No wonder it was popular. The theme of "Critical and theoretical approaches to research" is both timely and interesting, and the invited speakers - Prof Martin Oliver, Dr Sarah Hennessey and Prof Eileen Scanlon, with opening comments from Prof Jill Jameson - are quite a line-up.
Jill started with some opening comments framing the day's theme. Drawing in particular on the works of Carr, Selwyn (1, 2), Feenberg and Bulfin et al (all recommended reading!), Jill proposed that many in TEL reflect an "evangelistic positivism", and that much research can be described in terms of "a lack of problematisation, with superficial and naïve analysis". The opening comments were bold, critical and thought-provoking.
Martin picked up the baton and continued the theme in his opening address, "Educational technology: Why should we care?" Martin drew attention to the fragmented, incoherent research-base underpinning TEL and the apparent emphasis of promotion over evidence. Martin referenced the ideas of Friesen, Selwyn and Aristotle among others in his expose of technological determinism and subjectivity. The keynote was a powerful reminder of our responsibility as TEL practitioners and decision-makers to ask meta-questions about what we do, and to be concerned with power and authority rather than implementation. Among the more memorable statements for me, Martin suggested we should care about those critical of TEL and actively involve ourselves in their views; he also pointed out that efficiency is a poor driver for TEL implementation, as "education is not an information shovelling exercise". Well said. There was plenty in Martin's comments to urge debate and sober, reflective decision-making.
Sarah's keynote, "Criticality in reporting Ed Tech research: The BJET Editorial perspective" focussed on approaches researchers should consider if they are to make a positive contribution to literature. Various questions were raised, including these:
- Is the research analytical, or descriptive?
- Does the research provide critique and balance, or does it gloss over issues?
- Are alternative explanations entertained?
- Are links made across the literature, and is the literature critically interpreted?
- Are counter-examples or explanations sought?
- Might any success be due to novelty value?
- Are sampling and the general population valid and well-described? Could the findings be replicated and sustained?
- Is the research innovative or at least original? Is it significant to existing knowledge and theory?
- Is the intervention tested with real users? Are there convincing learning outcomes?
- What are the implications for practice and policy?
- What is the role of the teacher?
Finally, Eileen's talk "TEL: Interdisciplinarity and Inquiry" promoted the merits of interdisciplinary research. Despite its challenges, Eileen established the many benefits that can arise. She promoted the design-based research methodology, and the Beyond Prototypes work she was involved with.
Afternoon workshops provided three options, each following up on one of the keynote addresses.
All in all a very positive day. Great connections, stimulating ideas, suitable challenges - a day well spent! Many thanks to the organisers and participants for an effective day of professional development. More to come, I trust!