Johnson, Mark, Lager, Peter, Pollard, Bill, Hall, Graham, Edwards, Miranda, Whitfield, Pete and Ward, Rupert (2009) Between analysis and transformation: technology, methodology and evaluation on the SPLICE project. In: "In dreams begins responsibility" - choice, evidence, and change. Conference Proceedings, 16th International Conference, 8-10 September, Manchester, UK. Association for Learning Technology, pp. 40-50. ISBN 978 0 95 458 709 3
Abstract

This paper concerns the ways in which technological change may entail methodological development in e-learning research. The focus of our argument centres on the subject of evaluation in e-learning and how technology can contribute
to consensus-building on the value of project outcomes, and the identification of mechanisms behind those outcomes.

We argue that a critical approach to the methodology of evaluation which harnesses technology in this way is vital to agile and effective policy and strategymaking in institutions as the challenges of transformation in a rapidly changing educational and technological environment are grappled with.

With its focus on mechanisms and multiple stakeholder perspectives, we identify Pawson and Tilley’s ‘Realistic Evaluation’ as an appropriate methodological approach for this purpose, and we report on its use within a JISC-funded project on
social software, SPLICE (Social Practices, Learning and Interoperability in Connected Environments). The project created new tools to assist the identification of mechanisms responsible for change to personal and institutional technological practice. These tools included collaborative mind-mapping and focused questioning, and tools for the animated modelling of complex mechanisms. By using these tools, large numbers of project stakeholders could engage in a process where they were encouraged to articulate and share their theories and ideas as to why project outcomes occurred. Using the technology, this process led towards the identification and agreement of common mechanisms
which had explanatory power for all stakeholders.

In conclusion, we argue that SPLICE has shown the potential of technologicallymediated Realistic Evaluation. Given the technologies we now have, a methodology based on the mass cumulation of stakeholder theories and ideas about mechanisms is feasible. Furthermore, the summative outcomes of such a process are rich in explanatory and predictive power, and therefore useful to the immediate and strategic problems of the sector. Finally, we argue that as well as generating better explanations for phenomena, the evaluation
process can itself become transformative for
stakeholders.

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