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PhD accepted for public defence

phd_frontIn November 2016, I finally managed to hand in my dissertation, and earlier this week I received the preliminary assessment, which was positive insofar as the assessment committee unanimously recommends that my dissertation should be accepted for public, oral defence – BIG YAY :-)

The defence will take place at Aalborg University in Copenhagen (AAU-CPH) on January 26th 2017 . The assessment committee consists of the following people:

My PhD-supervisor, Lone Dirckinck-Holmfeld (Aalborg University) will moderate the defence, which is set for three hours:


The abstract of my dissertation reads as follows:

The purpose of this study is to understand and conceptualize the transformation of a particular community of pedagogical practice based on the implementation of the 3D virtual world, Second Life™. The community setting is a course at the Danish online postgraduate Master’s programme on ICT and Learning, which is formally situated at Aalborg University. The study is guided by two research questions focusing on the participants’ responses to the avatar phenomenon and the design of the course.

In order to conduct and theorize about the transformation of this community of practice due to the 3D-remediation a research-led Action Research approach has been chosen to enable research with focus on both actions and critical reflections carried out in four consecutive research cycles from 2007-2011. 53 master students, one main teacher (the author), and several guest teachers have participated in the study. The findings are predominantly based on analysis of asynchronous student discussions in FirstClass™ (1.104 postings) and synchronous participant observation in Second Life (130 hours). A Grounded Theory-inspired approach has been used to generate and analyse the data in this study, meaning that no predefined theoretical framework was used to guide the design of the research cycles from the onset of the study. However, as the research progressed more and more elements from situated learning and the communities of practice theory influenced the design.

The study has demonstrated the importance of the avatar as pedagogical design element given that it is through the avatar the participants identify themselves and others, create meaning and experience learning in the virtual world. Furthermore, the findings show that the avatar cannot be understood devoid of context, devoid of other pedagogical design elements.

In summary, the study contributes with knowledge about 3D Virtual Worlds, the influence of the avatar phenomenon and the consequences of 3D-remediation in relation to teaching and learning in online education. Based on the findings, a conceptual design model, a set of design principles, and a design framework has been developed.

The preliminary assessment is 3 1/2 pages long and includes a summary and a critical evaluation of my dissertation. In my lecture, I will present my research while trying to address some of the critique given by the committee. Based on the evaluation, I anticipate a discussion of some of the following topics:

  • The concept of virtual/virtuality
  • My literature review strategy (State-of-the-art review)
  • My analytical strategy, Grounded Theory (GT) and the role of theory in GT
  • Insider research and positionality
  • The differences and similarities between Action Research (AR) and Design Based Research (DBR)
  • The Communities of Practice framework
  • The challenge of using learning theory for pedagogical design (and perhaps a discussion on the difference between anthropological and psychological perspectives on learning and education)
  • Socio-cultural vs. socio-material theories and approaches to understanding the world (of education)
  • The status and future of SL and other 3D virtual worlds in education

I’m currently in the process of preparing my defence, and I have to admit that I’m somewhat nervous. The main text of my dissertation is approx. 250 pages long, so there are a lot of issues to consider. I am, however, hoping that I will be able to put aside this nervousness and enjoy the whole thing. It truly is a unique opportunity to discuss some of the issues I care deeply about with some very clever people :-)


Participation in NERA 2017 with a paper about Boundary Objects in Networked Learning


My PhD-supervisor, Lone Dirckinck-Holmfeld (AAU) and I have a paper accepted for the NERA 2017 conference. The 45th Congress of the Nordic Educational Research Association (NERA) will be held on 23-25 March 2017 at Aalborg University (AAU) in Copenhagen, Denmark. The theme of the conference is: Learning and education – material conditions and consequences.

Our paper is entitled: Participation and reification through (dis)embodiment as resource and arena for networked learning, and the abstract reads as follows:

In networked learning information and communications technology (ICT) is used to promote connections and interaction: between people and between people and resources, and thus boundaries and boundary work is always prevalent in discussions on networked learning (Ryberg & Sinclair, 2016). Based on two different case studies conducted at the Danish online Master programme on ICT and Learning (MIL), this paper addresses the issue of participation and reification through (dis)embodiment in design for networked learning.

Basically teaching is about designing opportunities for people to learn (Goodyear, 2015, Wenger, 1998), and according to Goodyear, Carvalho & Dohn (2016) there is an important distinction between elements of a learning networks that can be designed (partially, or completely), and processes that are emergent. From a learning perspective, how participants respond to design through their activities and through their use of boundary objects, is interesting. Building on Wenger’s (1998) learning architecture, we analyse how the two designs for learning differ in terms of design dimensions and with regard to potential boundary objects.

