Towards Appropriate Methodologies to Research Interactive Learning: Using a Design Experiment to Assess a Learning Programme for Complex Thinking

By Botha, Jean; van der Westhuizen, Duan et al. | International Journal of Education and Development using Information and Communication Technology, July 2005 | Go to article overview

Towards Appropriate Methodologies to Research Interactive Learning: Using a Design Experiment to Assess a Learning Programme for Complex Thinking


Botha, Jean, van der Westhuizen, Duan, De Swardt, Estelle, International Journal of Education and Development using Information and Communication Technology


ABSTRACT

In this paper, we advance that there are several issues pertaining to the design of research in instructional technology. It is our view that much of the current research taking place may suffer from poor quality, inappropriate design, and lack of social responsibility. We contend that the most appropriate way to research the effectiveness of online learning is the use of design experiments. We present an exemplar of a recent design experiment that was completed at a university in Johannesburg, South Africa. During this study, the researchers explored the extent to which complex thinking skills can be facilitated in online learning environments. A design experiment was engineered in which a learning programme was designed and developed for Masters students. Specific instructional methodologies were employed in the learning programme, and activities were designed that facilitate the use of complex thinking skills. The extent to which these skills were evident in student online activities was easily detected by using the comprehensive checklists and rubrics that were generated. A rigorous framework for analysis was developed. The findings were integrated with theoretical perspectives on instructional strategies for complex thinking development and new, unique criteria for online learning design were yielded. We are of the view that the findings of our study are 'true', as the appropriate methodology was used to conduct it.

Keywords: Design experiments, complex thinking, instructional methodologies, online learning, unique criteria.

INTRODUCTION: QUESTIONING INSTRUCTIONAL TECHNOLOGY RESEARCH

The decision whether to use some form of instructional technology in education should be based on the question: Is the use of instructional technology likely to improve education? (Mitchell 1997; Reeves 1995). The way in which scholars, lecturers or teachers attempt to establish whether such interventions are indeed beneficial is through a process of scientific research in the form of case studies, course evaluations or experimental studies. In fact, the literature abounds with reports in which the benefits of instructional technology interventions are espoused. Lockard and Abrams (2001) list many research studies in which it has been found that the use of instructional technology shows gains in subject-matter achievement, learning retention and speed, attitudes towards learning, problem solving and for students who are at risk. We assert in this paper that the research results pertaining to instructional technology research may be flawed due to poor quality research and inappropriate research designs. We further assert that an academic system that rewards research that is not socially responsible will not produce relevant and high quality research. We will argue that design experiments (development research) that are executed rigorously will address the concerns that we have about instructional technology research.

There is significant evidence that the research results pertaining to the benefits of using interactive technologies to support teaching and learning is questionable, often because of a lack of rigour during the execution of the research. According to Reeves (2000), the "quality of published research in Instructional Technology is generally poor". Reeves (1995) launches a scathing attack on research done in instructional technology, and claims that most published research articles are "pseudoscience" (also see Mitchell 1997) He claims, after an analysis of five articles published in refereed journals, that these articles have specification errors, have few links to robust theory, have inadequate literature reviews and treatment implementation, have measurement flaws and inconsequential outcome measures, inadequate sample sizes, inappropriate statistical analyses and meaningless discussion of results. Dillon and Gabbard (1998), who reviewed 500 papers for an article they prepared for the journal, Review of Educational Research, found that only 30 of these met the minimal criteria for good scientific studies for inclusion in their review. …

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