Classroom Research and Didactics

Next week I’ll be attending a PhD course entitled ”Classroom Research and Didactics” at The Danish School of Education, Aarhus University. All Danish PhD students must participate in PhD courses equivalent to a minimum of 30 ECTS points, and with this course I’ll hopefully earn 5 points.  Since one of the courses I facilitate at the Master Programme in ICT and Learning (MIL) is about Educational Design and ICT, and given that my primary case in which I’m doing part of my PhD research is that course, I think this PhD course will be especially relevant for my project.

The course is facilitated by Professors from The Danish PhD Programme on Didactics and Curriculum Research. Coming from another Danish University and another PhD Programme (HCCI), it will be quite interesting to learn how they define central pedagogical concepts/terms and what they define as relevant research methodologies. Even before the course has started I’m interested in the terms from the course title, and according to the course description (in Danish only) they could be defined as follows:

·         Classroom – an institutional room.

·         Didactical oriented classroom research – emphasizes the relation between on one side didactically founded goals and intentions and on the other side the actual practice in the classroom.

Part the course literature is about “belief research” implying that teachers’ underpinning beliefs can explain much of the actual classroom practice, and a course objective will be for us to examine and probably challenge our pre-understandings. In trying to do so, I’ll focus on the classroom term in this first post on the course.

It is my understanding that the term denotes a tradition within Danish Educational Research, and it is widely used both by researchers and practitioners especially in what I think would be equivalent to K12. However, I don’t think the term is appropriate when describing my own project.  At least to me, the classroom term brings associations of a strictly physical setting, a specific way of organizing the teaching and learning processes, and the term “class” indicates young learners.

My course is blended with approximately 5 hrs. face-to-face confrontation out of a total of five weeks, which means that the vast majority of the course is conducted online in both a traditional 2D learning platform (FirstClass®) and in the 3D virtual world, Second Life ® (SL). Room is simply too restricted a term to describe the setting, and I do prefer learning environment. When emphasizing learning, I do realize that there’s a risk of “forgetting” the teacher/facilitator, but since the term also indicates a very important and much needed paradigmatic shift from almost exclusive focus on the teacher/teaching to the learners/learning processes in educational research and pedagogy in general, I think this term is acceptable – at least as part of a working terminology.

When examining teaching and learning in 3D virtual worlds (and perhaps to a lesser degree in 2D settings) the whole concept of context (room, space, place, environment etc.) becomes highly relevant. The 3rd dimension is, in my opinion, what make these contexts both particular and interesting seen from an educational perspective. So this is something I will return to again and again during my project.

I do appreciate the institutional character of the classroom concept, and my focus is also on teaching and learning in a formal, university setting. However, this doesn’t mean that informal learning processes will be neglected in my own research. In fact, my pilot study (22 participants 5 weeks in SL, fall ’07) indicated that the 3D world setting amplified the students’ motivation and engagement for connecting and collaborating in more informal relations – also with other residents. Here I see another argument for not restricting my terminology to a room metaphor.  If SL is recognized and truly appreciated as a world the implications are numerous, and the complexity of the phenomena becomes apparent.

The term class is used in describing an entity of learners e.g. in a concrete course, but it is a term that we primarily reserve for describing organization in K12, which also is why we would call the learners “pupils” in that context, whereas learners at university level typically would be called “students”.  The learners in my course are adults, and we usually refer to them as students. The distinction between pupils and students may come across as academic babble, but I do think it is relevant in the sense that this distinction also indicates a difference in the roles and responsibilities of all parties involved in the teaching and learning processes.  The term student is actually debated quite often at The MIL Programme, because the term still indicates what you might call an old-fashioned view on the power balance in the learning situation and because there still is a passive, transfer element associated with the term.  So quite often we resolve to call our learners participants.

As organizing principle the term class tends to describe a situation where the whole entity of learners is addressed simultaneously, and apart from our 4 yearly face-to-face seminars, we rarely use this type of one-to-many communication. The MIL Programme is based on a Problem Oriented Project Pedagogy (POPP), which I will elaborate on in future posts. For now it suffices to say, that it basically means that we organize our participants in small groups working and theorizing on real life problems. Connected to these groups will be one or several supervisors practicing different roles/methods ranging from instruction to facilitation depending on the needs of the groups.

My initial critique of the term classroom may be too one-sided, I may not be aware of the current status of the term within classical educational research (which is how I would characterize the research at The Danish School of Education when comparing it to my own university), so I’m looking forward to discussing this and learning more during the course …


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