“So who do you think we are?” – Observations on the field of educational technology.

Larry McNutt

Institute of Technology Blanchardstown (ITB)

In 2008 I embarked on an exciting project as part of my EdD studies at NUI Maynooth to explore the habitus of educational technologists in Irish higher education. Innovators who were described in the relevant literature predominately in terms of their technical prowess and achievements, with little scope for any account of who they are and why they do what they do.
The purpose of this paper is to present a personal reflection on this journey – a journey that captured the voices of educational technologist on a wide range of issues relating to the many challenges facing higher education today.  The motivation for this work was a realisation that investments in educational technology have not contributed to any real transformation of educational opportunity in Ireland. In fact some critics would argue that educational technology has been colonised to support and drive a “new managerial agenda” in higher education.  Allied with this is a realisation that there is a lack of public discourse on these issues within the field. However, there is amble anecdotal evidence of vociferous private conversations and discussions. This work adopted the “thinking tools” of French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu to examine this dilemma. The concepts of habitus, field and capital provided a “lens” with which to re-evaluate the field and its actors.
The challenges encountered included how best to engage in this work. An introduction to arts based research and narrative enquiry offered a methodology that challenged all my scientific training.  But yet presented an appropriate and authentic approach to give “voice” to the project participants. The intent was to re-position the description of the role of educational technologists from the techno-centric to the personal; to shift the focus to their own values and beliefs and motivations. A methodology had emerged – a methodology that challenges the predominant positivist perspective in educational technology research.
There was also an underlying assumption that percolated throughout this study – an assumption that educational technology was indeed a field that co-existed with many competing discourses within Higher Education. The data that emerged presented an opportunity to probe this assertion using the concepts presented by Pierre Bourdieu. Did the field have a dominant doxa? What is the capital associated with the field? Are their other adjacent fields, dominant fields? Or indeed has the field been colonised and the original motivations and ambitions of the agents within the field been compromised in a “battle” for existence in pursuit of a narrow neo-liberal higher education agenda.
The Irish and world landscapes have changed dramatically since 2008 –it seems an appropriate juncture for educational technologist to consider their role in shaping the future of Irish higher education.
The purpose of the paper is to advocate that we continue the debate and foster an alternative critique and assessment based on personal values and beliefs.

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