Design as reification, commodification and ideology: A critical view of IS design science

In an attempt to reignite progress on my PhD and prepare myself for attending the 4th Information Systems Foundations Workshop next week. The workshop title is “Information systems Foundations: Answering the Unanswered Questions about Design Research”. The workshop is organised by my PhD supervisor and will have a number of “names” from the IS community there.

Over a number of posts I’m going to try and summarise some of the recent papers on design research within information systems in order to force me to read/engage with them and how they can fit with what I’ve been thinking about. Eventually this should lead to a post explaining those ideas and an ability for me to describe those ideas at the workshop and eventually into a paper and/or chapter in the thesis.

These posts are not traditional blog posts, I’m not always going to spend a lot of time trying to make them read well. They are predominantly a method to force me to read, reflect and have some record of the reading that I can come back to. There’s an off-chance that some might find it useful.

The paper

Bernd Carsten Stahl, Design as reification, commodification and ideology: A critical view of IS design science, In: Proceedings of the 16th European Conference on Information Systems Information Systems in an innovative Knowledge-based Society, Galway, Ireland, 09 to 11 June 2008

Thoughts

The following is a disorganised collection of thoughts and comments on the paper

  • The question of what distinguishes the IS DSR as “artefact design” from other approaches to design (e.g. computer science, software engineering) is one I’ve been troubled with. (If it’s not already apparent, I’m not a fan of the IS DSR as “artefact design” perspective.
  • What is the contribution of IS DSR if design research is a discipline itself
    Talk about this — links into Shirley’s discipline/object of interest questions
  • The blurring of BSR/DSR through the inclusion of models, theories etc.
    This seems to be a good lead into the view I’m trying to develop based on Shirley’s theory of theories. An early, brief, incomplete summary/introduction to this work has been posted. This post builds on that. The approach I’m trying to explain (to myself first) would potentially offer some de-blurring. In summary, it sees a great deal of commonality in the underlying approach to the different types of research (DSR or BSR). The difference is the type of theory/knowledge generated as a result and the appropriate methods to generate that type of knowledge.
  • It is suggested that the choice between BSR and DSR becomes a matter of personal preference.
    I see this as a problem, if true. The choice should be based on the research problem/question and the type of knowledge that is required to address it. At least based on my silly little perspective.
  • The distinction between technological and social.
    It’s suggested that there remains a distinction within the IS discipline between the technological and the social. I tend to agree with this and think perhaps it’s another important distinction that needs to be addressed through the development of a new way of looking at DSR/BSR. The other distinctions I’ve already been trying to struggle with include: that between different research paradigms and also the DSR/BSR distinction (which is somewhat related but slightly different).

    Perhaps the contribution of IS DSR is, as Lee points out, the combination of technical and social and the emergence of interesting factors that arise out of that combination. The idea that the combination is greater than the sum of its parts. Does this become the contribution of IS as a discipline and IS DSR to the broader design research discipline.

  • Mention of the social construction of technology and related approaches reinforces the need to consider context and the social in technology. Nice quote about “Technology should be seen as a process rather than an artefact. The artefact, while relevant, cannot be viewed in isoloation”.
  • The concept of design paradoxes (Stewart and Williams, 2005) sounds interesting and needs to be looked at.

Summary

The following is a short summary of the paper, created as reading through it.

Introduction

Starts with some of the traditional problems and uncertainty about IS as a discipline and exactly what is appropriate research within IS. Making the point that this leads to confusion about “what they are supposed to and allowed to do” and the on-going struggle to developer criteria to evaluate research output.

Which raises the question of whether or not design science can “actually promote knowledge in the field of IS”. He appears to want to answer this question by performing a critical analysis of the design science discourse. Basic structure of the paper

  • Definition of the critical approach.
  • Contextualise critical research within current IS debates
  • Describe an understanding of IS design science discourses
  • Apply critical concepts to design science.

The apparent outcomes include

  • The current IS design science discourses can be interpreted as an “attempt to change the understanding and create legitimacy for certain approaches, notable ones that emphasise production and practice”.
  • By promoting this particular understanding it can have the consequence of disregarding other aspects, such as ethical ones.
  • It is argued that alternative conceptions of design are possible and that it is desireable to move away from the business-oriented mainstream view of design.

