Educational Technology & Society 6 (1) 2003
ISSN 1436-4522

Less is More in Distance Education
- The Contradictory Relationship Between Rapid Adoption and Radical Innovation -

Lars Svensson
Laboratorium for Interaction Technology
Department of Informatics and Mathematics
University of Trollhättan Uddevalla
451 26 Uddevalla,  Sweden
Lars.Svensson@htu.se

 

ABSTRACT

This paper reports on an exploratory study of the introduction of a system for web-based education at a ScandinavianUniversity college (HTU). The study documents how the system was rapidly adopted and spread throughout the organisation, in spite of remarkably little assistance from central management to support the process. The results indicate that this can be explained by the lean characteristics of the system in combination with social factors such as demands from students and shared perceptions of technology. Finally, it is concluded that technical and methodological innovation to some extent is obstructed by the same factors that support diffusion and adoption.

Keywords: Adoption, Diffusion, Innovation, Learning technologies, Technological frames


Introduction

Internet technologies are in many ways changing the conditions for Distance Education (DE).  This change partly relates to the Internet as an information technology with a potential to create innovative and interactive learning environments, but it also relates to the Internet as a communication technology with flexible support for a wide variety of interactional designs (Svensson, 2002; Braa & Sørensen & Dahlbom, 2000). The past decade has seen a steady growth in web-based DE initiatives, making it a phenomenon that concerns an increasing number of educational organisations. In this sense, DE is no longer an issue only for an enthusiastic minority of pioneers, but is rather becoming a concern for large segments of faculty (Wolcott, 1995). When moving from experimental projects to large-scale programs it is likely that new sets of questions and concerns will surface. As predicted by Bannon (1995), the question of rejection or adoption of learning technologies will be an issue at both the classroom and the organisational level.

Previous research has focused on how the success of learning technology depends on a number of student related factors (e.g. students’ confidence in technology (Atkins & Vasu 2000), student satisfaction (Motiwalla & Tello, 2000), student frustration, (Hara & Kling 1999), and student engagement and empowerment (Nuldén, 1999). Others have explored the importance of teacher oriented issues such as training (Farenga & Joyce, 2001), design of content (Gilbert, 1999) or social presence (Gunawardena, 1995). To a large extent this research focuses on the individual teacher and learner as the unit of analysis. The social nature of adaptation of collective technologies in an educational setting is consequently neglected (see e.g. Limayem & Hirt, 2000 or Fjuk, 1998 for exceptions). In research on the introduction of groupware technology in knowledge intensive organisations, it has been found that the adoption is influenced by a number of organisational factors such as incentives and reward systems (Orlikowski, 1993). Furthermore, introduction of technology has been found to be a dynamic and evolutionary process where technology is contextualised, structured (Orlikowski & Yates & Okamura & Fujimoto, 1995), negotiated (Svensson, 2002) and domesticated (Silverstone & Haddon, 1996) in use which sometimes leads to unintended and emergent changes (Ciborra, 2000). Consequently, it is important to acknowledge that communication and collaboration technologies should not be perceived as neutral delivery systems, but rather as agents for change (Meyrowitz, 1985; Braa et al. 2000; Svensson, 2001; Svensson & Sørensen, 2002). In summary – there is a need for research that recognises the social aspects of the introduction of collective computer-based learning environments into educational organisations.

The main research question addressed in this paper is, what factors are central to the adoption and innovation of distance educational technologies and how does such technologies interplay with the innovation of practice? More specifically, the paper explores the introduction of a system for web-based Distance Education, (DisCo), at a ScandinavianUniversity college (HTU). The focus is set on teachers’ individual and collective attitudes, perception and expectations in relation to changes in work practices implied by the new technology.  The results indicate that the fast dissemination of DisCo to a large extent derives from the lean characteristics of the system. Furthermore, the experiences document how fast adoption goes hand in hand with the establishment of a rather uniform culture for delivering distance courses, where innovation and incremental change is triggered by breakdowns, technological curiosity and reflections-in-use. The results also imply that more radical change is obstructed by the same factors that promoted quick adoption.

The next section presents theory relevant to the understanding of adoption and change processes in an educational context. Section three briefly outlines the research setting and the DisCo system. In sections four and five the findings are presented and discussed.

