Case MIL09: Didactic Design Discussion – 4

On December 3rd we had a special edition of the Didactic Design Discussion in the MIL course, since both Terry Anderson and Ross McKerlich visited us to talk about the Community of Inquiry (COI) model. The COI model was developed in the late 1990’ies as framework for evaluating educational experience in text-based online environments by D. Randy Garrison, Terry Anderson and Walther Archer. Given the COI model’s wide spread use in different educational settings it is by no means coincidental that one of the original founders, Terry Anderson, has found it important to explore the applicability of the model in new online environments such as the 3D virtual world, Second Life (SL). Together with McKerlich Anderson conducted a preliminary, qualitative exploratory study in SL in 2007 and basically confirmed that the model also can be used in assessing educational experience in 3D virtual environments (McKerlich & Anderson. 2007). Anderson and McKerlich later invited Brad Eastmann and I to participate in the continued study of COI in 3D virtual worlds and as part of this study we record different educational experiences in SL to be used for later analysis.


Terry presenting COI to the MIL students

Besides being an excellent tool with regard to analyzing interaction and communication the COI model, which consists of 3 different  types of presence indicators (cognitive, social and teaching), can also be used as a heuristic tool for designing online educational experiences. The MIL students in this year’s course are all educators involved in course designing within blended learning and they all seemed to find the COI model interesting and relevant to their current work. What I appreciate about the model is the fact that it deals with presence and not immersion which otherwise seems to be the buzz word when studying 3D virtual worlds. Even though both presence and immersion have to do with the user experience, I do find there is an important difference between the two concepts. Based on the four research cycles I’ve completed in my PhD project so far, my experience is that all users achieve a sense of presence when they enter a virtual environment like SL, which I think above all has to do with the avatar and its ability to move around and meet other avatars, communicate and interact in real time. It is, however not my impression that all users in these types of environments achieve the sense of immersion – at least not if immersion is defined by a sense of “willing suspension of disbelief” as proposed by Dede. 2005 among others.  An important part of this discussion is of course how one chooses to define the concepts and since I intend to use both presence and immersion in my own model this is something I’ll return to.

After the presentation, McKerlich introduced to our survey related to the COI study and we went on to use The Opinionater, which once again proved its worth as a great tool for initiating discussions.

/Mariis

Community of Inquiry (COI) in Virtual Worlds study

Early this spring Ross McKerlich, Terry Anderson & Brad Eastman invited me to participate in a research study on the usefulness of the Community of Inquiry (COI) model as evaluation tool in virtual worlds. Originally the COI model was developed in the late 1990’ies as framework for evaluating educational experience in text-based online environments by D. Randy Garrison, Terry Anderson and Walther Archer:

Central to the study introduced here is a model of community inquiry that constitutes three elements essential to an educational transaction – cognitive presence, social presence, and teaching presence. Indicators (key words/phrases) for each of the three elements emerged from the analysis of computer conferencing transcripts. The indicators described represent a template or tool for researchers to analyze written transcripts as well as a guide to educators for the optimal use of computer conferencing as a medium to facilitate an educational transaction.

communitymodel_small(COI website)

The COI model was developed as part of a Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities research funded project entitled “A Study of the Characteristics and Qualities of Text-Based Computer Conferencing for Educational Purposes”. Further details on that project, including papers describing the theoretical and methodological underpinnings of the model can be found on the COI website.

Given the COI model’s wide spread use in different educational settings it is by no means coincidental that one of the original founders, Terry Anderson, has found it important to explore the applicability of the model in new immersive environments such as the 3D virtual world, Second Life (SL). Together with McKerlich Anderson conducted a preliminary, qualitative exploratory study in SL in 2007 and basically confirmed that the model also can be used in assessing educational experience in immersive environments (McKerlich & Anderson. 2007).  Not unexpectedly, they did however also find that some adjustments would be appropriate – e.g. extending categories demonstrating social presence. This 2007 study did not allow for the authors to examine methodological issues such as validation deeply. Furthermore McKerlich and Anderson found the phenomenological experience of both learners and teachers would be worth further investigation.