The aim is to develop a conceptual approach that enables evaluation of design science that includes usually neglected aspects. The paper is not intended as an attack on IS design research. But an attempt to bring out the hidden views. Two views mentioned

  1. Design used to promote hidden agendas, gain advantage for a particular view or group and to shape organisational and societal discourses in ways that problematic.
  2. It can also be empowering and emancipating through an abiltiy to disrupt unquestioned practices and views.

The suggestion is IS design science is too much of the conservative and managerial.

Critical theory and critical research in IS

Critical Theory (CT) encompases a range of theoretical approaches starting with Marx’s critique of capitalism. Flowing from this a main feature of CT is its intention to promote emancipation which focuses attention to topics such as the pathologies of capitialism. Related/associated theoretical influences include postmodernism, poststructuralism, postcolonialism and related approaches.

In IS, CT is reflected in Critical Research in IS (CRIS) which has been suggested as a third paradigm following positivism and interpretivism.

Attempts to develop three topics of the older CT that have not yet become visible within CRIS: commodification, reification and ideology. All three of which can be described as “fetish” and goes back to Marx’s work Das Kapital.

The following is a quick attempt to capture the description, probably very badly. Wikipedia has a number of entries on related topics and I’m sure a broader google would reveal more.

  • Commodification – in capitialism, things become commodities in that their value is measured in money. The original socail nature of goods exchange becomes a de-personalised process facilitated by commodities. People begin to desire commodities regardless of their use. Commodities become fetishes because they represent powers and are accepted without regard to their actual usefulness.
  • Reification – process by which social structures become solid or “things” and cease to be subject of social negotiation. It is one part of ideology.
  • Ideology – collection of generally accepted but one-sided beliefs. In the critical tradition ideology stands for the way power relations influence beliefs and perceptions in ways to promote particular interests. Ideologies are not simply wrong, they cannot be wrong because they form part of our understanding of reality.
  • Rationality – all of the above is based on a specific type of rationality. The objectifying view that there is an objective reality that can be described and manipulated. This is the traditional scientific rationality that relies on quantification and abstract formal models of reality. This view is bound with science, technology and modern economics. Habermas and others argue that science and technology are forms of ideology.

Of course, the author has kindly provided a table that summarises the central concepts, which I reproduce below.

Critical Concept Explanation
Reification A social object becomes a thing, separate of its social contexts
and history
Commodification The entity in question becomes a good that can be traded like
any other commodity
Ideology A particular worldview that privileges certain interests and
hides this fact by making the current state of affairs appear
natural.
Fetishism The social object acquires the status of an independent entity
that interacts with humans of its own accord

design as ideology

summarises the current accepted differentiation in IS research between behavioural science research (BSR) and design science research (DSR). Uses the following table.

Behavioural science research (BSR) Design Science Research (DSR)
Origin Natural science Engineering, sciences of the artificial
Paradigm Problem understanding paradigm Problem solving paradigm
Objective to develop and justify theories which explain or predict organisational human phenomena surrounding the analysis, design, implementation, management, and use of information systems to create innovations that define ideas, practices, technical capabilities, and product through the analysis, design, implementation, management, and use of information systems
Object Human-Computer-Interaction IT artifact design

These are seen as complementary parts of an IS research cycle (as per Hevner) and developing knowledge about IS within an organisational context requires the application of both paradigms. Summarises more of Hevner and March view of IS DSR.

Problems with the traditional cycle view

The “Hevner view” is seen as problematic because it is “superficial and probably raises more questions than it answers”.

The central question is

what sets apart design science in information systems from established approaches that aim to design technical artifacts, such as computer sciences or software engineering. If design science research is just about the development of artefacts in a theoretically sound manner, then DSR in IS is likely to be a reinvention of the wheel. DSR is thus presumably about something different

Suggests that the existing DRS debate contains conflation of at least three different aspects. Each of which raise their own questions.

