Wednesday, November 21, 2012

On 'educationally driven' interventions

I have an idea for doing something within a module about educational media in terms of learning about the sphere of 'mobile'. Of course the activity has to clearly give the message that starting with the tech is 'bad' for lots of sound reasons. For example, since we have no chance of researching an innovation before it's out of date, the only way to hold on to some sense of purpose is to ground the project in a deliberate philosophy of education and work forward from there. There are any number of solutions out there needing a problem and the only rational angle of attack is to ask, 'what would you like to do'? There is a view that this is the only pure approach to doing learning technology.
For example, "design has to be generated from the learning objectives and aspirations of the course, rather than from the capability of the technology" (Laurillard, 2002, p 145) However, Peter Goodyear (2006) maintains that there is "no great harm in this, it is part of a vibrant process that explores and advances frontiers of application. Solutions should look for problems." (emphasis in the original)
However, if we consider the methods and philosophy behind participatory and/or spiral design approaches and principles, there has to be an ongoing 'conversation' between the problem and the solution, between the designer and those being designed for. One has to inform the other - posh word for this would be a 'dialectic'.
Spiral Stair
Our knowledge and understanding of and in the world can shape our thoughts and actions without our realising it. An idea may be sparked by noticing something a technology can do differently, but the sparking of the idea will have happened because of the knowledge and understanding of the relationships between the technology and the field it is being applied to. So which way around was that then? Technology first or context/practice/theory first? I'm not talking about some blind determinism that shuts my mind to ignoring and/or conflating all sorts of unintended consequences and factors, or gives way too much agency to the technology. But in what world does any idea begin from a really pure educationally driver, and stay that way for very long? I'm arguing that we should recognise the inconsistencies in ourselves and the world around us and embrace the dialectic, including the distinct possibility that a really good educational technology idea may have come about empirically and it's only afterwards that we can trace the strands of 'good' theory which contributed to the idea. This is not the 'wrong way around', it may be an attempt to side-step the sometimes crushing burden of proof required by the same educationalists, who, in other settings, would be seen fervently espousing the need for ideation and innovation in education.
So, dialectics FTW!

Goodyear, P. (2006). Technology and the articulation of vocational and academic interests: reflections on time, space and e-learning. Studies in Continuing Education, 28(2), 83–98. doi:10.1080/01580370600750973
Lurillard, D. (2002). Rethinking Teaching for the Knowledge Society. EDUCAUSE Review, 37(1), 16–25.Available from

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