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Book Review: Design of Technology Enhanced Learning Integrating research and Practice. Matt Bower

In this book, the author Matt Bower sets out to examine research findings relating to the use of TEL which can be used to enhance our design thinking.

Bower begins by offering a set of motivations for integrating technology within education, noting in particular an intrinsic desire to improve learning outcomes for the student.  He asks the reader to reject simplistic and ‘mythical’ ideas that can undermine TEL design, offering the examples of digital natives and technological determinism, instead imploring us to adopt a critical approach to TEL design.

In the early part of the book, Bower lays the conceptual foundations of pedagogy, technological affordances, content, and learning design.  We are introduced to the TPACK (Technology, Pedagogy And Content Knowledge) framework which is characterised as a “useful conceptual tool” rather than a learning theory; “the what, not how”.

In chapter three, Bower gives an overview of prevailing pedagogic perspectives, including; behaviorism, cognitivism, constructivism, social-constructivism, and connectivism.  These are summarised in a table rating their attributes across several dimensions which is a useful reference point.  The chapter concludes by underlining the point that the choice of pedagogy will influence the type of technology used in TEL design.

Chapter four is split into two halves; the first examining the ‘affordances’ of technology in the selection-process, and the second discussing the principles of multimedia learning, and how these two areas mutually influence each other.  These are presented as further conceptual foundations for the use and design of TEL by the critical-educator; one who can take a range of factors into account for their context rather than taking a mechanistic approach.

Chapter five includes an interesting overview and discussion of open educational practice including OER, MOOCs and CC licensing, and how open education is changing the role of the educator from designing educational content, to designing the learning environment through “structure, sequence and scaffolding” for their students.

Chapter six introduces the reader to the field of learning design and the concept of “design thinking.”  It summarises research on design thinking in 10 points, and discusses how we, as educators, can develop design thinking.  Bower describes three ‘educational design models’ and offers a critical reflection on these, and of the “intractable problem” of creating learning design models that are either so inclusive that they become unmanageable, or so general that they are of no use.

We are given an evolutionary journey through the ways in which educators have sought to share learning design and descriptions, with accompanying examples (e.g. visualisation tools [Compendium LD]).  This is again followed by a critical reflection and a strategy for the future development of learning design; that is to take a reflective approach, to collaborate, and to adopt a ‘design mindset’.

The middle part of the book (chapters 7 – 10) is given to a detailed overview of current educational research in four key areas: web 2.0, social networking, mobile learning and virtual worlds.  This overview includes a discussion of the benefits and constraints of each of the technologies, including case-studies and examples throughout.

The final part of the book follows this examination of current educational research by abstracting 20 principles of TEL design.  These principles, along with related benefits and constraints are mapped into 13 ‘clusters’ to effectively organise the relationships contained within.  Bower completes the book with the conclusion that learning design is both an art and a science; one that requires creativity and flair, but that should be grounded and informed by empirical evidence – “a creative application of design knowledge.”  Bower ends with a personal reflection of his enjoyment of being an educator, and about the importance of practicing design.

Overall this is a book which is written to bridge the perceived gap between educational researchers and practitioners, and it succeeds by being extensively researched and referenced whilst providing real-world examples and case-studies throughout.

I found this book to be an enjoyable read, with the structure, layout and aesthetics making each section very accessible despite some of the complex ideas being discussed.

I would recommend this book to anyone who has an interesting in learning design and the design of TEL as a practising educator or educational researcher.

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