The OU centre for STEM pedagogy
The ‘Hybrid Digital Material Networked Learning’ project or 'The Mongrel Project’ aimed to explore learning experiences involving networked physical and digital resources. Examples of these ‘hybrid’ resources include the PIRATE project, which allows groups of students to use a powerful telescope through a computer network, and the SenseBoard, which consists of a microprocessor and sensors, used by students to collect and share data across a computer network. This report details the process by which we carried out a systematic review of the literature with the aim of determining the ’state of the art’ of hybrids used in Science, Engineering and Technology (SET) learning. The report includes the main results of the search process and the themes emerging from an in-depth review of a subset of the papers located.
Conducting the systematic review entailed searching online databases of literature that covered Engineering, Science and Technology Education publications. Identifying suitable search terms was challenging as the field is under-researched and, as yet, there is not a defined or established vocabulary. We devised three sets of search terms, some generated from our own experience and some that were ‘crowd-sourced’ from STEM practitioners and researchers, which encompassed the material or physical object, the network and the learning components of the hybrid. The references generated by the combinations of search terms were imported into Mendeley reference management software for further analysis.
The next stage of the review entailed coding papers using metadata such as title, abstract and keywords. From the 808 papers identified as relevant to the project, we found that remote laboratories are the most common form of hybrid (83.9%), although there are examples of other technologies being used, such as robotics and augmented reality. Most of the literature found in our study was concerned with remote laboratories being used in Engineering, some 81.1% of papers, with relatively few reports on their use in Science, (5.4%). The majority of papers (55.8%) focussed on the technology of the hybrid and only 14.9% of papers focussed on pedagogy while a total of 87.45% were descriptive studies and 9.5% of papers were evaluative.
The coding process enabled us to identify a subset of papers that were focussed on pedagogical and organisational issues and were of a conceptual, evaluative or review type for further study. The pedagogical and organisational themes that appeared or emerged in the detailed review include: (a) the importance of the real world in learning; (b) lack of clarity of purpose in laboratory-based learning; (c) the importance of experiential learning in SET education; (d) diversity of views on effectiveness of remote labs in teaching and learning; (e) locus of control and responsiveness in using hybrids (f) varying rationales for utilisation of remote laboratories and (g) a range of approaches to the development of technologies in hybrids.
These new hybrid digital material pedagogies may provide a fresh lens with which to view more traditional material pedagogies, e.g. laboratory-based learning, and purely digital pedagogies, e.g. virtual laboratories. We conclude with some observations about the current state of research into hybrids in that papers dealing with pedagogies are relatively few. We suggest that our findings reflect the emerging nature of the field in that researchers have been primarily concerned with developing the technology and that the pedagogical issues have been less of a priority. However, as the technologies become more mature and more widely used in SET education, the research community must give more attention to the pedagogical issues.