 80's - the days of the BBC micro - and I became the ICT person for the unit I worked in.

When I was then stuck at home in the 90's with very small offspring I did  a BSc with the OU, choosing mainly Technology (Systems) and computing courses while doing p/t tech support for a company in London, before going onto a MSc and DPhil.

these  converging experiences taught me a few things that have stayed with me and informed my perspective of TEL.

  • Whether you call it Hermeneutics (Theology) or multiple perspectives (Systems) doesn't matter - both recognise the situated and contingent nature of anything involving people. Don't fall into the trap of trying to make sense of TEL solely using the 'scientific' paradigm.
  • Perfectly good, and often great, teaching and learning can happen without any access to ICT type technology.  Teaching / learning is essentially relational (Teacher / Learner / subject ) and technology can enhance & support that.
  • The best technology in the world will not turn a bad teacher into a good one.  Wrong choices about suitable tools should reflect on the person choosing the tool - not the tool itsef. 
  • No 'one size fits all' solutions! E.g. podcasting might be a perfectly sensible choice in one context, not another.
  • Never blame the user! if they can't understand how your system / program works then it's badly designed.
  • failure is really really useful when we learn from it.

re. methodologies  - I'm becoming particularly enamoured ATM with Content Analysis (Krippendorff) it fits in well with my overall Systems perspective and seems to me to be a useful tool in evaluating TEL as it focuses on communication acts and meaning - which seems to me to be central to any TEL 'pedagogy'.  I'm also interested in the work done on Andragogy - the transformative nature of adult learning and wonder whether some of us shouldn't be moving away from pedagogical theories of TEL based on the developmental psychology of children when we want to apply them to adult learners ...

Juliette Culver
10:22am 14 January 2010


I'm still very definitely a mathematician in terms of how I think.

The main difference that struck me moving over was how young a discipline TEL/edtech is compared to mathematics. There's been very little consolidation or standardisation of terminology for instance in comparison.

The other thing I found somewhat frustrating is that some people assume because you've got a background in mathematics that you automatically got a certain mindset when it comes to knowledge and learning. This makes it hard when you want to engage in critical dialogue about those subjects.

 

Gráinne Conole
1:18pm 14 January 2010


Really interesting mixed bakcground Steven and I agree professional experience is key but I still feel we each draw also on our underlying background...

@Julliette coming from a chemistry background I too have been very struck by how young the field is. Established fields clearly have gravitas but they can also become ossified to some extent. However on the other hand I think our field still suffers from a lack of a distinct theoretical basis.

Gráinne Conole
2:19pm 22 January 2010


Parallel debate in Networked LEarning forum have added link, will combine diiscussions in due course.

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