Carusi, A.C., Dexter, H., Wegerif, R. and De Laat, M.
Productive disagreement: Pluralism in e-learning research.
At ALT-C, Manchester, UK,
06 - 08 Sep 2005.
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e-Learning is open to a multiplicity of different research approaches, and this is reflected in the fact that it draws together people from a variety of different backgrounds. This variety can be fruitful and interesting; it can also, however, lead to an absence of real engagement between colleagues and the isolation of individual researchers. Discouraging as this can be for researchers, even worse is the loss of opportunities to gain the real insights and deeper understanding that a rich multi-disciplinarity can bring. At this point it is necessary to do more than pay lip service to the benefits of variety and pluralism, and to begin seriously to tackle impediments to real engagement. The absence of means to tackle disagreement is one such impediment, and another is not having the terms in which even to recognise where exactly the disagreement is, and how deep it is. At a fundamental level, these are research methodological issues.
Part of the remit of the e-Learning Research Centre is to contribute to the debate on research methodological issues. The quality of this debate underpins the extent to which a real interdisciplinary research agenda can be pursued. It is also a factor in the process of establishing and recognising e-learning as a valid research area.
We in the e-Learning Research Centre are a good example of the variety of people and backgrounds that the domain has brought together. Our backgrounds range over chemistry, geography, philosophy, computing and education; some of us have been involved in the administration as well as the academic side of higher education, and one of us has spent a good deal of time in industry. Since the establishment of the centre we have had several discussions on the aims and scope of e-learning research, what questions we are addressing, how we address them and why. These have been interesting but sometimes difficult discussions, as the disagreements between us reflect divergent paradigms and value-systems.
Since there are no neat conclusions to these discussions , the best way to fulfil our remit at this stage is by inviting the broader e-learning community to participate. During the symposium four members of the eLRC outline their response to the following question:
What advice would you give to a person deciding on the best way to support students on an e-learning course he or she is running?
In considering their answer, the presenters will set out their understanding of research, and how it ought to inform the decision that is made.
The approaches to be presented are quantitative and qualitative, philosophical and modelling. Each presentation will outline an approach and show its role and value in tackling the above question. The point of the symposium is to try to show how discussion and even disagreement can be used as an opportunity for reflecting on our research methodology and for considering the issues and problems in justifying a research approach to others in the research community, and in so doing, to engage with them. As representatives of that community, participants at the symposium need to be part of the discussion; presentations will thus be kept quite informal and interactive.
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