In 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:
- Professor Thomas Ryberg, Aalborg University (chair)
- Professor Nina Bonderup Dohn, University of Southern Denmark
- Professor Sîan Bayne, The University of Edinburgh, Great Britain
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 :-)
In September, I’ll be kicking off a new PD course in SL. Participants will be teachers from The Computing School at Universidad Nacional (UNA) in Heredia, Costa Rica. The main objective of the course is to provide the participants with a combination of conceptual, theoretical, and practical (in-world) strategies with regard to designing, implementing, and teaching/learning courses of different duration using SL as main medium/approach. Unlike most of my previous courses in SL, I will not work alone in this course, but will be joined by an amazing group of co-facilitators;
- Inge Qunhua – Danish Instructional designer and teacher in SL since 2007
- Heilyn Abbot – Costa Rican colleague, Post Doc at e-Learning Lab, Aalborg University (AAU), co-facilitator in the COMBLE course
- Wica Sorbet & Ena Adjani – new Costa Rican colleagues from UNA
In-world the majority of the teaching activities will be taking place in a region with 3 Danish islands; Region Denmark, Innovative Learning, and Danish Visions.
In designing this course, I’ve naturally been drawing on my experience from previous SL courses. However, our Costa Rican colleagues are also interested in learning more about the particular PBL model we have implemented at AAU, the so-called Aalborg PBL-model. Further, during my PhD-research in SL, I’ve found the “Communities of Practice” (CoP) ideas from Wenger, 1998 to be particularly useful when teaching new technologies/media. The goal of the design is to try to establish a pedagogical Community of Practice, wherein the teaching and learning processes will be situated. Core principles in this design strategy therefore are:
- A strong and ongoing focus on learning as transformation of identity and negotiation of meaning
- Focus on Legitimate Peripheral Participation
- A socio-cultural, constructivist perspective on learning
- Learning is participant-centred
- Focus on problem orientation where learning combines theory and practice
- Learning is usually realized in pairs/groups
- Responsibility of the learning process is mutual – both between learners and learners/facilitators
- Self- and peer assessment through reflection-in-action and reflection-on-action is central
An important part of this strategy is to respect the newbie experience of the participants. The ontological challenge that is to become an avatar should be acknowledged and designed for. In practice, this means that Inge and I, who will be the main in-world facilitators, will focus on creating a safe learning environment where the newbie participants will be able to learn some of the most important basic SL skills before we actually proceed to focus on the subject matter. Today, Inge invited me in-world to see the sky sandbox, she has designed for the initial stage of the course:
And so, now that Inge has done all the hard work, all I need to do is to take some time in front of the fire to reflect on more fun, engaging, and interesting activities :-)
The dubbed UNA-AAU course starts in-world on September 12th, and I’m sure it will generate some future posts …