Based on these preliminary findings, McKerlich and Anderson now together with Brad Eastman have initiated a new more quantitative oriented study – and this is also the study I’ve been invited to participate in. Unfortunately, I’ve not been able to contribute with very much so far due to a longer personal leave of absence from my work in general.  Nevertheless, during my absence they have successfully finished the work on developing an evaluation tool – in the shape of a survey intended for students with educational experience in immersive environments – based on original and new indicators of respectively social, cognitive and teaching presence.  The tool was publicly launched last week on several mailing lists relevant for educators using immersive worlds and the data have started to accumulate. We would of course like as many answers as possible though, so if this has caught your interest please have a look at the survey here.

Further down the line we’ll start processing the data and evaluate the tool – also by conducting in-world observations. Participation in this kind of study is quite exciting but also very challenging for me coming from a highly qualitative oriented research background. But I’m also pretty sure that I’ll learn a lot and that we’ll have some interesting discussions :-)

/Mariis

Theoretical bricolage

This week a vicious feverish flu has influenced my research stay at The Danish School of Education. Nonetheless – or perhaps because of the fever ! – I’ve been able to make some important decisions regarding the use of theory in my PhD. Yesterday I presented my PhD project and SL (hands-on) to a bunch of colleagues from the Research Programme, Media and ICT in a Learning Perspective. It was really nice to be among colleagues who were interested in my findings and had fun exploring SL :-)

In my presentation I focused mainly on theory of remediation, PBL , Experiential learning and the Community of Inquiry-model.  However, I’ve also decided to investigate another meta-theory (or Didactic theory as we would say in Northern Europe); The Theory of Interactive Constructivism. This theory stems from Germany and the work of especially Kersten Reich. Reich founded his thoughts back in the 1990’ies when he called this particular branch of constructivism Systemisch-konstruktivistische Didaktik.  It’s not a theory that I’m particularly familiar with but from readings this week it shows potentials!

Reich and his colleagues at the Cologne Dewey Center have published most of their ideas in German, but have recently started to write in English too (luckily, since my German is a bit rusty!).  Reich and colleague Stephan Neubert have set up a site for their work on Interactive Constructivism, and from a text by Neubert (2008) I quote these theoretical perspectives that demonstrate the foundations of the theory:

  • observers-participants-agents in cultural practices, routines, and institutions
  • processes of communication with particular focus on the dimension of lived relationships
  • the interplay between the symbolic resources of a life-world, the imaginative desire of subjects, and the occurrence of real events
  • the connections between processes of construction, reconstruction, and deconstruction in the cultural production of realities,
  • involvements of discourse and power,
  • cultural diversity, otherness, and incommensurability in multicultural contexts. (p.1)

There seems to be many interesting and relevant perspectives for my PhD work, but what I found especially interesting is their thoughts on reality de-/re-/construction.  Since my object of study embrace 3D virtuality I’m always on the lookout for theories that might be able to include what I call a mixed reality perspective. I don’t think Reich and Neubert have 3D virtuality in mind, when they discuss “the limits of reality constructions”, but I have a feeling that it might be possible to expand their ideas.

I was also delighted to learn that they speak of “imaginative desire” and the social aspect;

According to interactive constructivism, furthermore, these imaginative constructions cannot be separated from contexts of social interaction. That is to say, imaginative desire is always involved in mutual mirror experiences between self and others (…). (p. 9)

By bringing in this theory, I’m hoping to be able to focus more explicitly on the social aspect of teaching and learning – an aspect which Kolb often has been (wrongly in my opinion though!) criticized of neglecting.

In any case, what lies ahead of me is extensive reading and work on trying to create a coherent and relevant theory bricolage, and I’m quite positive, since all of the above theories claim to have found their inspiration in the great work of John Dewey.

More on this will follow for sure …

/Mariis