posted on 2009-04-02, 10:09authored byCarol Russell
The adoption of e-learning technologies in campus universities has not realised its potential for meeting the learning needs and expectations of 21st century students. By modelling university learning and teaching as a complex adaptive system, this thesis develops a new way of understanding and managing the adoption of new learning technologies in campus universities. The literature on learning and teaching in higher education indicates that lecturers’ ability to innovate in their teaching is constrained by tacit and discipline-specific educational knowledge. Introducing new methods and technologies into mainstream university teaching requires explicit review of educational knowledge, and requires support from departmental and institutional organizational systems. Research on organizational change in other contexts, such as manufacturing industry, has used complex adaptive systems modelling to understand the systemic interdependence of individual strategies, organizations and technologies. These models suggest that the integration of new e-learning technologies into mainstream campus university teaching will involve corresponding change processes. Part of this change requires the linking up of diverse disciplinary perspectives on learning and teaching. The thesis develops a conceptual framework for researching university learning and teaching as a complex adaptive system that includes learning technologies, people, and their organization within a university. Complex adaptive systems theory suggests that the capacity of a campus university to adapt to new e-learning technologies will be reflected in patterns in the strategies of those lecturers who are early adopters of those technologies.
A context-specific study in the University of New South Wales used cognitive mapping to represent and analyse the strategies of a group of 19 early adopters of e-learning technology. These early adopters were participants in a cross-discipline Fellowship programme intended to develop their ability to act as change agents within the university. Analysis of the maps gathered before and after the Fellowship, triangulated with data on the Fellows’ participation in organizational change, leads to a new way of modelling how university learning and teaching systems, including their technologies, adapt within a complex and changing higher education context.