‘What role does theory play in university teaching with digital technologies?’
The undertheorised nature of the use of learning technologies has been debated (Tight 2012; Howard & Maton 2011) and much work remains to be done to address gaps and to mature the subject as a scholarly field. The advent of the read/write web and open, collaborative tools have been heralded as opportunities for educators to implement student-centred, socially constructivist approaches to teaching and learning. However, as Jackson (2001) and Conole et al. (2004) point out, practices are more often closer to objectivist/behaviourist models of teaching with digital technologies. This research aimed to capture a holistic view of digital teaching and question how pedagogy, amongst other theories, fits with the innovation imperative discourse which can surround technology in education.
This was a qualitative study comprising interviews with 25 participants in two universities: one in Scotland and one in Ireland. Lecturers from seven disciplines were interviewed in depth about their teaching approaches with digital technologies, the rationale behind their practices and the wider context of their teaching.
Rhizome theory (Deleuze & Guattari 1988) was employed as a theoretical framework for the research. Rhizome theory takes knowledge, amongst other things, to be dynamic, highly connected and non-hierarchical. The rhizome is placed in contrast with arborescent, or tree-like, thought which is binary, hierarchical and contained by strict boundaries. This lens was employed to map connections between previously untheorised attitudes and practices whilst acknowledging the ‘messiness’ of technology and education (Selwyn 2015).
Findings from the research indicate a prominent role for folk pedagogies (Olson & Bruner 1996), where beliefs about ‘best practices’ with technology were rationalised in the absence of an evidence-base. Non-educational theories, such as ease-of-use and perceived usefulness, were also presented as major factors in adopting technology for teaching.
As a qualitative study, this project has rich data but limited participant numbers. As such, findings are presented as 'snap shots' of current beliefs and practices of a selection of lecturers and are not intended to be generalizable.
Through forging links between theory and practice, this research aims to provide a pragmatic contribution to knowledge which can be taken forward, not just by other researchers, but also by lecturers, those who support lecturers and senior staff in higher education. Thus a positive impact on student learning will be attained through greater understanding and transparency of purpose when digital technologies are employed for teaching and learning in universities.
Conole, G. et al., 2004. Mapping pedagogy and tools for effective learning design. Computers & Education, 43(1–2), pp.17–33.
Deleuze, G. & Guattari, F., 1988. A thousand plateaus: Capitalism and schizophrenia, Bloomsbury Publishing.
Howard, S. & Maton, K., 2011. Theorising knowledge practices: a missing piece of the educational technology puzzle. Research in Learning Technology, 19(3), pp.191–206.
Jackson, B., 2001. Evaluation of Learning Technology Implementation. In N. Mogey, ed. LTDI Evaluation Studies Learning Technology Dissemination Initiative. pp. 22–25.
Olson, D.R. & Bruner, J.S., 1996. Folk psychology and folk pedagogy. In The handbook of education and human development. pp. 9–27.
Selwyn, N., 2015. Technology and education—why it’s crucial to be critical. In S. Bulfin, N. Johnson, & C. Bigum, eds. Critical perspectives on technology and education. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 245–255.
Tight, M., 2012. Researching Higher Education, Maidenhead: SRHE and Open University Press.