This paper examines the experiences of selected academics pioneering e-learning in Malaysian tertiary institutions. It begins with an overview of the broad factors shaping the Malaysian educational environment and then proceeds to examine the experience of individual teachers and e-learning programs. It takes an in-depth qualitative approach to engaging with this case study material drawing heavily on semi-structured interviews with key actors. Conversations with several respondents suggested that the social networks of mentor relations found in the Malaysian case studies might be aptly described as ‘bamboo networks’. Bamboo, which happens to be plentiful in the Malaysian peninsula where these case studies are based, spreads from clump to clump through a series of underground connections involving a mature clump of bamboo sending out a subterranean runner, often over very long distances that then emerge into the open as a new bamboo clump. All of those interviewed reported that they have found it difficult to find a support base in their first years of pioneering online developments. Consequently, they tended to fall back on their peer networks linked to the institutions at which they had studied. Prominent individuals championing e-learning in the institutions where they teach tend to form small groups for information sharing and networking. They do look to their management for tacit ‘permission’ rather than direct encouragement. Consequently, the active promotion of e-learning in Malaysia can be described as being ‘middle-down’ rather than ‘top-down’ in nature. That is to say, it is mid-level teachers that inspire those below them to join in the development of e-learning programs. They are internally driven and strongly motivated. In time, their activity should produce new generations of locally developed e-learning experts but this has yet to take place in a substantial fashion. This study shows that both men and women ‘academic guanxi’, or peer networks, play a key role in the adoption of online technologies. Key early adopters become change-agents by inspiring a small network of their peers and via their guanxi networks. It was also discovered that motivation is not simply an individual matter but is also about groups and peer networks or communities of exchange and encouragement. In the development of e-learning in Malaysia, there is very little activity that is not linked to small clusters of developers who are tied into wider networks through personal contacts. Like clumping bamboo, whilst the local clusters tend to be easily seen, the longer-range ‘subterranean’ personal connections are generally not nearly so immediately obvious. These connections are often the product of previous mentoring relationships, including the relationships between influential teachers and their former postgraduate students. These relationships tend to work like bamboo runners: they run off in multiple directions, subterranean and unseen and then throw up new clumps that then send out fresh runners of their own.
Field of Research
130306 Educational Technology and Computing
Socio Economic Objective
970108 Expanding Knowledge in the Information and Computing Sciences
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