Well, I finished this week’s readings. Fu & Hwang provide the reader with exactly what was advertised – an exhaustive review of Ed-Tech studies completed over a past decade, with a collaborative learning focus. As far as literature goes…I’ve read better. As a systematic review…uh…sure. It’s very difficult to fulfill my academic duty here – tasked with answering “Did anything surprise you? Excite you?” – as surprised and excited are adjectives not often associated with one’s feelings on scholarly systematic reviews (“Disappoint you?” – yes, I can see how this adjective might fit).
I was able to find points of interest as I ruminated on our second article by Arnesen et al., concerning K-12 trends in online learning journals over “two decades.” Weaving these two together with the opening section from the Second Handbook of Information Technology in Primary and Secondary Education by Voogt, Knezak, Christensen and Lai, and I found the makings of some sense.
There are two points that must be considered when digesting the review by Fu & Hwang. One: obviously research with educational technology is still considered an emerging (and endlessly evolving) area of study. At one point, the authors discuss that only 9 articles regarding mobile technology-based collaborative learning were found over the years 2000-2011. Looking back to 2007, we lived a veritable monochromatic existence before Apple blessed us with the iPhone, lighting our world with a burst of colourful applications and potential.
What constituted “mobile” before the ubiquity of this phone (or its android equivalent)? Seriously, I can’t remember. My life exists as two eras, before iPhone and after iPhone (what I’ve classified as BiP and AiP). It was certainly not surprising that there is a dearth of research in certain areas. Voogt et al. were also in line with this thought when mentioning that “the time consuming and slow research process” is unable to keep pace with the influx of new and disruptive technologies.
Two: the issue with Ed-Tech research (and research in general, really), is the breadth and depth of what said technologies can influence, and therefore be studied. In addition to theorizing on the impact, implementation, and cognitive processes of Ed-Tech incorporation, research can be conducted on collaboration, reflection, assessment, organization, infrastructure, training, pedagogy, student performance, engagement, policy – a nearly endless and potential-filled list that spreads academia thin. Of course, this is without considering the academic focus from which to conduct that look – K-12, post-secondary, or adult learning.
It is understood that theories and frameworks must be made, interests change, academics emerge, technology influences as it evolves – again, this helps account for both the glut and scarcity in various trends outlined by these authors. However, hilariously, even as Voogt et al. state that “teachers continue to use IT primarily to support content delivery,” Arnesen et al. will critique that most research appears to be “related to training…without as much apparent focus on pedagogy and learning issues.” How can educators move towards more transformative use of technology if there is yet to be research to support this transition as best-practice? Building research takes time.
Also noted was that of the limited available research in Ed-Tech, qualitative methodology plays the largest role (Fu & Hwang note that exclusively quantitative research studies on collaboration are significantly few). I did not find this point surprising, as our previous readings regarding the TPACK model illustrated the already complex domains that must be considered in support of educational technology, and it can be assured that including social interactions through collaboration (or group work, or inquiry projects) would create an interconnected hot-mess that would be inadequately studied by measuring a few variables alone.
The acknowledgement of the snail’s pace of research connects to one final interesting thing: Arnesen et al. state that the “20 most cited articles were literature reviews, theoretical articles, or meta-analyses.” My first thought was What purpose do literature reviews and meta-analyses serve when at the same time these authors are lamenting the “paucity of research?” More specifically, what are these academics doing producing these articles when there seems to be a limitless number of areas for which more research is needed – and needed badly! I understand that these forms of research are necessary to move a field forward and lay bare areas of interest to explore in more depth; but as all these authors mention, there is no lack of new areas and questions to explore.
There seems to be ZERO chance of a researcher accidently replicating a study that is already out there – get out, study something and produce data! Save the meta-analysis and literature reviews until after 20 years of intense and exhaustive exploration. Then, perhaps the literature review would provide meaningful insight into an area that was missed. Then, perhaps the meta-analyses can serve, with robust data, to influence best-practice in pedagogy.
(Or maybe I just don’t understand)
I did find these articles interesting from the perspective of a model literature review – even though our professor guided us to look with this lens – as it was interesting to see the scope of data collected to make sense of the trends in a topic area. But really, it seems exhausting, and I’m exhausted reading it. The readings also made me think about the project-based program in which I am enrolled. These review articles have very recent publication dates, making the analysis relevant to the current state of education research. I am left feeling guilty about my educational choices today – perhaps I should have considered a thesis-based program where I could contribute to the lack of empirical data, as opposed to adding my theoretical opinions and seemingly redundant literature review to what appears in my mind to be an over-reviewed yet somehow also under-developed field.