“…theories should be seen as ‘spotlights’ that illuminate specific aspects of a topic while leaving many other surrounding areas in the darkness”(Selwyn, 2012).
When most graduate students become excited about research, I find that they are really interested in a specific topic or research question, or how the potential findings can be applied to a problem or situation. When I ask them what set of theories they are basing their research on, I usually get a response along the lines of “I’m not interested in theory, I am interested in XYZ topic,” or “thinking about theory spoils all the fun!” Sometimes I just get a quizzical look or a simple “huh?”
In his editorial piece on technology and educational research, Selwyn (2012) explores a number of factors that might improve the impact of this expanding area of research. One is a “broad and rigorous engagement with theory.” Selwyn calls not only for application of cutting edge technological theories now in use within the tech-ed world, but also for use of more traditional theories used in educational research. It is within these more traditional theories that we might find a context for the rapidly shifting landscape of technological applications and uses, and thus build on previous findings in a coherent and logical manner.
Even as we anchor our research to these theories, we must be mindful of the blinders we each wear, and how these affect our selection of theories and applications. Citing Talcott Parsons, Selwyn cautions us to be aware that our theory choice might only illuminate one aspect of our topic, while leaving much else in the dark. If more of us, graduate students included, built stronger connections between theory and research, we would be able to apply more light to the ed-tech issues that concern us all.