TEL evidence to persuade

SearchersPoster-BillGold
The Searchers. Bill Gold [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
I am often asked by academic colleagues to provide an evidence base for TEL.

When colleagues ask me for evidence they hope I will find for them evidence of exactly this technology being used in exactly the way they teach at exactly the same level at a peer university. And that ideally this evidence will have been published with peer review. And that it will be entirely free from bias.

One thing about academics is they all come from difference research backgrounds, different research paradigms and use different research methods. So what they consider to be evidence strong enough for making decisions upon can be very varied.

Another thing about academics is that they may not know much about each others research methods – because they mostly spend time writing, researching, conferencing and publishing within their own discipline.

I am always being told that academics spend more time in their discipline networks, than in their university, so I do  think they might be better placed to discover the practice of their peers than I.

University of Edinburgh established a number of TEL chairs to improve the quality of teaching in the disciplines but it sometimes feels like other colleagues deliberately do not engage with the development of teaching in their own disciplines.  I’m not sure why.

I used to teach on the PGcert Learning and Teaching in Higher Education at University of Leeds and we always organised a session in which colleagues went around the room just describing how they do research. I think it was eye-opening for all.

We asked them ‘how do you do research? Some do experiments, some do clinical trials, some do text mining, some do field trips, some do focus groups and ethnographic studies some, do qualitative others do quantitative. Some do practical, some do theoretical. Some are empirical, some not so much. Some wrangle big data live, some seek metaphysical interpretation and engage in hundreds of hours of reading.  Doing research in History is quite different from doing research in Chemistry. Even evidence-based medicine and  evidence-based practice are not the same. Very few academics outside of Education departments do research in Education.

It is also true that learning technologists are drawn from many discpline backgrounds. Some of us have studied Education, some Computing, some Philosophy, some Medicine, some Geography, some Copyright Law. We will tend to use the research methods with which we are most familiar.

For most early career academic there’s no reward for researching TEL. They are unlikely to  want to spend time on that task.  They may be happy to contribute to a quick case study. Even then, case studies tend to be based on cohorts and every teacher will tell you that cohorts can be markedly difference for many reasons. There really is very little higher education educational research that is generalisable. A colleague who doesn’t trust your methodology will never trust your findings.

Where colleagues do engage with PGcert Learning and Teaching courses, those courses sometimes aim to do the action research on situated practice. Some of this will be about using technology in teaching. For many of the participants this will be the first time doing education research and they are doing it at a beginners Masters level. They will tend to want to use the research methods of their own discipline. So although the case studies exist, they may still fail to persuade each other. The PGcertLTHE community of academic developers do little to gather these case studies together as an evidence base for all. They lock them away on internal wikis  with no intention to share openly.

I miss the HEA subject centres.

At Edinburgh I offer hard cash to colleagues to research their own practice. There’s a special emphasis on online learning and lecture recording this year.

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