  1. Design science as an academic discipline
    This seems to be equated with DSR as being about a theoretical activity, which then begs the question about what contribution IS can make – since IS is more likely a field of application of DSR. I think the point here is that the broader design research “discipline” perhaps encompases IS in DSR and then the question is what contribution does IS DSR make?
  2. Design practice as an organisational reality
    If DSR focuses on the organisational reality of groups that develop software, why is this worth of a specific debate?
  3. The design artefact
    Since his view of the IS DSR literature is that it includes just not software/hardware but also theories, models or approaches it is suggested that this blurs the definition because BSR would then include a considerable component of DSR.

    Indeed, it is hard to see why writing a text such as this should not be conceived as a design activity, which leads to a blurring of the boundaries of DSR to the point of its becoming indistinguishable from BSR

Justification of the choice of DSR

Suggests that DSR/BSR may be no more than two sides of the same coin – that a decision to use one or the other is matter of personal preference, rather than anything else. There is a clear dominance in IS on BSR. That IS is related to the devleopment and use of technological artefacts seems to be a background assumption. But the interest seems to be much more on the social side of technology than the artefact. Doesn’t this make DSR a mere appendix?

Removeing the artefact from IS make the field difficult to define. Hence the strong calls for a return to the artefact. But there remains little attention to the technological artefact.

DSR can then be seen as an attempt to focus the field on the artefact.

But the aim of the paper is to look for alternative explanations.

Critical views of the DSR discourse

The assumption is that all academic discourses are about power. They define what is truth, what questions can or cannot be asked. The aim of the following is to question the DSR discourse and point to issues.

The thoughts collected are

  • The concept of the technological artefact
    The BSR/DSR distinction can be seen as an attempt to create legitmacy for technological research. But it also continues the distinction between the technical and the social. Science and technology studies and the underlying research approaches such as the social construction of technology (SCOT) or the social shaping of technology (SST) have long suggested that this distinction is not tenable.
  • Assumptions of mainstream IS research
    DSR may uncritical accept standard assumptions of IS research including: legitimacy of managerial control and a rationalistic view of humans but also of IT. Which may lead to

    • a perpetuation of current practices and assumptions
    • an emphasis on some aspects of design work. e.g. efficiency and user satisfaction, at the expense of equitability, justice, working conditions.

    The BSR/DSR distinction may lead to a reliance on BSR to generate ever growing amount of information to be designed into the artefact. Which can lead to design paradoxes.

    Suggests that the DSR discourse can be seen as a fashion (fad). The emphasis on the artefact has the danger of taking fashions to seriously. Divorcing the critical and social aspect from the artefact carries the danger of fashions becoming self-sustaining.

    Talks about the problem of the “heroic manager” perspective being put onto the designer. Has a good quote from Stewart and Williams (2005) which frames the the design problem as being conceived as the failings of the practitioner and various other problems which the heroic designer comes along and fixes.

    This raises difficulties with addressing ethical issues.

  • Ethics and design
    Close connection between ethics and critical research. Design is based on ethical assumptions about what is permissible, but most of the moral assumptions information DSR are not explicit. The design of tools/systems embed these and have consequences. Uses development of special tools for child labour embedding a belief that child labour is okay, but also in perpetuating that belief as the tools require children to use them. Makes the point that information systems (through flows, reports, controls) reify existing control structures without consideration of legitimacy.

    Design can be both conservative, but also can implement and reify liberating and emancipatory ideas. This a complex area. Lots of questions. Disclosive ethics, one approach, – where decisions, views and consequences of design decisions are disclosed – can lead to increased awareness of their implications (Introna, 2007)..

    Problems arise with embedding this into design, critical theorists have been struggling with these problems. e.g. if you agree that emancipation is important, you have to identify exactly what emancipation is. The answer is dependent on the individual in question and also the social context.

Critical concepts and design

Reification – emphasis on artefact suggests it is of central importance and carries an intrinsic indication that that it is objective and neutral. Which leads to technological determinism. Design leads to artefacts which have clearly defined properties and predictable outcomes. This renders invisble social influences and non-technical considerations.

This promotes commodification. Various impacts, example of ERP systems which can enable hidden ideologies enter an organisation via reified social beliefs.

