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:

phd_defence-programme    

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 :-)

/Mariis

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

nera2017

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 ;-)

/Mariis

References

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. http://www.herdsa.org.au/herdsa-review-higher-education-vol-2

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.

High student satisfaction in SL

On June 16th, 22 students graduated from the Master’s Program on ICT & Learning (MIL) at Aalborg University, and this is where I’ve been running courses on SL for my PhD-project since 2007. As always, graduation day was an exciting day combining student anxiety and great relief and joy. After all the exams, there was a reception where the Masters received their diplomas, the daily manager of MIL, Ulla Konnerup and the Dean of Humanities, Lone Dirckinck-Holmfeld spoke about the students’ achievements and their new roles as “ambassadors of ICT & Learning”. Finally, we finished off the day with a wonderful dinner/dance at the Utzon Center, downtown Aalborg.


22 very happy Masters of ICT & Learning 2011.

As something new, the steering committee behind the MIL Program had decided to award the Program’s “Teacher of the Year”. All courses/modules are anonymously evaluated by the students, and based on these evaluations; I was fortunate to receive this award :-)


1 happy Teacher of the Year 2011 and 1 happy Dean (right).

Ironically, I’ve not (yet) seen these particular students evaluations, however, based on the evaluations the students and I did as part of the SL course, I do have a few ideas as to why the students find teaching and learning in SL so satisfying. To understand this a little background information is necessary. In my PhD-project, I’ve conducted 4 research cycles, spanning from 2007-2010. Each cycle consisted of designing, implementing, and evaluating a 6-8 week online course on ICT and instructional design based in SL and a conventional 2D VLE. From a theoretical point of view, I’ve been inspired especially by Wenger’s (1998) social theory on learning as participation in Communities of Practice (CoP), Schroeder’s (2011) ideas on presence and co-presence, and Bolter & Grusin’s (1999) concept of remediation. From a methodological point of view, I’ve been inspired by Insider Action Research (Coghlan, 2007), and ethnographical methods such as longitude participant-observation (Boellstorff, 2008). 53 adult MIL-students (majority are educators) in total have participated in my study. The table below provides a brief overview of the research cycles.


PhD-overview – July 2011.

Based on my data, I’ve been able to identify 3 analytical units that will inform the answering of my research question; namely what it means to learn via 1) a new, virtual environment, via 2) a new, virtual body, and finally via 3) new, virtual activities. The picture below shows the 3 units and the related topics that emerged in all four research cycles.


3 analytical units; virtual environment, virtual body, and virtual activities.

In this short post, I will not go into details with the units, but my findings show that being remediated as avatars in a new, virtual environment where it is possible to participate in a variety of new virtual activities greatly influenced the students’ perceptions of presence and co-presence, and from a Distance Education perspective this is one of the most valuable contributions SL has to offer. Conveying a sense of “being there together” as Schroeder puts it, is essential in Distance Education, not only in terms of student satisfaction, but also in terms of learning outcome. Further, SL also provides the participants with unique opportunities of “doing things together”, and as such it is possible to attribute some of the students’ satisfaction to SL’s affordances. I would, however, like to stress that relevant affordances do not necessarily guaranty satisfaction, and though this holds true for all technology, especially in a complex system like SL, the instructional design becomes pertinent. Basically, my PhD-work has been about designing for optimal learning via SL, and in this respect, I’ve found great inspiration in Wenger’s four dimensions of learning;

  • Learning as a process of experiencing – outcome: changed meaning
  • Learning as a process of becoming – outcome: changed identity
  • Learning as a process of belonging – outcome: changed community
  • Learning as a process of doing – outcome: changed practice
Even though, I’ve not designed exclusively for the creation of a community of practice in SL, e.g. by solely using Wenger’s proposed design principles*, the ideas of the theory are part of my, and the MIL Program’s general pedagogical foundation, and I do believe that SL is a medium that offers very good opportunities for creation of communities of practice, both in educational and other settings. Looking at my data, I’ve found a distinct connection between elements from CoP-theory and presence/co-presence as shown in the figure below.


Connected elements of presence and CoP-theory in 3D-remediated learning.

In short, the figure shows how the sense of presence facilitates the creation of meaning and identity, while the sense of co-presence facilitates the creation of community and practice. In practice, the elements overlap, and it is in fact the oscillation between the elements, which constitutes the dynamics of SL as teaching and learning environment as seen from a CoP-perspective. Based on the findings from my study, I believe that the combination of a social pedagogical strategy and the use of a medium that affords a strong sense of presence/co-presence and which is rich in terms of co-creative possibilities, actually can promote student satisfaction. Evidently, this is a very brief description of my work … more details will follow in my forthcoming dissertation that is due in September.

