An Interview with Prof Dr Rozhan M Idrus,
The Azman Hashim Chair in E-Learning, OUM
By Dr David Lim
Dr David Lim (DL): There are multiple areas of research areas in open and distance learning [ODL] in Malaysia, as well as globally. Can you say something about the particular areas you're currently engaging with?
Prof Dr Rozhan M Idrus (RI): My area of interest and research has always been instructional design and content development, especially in the emergence of technology-enhanced learning. This is all the more of a pertinent consideration as ODL leverages on technology in the educational transaction with learners. As a result of ongoing research, I introduced the concept of technogogy in 2005 at the 5th International Educational Technologies Conference in Sakarya, Turkey. Technogogy is about converging the elements of learner, content, pedagogy and technology. It has been the mainstay of my research in ODL and the concept has evolved into a ubiquitous content development framework and resource architecture metadata input for the purpose of content design considerations and resource tagging as a search mechanism. A proposal to incorporate technogogy in OUM is forthcoming.
Technogogy is about converging the elements of learner, content, pedagogy and technology
DL: What are the particular areas in ODL research you think Malaysia is lacking in and ought to prioritise?
RI: A quick glance at ODL research in Malaysia tells us that it revolves mainly around technology, the use of mobile devices, computer-mediated communication, and software. Learner perception is another popular research endeavour. We have saturated the technological tools angle and should now focus on real pedagogical issues in content or learning design. The learnability of the content is paramount as the freedom of space and time has to be supported by superior and well-articulated self-instructional content to facilitate ODL. This is all the more relevant in wake of MOOCs, OER and microlearning.
DL: From your past research, which one or two of them are closest to your heart, and why?
RI: The learners have always been my focus as they are the recipient of the programme, content and support system in ODL. This is accentuated by the fact that they study in asynchronous mode for most of the time, independent of real time. Flexibility and learner autonomy have put an added dimension to the providers to ensure meaningful educational transaction. We must be sensitive to the diverse demographic profile of the learners as this will affect the way many elements in the provision of the programmes being offered. Content design follows, perhaps coincidentally as I was initially trained as an instructional designer for self-instructional materials for distance learning. When you put yourself in the learner's shoes, you get a feel of the need for clear instructions and didactic skill to facilitate for their learning. Content of this nature is highly researched and structured with clear view of the learner and learning outcomes to fulfil. My focus on content design has also led to my contribution of the concept of technogogy.
DL: On research in ODL and educational technology, how would you respond to the charge that very little of the experimental in technology actually filters down to everyday teaching-learning practice, at least in Malaysia?
RI: It is easy to join the razzmatazz in the use of technology in teaching and learning, and to boast that one's provision of ODL is on par with global providers. There's a reason why technologists emphasise the appropriate use of technology in education. Its use ought to be considered in relation to the needs and objectives of the country, in this case, Malaysia. Here's the thing: What works elsewhere may not be applicable here, and vice versa. To ensure technological and pedagogical applicability, one has to do an in-depth pilot study. This process takes time and specialised human resource, and unless these are attended to, the charge - that very little of the experimental in tech actually filters down to everyday teaching-learning practice - is probably true.
DL: How would you respond to the claim that common or everyday technologies that enable the masses to interact online on such platforms as Facebook [FB] and WeChat do not translate well in educational settings? I ask this because many appear to have this expectation that, because an overwhelming majority of people are well-versed and comfortable interacting online with content and other users, they ought to be similarly active in ODL.
We have saturated the technological tools angle and should now focus on real pedagogical issues in content or learning design.
RI: The act of being active and interacting online - on FB or Telegram, for instance - and the act of an educational undertaking are two different processes altogether; in the same way that one cannot equate the logging in to an online course with actual learning. To me, there are no correlations as the functions are different, which brings us back to the question of the appropriate use of technology. This must be clear. To employ a certain technology - say, FB - in an educational setting, one must be clear strategically as to why it is to be adopted. What issues will it solve? What will it facilitate? How does it improve the teaching and learning process in ODL? To this point, I have to say that technology is innocent, and I leave it to you to identify the guilty party.
The promise of ODL can only be realised by promoting openness and removing barriers in education.
DL: How do you see the future of ODL in Malaysia unfolding?
RI: ODL in Malaysia has been grossly underrated; its concept and philosophy have yet to be properly understood. The promise of ODL can only be realised by promoting openness and removing barriers in education, such as those that limit learners' choices, with respect to access and flexibility, for instance. Promoting openness and removing educational barriers will lead to a new educational landscape of personalised curriculum, an expansion of learner competencies, and the entrenchment of a knowledge-based society'