 

Learning, Technology and Change

Understanding Learning

Every teacher, tutor or instructional designer has his or her individual view on learning that is expressed as a "pedagogy-in-use". Such a personal theory of learning can be aligned with one, or influenced by many pedagogical theories from literature, but are to a large extent dependent on personal experiences and preferences of learning, (Nuldén, 1999). Some people are rooted in the behaviourist tradition where learning is viewed as a process resulting in changed behaviour. Others draw on constructivist ideas, where learning relates to the way students explore the concepts and interrelations of a complex phenomenon (Berg, 2000). Williams (2001) summarises the differences in perspective on learning in three archetypal ways of understanding a student. Two of these ways have clear implications for teacher behaviour: The student-as-product perspective implies that an education consists of an assembly line of courses where teachers are seen as content experts who are responsible for injecting knowledge into a passing stream of students. Alternatively, a student-as-worker perspective means that the classroom is viewed as a workplace where students (in collaboration) construct new knowledge, coached by the teacher. Research in the 1970's and 1980's showed that learning is a content-dependent process, where the approaches to learning can be oriented towards reproducing or understanding depending on a number of content related factors, (see for example Marton & Säljö, 1984 or Ramsden, 1992). In the 1990´s focus has been extended to encompass the context as central to learning, and the work of anthropologists such as Lave and Wenger (1991) (see also Brown & Duguid, 1991; Wenger, 1998) offers theoretical frameworks that emphasises the social community of practice where learning occurs. These fundamentally different views on learning also influence the understanding of the role and potential of technology in the context of education (Berg, 2000).

 

Understanding Technology

Just like our views on learning are formed and socially constructed through past and present experiences, so are our attitudes towards technology.  In order to interact with technology, people have to relate to and make sense of the particular technology in relation to the context it is used in. Weick (1995) argues that this process of sense-making is to a large extent dependent on the individual user’s pre-existing attitudes and perceptions, and Wenger (1998) views the sense-making process as collective negotiations. There is of course a complex web of contextual factors that influence how we think about technology, and a continuous flow of interaction with other people and new encounters with technology ensures that our relations to technological artefacts keep changing over time. The character of the systems to be adopted also influences the way we perceive them, and subsequently influence how they are used. Robertson, Sørensen, and Swan (2001) states that system complexity is a potential barrier for adoption, and shows how lean and simple technologies such as email are preferred in favour of complex systems, where novice users could risk developing poor mental models of the technology (Orlikowski, 1993).

Orlikowski and Gash (1994) propose the concept of technological frames as an approach that deconstructs people's underlying assumptions, expectations, attitudes, knowledge and experiences of technology into three dimensions of the individual’s technological frames. (1) The nature of technology, which should be understood as an individual’s perception of the potential and functionality of the technology in question. (2) The Strategy of technology should be interpreted as the individual’s perception of the underlying reasons of implementing the technology. Finally, (3) the technology in use refers to people’s understanding of the relation between technology and its use-context. These conceptual models or technological frames are essential when the individual interprets and understands his and others encounters with information and communication technology.

 

Changing practice

The introduction and use of collective technologies has the potential, if adopted, to change the organisation and its work practices. As stated earlier, these processes of adoption and diffusion depart from the way we, individually and collectively, think about technology in relation to work. On an organisational level change and innovation can be furthered and obstructed by several factors. Brown & Duguid (1991) advocate that organisations need to be enacting, i.e. an organisation that through experiments and trials not only adopts to changes in the environment, but also is proactive in shaping the context in which they function. Voß, Procter and Williams (2000) argue that design and use should not be treated as separate issues, and that change and innovation in relation to implementation of new technology is collectively constructed in use (see also Orlikowski et al., 1995). They present a framework where innofusion (incremental change to technologies during adoption) and domestication (exploiting the affordances of technology in relation to situated practice, see also Silverstone & Haddon, 1996), are overlapping processes of social learning. Orlikowski et al. (1995) argues that such contextualisation of technology is dependent on key users, that through various strategies such as episodic change and reinforcements, meta-structures the use of technology.  Henfridsson (1999) shows how adaptation can be hindered through organisational resistance if users fail to develop common sense of a new system. Orlikowski (1993) find that groupware systems risk failure in the absence of organisational incentives for knowledge sharing and collaboration.

 

The DisCo Case

The findings reported in this paper are part of a longitudinal research project that focuses on a distance education program that started in January 1998. Each year 50-60 students engage in full time distance studies for a B.Sc. in Applied Systems Analysis. The students meet in groups of 5-15 people once or twice a week for videoconference sessions at their respective learning centres.