Conclusions

At this stage there seems to be little agreement on these concepts and there may be scope for an empirical investigation into what design practitioner understand by such terms as “design” or “design sciences”

This collection of critical remarks should nevertheless not be seen as a general argument against
design sciences. I am not at all against the inclusion of explicit design considerations in IS research.
What I have tried to argue is that the focus on design in IS discourses can be used to camouflage
particular interests and agendas. DSR discourses are in danger of becoming divorced from greater
social and ethical concerns and to turn into ends in themselves. Design can then become a fetish,
something desired for its own sake, without social context. All I am saying is that the attempt to
establish the design paradigm may again be legitimate but it may also be problematic. What I have
tried to do is raise awareness of possible issues.

References

Stewart, J. & Williams, R. (2005): The Wrong Trousers? Beyond the Design Fallacy: Social Learning and the User. In: Howcroft, D. & Trauth, E. M. (eds.) Handbook of Critical Information Systems Research : Theory and Application. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar: 195 – 221

What underpins student-centered education

After a long deal due to contextual and individual (i.e. mine) limitations, the first of the two PLEs@CQUni project’s research staff has arrived and started work. Welcome Jocene.

An underlying principle of the PLEs@CQUni project is “eat your own dog food”. That is, if we’re going to be preaching the Web 2.0/Social Software mantra as a good thing, we should be “living the dream” by making heavy use of social software to do what we do. This helps us become familiar with it, identify its strengths and weaknesses and be better placed to understand how (and if) it might make a difference to learning and teaching at CQUni

This post is an attempt to do that, in particular to raise a question about something Jocene said in her first blog post. I’m doing it on my blog, rather than hers, to fulfill the vague impression I have that this is “more Web 2.0” than commenting directly on her blog. We still have the discussion as my blog software should tell hers about my comment. But our contributions are captured in our own little bits of the blogosphere.

Generating knowledge, what knowledge?

The emerging major aim of the PLEs@CQUni project is to generate knowledge that is of use to the folk encompassed by CQUni and also, as a secondary outcome, the broader community about the approaches, principles, successes and failures of harnessing social software for university based L&T.

A key part of that will be engaging with and critiquing the various philosophical and theoretical foundations which underpin various bodies of knowledge (BoK) related to the PLEs project. Some example BoKs which I currently see as connected to the PLEs project include

  • How does the human brain develop new knowledge/learning/understanding?
  • What are the best strategies to harness the findings of the previous BoK to effectively and appropriately encourage/enable students and academic staff at CQUni to make use of social media, or more broadly to improve their learning and teaching?
  • What are the theories behind existing organisational practices, including management and the support of information technology, within modern universities? How do these enhance or limit the application of social software to learning and teaching?
  • What are the theories and affordances of social software?
  • What are the clashes or mismatches between the above BoKs?
  • How can you effectively marry these together to enable the effective and appropriate use of social software to improve learning and teaching?

I’m sure there are more? Can you suggest more? Can you suggest different perspectives on the above?

The last question is the one which I think is the one of prime importance to the PLEs@CQUni project. All of the other questions inform this one. How do we do it? How can it be done well, or at least better?

Student-centred education

In Jocene’s first blog post she makes the statement

but I am at ease with the underpinning philosophy of student-centred education.

So my question for Jocene is, what is the underpinning philosophy of student-centred education? It seems an important question for folk at CQUni to understand given the institutions focus on allowing students to “be what they want to be”.

Jocene, can you give a synopsis, maybe with some pointers to other resources, in a single blog post?

I’m sure Nona has some perspectives on this?

Are those perspectives different? Are there different perspectives on this? What are the differences? Where do they originate?

I’m a skeptic (cynic, mongrel and bastard are other potential descriptors) by nature, so when someone appears to have a level of certainty about some piece of knowledge, I begin to suspect the problem of pattern entrainment. A particular way of looking at the world seen as useful by someone becomes their major way of seeing the world and often makes them inattentive to other, potentially important, perspectives.

I’m not suggesting Jocene’s demonstrating entrained patterns. I’m suggesting some/many of the rest of us maybe and that talking about these different perspectives might hopefully make us aware of other, hopefully more useful, patterns.

