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Research strategies and SL as Knowledge Medium

On Wednesday, January 21st I participated in a Master Class on Learning 2.0 and Knowledge Media at Aarhus University.Terry Anderson (Athabasca University) and Simon Heilesen (Roskilde University) were guest lecturers, while my MIL colleagues Christian Dalsgaard, Jørgen Bang and Elsebeth K. Sorensen (Aarhus University) served as moderators. Six Master- and PhD Candidates from different Danish Universities besides me participated, four of us giving short presentations of our projects.

Anderson gave an interesting presentation entitled “Overview of Research Methodologies for Social Software Research”, which initiated quite a discussion on research methodologies especially within educational research. Anderson was critical of educational research asking what results in fact had been able to instigate real change in educational practices. This lead to a critical overview of three dominant research paradigms respectively Quantitative, Qualitative and Critical. Anderson quoted a study by Mary M. Kennedy (1999):

The findings from this study cast doubt on virtually every argument for the superiority of any particular research genre, whether the criterion for superiority is persuasiveness, relevance, or ability to influence practitioners’ thinking. (from Anderson’s presentation above)

According to Anderson, who also is the director of Canadian Institute of Distance Education Research (CIDER), there is a need for development of new research strategies emphasizing possibilities for innovation and change. Anderson pointed to Design Based Research (DBR) as a potential strategy. At ELL we have a strong tradition of employing Action Research (AR) based strategies, including DBR, which in my point of view is a variant of AR. Both strategies are:

  • Iterative
  • Process and utility oriented
  • Intervention driven
  • Collaborative
  • Multileveled
  • Theory generating

However, there are at least two major differences between AR and DBR, namely the role of the researcher and the role of theory. In DBR the researcher works closely together with the practitioners, whereas in AR – especially in educational research – the researcher quite often also is the practitioner studying his/her own practice as a participant/insider. In DBR the role of theory is clearly defined as the point of departure of the research process:

Design-based researchers’ innovations embody specific theoretical claims about teaching and learning, and help us understand the relationships among educational theory, designed artifact, and practice. (DBRC.2003:5)

In AR theory isn’t necessarily applied from the beginning of the research process but to a higher degree grounded by the practice in the different research cycles, thus making it a more open strategy. Still, in claiming this I want to stress that there are many different takes on AR strategies. See Raelin (1999) for a good overview of different action based strategies.

Heilesen proceeded with another interesting presentation on “Learning 2.0 – Conditions and potentials of the social web”. There are so many comments to be made on this topic, but one of the issues Heilesen addressed was the potential of using new digital social technologies as means to change conventional conference participation from a typical closed and time limited event to a more open and continuous activity – exemplified by the MetaverseU conference at Stanford, February 2008 (where both Heilesen and I participated ;-). Anyone who has participated in RL conferences knows that it can be a somewhat dreary experience based mainly on one-to-many communication, and in my personal experience it can also be quite difficult to expand the effect/outcome afterwards. This issue of “frustrating conferences” is currently being addressed by George Siemens and colleagues. Note the upcoming open, online conference on this topic and see Siemens, Tittenberger & Anderson (2008) for a really interesting perspective on this.

After the lunch break, I and three other candidates were asked to present our projects. Presenting a PhD project in 15 min. really is an ungrateful task making it quite difficult to convey a coherent and comprehensible impression. On the other hand, I have to admit that at this stage in my PhD research many of my ideas and thoughts still need to be qualified by further research and a Master Class can be a really good opportunity to discuss this kind of “work-in-progress”. In my presentation, I chose to focus on the possibility of using SL as a knowledge medium – primarily based on the preliminary findings of my 2. research cycle, which was conducted in November/December 2008.

One of the things, which were critiqued as being unclear in my presentation, was my use of the concepts respectful and radical remediation. Initially I was inspired by Tringham, Mills  & Ashley (2007) and their experiences from the Remediated Places Project, where they used these two concepts (elaborating on Bolter & Grusin.1999) as a way of describing different ways of remediating. Based on my own experiences from remediating a specific course via SL I do find these two concepts very useful in describing not only different ways of remediating places, but also people and practices. There is, however, no doubt that I need to further develop and qualify my work on this, so that I can convey a more coherent, and thus convincing argument on this.

