For the time being, this will be the third and final post describing our research project. In the first post, I wrote about the background for initiating the project, and in the the second post I zoomed in on our research questions. In this post, I focus on the design of our study.
According to Mackenzie & Knipe (2006), in the social and applied science, the exact nature of how research is defined will depend on the researcher’s personal and professional beliefs. Therefore, it is important to discern such assumptions before embarking in any research endeavour, because:
All research is interpretive: it is guided by a set of beliefs and feelings about the world and how it should be understood and studied. Some beliefs may be taken for granted, invisible, or only assumed, whereas others are highly problematic and controversial. (Denzin & Lincoln, 2011, p. 13)
Mackenzie & Knipe (2006) suggest four sets of underlying assumptions or paradigms: 1) Positivist/postpositivist, 2) Interpretivist/constructivist, 3) Transformative, and 4) Pragmatic. It is the choice of paradigm that sets down the intent, motivation and expectation for the research, and I would say that our project mainly is situated within an interpretivist line of thinking in which the intention of the research is to understand the world by trying to make sense of the experiences and attributed meanings others have about the world. Researchers focus on the processes of interaction among individuals and on the specific contexts in which individuals live and work. Further, proponents of this paradigm recognize that the researchers’ own background impact the research and their interpretation hereof. Initially we wanted to design our project as a transformative study building on a Design based Research approach, but our local research leader advised against this assuming the VET schools would be too busy to get involved in a significant manner.
Consequently, we ended up designing our project as a multiple case study (Yin, 2009) with interviews and observations as primary methods to generate and collect data in different phases of the project.
In the preliminary research phase of the project we conducted six ethnographic interviews with VET teachers, which we have written about in a short paper presented at the Designs for Learning 2016 conference (Riis et al, 2016). Building on Spradley’s (1979) ideas of descriptive questioning, and questions loosely structured around the elements in a third generation activity system, we interviewed six vocational teachers from the three dominant strands of the Danish VET system (technical, business and social- and health schools). As stated by Spradley (1979), descriptive questioning aims at uncovering the informant’s personal experience with the practice and phenomenon under study by way of having the informant elaborate through thick descriptions and examples, often times by repeating and rephrasing questions. The data generated in this initial phase was mainly targeted at answering our first sub-question regarding VET teachers’ understanding and practice concerning the concepts of boundary crossing and continuity. In brief, we found that the interviewed VET teachers predominantly think in terms of vertical learning processes and one-time and one-directional transfer, rather than horizontal processes, continuity, and boundary crossing.
In the second phase of the project (Spring 2016), we conducted classroom observations combined with further interviews (with VET students and trainers as well), and we are still in the process of analyzing the data.
Due to organizational changes in our department, which led to a reduction from five to three people in the research group (with one being a newcomer to the project), we decided not to interact directly with VET schools this fall. Instead we have focused on analyzing data and on field validating some of our pedagogic-didactic materials that we have developed, and this we have done in our teaching at the Diploma for VET teachers.
Based on our findings so far, it has become obvious that we need to focus on observing teachers and students acting with technology in the future in order to better understand the phenomenon of ICT-based artefacts and their role in boundary crossing. When looking at the different types of ICT that participants in our study actually use, it seems fruitful to focus on the use of video and learning management systems, and we are hoping to interact with VET schools in this regard beginning 2017.
Denzin, N.K. & Lincoln, Y.S. (2011). The SAGE Handbook of Qualitative Research. SAGE
Mackenzie, N. & Knipe, S. (2006). Research dilemmas: Paradigms, methods and methodology. Issues In Educational Research, Vol 16, 2006.
Riis, M., Bergstedt, P., Jørgensen, C.B., Koch, H.H. & Rasmussen, C.L. (2016). Challenges in designing for horizontal learning – in the Danish VET system. Short paper accepted for Designs for Learning conference, May 18.-20., 2016 in Copenhagen, Denmark at Aalborg University, http://www.designsforlearning2016.aau.dk/
Spradley, J.P. (1979). The Ethnographic Interview. Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.
Yin, R. K. (2009). Case Study Research. Design and methods. 4th edition. SAGE.
Today I did my first presentation of my PhD project at UCB. Sadly only a few people turned up, but they seemed engaged and asked a lot of questions, so that was good. It was the first time I presented some of my recent ideas on remediation, so that was quite interesting for me personally. I clearly need to refine my thoughts and the lack of proper English vocabulary, when I want to make a specific point, is really, really frustrating, but it is all part the learning process and I feel confident that it will become easier as time passes.
Among other things I addressed one of the challenges I currently have in relation to my thoughts on remediation. I’ve incorporated several dichotomies in my models for remediation, but I only see them as theoretical/analytical tools – reality (in whatever shape it represents itself) is much more complex and I don’t necessarily consider them to be mutually exclusive. Another problem is that some of the concepts I’m using are ambiguous, so I have a lot of work ahead of me in determining how I will define these concepts, and as examples of this uncertainty I presented the following three slides:
On the 2nd day of the Virtual Worlds Best Practice in Education (vwbpe) I started out by participating in a session by Graham Mills entitled “TBinSL – Thinking Big about the Very Small”. Graham spoke of the use of SL for visualization of especially molecules, gene data and cells and what was particularly interesting was that he rezzed various objects to support his slides such as the TB genome illustrated below.