What is research? How do you do it?

A previous post announced that a group of folk at CQUniversity are about to embark on a project/exercise with the aim of helping people develop ideas for research and turn them into publications.

Any such process should probably talk about answers to two questions (amongst many others)

  1. What is research?
  2. How do you do it?

The following provides some simple answers to those questions that will form the basis for the react2008 process.

Disclaimer

This is not to suggest that these are the only answers, or potentially even good answers. However, the claim is that they are sufficiently useful for the purpose of react2008 and reasonably defendable.

The aim is to ensure that the workshop participants have some sort of common understanding of answers to these questions that they can use as a starting point for conversation. Some level of common understanding is important.

What is research?

Generally, research aims to address important problems, or provide answers to difficult questions through the application of a disciplined process that generates new and useful knowledge. That knowledge is expressed in the form of theory.

The question of what is theory is left to later.

How do you do it?

Answers to these questions often come down to battles between research paradigms. Are you a positivist or interpretivist (or some other sort of “ist”)? The answer to this question governs how you do research, what you think it is etc.

Mingers (2001) identifies three perspectives on how to handle the question of paradigms. These include:

  1. Isolationism – where paradigms are seen to be based on mutually exclusive and contradictory assumptions and where individual researchers should or do follow a single paradigm.
  2. Complementarist – where the no paradigm is superior, but that different approaches are more or less suitable for particular problems or questions and that there should be a process of choice.
  3. Multi-method – where paradigms are seen to focus on different aspects of reality and that a richer understanding of a research problem can be gained by combining several methods, particularly from different paradigms.

The approach for react2008 will be somewhere between/inclusive of the complementarist and multi-method approaches. In short, it ignores (and probably thinks unimportant) questions of “ists”. This view has close similarities to the view suggested by Sandy’s paper (Behrens, 2008) on the use of Vaihinger’s theory of fictions as a basis for looking at information systems research. It’s used in an attempt to unite the usually battling factions of positivists and interpretivists.

Instead, it goes for a simple process of doing research (which is not seen as simply sequential), including the following steps

  1. What is the research problem and/or the research question that is of interest? Why is it important?
  2. What type of theory is most appropriate for the type of knowledge you need to answer the question?
    What types of theories there are will be outlined below.
  3. What is the most appropriate process(es) to use to develop this type of theory?

Types of theory

Arising out of the second question is the notion of what is theory, what type of theories there are and what structure should they take. Questions that are taken up by Gregor (2007) and which I draw on briefly and poorly below. Especially in the following table that attempts to summarise the 5 types of theory identified by Gregor.

Theory Type Attributes
Analysis “What is”. Analyses and describes a phenomena but no causal relationshihps are made nor predictions generated
Explanation “What is”, “how”, “why”, “when”, “where”. Aims to explain, but not predict with any precision. No testable propositions.
Prediction “What is” and “what will be”. Provides predictions and has testable propositions but does not have a well-developed justificatory causal explanation.
Explanation and prediction “What is”, “how”, “why”, “when”, “where” and “what will be”. Provides predictions and has both testable propositions and causal explanations
Design and action “How to do something”.

Gregor (2007) was writing within the information systems discipline. Consequently, this appropriation into the “e-learning” field may not be entirely appropriate. However, I would argue that there is a great deal of overlap between the two disciplines.

References

Behrens 2008
Gregor 2007

What should a LMS evaluation consider?

CQUniversity is in the process of evaluating two open source learning management systems for adoption by 2010. We’re at the stage of finalising the criteria to be used to evaluate the two systems. The purpose of this post is to outline some thoughts about how to evaluate the evaluation criteria.

What should such criteria cover? What are the common problems? That sort of stuff. This is an attempt to think about this before I look in detail at and provide feedback on the proposed evaluation criteria we’ll be using. Due to time constraints it isn’t as informed by literature as it should be. It’s a simple discussion of the things I can come up with late on a Sunday night, supplemented with a quick skim of the results of a couple of Google searches.

