In Conversation with Dr Aras Bozkurt

By Dr David Lim

Dr Aras Bozkurt is a researcher and faculty member at Anadolu University, Türkiye. With MA and PhD degrees in distance education, Dr Bozkurt’s work focuses on empirical studies in areas such as distance education, online learning, networked learning, and educational technology. He applies critical theories like connectivism, rhizomatic learning, and heutagogy to his research. Dr Bozkurt is also interested in emerging research paradigms, including social network analysis, sentiment analysis, and data mining. Dr Bozkurt’s studies also cover the integration of artificial intelligence technologies into educational processes in the axis of human-machine interaction. His dedication to advancing the field is reflected in his role as the Editor-in-Chief of Open Praxis and the Asian Journal of Distance Education, and as an associate editor for prestigious journals like Higher Education Research and Development, Online Learning, eLearn Magazine, and Computer Applications in Engineering Education.


Dr David Lim [DL]: Any researcher who has done even a cursory literature sweep on online, distance, and digital education (ODDE) would have, without fail, encountered your name more than once, as a testament to your prolific output and active participation in various ODDE forums. How, to begin, did you come into the field of ODDE, and what is it about ODDE that compels you to build a career and intellectual journey of discovery around it?

Dr Aras Bozkurt (AB): My educational background is a bit complicated. I have two high school degrees, an associate’s degree, a bachelor’s degree, and master’s and doctoral degrees. I also dropped out at the end of two bachelor’s and one master’s degree programs.

I have crossed paths with distance education programs twice in shaping my career and I have graduated from these programs. In fact, I somehow experienced my current field of study as a student at different points in my life. In other words, the field I am working in is a field of research that I have personally experienced as a student, one whose outstanding benefits I have witnessed. Metaphorically, in order to teach swimming, you need to go into the sea and get wet, and I have been in those waters a lot as an ODDE student and now as an ODDE researcher.


DL: As a Türkiye-based scholar straddling Europe and Asia, and as a journal editor with insights gained from having full access to manuscripts submitted by scholars from all parts of the world, how would you characterize the respective issues and concerns of ODDE scholarship and open universities (OUs) from Europe and Asia? In what ways do you see them as converging and diverging?

AB: My answer will be a bit general, but there are a few things I have observed. In all fields in general and in ODDE in particular, the higher education system is evolving towards a quantified nature. For higher education institutions, it is often more important to be listed in ranking indexes, while for researchers, it is more important to get a certain number of citations or a certain h-index value, or to publish in journals with so-called prominent indexes, and this situation has reached its peak especially in countries where eastern culture is dominant.

On knowledge production, I think there is more methodological fetishism than scientific rigor in educational research in general and ODDE research in particular.

From the organizational perspective, OUs in Europe tend to unbundle their services by disaggregating educational provisions into component parts, or rebundle them by reaggregating those parts into new components and models. In comparison, OUs in Asia tend to bundle their services by providing most of the components of educational provision by themselves. So, I would argue that OUs have evolved in two different directions in the East and West of the globe.

On knowledge production, I think there is more methodological fetishism than scientific rigour in educational research in general and ODDE research in particular. I have also been encountering, increasingly, research done to apply a particular method, as opposed to research whose method is determined by the research questions. Also, interestingly, methodologies tend to be interpreted differently on a country-by-country basis, let alone on a continental basis. This peculiarity tends to shape the development of the ODDE field in the respective countries.

In the case of ODDE research, I see that definitions made forty or fifty years ago are still being adopted. Although these definitions are meaningful in different contexts and times, they need to be updated today. For instance, we need definitions that focus on transactional distance rather than distance in time and space. This is because distance in time and space, which was emphasized in the past, is no longer a significant problem in the light of current technological developments, nor is it a prominent aspect of ODDE applications. Therefore, we need “living” definitions that are more inclusive of the concept of ODDE, that relate not only to institutional practices but also to lifelong learning activities, and that react quickly to techno-social developments.

we need ‘living’ definitions that are more inclusive of the concept of ODDE, that relate not only to institutional practices but also to lifelong learning activities, and that react quickly to techno-social developments.


