Introduction To The Research Study Education Essay

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1.1 Introduction

Information and communications technology (ICT) is rapidly changing the ways in which we do things. It has permeated almost every aspect of our society and has provided useful tools for communications, calculations, entertainment, design, and information gathering. New technologies and concepts are introduced daily, and new ways of utilising technologies for teaching and learning are constantly unveiled. Using ICT has required new knowledge and skills; the facilitators and learners of today need many new skills to learn, work, and adapt to the ever-changing world. Successful technology integration is marked by learners having access to an appropriate range of tools and being able to select and use them to help obtain information in a timely manner, to analyse and synthesize information and present it professionally in solving a problem, hence technology integration should be an integral part of an organisations learning culture. This includes the design and development of learning curriculums to include learning technologies.

Rogoff (1994) believes that technology can act as a catalyst influencing change from a traditional classroom to an environment of community of learners. A constructivist approach can be an effective way to successfully integrate technology in the learning environment. Such an environment provides facilities for learners to learn by doing, to work with others, and to have authentic experiences making learning motivating and relevant. Social constructivism suggests that learners learn concepts or construct meaning about ideas through their interaction with others, with their world, and through interpretations of that world by actively constructing meaning. They cannot do this by passively absorbing knowledge imparted by a facilitator. Learners relate new knowledge to their previous knowledge and experience. One of the better-known researchers who refer to social constructivism theory in education is Vygotsky (1986). He states that learners construct knowledge or understanding as a result of active learning, thinking, and doing in social contexts.

Research has found that there is very strong connection between appropriate facilitator use of technology and increased learner achievement (Valdez, McNabb, Foertsch, Anderson, Hawkes, & Raack, 2000). While technology integration is often concerned with learning environments the focus remains on technology integration into training practices, learning experiences, and the learning curriculum. Integration includes a sense of completeness or wholeness and incorporates the need to overcome artificial separations by bringing together all essential elements in the teaching and learning process including technology as one of the elements, not the sole element (Earle, 2002).

Technology provides the cognitive tools for learners as they make sense of the information gathered, allowing experts, facilitators, and learners to communicate their thoughts and interests in the subject matter and simulating real-life situations and problems. Many studies have been conducted to evaluate the effectiveness of facilitators' integration of ICT into learning environments (Van Braak, 2001; Wetzel, 2001). Although these approaches have been successful, they lack exemplary use of ICT for instruction and learning (Jaber & Moore, 1999). There is a need to explore how facilitators engage learners in meaningful and beneficial learning and where the computer is seen as a part of everyday learning activity (Dias, 1999).

While successful integration of technology into learning environments depends on many factors, Cultural Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) can be used as a framework to study the integration of technology into organisational learning interventions. This research explores how learning activities in technology mediated learning curriculums must be understood in the context of larger socio-cultural issues. This chapter provides an overview of the cultural historic activity theory and how it can be used to study the effectiveness of technology integration. A brief review on Stetsenko's transformative stance on learning is provided while the final section of the chapter presents the conclusion.

1.2 An overview of Vygotsky's Cultural Historic Activity Theory (CHAT)

Lev Vygotsky is a prominant figure in Russian psychology. He is considered one of the greatest psychologists of the twentieth century (Toulmin 1978). Vygotsky's career in psychology lasted only ten years. It started in 1924 and ten years later Vygotsky died of tuberculosis at the age of thirty-seven. During his brief career, Vygotsky undertook one of the most ambitious projects in the history of psychology. The most fundamental issue for Vygotsky was the relationship between the mind, on the one hand, and culture and society, on the other. He believed that the notion of culture should not be limited to a set of external factors influencing the human mind. Vygotsky maintained that culture and society are not external factors influencing the mind but rather are generative forces directly involved in the very production of mind. It was critically important, according to Vygotsky, that this fundamental idea be assimilated by psychology.

At the same time, Vygotsky rejected a straightforward view of culture and society as directly determining or shaping the human mind. Vygotsky argued that the only way to reveal the impact of culture on the mind was to follow developmental, historical transformations of mental phenomena in the social and cultural context.

