Ethos and outlook
Brooks’ (1996) notion of the computer scientist as toolsmith whose delight “is to fashion powertools and amplifiers for minds” (p. 64) resonates strongly with my disciplinary background and personal identity. In particular, the two criteria for a successful tool identified by Brooks (1996, p. 66)
- It must be so easy to use that a full professor can use it, and
- It must be so productive that full professors will use it.
It also clashes dissonantly with what I observe in how digital technology is used in higher education. Especially in learning and teaching. Echoing this quote from Laurillard (2012, p. 222)
…tools have provided the major engine of human development, because they improve the efficiency of human effort (Wolpert 2003). Teachers, as much as any other profession, need custom-built digital tools to help them with their ever more complex working environment. They deserve better support from digital technology.
Hence my main research interest is in understanding why and designing alternatives to explore possibilities.
Recent and current interests
Current research projects are interested in questions such as:
- How might higher education effectively maximise the quality, accessibility, and cost efficiency (“stretch the iron triangle”) of learning and teaching? – which might translate to:
- How do we (all stakeholders) develop, support, and evolve the type of digital tools identified by Laurillard?
- Why haven’t we done this already?
- How to share design knowledge in design for learning?
- What are the disconnects between what higher education teachers find between what is needed and what is provided to support quality teaching?
Brooks, F. (1996). The Computer Scientist as Toolsmith II. Communications of the ACM, 39(3), 61–68.
Historical interest only
The following summarises some of the research and projects I’ve been associated with since the early 90s. Most of it is of historical interest only.
There’s also an ad hoc list of current research projects
By training I come from a computer science/information technology background. At the moment, by inclination and the nature of the work I’m doing, I find myself in more of a Information Systems area. Though certainly still at the more technical end of the spectrum.
My main interests are based around the problem of developing and maintaining effective information systems for use by groups of people. The emphasis here is on effectiveness and innovation rather than efficiency.
The practical form of this work is currently involved with the development and support of organisational web-based systems. In particular within a University setting.
My main interest at the moment is in the development of an Information Systems Design Theory for eLearning/Web-based education (insert your favourite buzz word). This is an extension of my work on Webfuse over recent years.
This work has taken me into the discussions around the nature, practice and appropriateness of design research within the information systems discipline.
Consequently some of my current interests include, but aren’t limited to
- Emergent development/ateleological design of information systems
- Application of information systems to learning and teaching in a university context
- How to modify existing approaches to teaching systems development, within an Information Systems context, to use more appropriate pedagogies and draw more on modern research and practice around systems development.
In particular, I think a lot of the teleological assumptions that underly systems development (and management practices) are inappropriate for modern organisations, especially those engaged in knowledge work. I am particularly interested in demonstrating this inadequacy and developing methods to enable organisations to adopt more ateleological practices.
Back in the mid-noughties I worked with a small group of people. In 2004 we officially formed a research collective called EROS (Emergent Researchers in Organisational Systems).
The group is interested in the design, implementation and use of information systems within organisations. In particular, we have some problems with current practice and think that lessons from complex systems, emergence and related lines of thought offer some useful insights for modifying both research and practice.
As I’m interested in design research as a primary means for information systems research, it’s not surprising that a lot of the projects I’ve been involved with over the years have resulted in systems. The following offers a summary of some of these.
BAM – Blog Aggregation Management
BAMis a project to develop a tool to help “manage” the use of individual student blogs as reflective journals within University courses. It’s now been used by a number of different academics in different courses.
BAM is also an experiment into the use of social media software (Web 2.0 tools) within a university context and an examination of the problems and advantages it may bring.
Information Technology in Learning and Teaching
Webfuse is a Web publishing tool initially designed to help educators build Web-based classrooms. It is the IT artifact that has tested out the ideas that have been abstracted into the information systems design theory that is the topic of my thesis.
RCOS.java is a descendant of RCOS. RCOS was redesigned to solve some of the problems experienced with RCOS. RCOS was an earlier system designed and built by Ron Chernich for the MS-DOS platform. Most of the work on RCOS.java is being done by Andrew Newman. I was simply their supervisor, got in the way and occasionally made some suggestions (some of which were occasionally useful).
1999 to 2001 I developed a Web-based interface to the helpdesk system used by Ergon Energy. It was being used state-wide.