academics attitudes collaboration edvisor research Uncategorized

Thoughts on: 2020 vision: What happens next in education technology research in Australia (Thompson & Lodge, 2020)

The latest issue of AJET (Australasian Journal of Educational Technology) opens with an editorial from two people whose work in the space of TEL I’ve found of interest over the years – Kate Thompson (QUT) and Jason Lodge (UQ).

My entry to this editorial was via a local Higher Ed daily newsletter, the Campus Morning Mail. The title of the entry for it was “For on-line to work, ask the ed-tech experts“. Leaving aside the strange hyphenation of online, this headline led me down the page to see exactly who these ‘ed-tech experts’ are. Apparently the only experts are ed tech researchers. (There is a passing reference to education technologists in the abstract but just one).

I tweeted a few first glance responses – looking back I think they were relatively innocuous:

This was enough to spark some wide-ranging discussions. I think the main issue ultimately was my suggestion that researchers often don’t take a wide or holistic enough view of ed tech and the ed tech ecosystem in institutions (as far as practical implementation goes) and that much of this research is relatively abstract and lab based. Maybe this is slightly unfair but, as someone whose job it is to stay current on ed tech and TEL, I stand by this overall but recognise that it may lack the nuance that was intended.

So let me explain what my concerns are and what I mean.

I believe that discussions and decisions around technologies with a pedagogical focus need to address practical questions of how it can actually get done in a contemporary institution in a way that has significance and meaningful impact.

This is often (not always but frequently) where the thought about the intervention ends. We end up with conclusions along the lines of ‘within the confines of the theoretical framework and recognising that further research is necessary, it appears that ePortfolios benefit learning because of x, y and z. More institutions should implement ePortfolios in context a, b and c’. This, to me, is abstract because while it is important to have this understanding, it almost never offers a path towards this imagined implementation. There’s a big gap between “should” and will.

The process of making meaningful change happen at scale in a Higher Education institution can be an arduous one, shaped by many valid and real factors, that seem to be waved away as the domain of uninformed “decision-makers”, “policymakers”, “economists”, “self-promoters” and “aspiring international keynoters”. The lack of regard in this editorial for anyone who is not an educational researcher clangs loudly against the repeated question about why education researchers don’t play a larger part of the decision making process.

As an education technologist, I recognise myself as one of these ‘others’. My colleagues in learning (etc) design and academic development areas I would suggest are the same. We possess significant expertise that comes from the varied pathways we took into this field, as well as from the practical work we do day in and day out relating to supporting teaching and learning in practice across many educators, disciplines and situations. We are frequently the bridge between many parts of the organisation – teaching and non-teaching – which gives us rare insights into the bigger picture. As professional staff however, we tend to be excluded from undertaking research and contributing to the literature.

What I’d love to see are three things:

  • Meaningful, respectful conversations between education researchers and edvisors to foster understanding of each other does and contributes
  • Genuine research collaborations between education researchers and edvisors
  • Greater use of relevant, evidence based research in institutional operations.

I bump into the frustrations of people in institutions about the pace of change or progress on implementations on a daily basis. I know how easy it can be to attribute these to personal motives rather than deal with the reality of complex systems – I’ve done it myself in the past, to my embarrassment now. The best way forward in my view is with more mutual understanding and respect.