In study I, the arena for learning was a 2D virtual learning environment (Dirckinck-Holmfeld, 2006), whereas the arena for learning in study II was a 3D virtual world (Riis, forthcoming). Carlile (2002) proposed a hierarchical typology for boundary objects, and in our analysis, we identify different boundary objects in the two learning arenas. Our findings show that all categories of boundary objects can mediate knowledge according to the typology, which suggests a relational rather than a hierarchical view on boundary objects. Nonetheless, certain boundary objects in the 3D learning arena (study II), in particular the avatar, seem to promote transformation in a more embodied manner, which has implications for identity formation of the participants. Furthermore, the 3D virtual space affords a concrete materialised, albeit virtual, opportunity for reification, which is different to that of the 2D environment. In the paper we will elaborate on these differences and based on the two cases provide a typology of boundary objects serving networked learning organised as problem and project based learning.

As seen in this abstract, we aim to analyse and compare findings from two different studies conducted at the Master’s programme on ICT and Learning (MIL) which is situated at AAU. Study I has been conducted by Lone, where she has focused on MIL students’ use of a conventional 2D virtual learning environment, whereas study II is based on my PhD-research with MIL students in Second Life (SL).

In our current research project on ICT, transfer and boundary crossing in vocational education and training at the Metropolitan University College, my colleagues and I have been inspired by Lone’s (2006) study in which she explores Carlile’s (2002) typology of boundary objects in networked learning. While the empirical settings in both Lone’s study and in my PhD study (forthcoming) differ from our current research project, there are several theoretical overlaps. In should be noted that I did not study boundary objects and boundary crossing processes in my PhD. Nonetheless, when revisiting my PhD-findings this fall, I’ve found it possible and highly interesting to identify and analyse my data from this “new” perspective. And so this paper constitutes my first attempt to combine findings and ideas from my PhD and our current research. Given the differences in terms of target groups, educational settings and research aims, this is not an easy task, but it is quite exciting, and I’m very pleased to be able to collaborate with Lone on this.

According to Star (2010) a boundary object is an artefact that inhabits and bridge intersecting practices. In other words, one could argue that the theory and concepts of boundary crossing and boundary objects actually functions as a boundary object between my different research practices .. very meta ;-)



Carlile, P.R. (2002). A Pragmatic View of Knowledge and Boundaries: Boundary Objects in New Product Development. Organization Science, Vol. 13, No. 4, July-August 2002, pp. 442-455.

Dirckinck-Holmfeld, L. (2006). Designing for Collaboration and Mutual Negotiation of Meaning: Boundary Objects in Networked Learning Environments. In Banks, S.; Hodgson, V.; Jones, C.; Kemp, B. & McConnell, D. (eds.). Proceedings of the Fifth International Conference on Networked Learning 2006: Symposium: Relations in Networks and Networked Learning, organised by Chris Jones. Lancaster University. pp. 1-9.

Goodyear, P.; Carvalho, L. & Dohn, N.B. (2016). Artefacts and Activities in the analysis of Learning Networks. In Ryberg, T.; Sinclair; Bayne, S. & de Laat, M. (eds.) Research, Boundaries, and Policy in Networked Learning. Springer. pp. 93-110

Goodyear, P. (2015). Teaching as design. HERDSA Review of Higher Education, Vol. 2, pp. 1-24.

Riis, M. (forthcoming). Avatar-mediation and Transformation of Practice in a 3D Virtual World – Meaning, Identity, and Learning. PhD-dissertation, Aalborg University.

Ryberg, T. & Sinclair, C. (2016). The Relationships Between Policy, Boundaries and Research in Networked Learning. In Ryberg, T.; Bayne, S. & de Laat, M. (eds.). Research, Boundaries, and Policy in Networked Learning. Springer. pp. 1-20.

Star, S.L. (2010), This is not a boundary object; Reflections on the origin of the concept. Science, Technology, and Human Values, 25(5), 601-617.

Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of Practice. Learning, Meaning, and Identity. Cambridge University Press.

Challenges in designing for horizontal learning

Even though, my colleagues and I’ve presented our preliminary research results on several occasions, so far we’ve only presented in English once. In May 2016, I had the opportunity of presenting a short paper at the Designs for Learning conference in Copenhagen at AAU-CPH:


Our short paper can be found here (pp. 97-101)


For those readers who understand Danish, I’ve written a more detailed post about the conference on our Danish research blog.