Launching a new journal is a rare event - doing it electronically is even more rare. Given the subtext for the journal: “media, technology and lifelong learning”, the format might not be so surprising. Enthusiasts for electronic publishing underline that it acts as an alternative to the traditional publishing in a number of significant ways. It is far more affordable for independent actors to establish, it is a lot more reasonable to run, and in addition supports genuine academic virtues more effectively than traditional journals: results from research can be published faster, they are accessible for everyone with a PC hooked onto the Internet, it can serve formerly unrecognised academic communities and special interests with a platform, etc.
Genevieve Brown and Beverly J. Irby give a brilliant account of the “whys” and “hows” they confronted while planning and launching their journal “Advancing Women in Leadership Journal”. Read their wonderful article in The Journal of Electronic Publishing.
The most important, however, is the founding idea, what the editors suggest as their contribution to the current discourses in the field. Seminar.net is a title we find telling: it is about education, it is about teaching and learning, about democracy in the digital age and about didactics. Now, didactics has a significant position in educational theory in general. Behind the development of didactics, there is a long history of trying to formalise the “art of teaching”. Educational technology goes back to the ancient Greek, according to the historian of educational technology, Paul Saettler. Trying to make teaching meaningful to the student, efficient in its use of time and resources, coping with both the process of conveying meaning, cultural standards and upbringing as well as initiating the young into the world of adults is a complex activity. Inventing methods, tricks of the trade and rules of thumb, has, during history, been crucial in making training of teachers possible. In this sense didactics, has been the technology whereby teachers could act efficiently. One dimension of this technology is theoretical e.g. what researchers investigate and theorize. Another dimension is practical and material. The school building, classrooms, blackboards, textbooks – are all exponents, or representations of what we during history have conceived of as promoting teaching and learning. They are material expressions of the educational technology.
The digital tools for information and communication technology have intensified the significance of a more thorough understanding of the media in education. Pedagogical innovations are clearly linked to innovations in methods for communication, its rhetoric and ability to mediate. The relation between the objective world and the subjective mind is a mediated relation. Comenius’ suggested that children would understand this relation when it was represented and mediated in ways that gave meaning to them. Language, images and the senses made it possible to induce from observation and logically connect them to former knowledge. It was the task of the teacher to make this mediation possible, and Comenius invented the modern textbook to aid teachers in their efforts. In many respects, modern educational technology, particularly the personal computer and the Internet provides education with the same mediating capacities.
The articles of this first issue are invited contributions. Lars Qvortrup, adjunct professor of the Centre for media education at Lillehammer University College, director of KnowledgeLab.Dk as well as professor of Media at the University of Southern Denmark, gives a thorough introduction to the educational theory of Niklas Luhmann (1927-1998), the German sociologist. He played a major role in making Systems Theory applicable to social theory, and introduced a number of new insights to how the modern world functions. Qvortrup is one of Luhmann’s finest interpreters, who extends and develops his work into media and communications theory. In this article he shows how Luhmann’s theoretical notions fruitfully can stimulate developments in educational theory. David Hamilton, Ethel Dahlgren, Agneta Hult and Tor Söderström, University of Umeå, present a collaborative paper, which critically looks into the Swedish tradition of ”Folkbildning”. Folkbildning is deemed to be student-centred, participatory and constructivist, - a materialized version of the ideal of Bildung, in which conversation (Swedish: samtalet) is the fundamental tool. The authors question how various software handle this phenomenon, and seeks to develop a critique of their ability to support the genuine samtalet. As things are, students are confused by a multitude of “threads” and cross-postings that follow the trails intended by the tutors (or the engineers), and it is difficult to emulate the pedagogic practice with its “inherited values of liberal adult education (or folkbildning)” by the on-line education software of today. They finally compare this critique with the conclusions of the policy paper prepared by the On-line Distance Learning (ODL) Liaison Committee (created by the member networks of the European Distance Education Network (EDEN)).
Our third contribution is from one of the leading researchers in adult education in the UK, senior lecturer Neil Selwyn, University of Cardiff. His paper delineates reflexivity as a phenomenon in the learning society, and asks whether the use of ICT in contemporary flexible education contribute to the reflexivity of the learner. The empirical research project is presented and a number of interesting conclusions made. The reflexivity of learners using ICT, is not necessarily an effect of using ICT. Some were living “reflexive” lives in many other aspects as well. The relation between reflexivity and flexible learning is in practice a very complex one. The image of the self-directed learner being a reflexive and autonomous entity, is an idealised image, and not representative of the average flexible learner.
By these three contributions for our first issue, we hope to have stimulated readers to contribute with their own writing from their theoretical and empirical contexts!