Charles B. Hodges, Editor-in-Chief of the journal TechTrends, discusses his research on teaching and learning in technology rich learning environments, how this relates to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and the societal impact of education research.
My scholarly endeavors have focused mostly on understanding the self-efficacy of teachers and learners in technology rich learning environments. For those that do not know, self-efficacy is a concept developed by psychologist Albert Bandura and it refers to one’s belief in their ability to perform a particular task. Self-efficacy is context specific. To give you an idea, a learner might have high self-efficacy for taking a composition class online, but much lower self-efficacy for taking a mathematics class online. Someone with positive self-efficacy beliefs for a particular task is more likely to attempt the task, and more likely to continue trying. So, I have tried to understand how different elements of various technology rich learning environments affect self-efficacy. The nature of the learning environments that have served as the context for my research have varied. For example, I have studied learners in computer-based learning environments; classroom teachers working to incorporate robotics or computer science into their classes; and learners in fully online classes.
The overarching goal of my research is to improve teaching and learning in technology rich learning environments. My short-term goals are always related to whatever project is at hand and how what I am seeing might help a teacher or learner have a better experience. In the long-term, I hope to see trends in my work that can generalize to other learning contexts and help more people. To illustrate these ideas, I have had some projects that were basically looking at the self-efficacy of teachers as they implemented technology-rich lessons that were new to them and their students. As those projects were taking place, it was useful to see what was happening and to try and help the teachers enhance their self-efficacy, but in the long term it will be helpful to see if there are common findings that might help future projects from the start.
First, let’s consider two fundamental types of research, basic research and applied research. Basic research expands knowledge, but may not have readily apparent application until some time later, if ever. Applied research is focused on more practical problems and, therefore, can have a more immediate impact on society. Both types are important and needed. They can have an impact on society, but with the more immediate applicability possible with applied research, some people may see applied research as having more of an impact on society.
Education is so important to society, that just about anyone doing research in Education is doing important work. My personal curiosities and motivations are to solve problems. So, while I see value in basic research and applied research, I am more inclined to do applied research, using principles from psychology or other fields to try and improve education practice. I know I am not going to solve all the problems faced by educators, but I can contribute to a body of knowledge that may have large-scale implications over time. Technology is so embedded in human society now that working to understand teachers and learners and their interactions with technology is of great importance. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic we have all seen how important our Education systems are and what a big role technology plays in it in much of the world.
As described earlier, my scholarly work has focused mostly on teaching and learning in technology-rich learning environments. Therefore, I believe my work lies directly in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal number 4, Quality Education, and in particular in their subtheme of Digital Learning and Transformation. The subtheme is aimed at how technology can “transform education and lifelong learning, making it more inclusive, equitable, effective, relevant, and sustainable,” and opportunities identified in this subtheme include: “Empowering teachers by providing them high quality professional development opportunities, and tools and resources to support their work with students”. My work is often focused on creating effective technology-rich learning experiences and helping teachers be confident and successful in facilitating learning with their students.
Effectively communicating your research is key to having your work make a difference. The traditional ways of presenting at conferences and publishing in scholarly books and journals are still valid, but in many situations those venues mean you are communicating with other researchers, and often with like-minded individuals. For your work to have maximum impact, you need to target other groups too. So, in addition to traditional, scholarly venues, it is good practice to look for ways to share your work in practitioner magazines, or by writing popular press books. With the Internet so readily available, it is easy to promote summaries of your work along with implications for practice on social media networks. If you have the ability to have someone help you get your work highlighted in the news media, that can be a way to reach policy makers and the general public.
I think of my work as targeting two different audiences: other researchers, and teachers. I try to give these two groups equal attention, but because merit systems for higher education faculty tilt toward research-focused outputs, I probably have produced more content for researchers than practitioners. Over the years I have started to see that the best research does not make much of an impact if only other researchers see it, so looking for ways to let practitioners benefit from my work, and for policy makers to see it have become increasingly important to me. Especially since the COVID-19 pandemic began I have been more motivated to help others improve their online teaching, and to advocate for online learning in general. There has been too much rhetoric about the evils of online learning for a long time and the pandemic has exacerbated that. The decades of research in online teaching and learning do not support a lot of the negative narrative around those topics that has been prevalent since early 2020.
Charles B. Hodges, Ph.D. is Professor of Instructional Technology at Georgia Southern University, and Editor-in-Chief of TechTrends, a leading journal for professionals in the educational communication and technology field.