Digital, material and networked: some emerging themes for SET education

Davies, Sarah-Jane; Thomas, Elaine and Walker, Steve (2015). Digital, material and networked: some emerging themes for SET education. In: Proceedings of the European Distance and E-Learning Network 2015 Annual Conference (Teixeira, António Moreira; Szűcs, András and Mázár, Ildikó eds.), European Distance and E-Learning Network, pp. 91–99.


Boundaries between the digital and material worlds are becoming blurred as the internet increasingly connects us to things as well as people and information. This is increasingly relevant to education as initiatives which significantly combine digital and material elements in networks are becoming a reality for Science, Engineering and Technology (SET) learning. Our paper reports on the initial findings of a project to carry out a ‘state of the art’ review of literature to establish the key themes, opportunities and obstacles that are emerging from the development and use of these ‘hybrid’ systems in learning. We wanted to explore the extent to which this new domain of study is being reported in the literature and to identify work representative of this area. Our aim was to investigate the depth of research in this area by going beyond the technologically descriptive to focus on pedagogical and organisational issues raised in the literature.
To identify the state of current research in the area we carried out a systematic search of databases of Science, Engineering and Technology education literature. We found 808 papers relating to the hybrid learning initiatives we are interested in, of which the majority, 81%, involved the Engineering and Technology disciplines while 6.8% related to Science. The vast majority of papers referred to remote laboratories and most of these were concerned with describing the technologies involved. In order to explore issues emerging from the research, we carried out an in-depth text review of a particular subset of the papers found that focussed on pedagogical issues. The three main themes that emerged were: the importance of real data and authenticity in learning; the importance of a sense of presence (e.g. telepresence, social presence and/or immersion) and the locus of control in, and responsiveness of, a hybrid system. We conclude that these new digital ‘hybrid’ pedagogies offer a lens with which to view both the more traditional material pedagogies, e.g. laboratory-based learning, and purely digital pedagogies, e.g. virtual labs. Finally, issues of authenticity, presence and control/responsiveness will be of increasing pedagogical importance to other ‘hybrid’ systems, such as those involving ubiquitous computing.

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