The idea of a nonstraightforward, dialectical cultural determination of mind was elaborated by Vygotsky into a set of principles, concepts, and research methods. He contributed to the advancement of a research methodology suitable for developmental research by introducing the notions of molar units of analysis and the formative experiment. One of his greatest contributions to human educational development was the Cultural Historic Activity Theory (Chat)

Activity theory is a socio-cultural, socio-historical lens which can be used to analyse human activity systems. It focuses on the interaction of human activity and consciousness within its relevant environmental context (Leontiev, 1981; Vygotsky, 1978). The overall analysis in activity theory is human activity. Human activities are driven by certain needs where people wish to achieve certain purposes. The activity is mediated by one or more instruments or tools. The basic principles of activity theory include object orientedness, internalisation/externalisation, mediation, hierarchical structure, and development. The most immediate benefit of activity theory is in providing a triangular template for describing these relationships and looking for points of tension as new goals, tools, or organisational changes create stress with the current roles, rules, and artefacts.

An activity always contains various artefacts namely instruments, signs, procedures, machines, materials and rules. Artefacts play a mediating role as relations between elements of an activity are not directed, but mediated. Artefacts are created and transformed during the development of the activity itself and carry with them a particular culture. Objects, as cultural entities, are the prime unit of analysis within an activity system (Engestrom, 2001). The relationship between a subject and an object of activity is mediated by a tool. A tool can be anything used in the transformation process, including both material tools and tools for thinking. The relationship between subject and the community is mediated by rules and the relationship between object and community mediated by the division of labour which is indicates how the activity is distributed among the members of the community. Rules cover both implicit and explicit norms, conventions, and social relations within a community as related to the transformation process of the object into an outcome (Engeström, 1987). The basic structure of an activity can be illustrated as in Figure 1

Figure : Adapted from Engeström, Yrjö, (1987), Learning by Expanding: An Activity-theoretical Approach to Developmental Research, Orienta-Konsultit, Helsinki .

1.3 Stetsenko's transformative stance on learning

Stetsenko (2008) supports Vygotksy's CHAT and believes that tools and objects used within the activity system must encourage collaboration and socialisation amongst the subjects in order for effective learning to take place. She claimed that in order for an individual's learning and development to be successful it must take a transformative stance. This stance included three levels of learning; acquisition, participation and contribution. She added that learning is not about acquisition or participation but rather about learning contribution to collaborative practices amongst learners that simultaneously transform them and their society. She designed a framework to evaluate the levels of learning by using several dimensions. These dimensions included the key definitions of learning, key words used to describe the learning intervention, what the intervention stresses on, the role of the facilitator, the nature of knowing, the time line used to engage learners in the learning process, who developed through the learning process and the key goals of the learning intervention. See appendix 1.

At an acquisition level of learning the focus of the learning intervention is placed on just the information processing from a knowledgably person, often a facilitator to the learners. It stressed on the learner's mind and what goes into it. Therefore end result was learning for the individual and it focused on past learning experiences into the present, the future was irrelevant. At the participation level of learning the focus of the learning intervention is placed on participation and becoming a member of the community. The role of a facilitator is that of a mentor or expert participant. The end result of learning is thus mutuality and community building and it focused on the presently evolving patterns of participation, the past is irrelevant and there is no future. At the contribution level of learning the focus of the learning intervention is placed on contributing to collaborative practices of humanity while simultaneously transforming them. The role of the facilitator is that of an activist open to collaboration and dialogue, agent of a collaborative change. The end result of learning is contribution through self development and community development. The focus is to interface the past, the present and the future.

Taking the above framework into consideration, Stetsenko (2008) further claimed that the transformative stance of learning was in synch with the growing demands that globalisation imposes on education and other practices of social life. She expanded that although learning takes place at all three levels, learning and development practitioners must strive to design learning interventions that promote learning at a contribution level. The successful integration of learning technologies can assist in achieving the goals of learning at a level of contribution and collaboration amongst learners and facilitators.

1.4 The impact of technology integration for successful e-learning

Over the years ICTs have successfully become part of the learning environment that the term e-learning spells survival for many learners. Horton (2006) defined e-learning as the use of information and computer technologies to create learning experiences. Allen (2006) added that e-learning is the delivery of carefully constructed instructional events through computing technologies. E-Learning offers new opportunities to both facilitators and learners as it enriches the learning experience through tools and resources. It supports not only the delivery but also the exploration and application of information and the promotion of new knowledge. The benefits of e-learning are detailed in chapter two.