All in all, it was a very inspiring learning experience to participate in this Master Class, so my concluding words will be thanking all the participants :-)



Bolter, J. & Grusin, R. (1999): Remediation. Understanding New Media. The MIT Press

Kennedy, M. M. (1999) The problem of evidence in teacher education. In: Roth, R. (Ed). The Role of the University in the Preparation of Teachers. (pgs 87-107). London: Falmer Press.

Raelin, J. (1999) Preface. In: Management Learning. Vol. 30(2): 115-125. Sage Publications

Example of my ELL colleagues using DBR in current research

Coto, M. & Dirckinck-Holmfeld, L (2008): Facilitating Communities of Practice in Teacher Professional Development. Networked Learning Conference Proceedings 2008.

Other relevant resources


Smith, M.K. (1996, 2001, 2007): Action Research. The encyclopedia of informal education.

Center for Collaborative Action Research

Action Research Resources

Design Thinking and Informatics

Next week I’ll participate in a 2 day PhD course on”Design Thinking and Informatics” at HCCI-Doctoral research programme in Human Centered Communication and Informatics, Aalborg University. Course lecturers are Judith Gregory, Institute of Design, Illinois Institute of Technology & Anne Marie Kanstrup, Department of Communication and Psychology, Aalborg University.

Day one focuses on design thinking (vs. construction). Introductions will be made to the history of design thinking in general and current trends in design thinking in informatics in particular. Socio-technical, theoretical perspectives will be introduced and used in discussions of what this way of thinking means for students’ doctoral research projects.
Day two focuses on methodological practices and consequences of design thinking. Case examples will be presented for how selected methods have been employed and students will work on how to integrate design thinking into their research projects.

In order to enroll in this course I had to prepare 1-3 questions related to design within my PhD project. In my view design is an ambiguous term. I do use the term in my project, but depending on what area of my project it concerns, I use the term with different meanings. I tend to regard my whole project as a design, and in Danish I would use the term didactic design to strengthen that I’m concerned with design aimed at a pedagogical practice. However, when I speak with non-Scandinavians the term didactic doesn’t seem to make much sense, and I usually resolve to say educational design instead, but this doesn’t cover my project either. When I explain in further detail what my project entails people – especially Americans – often respond by saying “oh, you mean instructional design”. But instructional design is in my opinion related to a certain pedagogical epistemology on which I don’t agree. It has been suggested that I might use the term curriculum design, but that doesn’t really cover my project either … This uncertainty about how I should coin my design is the main reason for me to participate in the PhD course as I’m hoping it will inspire me to clarify not only the prefix but also the design concept in itself. I therefore have posed the following questions:

  1. How can I define (think of) Design? According to Owen.2004:3 design can be described as “a profession that is concerned with the creation of products, systems, communications and services that satisfy human needs, improve people’s lives and do all of this with respect for the welfare of the natural environment (…) Design involves problem finding, problem solving, analysis, invention and evaluation guided by a deep sensitivity to environmental concerns and human-centered aesthetic, cultural and functional needs.” However, this is not an adequate description of my design concept …
  2. How can I coin my design concept so that it includes pedagogical, participatory and technological aspects?

Rheingold. 2008 advocates for the need of Participative Pedagogy as a strategy for designing social media. Participation is already a keyword in my project – both with regards to my overall Action Research inspired approach and with regards to my pedagogical foundation within PBL and POPP. In spite of this, I’m not really sure how to include that particular keyword in describing my project. So as you can imagine, I’m in desperate need of the course ;-) Below I have placed some of my project’s keywords in Wordle, which seems as an appropriate way of illustrating my current state of mind – one big mess!


Another interesting part of this PhD course will be for me to figure out how I (my project) fit into the field of Informatics. At ELL we have several researches working within Informatics on either information processing and/or development/design of information systems (IS), but they are using a quite different terminology (which typically indicates different views and practices) and I don’t usually consider myself to be part of that “gang” at ELL. I don’t really like the term IS. First of all, I think the information part associates with a narrow view on communication and system(s) in my ears simply rings too machine’ish putting too much emphasis on the technology. I’m aware that system(s) in several theories* refers to human activity and organization, but I just don’t like it. From talks with my colleagues, I know they share most of my humanistic views and I probably will stand corrected on this after the course – not least because I know for sure that we have common interests on the methodological level. Anyways, I’m looking forward to a couple of interesting days, and hopefully I’ll soon be able to return with a clarifying post on my project design …


Owen, C.L (2004): What Is Design? Some questions and answers.

