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I'm no angel - H809 Practice-based research in educational technology - 'Practice-based'

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Edited by Graeme Arnott, Sunday, 29 Jan 2012, 23:37

The H809 website's open and we're underway.  Well not quite, the module doesn't actually start until the 4th of February but I though I'd try to be a little ahead of the curve (this won't last long so I might as well enjoy it while it lasts).

I've listened to the introductory podcast in Activity 1.2. which is narrated by James Aczel, the module's chair.   It's the first time I've actually heard a member of staff discuss a module's title, and  I found it a really useful portal into the module. I don't know if this approach is now taken across the OU, but by drilling into the title's component parts Aczel is able to reveal different perspectives from which the module might be viewed as well as the different ways that the module might serve different students.

I'm going to use the podcast to start to develop my own ideas about what I understand about the meaning of the module title's terms.  I've pasted extracts from the podcast's transcript below (in italics) with my comments in the [brackets below the ==== line].


H809 – Week 1 podcast

... let’s look at the course title: ‘Practice-based research in educational technology’.


When we first consulted students about a title, one of them said:

‘“Practice” and “practice-based” are very powerful words for people working outside academia: it provides reassurance that what you find is going to be some practical use – eventually. Also helps with employers, for example getting funding or at least time off work or co-operation in [getting] access to data.’

So ‘practice-based’ is intended to signal that H809 is not a course in abstract research methods. We’re hoping that you’ll develop some knowledge and skills that are actually going to be of practical value to you:

  • What does this research study really tell us?
  • How can this new educational technology be most effectively evaluated?
  • What methods are best for investigating this particular research question?

(Aczel 00:00-01:51)


[I think that rooting research in the practical is vitally important for countering educational technology optimism.  There's an irony in a field that, in many ways, exemplifies postmodernism is itself subject to the Enlightenment project of improving mankind.  This was brought home to me during H808 when I watched this twenty-minute TED talk by Helen Barrett

Social Networks and Interactive Portfolios: Blurring the Boundaries

What I found particularly interesting about this video was not the proposal that Barrett set out, but the language used to describe the benefits of the proposal.  The eportfolio as both process and product becomes the means by which rapture is achieved on the journey towards one's destination - the quest for excellence for a larger purpose, as Dan Pink puts it. These borrowings from a religious discourse certainly brought to my mind the uptake of the diary in seventeenth-century protestant Britain (Knights).

A different, but not unconnected, aspect of educational technology discourse is that of utopian optimism. Neil Selwyn's BJET Editorial (2011, 42/5, pp.713-718) argues that an optimistic approach to educational technology 'limits the validity and credibility of the field as a site of serious academic endeavour' (p.713). Martin Weller described the practice-related role of the elearning professional

Elearning professionals rarely operate in a purely theoretical, academic context. They are frequently required (either on their own or as part of a team) to put into practice the knowledge and skills they have acquired through research, review and engagement. This element of practice can vary in scale considerably, from introducing elearning approaches on a small course to overseeing the implementation of an institution-wide system such as a VLE. It is also not confined to deploying technology; for example, an elearning professional might have to adapt an existing module to elearning delivery, with a subsequent shift in the underlying pedagogy. (Weller, H808-11)

and in these contexts the elearning professional must not only be personally credible but must also be professionally credible.  Gill Kirkup's argument that the identity of an elearning professional is, in part, constructed by a commitment to the field of elearning (H808-11) shouldn't blind the researcher to the limitations of educational technology.  Within a community of practice, perhaps even in something like Twitter it's all very well to get enthused about a particular product but one has to remember that that's what it is - a product, and what it isn't - the holy grail waiting to transform the wasteland.

Over seven years ago Grainne Conole opened her paper 'E-Learning: The Hype and the Reality' with,

Elearning is transforming education. It provides opportunuities for learning anytime, anywhere. It provides access to a wealth of resources and new forms of communication and virtual communities.  Sounds familiar? These are the sound bites that pepper research journals, conferences and the media (2004, p.2),

and yet just the other day I was on a website of a product producing company which claimed the same. In some ways that isn't all that surprising. In the short period of time that I've been in this field it's been difficult at times to tell the difference between an academic paper and a product-placement.

I'm now looking forward to developing my pessimistic ideas of good research practice over the next six months, and which definitely won't include the practice of evangelizing.]


Podcast References

Carr, W. (1987) ‘What is an educational practice?’, Journal of Philosophy of Education,
vol. 22, no. 2, pp. 163–75.

Hammersley, M. (1993) ‘On the teacher as researcher’, Educational Action Research, vol. 2, no. 3, pp. 237–53.

Stenhouse, L. (1981) ‘What counts as research?’, British Journal of Educational Studies,
vol. 29, no. 2, pp. 103–114.

My References

Aczel, J. H809-12B, Week 1 podcast, Download this audio clip.Audio player: Podcast_1.mp3



Conole, G. (2004)  'E-Learning: The Hype and the Reality', Journal of Interactive Media in Education, 11 (although it might be 12 - the paper says both)

Kirkup, G, H808-11, Unit 1 (part 1): Introduction – elearning professionals, Core Activity 1.1: Introductory audio, http://learn.open.ac.uk/mod/resourcepage/view.php?id=569230&direct=1, accessed 29/01/12

Knights, M. Diaries of the Seventeenth Century, BBC - History, (17/02/11), http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/civil_war_revolution/diaries_01.shtml, accessed 29/01/12

Selwyn, N. (2011) 'Editorial', British Journal of Educational Technology, vol. 42, no.5, pp.713-718

TEDxASB - Helen Barrett - 2/25/10, YouTube, posted 10/03/10, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ckcSegrwjkA&feature=player_embedded, accessed 29/01/12

Weller, M. H808-11, Unit 10: Evidencing practice-related competencies, http://learn.open.ac.uk/mod/resourcepage/view.php?id=569267&direct=1, accessed 29/01/12

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