Afterwards Graham blogged about his experience mentioning a couple of the challenges a presenter may face. First of all he forgot to lock the slide viewer, which meant that people in the audience could change the slides – for those who have not attended a presentation in-world it may seem rude or strange that the anyone in the audience would do this, but in my experience many SL users spend time running their cursors over objects to see if any are interactive – in spite of this, it was not a problem I was disturbed by during Graham’s presentation.
As I understand it, vwbpe-presenters had been encouraged to use the so-called SpeakEasy-tool by the conference organizers. The SpeakEasy-tool enables the presenter to deliver pre-typed text into local chat, while presenting thus allowing the hearing impaired or anyone else to get the information in the form of text too. I have not tried out the SpeakEasy-tool, but judging from Graham’s post it adds yet another element to the many issues an in-world presenter needs to be aware of. Graham wisely chose to react instantly to the comments and questions in the local chat during his presentation. This local chat phenomenon is in my point of view one of the major strengths of SL because it has the potential of opening the dialogue between the presenter and the audience. Having run 4 course in-world I do however also know how complex the communication becomes, especially if you have no one to help moderate, and I can fully relate to Graham’s description of the situation.
Note that on the University of Liverpool Island it is possible to check out some of the amazing visualizations Graham and his colleagues have been working on. Graham has also started to explore some of the new features in the SLV2 such as Shared Media and shadow effects, and on his blog, you’ll find some interesting posts on this.
The next session I attended was a presentation by Kattan Hurnung, who spoke of her experiences with “Design to develop Virtual Wolds”. In this post you’ll find both Kattan’s slides and a recording of her presentation.
Via 5 examples of designing respectively a café, a canteen, a dwelling, an office and an operating theatre Kattan presented a very interesting grid that depicted the relations between information provided if forms of text, images and/or scenarios and the expected learning outcome given by teachers prior to the start of the process of designing these different types of learning spaces.
I thought there were many interesting points in Kattan’s presentation and one of the things I took special notice of was her questioning the level of details in designs. Building in-world surely can be very time consuming and perhaps it isn’t necessary to aim for photo-realistic builds – less may suffice as long as the design appears believable.
Next up was a presentation by Kristy Handrick; “Revealing the didactic character of imagery in Second Life.” Unfortunately the technical problems I’d had the day before continued, everything rezzed incredibly slow and I had problems with adjusting the camera, so I gave up and took a break. Kristy also blogged about here experience as an in-world presenter and made an important point on how the SpeakEasy-tool can be helpful to ESL presenters, and since I’m also struggling with the English language, I think I may just try out the tool for my next presentations.
The last session I want to write about in this post was a fascinating conversation between Dusan Writer and Tom Bukowski (author of the book “Coming of Age in Second Life: An Anthropologist explores the Virtually Human”).
My computer still acted out, but the sound was good and I was really glad to participate in this since it raised a lot of questions/comments I need to look further into – here merely presented as points, but for those interested in seeing/hearing the conversation a recording can be found here.
- SL is a site of culture and cultures are constantly changing, though some things remain permanent.
- On AFK Tom discussed the difference between presence (to be present) and immersion (to be in a place) and how virtual worlds enables us to be immersed without being present.
- Tom was fascinated by the way “friendship has become the new default mode of social relations”, and questioned 1) how friending presumes a relation that is based on choice, and 2) the apparent egalitarian nature of such a relation. And how does this affect teaching – should we as educators friend our students, is it a cool egalitarian thing or is it just a way of masking the fact that we’ll be grading them?
- Tom studied SL in its own terms meaning he didn’t try to track down SL users in “actual” or “physical” world. This methodological approach naturally depends on one’s research question(s), but he draws the line with the common idea that no research project can be legit unless it also involves studying people in the actual world. It’s sort of a slap in the face of virtual worlds and it’s misunderstanding that what happens in virtual worlds is real, it is culture.
- There is more and more evidence of SL users identifying with their virtual personas/life – e.g. writing your avatar name on a receipt or wondering how many prims an actual building represents. We have just scratched the surface of ways in which virtual worlds are going to affect our actual lives.
- Technologies are neutral – the blow back could be positive or negative – that’s up to us, the users, the creators.
- There is a lag between the technology being invented and us realizing what we can do with it.
- “Techne within techne” – e.g. the ability for a group to collaboratively change the world that they’re in real time. The number one thing about a virtual world is that it is a place – techne makes the world; you can have techne inside the world, which is a new possibility.
I personally don’t agree that technology is neutral and I was a bit confused when hearing Tom at the end speak of different levels of user-control in different types of virtual worlds (to me the level of user-control indicates foundational ideas forced upon the users by the system developers), but other than that I really found this conversation highly inspirational!
Uh, and another observation I made by watching the recording of the conversation was how boring or non-interactive it appears because we don’t see the backchat on the screen. This was a very interactive event with many, many questions/comments from the audience and that is not the impression you get from just watching the recording. Both Dusan and Tom made several references to the audience, but I think it goes to prove the point that SL is a place and to get the full experience, you really had to have been THERE ;-)