history and values

I was previously a university computer science / software engineering lecturer, in the 1990s, interested in the technologies of digital learning and active in ALT, CTI, CETL, HEA Subject Centres, LTSN etc. Since 2000, I have gained recognition as one of the pioneers in mobile learning globally but over the last decade have argued that this is an inward-looking and backward-looking perspective held back by its e-learning legacy, and what is needed now is a recognition of the profound societal (and economic, epistemological, ethical, cultural) impact of universal social and mobile digital technologies. A recent paper proposes a new direction and focus (Traxler 2021) whilst another seeks a more comprehensive conceptual framework (Traxler, Connor, Hayes & Jandrić, 2021). Prior, in the 1980s, to this I worked in adult and community education, at the Brighton Friends Centre, with unemployed adults, including several projects exploring computer-assisted learning for literacy. I first programmed in FORTRAN IV in 1970. My present role unites these earlier social, technical and educational strands and is now reflected in an invitation to establish a UNESCO Chair. Once finalised the title will be “informal innovative digital learning in disadvantaged and development contexts”, especially the marginal and fragile (Traxler 2018a, Traxler 2017). The title has been deliberately intended to challenge differing and divisive pedagogic conceptualisations and methods across (domestic) disadvantage and (international) development. A recent paper (Traxler & Smith, 2020) explores the need and possibility of research tools and techniques that would support a more authentic understanding of communities distant and different from the norms of the corporate, Western, global, Northern, urban mainstreams, working with them not for them.

Most recently there has been work commissioned by the DFID EdTech Hub to research and report on digital learning responses that would maintain the continuity of education systems through and beyond the COVID-19 crisis, whilst considering how such responses might further disadvantage those communities and cultures that are already distant, ignored, under-served or oppressed by these education systems (Traxler et al, 2020). Follow up invitations have included projects from the Commonwealth of Learning, looking at teacher development in disadvantaged Commonwealth communities in COVID-19, and the British Council, their WhatsApp support for language learners in Southern Africa in COVID-19 (Hockly, Traxler, Johnson et al, 2021). Much of my current work is about 'decolonising', variously research tools and techniques, the curriculum and learning technology but this largely refocuses my earlier thinking and writing around an emerging and important theme.

I was diagnosed a couple of years with Aspergers syndrome, putting me on the autistic spectrum. I realise with hindsight the extent to which this must have determined my intellectual and professional processes and my relationships with others, and thus the extent to which it has influenced my teaching, my attitude to technology and my research practices. It is difficult to be definitive, but it might have predisposed me to online, asynchronous or structured teaching situations as opposed to informal, spontaneous or face-to-face ones, perhaps to solitary rather than collaborative roles or activities, and perhaps to critical realist rather interpretivist research positions. The revelation of the diagnosis, coming in September 2017, should initiate ‘reasonable adjustment’ in my working conditions but also is now an objective framework within which to consider professional development and direction (and stop me talking over people so much).

Key influences, stimuli and provocations have over the years included

  • Rogers for his work on the diffusion of innovations (many learning technologies are innovations but so implicitly is transformative learning);

  • Heeks for enunciating ICT4D2.0, per-poor & para-poor, and making me think that it could be applied to learning and that research governance, ethics and methods could also be per-poor & para-poor, and could applied equally to the ‘poor’ of the Global North;

  • Illich for questioning the roles of technology and education in supporting or inhibiting equitable and convivial lives and livelihoods;

  • Laurillard for providing conceptualisations that encourage theoretical thoughts;

  • Sen for challenging me to find measures of progress and development beyond the merely material or objective;

  • Hofstede for allowing me to incorporate culture systematically into underpinnings of technology and learning;

  • Kuhn for his work on scientific revolutions, and helping me think about how social, informal and mobile digital learning are conceptualised and challenged.

  • And my colleagues, encounters, students and community.

My evidence is research outputs, providing either direct or circumstantial support, sadly all textual, no artefacts, no graphics, plus videos illustrating communications and ideas. I have considerable autonomy in my work, so these outputs represent my views and values rather than those of any funder or employer. I publish a very infrequent blog.