Deeper philosophical problems

I should start by saying that at a fundamental level I don’t believe the upfront evaluation of a large integrated system, like a learning management system (be it open source or commercial), is the most effective way to support learning and teaching through the application of information technology.

I’ve also read enough of the information systems discipline’s research literature to know that the quality of the decision making that occurs during these sorts of “rationale” evaluation processes is anything but rational. There is a long list of research projects, including some that examined decisions at Australian universities, that suggest that such processes are far from rational.

However, the organisation has decided to choose between one of two systems and in my role I need to contribute as best I can (because my contributions will be as less than rational as everyone elses) to the positive outcome of the process.

However, it’s probably worthwhile to outline some of the problems this type of evaluation faces, if only to be aware of them. They include

  • How can a small number of folk with limited backgrounds make estimates/guesses about the future organisational needs?
  • How can the intangible costs and benefits of the change and the systems be understood by these folk?
  • Some aspects of e-learning remain innovative, by definition this is different and will have unknown impacts.
  • How to meaningfully quantify and compare the benefits of a particular system against another, especially given the very different perspectives of those involved. For example, the IT person will look for certain types of benefits, the central L&T support person another and the many different academics using the systems another set.
  • Which doesn’t even mention the most important group of users of these systems, the students, and how you involve, understand and evaluate for the benefits that they are interested in.
  • How do you identify and get consensus around the definition of what an effective learning management system is?
  • When examining costs, how can you properly evaluate the problem of “hidden costs”. For example, background IT management costs and costs associated with end-users helping each solve system problems.
  • Elsewhere I’ve argued that L&T at a university is an example of a complex system. i.e. one in which cause and effect cannot be properly predicted. You can’t predict what might happen as a result of the implementation of a new system.

How to evaluate

Cronholm and Goldkuhl (2003) identify 3 types of evaluation “processes”

  1. Goal-based evaluation
    The goals of the organisation drive the evaluation.
  2. Goal-free evaluation
    No such explicit organistional goals exist and evaluation usually proceeds in an “inductive and situationally driven strategy”. i.e. no pre-set goals are identified, instead as the evaluation progresses, usually involving a broad number and spread of participants, knowledge of the object of study emerges during the evaluation.
  3. Criteria-based evaluation
    Some collection of general criteria (not specific to the organisational context) are used to compare systems. The assumption here is usually to see if the IT system supports the activities performed by the business (assuming you know what it is)

What to evaluate

Cronholm and Goldkuhl (2003) identify 2 ways to identify what to evaluate

  1. IT-system as such.
    Essentially, without the users. Don’t actually get in and use the system. Simply use one of the processes from above.
  2. IT-system in use.
    Study the system in a use situation with users interacting with it.

They then go onto combine the identified approaches to identify and describe six different types of evaluation process. The examine each of these types against the following characteristics

  1. Main perspective
  2. What to achieve knowledge about
  3. data sources
  4. Deductive or inductive
  5. Who will participate
  6. When to chose this type

Potential thoughts for CQUni’s evaluation of LMSes

Based on the above and a little bit of reflection the following is a list of random thoughts that might need to be considered when looking at CQUni’s evaluation criteria/process for its next LMS.

  • Does the evaluation criteria connect with CQUni’s strategic goals? i.e. is it goal-based or simple criteria-based (my understanding of the process is that it is not a goal free process)
  • Which of CQUni’s strategic goals are impacted upon or potentially enabled by this choice?
  • How do the selection criteria connect with established institutional understandings of “good” L&T – e.g. Chickering and Gamson’s 7 principles.
  • The “what” is being evaluated is a simplified “IT-system in use” hosted by an external provider with only a small number of staff and no students. What are the limitations implicit in such an approach and how to counter them?
  • Do the technical criteria talk about the system in use and not an “objective” version of the system? i.e. you can’t say that System X is scalable, secure etc. It’s the specific details of how System X is implemented within a particular organisation that is scalable, secure etc.
  • Is it clear who will be evaluating what and based on what evidence? i.e. can folk simply choose a figure/result or do they have to provide evidence?
  • Is it clear how all the different perspectives will be gathered, sifted and used in the decision making process?
  • Get a better handle on what people are doing now in order to identify a better understanding of which system fits current practice.
  • Ensure that what students see as important, is in someway included in the evaluation.

