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H809 – Podcast on examing impact (A4.4)

March 3, 2011

James Aczel talked to Peter Twining and Gráinne Conole about some of the challenges associated with examining the impact of ICT (Information and Communication Technology) in education. Peter also describes his research into Second Life.

Unfortunately no transcript was available this time, which I normally prefer to follow-up and to make notes :-(, nevertheless the podcast was interesting to listen to and to get to know the perspectives from experts.

The first part of the podcast was mainly about research, the shortcomings and the impact of ICT in education.

One main issue that both, Conole and Twining criticised was that although there is enough research done it either measure the wrong things, there is not enough clarity and it is not broken down to the practice level and does not really facilitate policy makers. This gap between research and practice reminded me on an article I had to read doing H800. I first thought it was from Conole as we encountered her work a lot of times in H800 and other H-courses (now H-modules), but it was an article from Thorpe (2008) “Effective online interaction: mapping course design to bridge from research to practice”.

Thorpe’s paper focuses on two themes; the interaction in online learning and the interpretation of research findings. The main point made by Thorpe is that most research has less/nothing to offer for practice. She criticises that research has often ignored issues that are important in current practice, e.g. mapping course design, contexts and the types of interactivity. The vague and abstract concepts leaves the practitioner with a ‘wide range of choices how to implement a certain technology and to find ways of achieving the positive outcomes that others have reported’, thus supporting Twining and Conole’s statement that research lacks clarity.

Next to talking about the downside of research and how it could be improved to reach policy makers and practitioners was the discussion about the impact of ICT. Conole gave the following analogy arguing that teachers from 100 years ago could function very well in many modern classrooms contrary to surgeons of 100 years ago who would be unable to work within a modern operational context, because of significant advances in medical technology. She prompts teachers to capitalise to a far greater extent than they currently do the affordances of ICT. Twining says that traditional classroom settings still prevail and that  assessments mainly require the ability to recall, with simple kept down problems. They argue that practitioners changed their practice, students changed their practice, but the school system did not undergo the necessary transformation.

Twining recommends on the end of part one of the podcast the following: ‘Don’t get hung up on  the technology, look past it, because it is the stuff behind technology , the underlying pedagogy and practice that is the critical thing’. He says that technology is the gloss on top, but he warns not to get caught  up in the gloss and miss what’s underneath it.

In the second part Peter Twining talks about the potential of Second Life and a project that involved 150 students who were ‘set out’ on a virtual island and thus had to take responsibility for their own learning. Twining describe the three-dimensional environment of Second Life as a really complex and exciting area. A mixed method was used to collect data, e.g. questionaires, but also the record of chats and wikis. Students developed leadership, communication and collaboration skills and the goal was to transfer the ‘in-world’ skills into out-world skills.

Within all my H-module courses so far Second Life was only touched on, but what I heard so far from other MAODE colleagues who  had some experience with Second Life, it seems indeed an exciting and complex area which is worth to give it a closer consideration and exploration.


Thorpe, M. (2008) ‘Effective online interaction: mapping course design to bridge from research to practice’, Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, vol.24, no.1, pp.57–72; also available online at (accessed 24 July 2010).

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