 

The DisCo System

The educational technology that was studied was a system called DisCo (Distance Courses). DisCo provides the possibility to publish course material and supports interaction learner-instructor, learner-learner and learner-content interaction (Moore, 1993). It is designed to overcome obstacles such as lack of computer/technology skills and maintenance overload. The teachers can publish course information such as the description and content of the course, the goals and methods of examination, presentation of involved teachers and help for students' browser-configuration. The interaction between all users is primarily facilitated through a public threaded discussion forum that can be used for student-student and student-teacher communication. In addition, each DisCo course has a simplistic email function for person to person communication.  The system also provides possibilities to share files and hyperlinks, and to send group email by using the project group function.

 


Figure 1. The start page of DisCo at Campus Uddevalla

 

In figure 2, the functions and features of DisCo are presented according to the two level navigational structure of each course. All course maintenance is conducted via the Internet and requires only a standard web browser. The administrative part of DisCo is located in a password protected area of the web server, with a start page containing links to maintenance pages for all ongoing courses and some shared resources for all course providers. This page also contains the functionality to create a new course. In doing so, a small configuration file containing the names and email addresses for all teachers, as well as format specifications or file listings, is created. The teacher can alter these settings at any time. Furthermore, the creation of a new course triggers a small perl-script that among other things is responsible for creating a predefined directory structure on the web server, to which all files used in the student interface are copied.

There are basically two different techniques or actions that a teacher needs to master in order to maintain a DisCo-course. Firstly, a number of the categories in DisCo contain static text/html documents. These files are created and updated through a web-form that shows the current content of the file. After choosing what file to update, the present content of the file is uploaded to a text-box where it can be edited by the teacher, and then re-submitted to the server. The more experienced teacher can choose either to hardcode html-tags into the text-boxes, or create complete html files in an editor of his/her own choice. Examples of files that can be edited this way are the headers for the dynamically generated file-listings of the Course Material category, the static files of the Information category, and also more dynamic documents like the FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) and the news-bulletin that serves as the default starting page for a course.

 


Figure 2. Functionality of the DisCo system

 

Secondly, a teacher should be able to maintain the content of the generated file listings of the Course Material category. For each of these, the interface has three buttons to serve this purpose: One to show the present content of the listing, one to add a file (plus-sign), and one to remove a file from the list (minus-sign). The teacher marks the file to be uploaded and writes a short text description of the content in the add-file dialogue. If the format of the submitted file matches the specifications in the course configuration file it will be included in the listing. The dialogues of adding a file or updating a text document both provide the possibility to check an option that will generate emails to all persons that have registered their address on the mailing list of the course. The message consists of information on where the new file is available (with complete URL) and a short description of the content.

 

Figure 3. Example of a teacher page and the course maintenance interface

 

Methodological Approach

Exploring processes, such as adoption, adaptation and innovation of practice, require a longitudinal research design. Data from multiple sources was collected over a period of four years (1998-2001), in order to study both informants' attitudes as well as activities relating to these processes (see fig. 4). Teachers’ perceptions, experiences and reflections on their work as distance educators was examined through a series of interviews (n=20) conducted during 1999 and 2001. In addition, the author moderated four thematic focus group sessions, where topics such as course planning, sharing of experiences and methods for collaboration and examination were discussed with voluntary participants (4-15 participants per occasion). In order to give a simple description of the way the system was used, a categorisation based on inspection of the course web sites that were used by the three first groups of students in the research project was made.  During their first two years a DE-student takes a series of 13 courses (five or ten weeks each). Therefore, 39 DE-courses were included in the study. In order to contrast the results from these DE-courses, the courses from 2 classes on the corresponding campus program were also categorised. On the campus-programme 12 of the 13 courses used DisCo, resulting in a sample of 24 courses.

 


Figure 4. Data collection techniques used to explore the attitudes and actions regarding adoption of IT and innovation of practice

 

Each course site was classified using a simple framework derived from a taxonomy by Giroux, Hotte and Dao (2000), where elements and processes supported by a web based learning environment is classified as (1) static elements, (2) dynamic processes and (3) (peer or teacher) assistance. This framework corresponds well with the way the DisCo interface is divided in Information (static) and Course-Material and Projects (dynamic). The Assistance category only partially corresponds to the communication features in DisCo, since prior research (Svensson, 2002) revealed that these should not be understood only as assistance and tutoring, but rather as a web of interrelated activities that helps form and develop a community. Consequently, the classification framework was altered, labelling the third category ‘communitising’ (Svensson 2002; Svensson & Sørensen, 2002). The classifications were conducted using a three level ordinal scale (Not used, Poor use, Rich use) for each of the categories.

