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Interdisplinary research, Gestaltung and Beruf

June 23rd, 2009 by Graham Attwell

Regular readers of this blog will know I have been much concerned lately with how we organise research in technology enhanced learning, and particularly with the organisation of the various seminars, conferences and publications associated with academic research. One issue that has bothered me is the gap between the radical pedagogies we often propose and the actual practice of the ways we organise our own learning. A second is the difficulties frequently encountered by post graduate researchers, because of the interdisciplinary of Technology Enhanced Learning research, problems in defining and developing methodologies and the too frequent problem of finding adequate supervision and support for their work.

Last weeks IATEL conference in Darmstadt was a breath of fresh air in this respect. The conference on ‘Interdisciplinary approaches to Technology Enhanced Learning’ was organised by the DFG Research Training Group E-Learning. As the introductory handout said: “As a direct consequence of such an interdisciplinary approach, the conference format will not be defined by a preponderance of presentations and papers. In separately moderated and creative discussion forums one is able to examine and work towards a common understanding of the issues at stake. such an approach should also enable an assessment of how and to what extent the idea of interdisciplinary research is sustainable: whether it simply brings forth an only loosely fitting framework, or whether it evolves into a truly encompassing project that leads to results, insights and solutions which go beyond the simple sum of the individual trajectories.”

I was in the group looking at learning in networks and it truly was a fascinating discussion (many thanks to the moderators).

I came away thinking about three issues. The first is the tension between how people are using technologies for living, working and learning outside institutions and institutional practice in TEL (I was dubbed a ‘real world devil’ !!). The second was the need to bring together ‘design’ and TEL. Why the scare quotes? In this context ‘design’ is an English translation of the German word ‘Gestaltung’ which I would tend to translate as ‘shaping’ – the idea that technology – and in this context Technology Enhanced Learning – needs to be shaped by users. In other words we need to move beyond adaptive systems to systems and technologies that learners can themselves adapt to their own purposes and learning. The third issue was the relationship between Technology Enhanced Learning and its impact on education with the concept of ‘Beruf’. ‘Beruf” is very difficult to translate – there is no equivalent English language world. I would suggest the easiest way to understand it is in relation to the debates over the meaning of competency which in the UK and Anglo Saxon countries such as the Netherlands tends to be seen as the ability to perform to a set of externally defined standards, but in Germany is taken to mean the internalised ability of an individual to act. But please, German speakers, feel free to elaborate in the comments. Thus education is seen not just as aiming towards higher skills and knowledge for employment but as having more holistic aims in terms of value in itself.

I am still thinking about the ideas from the conference. And the work will continue – one outcome for the project should be a book and I am happy to have been invited to participate in writing this.

One Response to “Interdisplinary research, Gestaltung and Beruf”

  1. carolina says:

    HI Graham,

    Without a doubt the handout introduction was very nice 🙂 and glad to hear you time there was worth it.

    There is something I am missing or I haven’t finish to understand or I am confuse about when I hear comments in TEL, educational technologies, or similar regarding its use. Let me explain:

    For me our “digital technology” is a tool. I consider it a second order tool, because for its existence a complex set of knowledge in hardware and software needs to be present. That is independent of the knowledge that an individual (user) should have in order to use the tool. In addition, is worth to say, this tool is evolving in “real time” thanks to the effort of “n” individuals (this is more evident when we talk about internet for example). In brief, a digital tool is not a simple tool, even if it is a tool.

    Now, I wonder what do you mean with “systems and technologies that learners can themselves adapt to their own purposes and learning.”

    I have on clear that we, humans, adapt to anything (except to be hungry). But are we assuming that a part of a world population has to adapt to a tool which actually is produced and defined by a population sector that has the “know how”. Then some individuals should adapt while “few” individuals define the tool where they will adapt to. This part is a bit tricky….

    Then, who has to adapt to what? users to the technology? the technology to users? a bit ambiguous for me, especially because neither the users nor the technology are static, both are in constant evolution, then… what are we actually seeking?

    As another topic, of course that observe how people is using the technology is KEY, but actually we are at the time where we should go beyond that. To understand why are they using it I found it more relevant. For my short experience in this field, I have realized that each individual presents different reasons and motives that make him/her adopt a digital technology. That reasons can be fundamental in the adoption of the tool and how they use it.

    If I am saying this is because I am a lover of technology. But literary scares me when the technology is put in the center of everything. Technology is just a tool.

    As I said I am confuse at the moment.
    Keep us posted!

    – Carolina

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