The language of EDtech researchJanuary 24, 2017January 25, 2017Gill Brabner

Edtech researcher and academic, Neil Selwyn,  lays down the gauntlet: research in education and technology is generally not all it could be:

“[it] has grown into a notoriously sloppy area of scholarship – brimming over with lazily executed ‘investigations’ and standalone case studies, while also tolerating some highly questionable thinking. Yet, rather than give up on the topic altogether, now is surely the time for marshalling a far smarter and far sharper academic approach towards educational media and technology.”

Well that seems clear enough! And I certainly agree that there are too many standalone case studies in the literature.  The academic literature on leadership is also guilty of the standalone case study.

But my attention was grabbed by the first of his “ten suggestions for improving academic research in education and technology” which is have nothing to sell. That seems entirely appropriate, doesn’t it?  Research should be objective, period. By the way, how many people did watch the President’s inauguration?  Belief and knowledge, as “different states of being” (Eisner 1992) have been in sharp focus over the past few days, over the pond.  “Objectivity is one of the most cherished ideals of the educational research community” (Eisner 1992).  But if to be objective means eliminating bias then we are diving into somewhat murky waters. Selwyn might not be selling “stuff” but is he selling ideas?  He is certainly seeking to influence.  And his reach is considerable.  For example this evening his 2009 article The digital native: myth and reality is being debated online at the University of Nottingham, as part of their monthly ‘Everybody’s reading’ initiative. And in his recent talk Academic work in the digital age (2016) he berates the HE sector for the “digital hollowing-out” of academic teaching, publishing, administration. This paper seeks to influence policy makers at the highest level, whilst gathering support from digitally exhausted academic colleagues.

Of course it could be argued that have nothing to sell is simply aimed at the tech companies and entrepreneurs and a reminder to researchers to declare their own interests and their funders.  But in my view Selwyn’s use of language alerts us to his own bias.  He describes the business end of edtech as “full of ‘hucksters,’ evangelists, consultants and visionaries who are keen to tout their personal interpretations of what technology can ‘do’ for education.” I have to admit to reacting strongly to such negative overtones and implicit judgement.  There are further clues in the conclusion where Selwyn hopes that he has not offended anyone and suggests that his ideas are not actually “contentious or controversial.” If he believes and knows – why back off from nailing his argument?

Finally, it’s important to address my own bias here!  This is a business blog page after all.

Eisner, E (1992). Objectivity in Educational Research