Trans-Disciplinary Approaches to Action Research for e-Schools, Community Engagement, and ICT4D

Trans-Disciplinary Approaches to Action Research for e-Schools, Community Engagement, and ICT4D

Leilani Goosen (University of South Africa, South Africa)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-2642-1.ch006


This chapter will highlight how practitioners use trans-disciplinary approaches to conduct Action Research (AR) in the context of e-schools, Community Engagement (CE) and Information and Communication Technologies for Development (ICT4D). The objectives provide details on how: AR is used to align e-education with life-enhancing values and in situations dealing with partnerships towards CE and/or ICT4D matters at local, national and international levels; to promote e-learning and development among those previously excluded from formal education; AR is contributing to transformation and equity in the context of e-schools, CE and ICT4D; AR CE is contributing to improving the quality of life for all; changes and/or growth in the way in which AR is utilized and interpreted can be explored when such questions are raised; AR can stay relevant in light of the ever-increasing speed of change in terms of technological innovations; and examples of ground-breaking AR work can thus be achieved.
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As early as the end of the previous millennium, Avison, Lau, Myers and Nielsen (1999) were presenting the case in favor of Action Research (AR): Researchers ought to try out the theories they propose together with practitioners in real-world situations and with real organizations, towards making academic research relevant. According to these same authors, there is therefore a need for a book on Action Research, such as this one, and this chapter thus responds to a challenge to Action Research practitioners, especially when working in socio-economically challenged contexts, to explain how they are contributing to conducting Action Research in specific fields relating to e-schools and Community Engagement (CE) in the context of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) for Development (ICT4D).

In terms of describing the general perspective of the chapter, similar to that of Blake, Tuckery and Glaser (2014), this chapter uses the point of view of Action Research as approach. This perspective encourages a holistic understanding of applicable contexts by offering an actionable framework for helping to choose appropriate interventions (Marshak & Heracleous, 2005).

Both Blake, Tuckery and Glaser (2014) and Van Biljon and Lotriet (2014) regard the nature of research in the field with regard to ICT4D as inherently tending towards being multi-, inter- and/or trans-disciplinary. In light of the ‘Cross-Disciplinary Approaches to Action Research’ theme of this book, the purpose of this chapter will therefore be to highlight how academics, researchers, teachers and/or other practitioners, who are considered to be included in the audience that this chapter wishes to address, use trans-disciplinary approaches to conduct Action Research for empowerment in the context of e-schools, Community Engagement and Information and Communication Technologies for Development (Avison, Lau, Myers, & Nielsen, 1999).

In terms of indicating under which areas of specialization this chapter falls, the areas covered in this chapter will include, but are not limited to, e-education and e-schools, community engagement and Information and Communication Technologies for Development. This chapter will therefore include Action Research work being done on local/global scales in both formal and informal education contexts.

With some similarities to what was done in an article by Marshak and Heracleous (2005), this chapter will present a conceptualization of Action Research, which is then illustrated through analyses of development interventions. The conceptualization and application of the approaches to action research are discussed.

Weber (2009) identified challenges to building useful ICT4D models of reality, in that the phenomena of interest are not clearly defined, the theories that underpin the research are not articulated carefully, and the research methods and data-analysis methods used do not conform to norms for conducting high-quality empirical research. Steyn (2011) agreed that no clear theories and/or models are available, while also pointing out that ICT4D often depends on globalization models, even when well-meaning social activists implement it as a tool for social change. Similarly, Heeks (2010) indicated that until quite recently, obtaining evidence, e.g. on the digital provide and of ICTs’ contribution to development, and especially evidence from research, which is well-conceptualized and conducted rigorously, was still limited. Evidence of such a contribution has only now started to emerge and even more is needed.

The problem that the major areas of this chapter wishes to address and will therefore focus on include

exploring topics that would enable a more profound understanding of the formulation and/or design of theory, conceptual frameworks or typologies, the testing of theories (including the validation of existing typologies, theories and/or frameworks) and methodologies (including novel methods or approaches to collect or analyze data) that have received less attention. Problems related to these issues will be addressed in order to identify the standards applicable to trans-disciplinary and methodological distinctions for ensuring and supporting high-quality research in ICT4D fields (Gomez & Pather, 2011).

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