 

Results and Analysis

The study shows how the DisCo system rapidly spread throughout the organisation and how it was used for all courses on the DE project. It was also used in a majority of campus-based courses, initially at the campus in Uddevalla where the department that hosted the DE project was located. After three semesters DisCo had spread to the two other campuses in the organisation. Since the start in 1997, DisCo has been used in over 300 courses involving over 4000 students. The level of use varies between different courses. Primarily, it can be stated that DE in general shows a higher level of teacher and student activity compared to campus courses. Table 1 reveals that this is especially evident regarding its use as a communicative media.

 

Level of use

Static element

Dynamic Process

Communitising

 

N

P

R

N

P

R

N

P

R

Distance

5

15

80

0

30

70

0

50

50

Campus

29

25

46

0

62

38

25

70

5

Table 1. Percentage of DisCo-sites classified as being ‘Not Used’ (N), ‘Poorly used’ (P) or ‘Richly used’ (R)

 

The typical campus course uses the file-categories (files, tasks, and exam) for publishing lecture slides and assignments, which are later submitted via the hand-in function. In addition, schedule, content and teacher pages are filled out. The typical DE course complements this with richer course material such as study guides and a rich use of discussion forums and project groups. Quiz and FAQ functions are only used in the most active DE courses.

 


Figure 5. A threaded discussion forum

 

Adoption and Diffusion of Technology

Most teachers reported that they had no formal training prior to their first use of the DisCo system. Instead, they were introduced briefly through demonstrations by a technician or a colleague.

“I think it is careless of the department to assume that we should learn these things by ourselves. I had to ask Jim [a colleague] to show me”

Consequently, the understanding of technology-in-use (Orlikowski & Gash, 1994) was to a large extent created while using the system, rather than something that was thoroughly problematised in advance. Most teachers created course concepts that resembled the campus based version, and they gradually adapted technology to overcome the problems that surfaced along the way (Wolcott, 1995). Working with the system and engaging in the DE practice resulted in a process where the teachers' technological frames gradually matured, moving from the understanding of DisCo as a neutral structure for delivering material and mediating communication, to a growing insight of ways in which the use of DisCo had impact on practice.

“It seems as if the distance students are better prepared for class. You often get good questions on the current lecture.  […]Maybe this is because they get DisCo-mail about new material.”

Students often played an important role in this process by indicating demands and reporting failures and successes regarding both technology and educational context, (Svensson, 2001). Regarding the perceived nature (Orlikowski & Gash, 1994) of DE technologies in general and DisCo in particular, the teacher group seems to fall in to one of two categories. One group that thought of computer-mediated education as inferior to face-to-face teaching and that it was something that should only be used when absolutely necessary. However this view is less apparent in the interviews made in 2001, where teachers who were interviewed a second time, had started to appreciate the qualities of DE as more equal to traditional education.

“It is surprising to see how well the Sydub-students perform, given the little time and the few lectures they are offered. Makes you wonder if we should spend all that time lecturing”

The other group was more visionary and imaginative with respect to technology. This group called for more sophisticated systems that would allow flexible and innovative teaching. In both these groups there were several comments on the shortcomings of DisCo. The fast adoption was not a direct result of excellent functionality. Instead the simplistic nature of the system made it possible for teachers to start with a minimum of technical preparation and pedagogical reconsideration, which in turn made it possible to develop mental models that departed from existing (routine) practice.

Some issues relating to the strategy (Orlikowski & Gash, 1994) of distance education technology surfaced during interviews and focus group sessions. A common idea was that the main motivator for the organisation was to use DE as a way to recruit more students from new segments of the population, others thought of DE as a way for management to profile the organisation as modern and professional.

 

Innovation and Diffusion of Practice

When asked if and in what ways DE courses had caused change to their practice as teachers, most interviewees provided confirming examples. However, these examples mostly related to changes in teaching methods that had been provoked by reflections on practice-in-use. The majority of the changes was incremental and not related to the use of technology. Consequently, they were not restricted to DE-practice and were often introduced later (sometimes slightly modified) in campus-based versions of the courses. Many teachers also expressed their satisfaction of the way in which DE-teaching had provoked them to reflect on their everyday routines.

One of the nice things is that I can use the material I created for my distance course in [campus-based] class. […] This work would most likely not have been done otherwise.