Bransford, Brown, and Cocking (2000) listed five ways in which new technologies can be used within a learning environment; bringing exciting curricula based on real-world problems into the classroom; providing scaffolds and tools to enhance learning; giving learners and facilitators more opportunities for feedback, reflection, and revision; building local and global communities; and expanding opportunities for learning. Each of these pose an opportunity for technology integration, and successful integration will see growth in both technology skills and content knowledge. Improving a learning curriculum with the integration of technology can help change the paradigm of existing learning environments. Therefore technology must be seen as a tool or a means to an end goal and not the end itself.

Such a change in this learning paradigm offers many benefits to learners. Technology provides opportunities for learners to confront problems and make decisions in an imaginary environment that is realistic enough to provide meaningful issues and appropriate consequences (Knapp & Glenn, 1996). Although technology is not a solution for education reform, it can act as a significant catalyst for change. Technology can also be a powerful tool to support collaborative learning environments. There is ample evidence that technology integration in learning curriculums has facilitated the acquisition of higher-order thinking skills amongst learners (Lim & Hang, 2003).

In today's world where technology is often used as a change agent to transform learning practices, the integration of such learning technologies into learning curriculums are often driven by individual and institutional ideologies (Amory, 2007). Instead learning technologies that promote individual transformation must be designed to support collaborative social problem solving activities. Hence interactive learning interventions must be aligned with constructivist learning theories. Therefore CHAT is useful not only as a tool to design learning but as a heuristic to evaluate learning activities (Amory, 2007).

There are many benefits of using the activity theory for studying the effectiveness of technology integration in learning curriculums. First, activity theory provides a framework to study the impact of technology integration. It enables us to have a much richer understanding of the interaction among facilitators, context, learners, and their environment as facilitators make changes in training methods and begin to adopt new technologies and resources into their training practices. Second, the activity theory provides a holistic method for explaining technology integration. Third, the activity theory allows us to conceptualise the complexities of the research context in terms of the characteristics of the technology integration activities, the factors that affect change, and the interactions among factors that allow us to study the social, cultural, and historical characteristics of the target population. The environment that the target population operates in includes the community, rules, and division of labour. Fourth, the activity theory also allows us to identify the goals of the target population we are trying to study. It requires us to understand the character and history of the subject, the object (outcome) that the subject is aiming to achieve, the characteristics of the surrounding community, and the tool/technology integration available to the subject. Activity theory allows us to explore the interaction of human activity and the mental models of the individuals as they interact with the relevant learning environment.

1.5 Conclusion

One of the biggest challenges that remain in e-learning is the ability to determine the level of integration of technology and the way it is used to mediate content. It is not technology itself that has resulted in improved learner outcomes, but rather how the technology was used and integrated into instructional processes (Bernauer, 1995). It is not what technology by itself can do, but what facilitators and learners may be able to accomplish using these tools. The use of learning technologies must be seen as an ongoing innovative process designed to meet instructional and learning needs (Robey, 1992).

Therefore this research was undertaken with the purpose to be used as a starting point for both technologists and learning practitioners at corporate organisations. It explains the complexity of evaluating and integrating technology into learning interventions and how activity theory (CHAT) and Stetsenko's framework can be applied in this task. The aim is to get learning departments within organisations to start applying activity theory: to reveal better technological tools and requirements for learning processes in various organisational environments based on different rules and regulations; to estimate the level of technology integration in current learning scenarios and discover potential weaknesses; and to determine how current tools can be changed, so that they can improve the level of interaction between learners and facilitators following social specificities of diverse learning environments.

In this chapter an overview to activity theory and Stetsenko's transformative stance on learning is provided. A high level introduction on e-learning is given followed by the importance of successful technology integration and the benefits CHAT can provide as a heuristic.

Chapter two provides a detail explanation of the knowledge worker, the benefits of e-learning and the various types of learning technologies available. Chapter three explores the case study in more detail and provides a deeper understanding to Stetsenko's transformative learning framework. Chapter four details the research methodology used followed by the research findings in chapter five. Chapter six documents the recommendations.