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Ed-Tech Research

Ed-tech research in the great onlining

(The “great onlining” is a title inspired by the posts at this blog.)

A unique experiment in distance education is coming to an end. After several weeks in which all of education moved into distance learning delivered via the internet, today, most schoolchildren in Saint Petersburg will be looking forward to an early start to their summer holidays. 16 year-olds who are preparing for the «ОГЭ» school examinations and 18 year-olds preparing for the «ЕГЭ» will be offered a new series of “consultations” on Youtube. Starting with mathematics at 16.00 For the rest, it is not yet known whether schools will re-open in May, but even if they do, all schooling will be optional, and distance-learning will mostly stop. The main reasons for this decision 1 information from Fontanka website are:

  • parents may be worried about sending their children into schools for fear of infection
  • families which have already moved out of the city to their summer dachas, may not have internet access or equipment available for studying online.

University students are likely to continue, as far as possible, with the ordinary program of studies for their degree courses – but delivered in a variety of remote formats.

What should the field of educational research be doing in response to this enormous experiment, which is simultaneously being run in many other cities across Russia and around the world?

Educational research in the field of ed-tech often attempts to evaluate particular new technologies and tries to decide whether they have “potential”. Of course, before the idea of “Computer Based Learning”, ambitious claims were made for gramophone, cinema, radio and TV. Typically, research concludes that YES there is “potential” but in practice this is hard to achieve because of a number of factors which arose from the context of the particular lessons being studied.

This is how in 1993 Diana Laurillard summarised the results of all existing research 2 Laurillard, D. (1994). How can learning technologies improve learning. Law Technology Journal, 3(2), 46–49. Available online at http://web.archive.org/web/20070322002729/http:/www.law.warwick.ac.uk/ltj/3-2j.html . At the time of writing her paper, the innovative technology in question was interactive video, distributed on CD-Rom. But that detail is less important than the overall argument:

all evaluation studies are able to provide consistent evidence of the ways in which the context fails

This doesn’t mean that an educational researcher should ignore the fact that the context of the Great Onlining almost guarantees failure. What it does mean is that, if we start from this assumption, a number of more concrete tasks and questions arise for the researcher.

I am interested in the following issues:

  • how can teachers make use of the global nature of this sudden event?
  • what are the steps that a teacher can take autonomously, within the constraints of my particular context?
  • do we expect any permanent changes in education, and if so, what initiatives should begin now, to prepare for them?