Unlike most people, I like theory. And, like most people in graduate programs, I work hard at understanding it. I sometimes think that, because I am older than many of my colleagues in the PhD program, I have to work a bit harder to get it. But what is lost in speed is balanced by a vast array of intellectual and emotional resources that have been built up through years of life experience.
Learning is like breathing air to me. If I cannot learn, I cannot truly live. My superpower (thanks Kris!) is inquiry. And it is this that led me to a PhD program that is about learning. I am pursuing my PhD in Educational Technology at Concordia University. Through this program, I am both broadening and refining my interests, exploring new directions and, learning about learning.
Writing is a key part of this process. As I write, I am transformed. I try to set down words on the page that will match or clarify the concepts in my mind and, in the process, my thoughts change. Sometimes I “artify” my writing a bit too much for the social sciences. I should mention that I am trained as an artist, meaning that I have learned to think with materials and from materials in their temporal, spatial, historical and cultural engagements. It’s hard to specify what artistic thinking is. On the one hand, it could be characterized as open and sensitive. As an artist, one trains in becoming an instrument that registers the forces and relations of the world. On the other hand, artistic thinking is analytical. It involves taking things apart in order that new potentials can be realized. That I value and am steeped in these two aspects of artistic thinking might help to explain why I find Bruno Latour’s work so compelling. I’ll come back to that later. I attended a Canadian art college where I received my BFA. Later I acquired an MFA focusing on human-machine relations through new media and robotic artwork investigations and productions.
In the course of my PhD education I had been reviewing hundreds of experimental or quasi-experimental studies on the effects of technology integration in the classroom. This is one of the fundamental areas in my field: to better understand how technology use can facilitate or improve learning. One theme that kept presenting itself was the continued and mostly unquestioned assumption that something [in the classroom] needs to be improved, such as increased student engagement, better achievement scores for the learners, improved student satisfaction and so on. Generally, the technology referred to in the studies either improves the outcomes for learners depending on what it is that is being measured, or has little or no effect on learners (whether any intervention applied has little or no effect is debatable of course but we won’t delve here).The point is that improvement in the classroom is associated with technology use. This is one underlying assumption of the field.
As an aside or as a further rationalization for technology implementation, the authors often articulated the economic benefits of the particular technology used — it reduced costs for the institution, or made better use of the teacher’s time and skills. I’m not opposed to efficiency, nor to the use of technology to facilitate learning. And I’m not at all opposed to saving money. I am concerned about the unquestioned assumption that technology use necessarily leads to economic benefit. Technology use should not take precedence over what constitutes quality education.
I am interested in several issues: the first is to better understand and problematize “technology” from various philosophical lenses and methodologies and to closely examine the underlying assumptions around its investigation and application in educational technology and educational research; and, second, to investigate new potentials for technology use in the classroom, particularly in the ways it can empower students and professors within higher education settings; and third, to generate and inform policy based on these investigations.
I recently wrote a paper that explored the massification of pedagogy through COURSERA, a social entrepreneurial venture in mass online education. In the massification of pedagogy, I am concerned about the loss of intellectual autonomy, meaningful relationships between students and their professors, and the possibility of creative risk-taking that can occur when trust develops in the classroom. To critique a new venture such as this does not make me anti-technology, as some would like to suggest. If an organization is going to posit itself as a major contributor to education, then it should do so from a place that is informed by the work that has already been done in the field. But if we are conscientious, concerned citizens we must ask the important questions and always keep in mind the impacts and effects, not as an afterthought but as ethical considerations from the beginning of our projects.
I draw on the philosophy of technology to help me make sense of all of this such as Andrew Feenberg’s (2005) Critical Theory of Technology and the post-phenomenological hermeneutics of Ihde (1995), actor-network theory (Latour, 2005). But I will also draw on post-structuralist theorists such as Foucault (1979; 1972) and philosophers of education such as Dewey (1990; 1934) and contemporary thinkers too. As part of my course in Advanced qualitative research I will explore the methods for these theoretical applications. What interests me about some of the theories I am encountering is the emphasis on reflexivity and transformation. At the same time, I find it a challenge to let go of validity, reliability, the standards established by my field. But the arguments within qualitative research that address these traditional concerns expand upon and highlight the potentialities in educational research.
I want my research to have a practical application, to have a positive effect, to provide something to the people with whom I’m engaged in research. I am integral to the process. I am an actor, an artist, a social scientist, a learning specialist, an educational technologist in the shared and networked world of living research and creation through inquiry.