Title

The role of ICT and human behaviour in the knowledge transfer process among academics

Date of Award

2009

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Faculty

Faculty of Business and Law

First Advisor

Dieter Fink

Abstract

The proliferation of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) such as the Internet has enabled the provision of education using these technologies so that academic staff, as well as students, can utilise them. The learning facilitated through these technologies, known as e-Learning, is prevalent in many universities in Australia. Despite the popularity of this model of education, especially in offering flexibility in learning, it appears aspects relating to the transfer of this knowledge are not well understood in academic settings. This, in turn, has introduced a number of questions as to the creation, generation and retention of knowledge - the main pillars of knowledge management.

This study, recognising the domain of knowledge transfer in an academic setting for e-Learning purposes is still in its infancy, has raised two specific questions requiring answers. The first question concerns the use of ICT tools such as email, chat, Internet, bulletin board and WebCT and their role in encouraging transfer of knowledge from an e-Learning environment. The premise of this question was based on there being specific learning management tools, as well as generic tools for learning. It is still unclear how academic knowledge is transferred through these tools and their specific purposes. Hence, there is a need to understand tool usage in knowledge transfer.

It is imperative to understand that the main focus of this study is about understanding transfer of knowledge between academics and not that of academics and students. Certain tools such WebCT or Blackboard (Learning Management tools - LM) rarely play a role in transferring knowledge between academics as it predominantly used for transfer of knowledge between academic and students. However in this study, discussions have been drawn out on LM tools to understand what goes through an academic mind, in terms of sensing the recipient’s absorptive capacity, language barriers, time constraints and inability to sense the recipient emotions. These subtleties are indeed factors both tacit and human behavioural that can play a vital role between any two academics when exchanging knowledge over online. The academic knowledge exchange being envisaged to include global context. It can also be argued that a good proportion of our higher education students are potential academics in training, or professionals who will be interacting with the academics in the future in relation to collaborative and commercial driven research. Thus it was identified that a discussion on LM tools should been included with a view to expand emerging research factors.

The second question raised in this study is specific to the behavioural factors influencing exchange of tacit and explicit knowledge in an e-Learning environment. This question is raised in order to understand human behaviour while using the ICT tools during the knowledge transfer process.

The two questions collectively attempt to answer the dichotomy of knowledge transfer facilitated through technology and human behaviours. Due to the limited understanding of this domain, this study employed mixed methods research, the first phase using a qualitative methodology. Use of the qualitative technique has enabled the researcher to become a participant observer, facilitated through focus group discussion, in order to better understand the constructs of the study. The summarised data from this phase culminated in the construction of a quantitative survey instrument, specifically prepared for the study. The instrument contained a total of 102 questions, with 75 being dedicated to the themes extracted from the qualitative data, expressed in twelve sections ranging from usage of tools through to motivational factors, such as age.

Survey research methodology underpinned this new instrumentation implemented in the second phase, a census method being used to collect data from three different computing departments at Edith Cowan University in order to provide statistical evidence for the identified themes. Using a first order regression model (Exploratory Factor Analysis), the study established there were four specific sets of factors influencing the knowledge transfer process in an academic environment. The first factor, ‘trust’, found that a lack of trust component is present among the respondents of this study, impeding knowledge transfer. The second factor, ‘absorptive capacity’, was found to facilitate knowledge transfer among academics. The third factor ‘motivation’, was found to be lacking in the chosen environment; this was identified as an impediment. The first and the third factors appear to escalate the level of “job insecurity” issues. The last factor, ‘regeneration’, was found to be a combination of technical skills and tacit knowledge; it enabled knowledge transfer through acquisition of relevant technology skills thereby enabling content to be properly transferred to e-Learning platforms.

These factors were then grouped into facilitators and impediments, their respective influence being mapped into a conceptual model to show how knowledge transfer was influenced by them. This is the main contribution of this research to the domain of knowledge management.

The results of the study enabled recommendations to be made, which were related to the four influencing factor. The first being that tertiary institutions provide more training to their academic staff in the usage of learning management tools as this appears to positively influence knowledge transfer. The second recommendation is to facilitate social interactions among academic colleagues as this setting is where tacit knowledge is effectively transferred. The third recommendation is to develop policies to compensate for the “mentorship” time and effort required to transfer tacit knowledge to junior colleagues. The fourth recommendation is to foster industry experience to academic staff as this experience appears to be enhancing knowledge transfer. The final recommendation is that, as technological skill is essential for the transfer of content knowledge, appropriate procedures should be established to acknowledge these technological skills within academic institutions.

The study is limited in the sense that only one institution was chosen for implementation of the research within which, only three computing entities were chosen for data collection. The rationale for this was based on the fact that these academics were familiar with ICT tools enabling the possibility of identifying issues associated with technology in the total knowledge transfer process. Now that this has been accomplished to some extent, future studies should consider a broader sample set in order to further generalise outcomes of the type isolated in this study.

LCSH Subject Headings

Knowledge management.

Information behavior.

Educational technology.

Internet in education.

College teachers - Psychology.

College teaching - Information services.

Access Note

Access to this thesis - the full text is restricted to current ECU staff and students by author's request. Email request to library@ecu.edu.au

Access to this thesis is restricted. Please see the Access Note below for access details.

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