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theory and technology

This event looked at the theorising technology and education. This was a follow on from the seminar given at the end of August 2017 where we looked at the particular challenges facing those carrying research into the contribution of technology to learning. (For more on this seminar click here).

We began by reviewing past discussion of theory and recapped the essential problem with theory is that it has multiple meanings - Powerpoint here

We (Cristina, Michael and Sarah) reported back on what we had learnt by working on a special edition on theorising for the journal Technology Pedagogy and Education. In particular we were surprised at just how many people responded to our call for papers and how much interest there was in theorising when it comes to technology and learning. We were also pleased by how eclectic is that interest and how interdisciplinary researchers are aiming to be. We could have filled two or three special issues and were sorry that we could not include many good contributions due to pressure of space.

We had asked for volunteers to talk about theory and theorising in their own work and Neil Ingram gave a well-received presentation on the use of Bernstein's ideas of invisible and visible pedagogy. (To see the presentation click here).

To quote from Neil's asociated paper:

"Successful uses of ICT tend to favour ‘invisible’ pedagogies: collaborative modes of active working with shared competences, where the teacher is a facilitator of lessons containing elements of ‘discovery’. Tensions can arise if the dominant discourse is a ‘visible’ pedagogy that favours individual performance, with the teacher as the voice of authority and controller of the discourse. These tensions can lead to ICT being marginalised or discredited or lead to new modalities of pedagogy."

This is from Neil R. Ingram (2016) Time past: impacts of ICT on the pedagogic discourse in the Interactive project, Technology, Pedagogy and Education, 25:1, 1-18

We then had time for participants to talk about their own use of theory and share ideas for moving on with the process. This led to diverse discussion about each other's research and the recurring issue of theorising. There was, for example, a lot of interest in when theory should come - should theorising be top down (so that research is framed by a particular theory from the start) or should theory emerge from the findings. The latter can appear high risk if examiners are looking for a theoretical framework in advance of data collection, on the other hand the bottom up approach avoids over commitment to one way of looking at things.

In the afternoon we were very pleased to welcome Mark Murphy, Reader in Education & Public Policy / Co-Director, Robert Owen Centre for Educational Change University of Glasgow. Mark's presentation looked at theory and its application in social research. He ran through key figures in relation to theory and theorising in the social sciences (including the Frankfurt school of social philosophy) and emphasised the importance of avoiding instrumental attitudes to theory and keeping a critical stance. He again noted that education research had traditionally been considered weak in terms of theorising but wondered if this was changing under the pressure of assessment of research audits. He mentioned his own work in the field of theory and theorising as well as the much used web site.

Finally Robert O'Toole discussed a model for design/digital capabilities in the mature organisation. The focus here was on the benefits and shortcomings of models. Even quite simplistic models, Robert argued, had a value in focusing attention (in this case on organisational change) but on the other hand we should recognise their static nature and the causal assumptions. Robert's presentation is attached here

It was really very difficult to summarise the day expect to say that we were freed up to think in broader ways about theorising and not only its usefulness but its intrinsic appeal.