/Mariis

*) For an excellent example of integrating Wenger’s principles and ideas in design for teacher development in an online community, please have a look at my (now former) colleague Dr. Mayela Coto’s PhD-work.

Virtual Worlds Best Practice in Education 2011 panel

On March 17-19 the 4th annual Virtual Worlds Best Practice in Education (#VWBPE11) will be taking place in SL and other Virtual Worlds such as OpenSim, World of Warcraft, Eve Online and Club Penguin.

The VWBPE is is a community-based conference that provides opportunities for participants in all virtual worlds to share current research,  teaching, and learning practices in 3D virtual environments. This 53 hour conference will provide opportunities for sharing and further understanding virtual world technology, and will focus on teaching/learning, scholarly work, projects, events, activities and new and innovative tools for virtual education. According to the VWBPE-website this year’s conference is about people, the community, and it’s about being together;

This year’s theme is You are Here. The divide between what is real and what is virtual is a state of mind. We learn everywhere and you are already here.

Here is all around you:

  • Here is where we find the great successes and even failures.
  • Here is where we expand our borders.
  • Here is where we touch what is important to those we teach.
  • Here is where we learn and live and play.

I have been attending the conference for a couple of years as an observer, which has been very inspirational, and I highly recommend anyone interested in 3D Virtual Worlds to participate in this amazing, free event! :-)

Furthermore, this year I have the great pleasure of doing a panel discussion together with 3 SL friends and colleagues: Chimera Cosmos, Spiral Theas, and Gann McGann.


First planning session on my holodeck with Gann & Chimera

Our session is entitled: Hats, HUDs, Wands and Weather:  Building Activities for Engagement in Second Life. One of the things we all appreciate about SL is the fun and playful parts of this environment, which could include changing the avatar’s appearance and using different types of artifacts – e.g. in our first meeting Chimera couldn’t help but show off one of her magic wands ;-)


And in fact after Gann and I left, Chimera used her tornado stick on the holodeck as seen in this photo from Chimera’s KoinUp stream:


Chimera’s koinup

While the user-controlled ability to change both the environment and one’s appearance definitely is an important part of SL, we as educators are also concerned about the kind of activities that can promote, facilitate, and not least sustain engagement in teaching and learning in an environment such as SL.


Gann, Spiral, Chimera and I discussing the call for VWBPE in our second meeting

We all have both positive and a few negative experiences with teaching in SL, and so in our panel we have decided to focus on activities that help overcome some of the barriers for meaningful, and sustained engagement in SL as stated in our proposal:

There are numerous barriers to engagement in virtual worlds. First, new residents must become familiar with the interface. Beyond technical considerations, the nature of their early experiences will determine whether and how quickly they will build an identification with their avatar and a reason to stay. Without this, it is likely that their interest in further engagement in the virtual world will lessen and their participation will drop off. A sense of presence and identity through embodiment and immersion is an important contributor to ongoing and satisfactory participation in the world and finding the motivation to continue to return until the technical and navigational thresholds are surmounted. This roundtable will discuss the essential acts, the “ah-ha” or Eureka moments, the triggering gizmos, features, activities or places that inspire students or colleagues (and have inspired us) to continue to participate.

In other words, what works to help new residents pass these technical and navigational thresholds? The speakers will share their own stories drawn from their work with students in higher education, business people, health professionals, and education colleagues. Presentations will include demonstrations and audience participation.


Spiral and I chatting under the Blue Thinking hat before our third panel meeting


Identity issues are very important in SL – and we will be showcasing Identity-cubes as part of the session

As mentioned above Gann, Spiral, Chimera, and I will be sharing some of our experiences, but we are also very much hoping to hear from the audience, and so we hope You will join us :-)

Update
We will be presenting Friday, March 18th from 8AM-10AM SLT (16-18 Dansk tid) – Building South, Room South Auxiliary, and the rest of the schedule can be found here

Also please note that even though the conference is free, you need to register in order to participate via this link. By registering you will be helping the organizers plan out resources to ensure the conference runs smoothly and that there is allocated enough space to ensure everyone gets an opportunity to participate.

/Mariis

For inspiration here are three posts I wrote about VWBPE last year:

First day impressions

Second day impressions – part 1

Second day impressions – part 2 – this one also includes my reflections on Chimera & Spiral’s 2010 session