DL: Over at least the past decade, you have researched and published on a wide range of education-related subjects, including the learning and acquisition of English in the digital age, design and evaluation criteria for interactive e-books, massive open online courses (MOOCs), digital identity formation, online networked learning spaces, and human-centred pandemic pedagogy. Of late, you have been focusing on generative artificial intelligence (GenAI) and the application of artificial intelligence in education (AIED). What is it specifically about GenAI and AIED that hooks your scholarly attention?

AB: The fact that generative AI, unlike generic AI, can use language to process as much data as humans and even go far beyond human cognitive capacity is an important breaking point and paradigm shift. But what is truly significant here is perhaps not the emergence of a technology like generative AI (GenAI), but rather the fact that language, the most sophisticated soft technology of humans, can be used by an entity other than humans. Speculating on the extent of the implications of this development may be difficult but I can say that we are living in a present where a different future is taking shape.


DL: In your recent editorial in Open Praxis, “Tell Me Your Prompts and I will Make Them True” (2024), you argue for the importance of prompt engineering in maximizing the benefits of GenAI, even as you made clear that algorithms and training data are also key factors in determining the effectiveness of GenAI models. “Skilfully crafted prompts”, as you rightly point out, “are pivotal for facilitating effective communication and interaction with AI.” To generate good prompts, creativity and an informed understanding of GenAI are required, as is a good command of written language. On writing, most of us who teach it know from practice that it is a skill that many students find challenging to acquire and hone, especially in open and distance mode. The lack of compositional proficiency would be hobbling in the context of prompt engineering, wouldn’t you say?

AB: In fact, you can ask the generative AI to write a prompt according to the relevant context by just giving background details and key points, and you can use the crafted prompt to carry out your own request in the second stage. This is perhaps reverse engineering in a sense, but it is a solution that works.

Yes, proficiency is important in many things, but what really matters is how you communicate with GenAI. As Ramesh Sharma and I put it in our paper, “Generative AI and Prompt Engineering” (2023), “Metaphorically, if generative AI is Aladdin’s magic lamp, your wishes are your prompts that you will engineer. To get the genie out of the magic lamp, you need to use skillfully crafted prompts.”

In the same paper, we also said that “drawing a parallel to Aladdin’s story, we find ourselves playing the role of the masterminds, with generative AI mirroring the eager anticipation of a genie trapped within a lamp. We hold the privilege to issue three, perhaps even more, commands, to free this gen[i]erative AI from its realm of algorithms.” So, in short, your first wish – that is, your prompt – could be crafted to teach you how to write a good prompt, so that your future conversations and interactions with GenAI will be more effective.


DL: In “Unleashing the Potential of Generative AI” (2023), you suggest that GenAI literacy – which includes prompt engineering – can be integrated into the curriculum and educators’ teaching methods. Educators, too, no doubt, can benefit from deepening their knowledge and skills in this area. Can you suggest other ways in which investment in AI literacy can be put on the agenda by OUs, including the leanly-resourced ones that do not have the wherewithal to deploy AIED at scale?

AB: There are many free versions of GenAI and often even the freemium versions are very functional. GenAI can be used to create open educational resources (OER) and increase the capacity of open educational practices (OEP), especially in the OU context.

But there are still a lot of fuzzy areas that need to be addressed. For example, who owns the content generated by GenAI and how should it be licensed? Considering that these fuzzy areas will be solved one day, I think it is very strategic to invest in GenAI studies in the context of OER and OEP. However, these studies should be addressed not only from technological but also sociological, psychological, philosophical, economic, and even cultural perspectives.


DL: The rise of GenAI as exemplified by ChatGPT has, as you concede in “GenAI et al.” (2024), initiated a new cycle of “excitement, hype, hope, and speculation” about its potential transformative powers across fields, including education. In “Postdigital Educational Technology” (2024), you underscore the importance of exercising caution against techno-optimism or the belief that technological innovations will necessarily drive change for the better.

Notwithstanding, you have also made your position clear: that GenAI is here to stay, as is suggested, for instance, by the latter half of the title of your paper, “Generative Artificial Intelligence (AI) Powered Conversational Educational Agents: The Inevitable Paradigm Shift” (2023). Also, as you put it in “Unleashing the Potential of Generative AI” (2023), “generative AI will become one of the most effective educational technologies in educational praxis.”

