Dissertation time – time for final decisions

When I return from holidays by mid-August I’ll commence the final phase of my PhD-project, seeing that I’ll have to start writing my dissertation, which is due next summer. This means that I have to start making final decisions on what to include respectively exclude. To date I’ve completed four research cycles and I have the opportunity of running a fifth and final research cycle in December 2010 – February 2011, as I’ll be conducting yet another SL-course. However, I don’t have to include the fifth cycle in my PhD because I already have a LOT of data, and so inclusion will depend on how I’ll be doing on time. Now making decisions is difficult, but I find that sticking with them can be even more so! Fortunately a few important decisions have turned out to be long-standing.

From a methodological point of view I opted for an Action Research inspired approach from the beginning of my project and this has worked out very well giving me the data I’d hoped for through redesign/remediation, participant-observation, interviews and surveys.

I’m hoping to find the time to do a few follow-up interviews with former participants of my courses and perhaps with one of the methodological experts by who I’ve been greatly inspired, namely the anthropologist and author of “Coming of age in Second Life – An anthropologist explores the virtually human”, Tom Boellstorff of UC Irvine. As previously expressed in this post, Boellstorff advocates studying SL in its own rights, and in my opinion he’s the first anthropologist, who truly recognized how “real” the “virtual” can be, and I applaud his attempt to challenge old-school anthropology.

When it comes to other theories relevant for my work the decisions have been harder to come by, but that’s just part of the learning process. Just as it is sometimes necessary in life in general, I’ve had to make a few detours to find my way. Taking “the road less travelled by” has always been a credo of mine and I don’t expect that to change sometime soon.

Throughout my project I’ve been exploring different theories – especially within the field of teaching and learning, but lately also with regard to media theory. My affiliations with Aalborg University (AAU) and the Danish online Master Program on ICT and Learning (MIL) have nonetheless guaranteed a few fix points. At AAU the overall pedagogical framework is based on our local understanding of Problem-Based Learning (PBL) and at MIL we’ve tried to combine PBL with principles from a sociocultural-historical perspective most notably expressed by Lave & Wenger and Wenger and their ideas on Situated Learning and Communities of Practice (CoP).

While CoP-theory can help explain certain aspects of teaching and learning, it lacks the ability to explain others, and this is only logic since we’re dealing with very complex phenomena. When we combine these complex processes with the use of tools, I’ve found Vygotsky’s concept of mediation relevant and aligned with this I do believe that Bolter & Grusin’s concept of remediation contributes to a more specific understanding when the tools are identified as new, digital media. Engestrom has further developed Vygotsky’s and especially Leontjev’s ideas focusing on activity and conflicts (or even double binds) as motivation for change.  Combined with ideas of scaffolding through the zone of proximal development all of the above theories have the potential to illuminate the problems I’ve identified in my project.  The major challenge that lies ahead is trying to create a unified model that includes all of these important aspects – something that has caused me trouble, since these theorists work with different analytical units and attribute different meanings to similar or even the same concepts. Throughout my project I’ve been experimenting with using existing models and creating new ones, and even though it now seems that I will not be using any of them in my dissertation, they have served as important tools to sharpen my thinking. The most important outcome of this work has been the realization that none of the existing models satisfy my project’s need, and I therefore have to create my own model that also includes some of the aspects I’ve come to find pertinent in working with remediation in new media – i.e. time is rarely included in models depicting teaching and learning.

And so, as I’m getting ready to spend some much anticipated time AFK, I’m feeling quite confident about the next phase, even though I know that more decisions are needed and that that process will not end until I’ve Ph.inisheD. ;-)

/Mariis

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