There are also several examples of changes in practice that were more directly linked to the use of DisCo. These could be roughly divided into two types. The first type were innovations that extended DisCo with new modules or sub-systems. One teacher developed a FAQ-application for his programming classes, another team of teachers used a booking system where students could form groups and chose assignments through a web-interface. A third sub-system was a schedule-viewer that integrated DisCo with an external database that produced reports of all scheduled meetings. Finally, in one course the discussion forum was replaced with a asynchronous multimedia forum with support for submission of text, sound, images and video-clips. The second type of innovation made use of existing functionality to create new concepts for education. For instance, the discussion forum hosted structured forms of collective tutoring. Some teachers used group email for cross-reviews of programming code, and project groups were used in one course to create a peer review routine for individual essays. It is difficult to find clear patterns with respect to what motivated and initiated these changes. However, as argued above, one source of innovation was breakdowns and perceived shortcomings that could not be dealt with successfully during the run of a course. Another motivation might be framed as technological curiosity (or optimism), and some teachers explained how trying new concepts was a natural element in their practice as teachers. It should be noted that teachers did not evaluate all these initiatives as successful. Sometimes such failures were due to negative reactions from students. On other occasions, as in the case of the asynchronous multimedia forum, the innovations were found to generate too much extra workload.

Some ideas cannot be launched, because the students would have to install lots of viewers and players to get the things up and running

For the more successful initiatives there are still few examples of the innovations being transferred across courses or between teachers. To some extent this could be argued to relate to the time factor, and it cannot be ruled out that, given time, the degree of diffusion will increase. There are also didactical aspects that obstruct the possibilities for unrestricted diffusion. Not every teaching concept could easily translate from a course in business administration to a Java programming course.

 

Discussion

The case study tells a story of the rapid adoption of the DisCo system. This process was partly pushed by the technology being simplistic and lean (Robertson et al. 2001). The low initial cognitive cost of adoption did not force teachers to explicitly express and confront the underlying assumptions of their pedagogy-in-use (Nuldén, 1999), and thereby made adoption less of an effort.

Consequently, more complex systems could have resulted in a slower pace of adoption, or even resulted in organisational rejection. Such risks does not only relate to the systems being time consuming to learn (Robertson et al. 2001), but also relates to the amount of initial re-engineering of practice that the teacher would face. The absence of training and preparation that was observed in the study, in combination with the existence of an installed base of a homogeneous teaching culture on campus, which were based on lectures, project assignments and written exams, were important factors that could explain how a new, equally homogeneous, DE-culture emerged.

Adoption was also subject to “pull”, in the sense that shared expectations from students (and to some extent also colleagues) explicitly and implicitly made rejection difficult. Consequently, the individual teacher’s perception of the system was partly a social process (Orlikowski & Gash, 1994; Limayem & Hirt 2000). The fact that management attention, incentives and motivators were not part of this pull, partly contradicts the findings by Orlikowski (1993). The low management profile was perceived as supportive, yet not controlling, which probably hindered strong organisational resistance to evolve (Henfridsson, 1999).

The resemblance between traditional campus practice and DE-practice could be interpreted as an indication that technology was understood as a neutral media for delivery, and initially this was probably true for most teachers. However, the emergence of initiatives for change that was triggered by reflection-in-use (Wolcott, 1995) clearly shows how this gradually changed towards an appreciation of the situated nature of computer-mediated education (Orlikowski, 1996). Wolcott (1995) acknowledges how such reflections are influenced by the participating students, but only as passive creators of input for teachers’ decision-making based on a rational wish to answer questions such as “How do I make maximum use of this medium while minimising its limitations?”. In that sense, Wolcott fails to see how such reflections are better understood as negotiations (Wenger, 1998; Svensson 2002) between students and teachers trying to make collective sense of a new practice. To some extent, the DE practice can also be argued to empower the student (Nuldén, 1999) in these negotiations. The increased visibility and public nature of discourse and activities (Svensson, 2001) makes it possible for students to act as a unified community (Svensson, 2002). Also, in this initial phase of the DE project, students are becoming more and more familiar with the new medium, while the teachers on each new course are generally less experienced with DE practice and technologies. This aspect can be expected to be more balanced in the future, as teachers develop more mature technological frames (Orlikowski & Gash, 1994) concerning DE. The study shows great variations regarding the maturity of each individual teacher. However, when reviewing the whole organisation as unit of analysis, there are signs of a gradual shift towards the student-as- worker perspective at the expense of the student-as-product perspective (Williams, 2001). It seems as if teachers rooted in the latter perspective experience the transition from campus-based teaching to DE as a bigger change, and they are consequently forced to more actively engage in reflections and adaptation of routine practices.

