Prof Cog. Week 9 Blog assignment: Find an article using UNT’s library databases (or Google Scholar if you want, I cannot tell). The article should be relevant to your current or future work in the area of systems thinking, systemic change, or a strongly related area.
Write a DETAILED summary of it and how you might apply what you learned in it to your particular current or planned area of work. Critique the article as well. Is it useful to you and the field? Is it not? How is the writing? Is it pure academic jargon? What are the research methods like (if there are any)? What might they do differently or better with this piece?
Potts, M., & Hagan, C. (2000). Going the distance: Using systems theory to design, implement, and evaluate a distance education program. Journal of Social Work Education, 36(1), 131-145.
Article available on: www.ronsteiner.com/Cox_blog_week_9_23043742.pdf
The outline, methodology, and structure of this article may very well serve as a model for my own future research. Their stated approach is to “…describe the use of systems theory concepts in designing, implementing, and evaluating a distance education program…” but, at its core, what they did was compare two teaching methods (face to face, F2F, and distance education, DE) in much the same way I will be investigate two different classroom designs and teaching methods for my research on Technology Enhanced Active Learning (TEAL) classrooms.
In the article the authors describe the need for a DE program to help students complete the Master of Social Work (MSW) degree at the California State University, Long Beach, to support rural areas of northern California where there are some entire counties that are served by few, if any, MSW. For example, the authors cite a 1994 survey of small counties in California where of 800 positions that are classified as “social work” positions, fewer than a dozen are filled by MSW. As I look to craft an outline for my research, I’ll take a similar approach and seek to establish the need for a change in pedagogy to better serve our constituents (21st century students in my case, rural California counties in the case of the article under discussion).
The tone of the article is not overly academic or pedantic and there is limited use of jargon, but considerable use of acronyms and I found myself continually referring to the first use of the phrase to remind myself of what the acronym stood for.
The method involved detailed data acquisition over the course of three years, while the first cohort of this part-time DE MSW program took part in the experience. The inaugural three year program ran from 1995 to 1998 and while some of the challenges they experienced are a product of that time of technological evolution (significant problems with sound quality over the internet) as we ourselves experience d this summer in Orlando, in our attempt at coordinating with colleagues in China, some of those problems persist 20 years on. The program is still active, https://web.csulb.edu/colleges/chhs/departments/social-work/distance-education/
The methodology of the paper was not in a distinct “methods” section but rather it was couched in terms of systems theory. The authors introduced systems theory, saying it is a “…content-free, highly abstract set of assumptions and rules applicable to many fields of study” and then introducing the ideas of open/closed systems, inputs/outputs, boundaries, negentryopy (the tendency of a living system to “import more energy than it exports,” which allows it to grow and develop) and entropy (which they describe as a condition where “the system exports more energy than it maintains, and the system begins to lose vitality and decay.” There was also a brief (and, after my reading of Banathy, I feel an insufficient) discussion about the relationship between one system of interest and surrounding systems, subsystems, and supra-systems.
In the Input section (which I took to be a de facto methods section) the authors describe the environment, available technology, and the nature of the program and the students. In the Throughput section they discuss logistics, financing, and measures of student satisfaction (an 18-item self-administered instrument, completed at various points in the three year program). Finally, in the Output section, we find tables summarizing the results of the surveys as well as descriptions of feedback received from faculty members.
I found it particularly telling that one of the first points the authors made in the Discussion section is one I have already been discussing with colleagues about my proposed research, and that is the topic of generalizability. The authors immediately stipulate that these results “are not generalizable to other types of DE programs in other geographic areas.” In my own discussions I’m very clear to state that I seek only to find if the TEAL approach is beneficial to our students, here, in our high school, taught by our teachers, at the present time. Though this data were first published nearly 20 years ago (at the Annual Program Meeting of the Council on Social Work Education, Orlando, Florida, March, 1998), and though technology has advanced to the point that many of the specific issues they encountered have been overcome, the approach they took to evaluating two educational approaches, F2F and DE, side-by-side, with largely the same sort of students, demographically-speaking, remains instructive.
I couldn’t help but notice that their references were heavily skewed towards social work researchers and journals. One of the things I like most about our Learning Technologies program at the University of North Texas (LT-UNT) is the wide variety of research interests of the faculty and the diverse experiences of the members of my cohort. The LT-UNT program also gives me the impression of paying homage to the foundational thinkers of our field (drawing on our initial courses which had a heavy philosophy bent to instruction design courses emphasizing Gagné and others, and this present course with its emphasis on Banathy). That being said, and given when this article was written, I was surprised that Banathy was not cited at all.
In a previous course we were encouraged to take several articles related to our area of interest and catalog just the section headings of the articles, to get a feel for how they are organized, I found this a very helpful exercise and have continued the practice, especially with highly cited articles I come across in my reading. I found the organization of this article interesting, because of its use of systems theory terms, but I don’t see myself using it as a model because, especially for a new researcher, I think reviewers in journals I’m likely to engage might not be open to atypical structures such as this one. That being said, this may be a common practice in social work journals and I just don’t have enough experience in that field of study to recognize the level of acceptance of what I find to be a novel approach to section headings.
The article laid out a clear problem and a clear approach to addressing the problem. The authors were candid about the limitations of the study and the related findings. Their penultimate point was particularly interesting: “…such research should move beyond a deficits model (i.e., merely comparing DE programs against standard programs) to a strengths model (i.e., focusing on the particular strengths a DE program might offer.”