Not all of these will make sense tomorrow.

References

Stefan Cronholm, Goran Goldkuhl (2003), Strategies for Information Systems Evaluation- Six Generic
Types
, Electronic Journal of Information Systems Evaluation, 6(2), pp 65-74

REACT 2008 – An exercise in scholarship?

We’re about to embark on a little experiment in the scholarship of learning and teaching going under the tag react2008. The fundamental aim is to help improve the quality of papers we will write that are targeted for publication at EdMedia’2009. The experiment is going by the names of either react2008 or writers’ workshop. The project as a central website.

Other aims of the project include

  • Helping some of the less experienced researchers develop some insight into one way of developing and writing papers – of performing research.
  • Help the participants gain some appreciation of the differences of perspective within the group and how those differences compliment each other.
  • Increasing the quantity and quality of research outputs of CDDU and the PLEs@CQUni project.

This post is intended to give a brief description of how the whole thing might work.

Subsequent posts will start talking about implementation issues and what’s next. After that each of the steps will be expanded and tasks allocated.

Principles and Background

The ideas underpinning this exercise is much informed by the Reflection, Evaluation and Collaboration in Teaching (REACT) project. The react2008 project will have a very different aim and process, however, it will be based on/informed by many of the same principles and foundations of the original REACT process.

In particular, react2008 will draw on the ideas of Shulman (1993) around the scholarship of L&T, in particular, the importance of

  • Communication and community
    react2008 will use face-to-face discussions and social network software to create a community of researchers who will have to communicate with each other about their process of writing and research.
  • Creation of an artifact
    react2008 participants are creating a paper as their final artifact. There will also be other artifacts produced along the way in terms of wiki pages and presentations.
  • Peer review
    A key part of the react2008 process is that there will be peer review throughout the process of the discussion and artifacts produced by the participants.

How will it work

react2008 will use a simple process with a small number of steps as the framework through which people will develop, implement and write about their research idea. There is no claims made that this is the only process, the best process, a sequential process or broadly suitable to all people.

However, there is a claim that it is a fairly generic process that provides enough structure to provide participants with a common language to talk about their process and enough freedom to do their own thing in terms of process and research perspective. Usefulness is seen as more important than ideological adherence.

Most steps in the process will require the production of an artifact and the submission of that artifact to a semi-structured peer-review process. The participants will be expected to both produce their artifacts and comment on the artifacts of others. The artifacts and the communication/review will be primarily done through blogs and wiki.

The current suggested list of steps is summarised below. A later post will expand in more detail on these steps.

The steps are:

  1. What’s the problem problem? What’s the question?
    The aim of research is, in this context, always seen as an attempt to solve a problem or answer a question. The first step is to develop a statement about what the research problem or question is about. (remember this isn’t a sequential process, this step will be revisited numerous times).
  2. What type of knowledge are you going to contribute?
    This work assumes that there are different types of knowledge (of theory) produced in research. Depending on the type of knowledge you wish to generate/contribute you will use different types of method.
  3. How are you going to develop that knowledge?
    You have to use some sort of appropriate process to develop the knowledge you want to write about. There are multiple choices, you need to be clear about what process and why you will be using.
  4. How does this knowledge add to and fit with existing knowledge?
    It’s important that you know how this knowledge you will generate fits with existing knowledge in the area. You need to be able to explain why it is valuable.
  5. What do you need to do to make it fit with the outlet?
    Different publication outlets have different perspectives and difference approaches are required to get accepted. You need to become familiar with the outlet.
  6. Do the work.
    At this stage you need to generate the knowledge.
  7. Give a presentation.
    Once you’ve generated the knowledge you need to begin work on presenting it to folk in some sort of finished form. A presentation will precede writing of the paper.
  8. Write the paper.
    The actual process of turning the knowledge into an appropriate form for the publication outlet.
  9. Respond to reviewer comments.
    An art form in itself.
  10. Present the paper.
    If we’re talking about a conference, then another presentation is required to further refine the initial presentation.