Thesis 1.1 – Introduction

In the traditions of open source’s “release early, release often” and in an attempt to get me writing, I am going to start releasing parts of my PhD thesis. Almost certainly of limited use to others and likely to demonstrate various flaws, but hopefully the public release might generate some fixes and encourage some progress.

This is Chapter 1, Section 1 – the introduction. Subsequent bits to come as available.

Introduction

This thesis describes the formulation and testing, over an extended period, of an Information Systems Design Theory (ISDT) (Walls, Widmeyer et al. 1992) for e-learning. In this thesis e-learning is defined as the use of information and communications technology to support and enhance learning and teaching in higher education institutions (HEIs) (OECD 2005). The e-learning ISDT provides guidance to practitioners on how to design and develop an e-learning information system that offers a greater variety of features, allows greater flexibility in the choice of applications, greater integration within the organization and encourages greater staff and student usage (Jones and Gregor 2004).

Unlike much design-science research, where constructed artefacts are rarely full-grown information systems that are used in practice (Hevner, March et al. 2004), this e-learning ISDT has been instantiated and tested in Webfuse (Jones 1999), a real-world information system that has been used by thousands of students and staff. The work described in this thesis started in 1996 with the intent to develop an integrated information system to enable use of web-based learning and provide a distinct advantage over competitors (Jones and Buchanan 1996). In the ten years since 1996 an iterative, action-research process has been used to evolve the system and the associated ISDT through three distinct generations. Each generation has lead to iterative improvements and testing of the ISDT.

This chapter provides an overview and background to the thesis. It starts by providing a brief background to the research, expanded further in Chapter 2, including a justification of the importance and relevance of the research. Drawing on this background the chapter then outlines the research problem and describes the research methodology adopted to address that problem. Limitations of this work are outlined before providing an overview of the structure and content of this thesis.

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