The perspective on design of Educational Technology that is supported by this study is not to view design as something that is delimited to the functionality and interface of a software, and not as a process that ends when the system is introduced to an organisational context. Design should rather be understood as an ongoing development-in-use where domestication and innofusion changes the artefact as well as the mediated practice (Orlikowski, 1996; Voß et al. 2000).

It is striking how difficult it appears for these incremental innovations to spread throughout the organisation. Orlikowski et al. (1995) argue that such contextualisation of technology relies on the activities of technology-use mediators, i.e. key users that establish, reinforce, adjust and change the use of technology. As reported above, such activities did occur, but in order for them to have a meta-structuring effect, they need to be more transparent across the boundaries of each course and visible for a larger audience of teachers (Voß et al. 2000). Clearly, there were no or few formal structures that supported such visualisation of innovations. On an informal level, collegial discussions seemed restricted to technical issues, which supported adoption. Discussions concerning methodological and pedagogical issues were not as frequent.

The two types of innovations that were found in the study were both of an incremental, rather than a radical nature. The development of new sub-systems, which could be labelled innofusions (Voß et al. 2000) or episodic change (Orlikowski et al. 1995), has an arguably high potential of being shared between courses due to its tangible nature. Still there is little evidence of this happening. The only clear exception to this was the schedule system that linked DisCo to an external database. A possible explanation for the low rate of diffusion of these sub-systems is that, with the exception of the schedule-system, they were all of a specialised nature, thereby forcing adoption to be preceded by redesign and reconsideration of the DE practice. The other type of innovation was based on experiments with the limited set of basic functionality of the system. This type of activity is often referred to as bricolage or tinkering (Dahlbom & Mathiassen, 1993), and seems highly appropriate when dealing with lean technology, since familiarity with the system could be seen as supporting initiatives where the affordances of the system is reinterpreted. Both types of innovation are supported by an organisational culture, where decision making to a large extent is decentralised to the classroom. Teachers can, within generous frames, design, implement and evaluate changes without having to consult his or her peers or managers. This autonomy can consequently be seen as a factor in favour of innovations. Simultaneously, it removes incentives to involve more people in the process.

The results from the study imply that radical innovations were obstructed by the very same factors that pushed and pulled the rapid adoption of DisCo. The lean nature of DisCo, in combination with a lack of training paved the way for DE-courses that were minimally translated from their campus based origins. Also the social factors, such as student pressure and collective sense-making of technology, aided in preserving the existing practice and obstructing radical change. This contradictory relationship between rapid diffusion and radical innovation does not mean that DE practice will not change over time. Instead, the results indicate that innovations are better accomplished through small scale experiments and reflections in use. An important aspect that could contribute to this domestication (Voß et al. 2000) is to increase the visibility of innovative experiments and to promote formal and informal structures for the sharing of experiences and knowledge between teachers (Voß et al. 2000). With such structures in place, there is an increased possibility for the organisation to become more enacting. Brown & Duguid (1991) state that:

“..a typical enacting organisation have the potential to be highly innovative and adaptive. Within an organisation perceived as a collective of communities, not simply of individuals, in which enacting experiments are legitimate, separate community perspectives can be amplified by interchanges of communities. “(p. 54)

To increase the interchanges between such communities, consisting of the autonomous teacher (or a small team of teachers), is a challenge, not only for HTU, but probably also for many similar organisations in higher education. This is a challenge that needs to be addressed if computer-mediated education shall develop into a practice that can adapt to constant changes in information and communication technologies, and also be proactive in creating new conditions for technological innovation that could foster collaborative learning (Stahl, 2002).

The results from the study could not be generalised into a claim that the use of lean educational technologies is the only organisational approach when launching large-scale DE programs. However, the study does present a strong case that this strategy could in general be expected to overcome initial problems of technology adoption and diffusion. The study also highlights how educational practices change through incremental rather than radical innovations. Finally, it was argued that providing structures for the sharing of experiences among practitioners could accelerate the speed at which such innovations disseminate through an organisation. With such structures in place - less could become more in distance education.

 

Acknowledgements

Thanks to my colleagues at Laboratorium for Interaction technology, especially Monika, Lennarth and Christian who planned and conducted the interviews in 2001. The research reported in this paper is funded by the LearnIT project at The Swedish Knowledge foundation (KK-stiftelsen).

 

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