Friday, September 20, 2013

Reflecting on Research in EdTech

I'm four weeks into my doctoral program now. I can confess that I’ve been struggling throughout the first weeks of this program with feelings of inadequacy. Mostly this is due to comments made by classmates in our discussion forums in which they refer to their impending research designs. I have only very rudimentary ideas about what I might like to research, so this has been stressing me out (thanks to my professor for assuaging my doubts via a Skype conversation this week!) But tonight I read a chapter that gave me further confidence in my beginning inklings of research plans.

One of the big themes that stood out to me here was the emphasis on action research, case study, and contextually-relevant studies. Most of my ideas at this point relate to my position as a teacher educator: I want to find ways of helping the pre-service teachers I’m teaching to prepare for the technological expectations of the profession today. I would love whatever research I wind up conducting for my dissertation to have strong application to my current setting, and thus action research reported as a case study, or a contextually-relevant study are very appealing! 

I've heard of the "community of practice" model before (the idea that groups of practitioners--teachers? researchers? business people?--have particular ways of conducting their work), but this reading introduced me to the idea of "constellations of practice": large groups in a given field in which there might be many communities of practice that deal with similar challenges but respond in ways unique to their peculiar contexts. I think the “constellation of practice” model is healthy for me to keep in mind: the research I conduct will likely have limited immediate application to other contexts, but it will (probably) still be able to inform educators in other similar-though-not-identical contexts.

I really appreciated the emphasis in this piece on relevance. Research in educational technology must be relevant--both to the context of practice and to the practitioners. This is exhibited in many ways, but I found some of the examples particularly useful explanations. Two I'll share here:
  • The relative failure of “One Laptop per Child” initiative is a great example of the problem of lack of contextual relevance. The shortcomings of this project were (are?) largely due to the very different social and cultural settings in the nations where this project has been attempted. 
  • Technology used at home or work doesn’t always transfer well to an educational setting. For example, students ability to search for and find a particular video on YouTube at home may not be a skill that translates into academic research in school. Teachers need practically applicable research that works in their particular teaching contexts.

It's important for me to remember that much educational research focuses on new tools or cutting-edge approaches. It’s not that these aren’t useful studies--they surely can be--but other kinds of educational research certainly also has value. These “proof of concept” studies might not do justice to existing research educational technology unless a deliberate connection is made. This is a good reminder for me as I begin this program; I want to avoid falling into this trap!

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