Given the foregoing, would you concede there is a possibility that the realities of GenAI use in education may fall short of the rhetoric that GenAI will transform educational practices and processes, just as “a steady succession” of technological innovations in education have, in the past forty years, “failed ultimately to deliver on the promises initially made on their behalf”, to quote Neil Selwyn in Education and Technology: Key Issues and Debates (2022)?

AB: From a Darwinian point of view, there is a natural selection process for every technology. Many will be hyped and fizzle out while some will find acceptance and become part of mainstream technologies. This is true, also, for GenAI technologies. If they fulfil a real need, we will integrate them into our lives, perhaps to such an extent that they will become transparent and we will forget they even exist. But only in the future will we know if a technology will deliver what it promises or if it will disappear without making a difference.

As I put it in my paper titled “Educational Technology Research Patterns in the Real of the Digital Knowledge Age” (2020):

innovative […] is a magical word and there is a tendency to refer to innovative, exciting technologies as the next best thing that will save education; and moreover, as these technologies change, they are expected to transform education, perhaps even replace educators. There are those who are lured by the novelty effect responsible for generating many hypes throughout the history of educational technology and who consider EdTech as the savior descending from heaven […] It is quite clear that while technology constantly changes, the discourse remains the same. Some are lured by the technology, whereas others blame technology for making humans fools. The fact that the same terminology and discourse mark each of the periods examined gives one the sense of deja vu and is a reminder that history repeats itself, and apparently, will continue to repeat itself.”

The fact that generative AI, unlike generic AI, can use language to process as much data as humans and even go far beyond human cognitive capacity is an important breaking point and paradigm shift.


DL: Even if AI does end up disproving or overcoming the bad and the ugly that have been attributed to its general application in education, there still remains the question of whether it will benefit OUs by putting them significantly ahead of the conventional universities that have substantially eroded OUs’ technology-dependent first-mover advantage. This is precisely the question posed by Junhong Xiao in his article in Open Praxis, “Will Artificial Intelligence Enable Open Universities to Regain their Past Glory in the 21st Century?” (2024). Although Xiao claims that “there is no conclusive answer to this question”, the writing, for him, is on the wall and reads thus:

“The affordances of AI for ODE [open and distance education] are hardly distinguishable from those for campus-based higher education. If these affordances work for OUs, they are equally beneficial to campus-based higher education institutions (HEIs). In this case, OUs do not have any advantage over their counterparts. From the perspective of the iron triangle [of access, cost, and quality], AIED has yet to produce robust evidence of its effective contribution to the educational quality of OUs and also at affordable costs, when it comes to personalization and automation.”

How would you respond to the conundrum for OUs sketched by Xiao? Indeed, can any university of the future, conventional or open, afford to not fully embed and mobilize innovations like GenAI, especially in the context of teaching and learning?

GenAI can be used to create open educational resources (OER) and increase the capacity of open educational practices (OEP), especially in the OU context.

AB: I think we need to look at this issue from a broader perspective and answer it from a human-centred approach rather than a technology-centric approach. Technology is everything but it is also nothing. We have digital books and great mobile tools, but we still love reading from printed books, the sound of turning pages, the smell of paper, and even the feel of the weight of the book. Technology is a must, but it doesn’t have to be everywhere and not everyone has to use cutting-edge technologies like GenAI. This applies to individuals as well as higher education institutions like OUs.

I advocate technology as a means, not an end, and in a McLuhanian way I see it as an extension of human capacities. I also think that we tend to misconceptualize technology. Technology can be in hard (e.g., pen, paper, or computers) and soft forms (e.g., methodology, design principles, or the language itself) and it doesn’t have to be only digital. I think how we define technology is more important than how we use it. So please ask yourself, what is technology, anyway?


DL: To wrap up, of the readings you have done in recent times, which one excited, inspired, or stimulated you the most, so much so that you would want to recommend it to your friends and colleagues in the ODDE field? The work could be, for instance, a monograph, edited book, a journal article or a special issue, or even a novel, among others.

AB: In fact, I can think of many, but I would like to make an epic closing here and emphasize two magnum opuses that have greatly influenced my thinking. The first one is The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. I never thought that a story could affect me so deeply. The second book, which I implied in an earlier response, is Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man by Marshall McLuhan.

DL: Thank you, Dr Bozkurt, for taking the time to chat with us. It’s been a pleasure.

Dr Aras Bozkurt (ORCID: 0000-0002-4520-642X) may be contacted at