Rheingold, H. (2008): Participative Pedagogy for a Literacy of Literacies.

*) Intersting resource on theories used in IS

Classroom Research and Didactics

Next week I’ll be attending a PhD course entitled ”Classroom Research and Didactics” at The Danish School of Education, Aarhus University. All Danish PhD students must participate in PhD courses equivalent to a minimum of 30 ECTS points, and with this course I’ll hopefully earn 5 points.  Since one of the courses I facilitate at the Master Programme in ICT and Learning (MIL) is about Educational Design and ICT, and given that my primary case in which I’m doing part of my PhD research is that course, I think this PhD course will be especially relevant for my project.

The course is facilitated by Professors from The Danish PhD Programme on Didactics and Curriculum Research. Coming from another Danish University and another PhD Programme (HCCI), it will be quite interesting to learn how they define central pedagogical concepts/terms and what they define as relevant research methodologies. Even before the course has started I’m interested in the terms from the course title, and according to the course description (in Danish only) they could be defined as follows:

·         Classroom – an institutional room.

·         Didactical oriented classroom research – emphasizes the relation between on one side didactically founded goals and intentions and on the other side the actual practice in the classroom.

Part the course literature is about “belief research” implying that teachers’ underpinning beliefs can explain much of the actual classroom practice, and a course objective will be for us to examine and probably challenge our pre-understandings. In trying to do so, I’ll focus on the classroom term in this first post on the course.

It is my understanding that the term denotes a tradition within Danish Educational Research, and it is widely used both by researchers and practitioners especially in what I think would be equivalent to K12. However, I don’t think the term is appropriate when describing my own project.  At least to me, the classroom term brings associations of a strictly physical setting, a specific way of organizing the teaching and learning processes, and the term “class” indicates young learners.

My course is blended with approximately 5 hrs. face-to-face confrontation out of a total of five weeks, which means that the vast majority of the course is conducted online in both a traditional 2D learning platform (FirstClass®) and in the 3D virtual world, Second Life ® (SL). Room is simply too restricted a term to describe the setting, and I do prefer learning environment. When emphasizing learning, I do realize that there’s a risk of “forgetting” the teacher/facilitator, but since the term also indicates a very important and much needed paradigmatic shift from almost exclusive focus on the teacher/teaching to the learners/learning processes in educational research and pedagogy in general, I think this term is acceptable – at least as part of a working terminology.

When examining teaching and learning in 3D virtual worlds (and perhaps to a lesser degree in 2D settings) the whole concept of context (room, space, place, environment etc.) becomes highly relevant. The 3rd dimension is, in my opinion, what make these contexts both particular and interesting seen from an educational perspective. So this is something I will return to again and again during my project.

I do appreciate the institutional character of the classroom concept, and my focus is also on teaching and learning in a formal, university setting. However, this doesn’t mean that informal learning processes will be neglected in my own research. In fact, my pilot study (22 participants 5 weeks in SL, fall ’07) indicated that the 3D world setting amplified the students’ motivation and engagement for connecting and collaborating in more informal relations – also with other residents. Here I see another argument for not restricting my terminology to a room metaphor.  If SL is recognized and truly appreciated as a world the implications are numerous, and the complexity of the phenomena becomes apparent.

The term class is used in describing an entity of learners e.g. in a concrete course, but it is a term that we primarily reserve for describing organization in K12, which also is why we would call the learners “pupils” in that context, whereas learners at university level typically would be called “students”.  The learners in my course are adults, and we usually refer to them as students. The distinction between pupils and students may come across as academic babble, but I do think it is relevant in the sense that this distinction also indicates a difference in the roles and responsibilities of all parties involved in the teaching and learning processes.  The term student is actually debated quite often at The MIL Programme, because the term still indicates what you might call an old-fashioned view on the power balance in the learning situation and because there still is a passive, transfer element associated with the term.  So quite often we resolve to call our learners participants.

As organizing principle the term class tends to describe a situation where the whole entity of learners is addressed simultaneously, and apart from our 4 yearly face-to-face seminars, we rarely use this type of one-to-many communication. The MIL Programme is based on a Problem Oriented Project Pedagogy (POPP), which I will elaborate on in future posts. For now it suffices to say, that it basically means that we organize our participants in small groups working and theorizing on real life problems. Connected to these groups will be one or several supervisors practicing different roles/methods ranging from instruction to facilitation depending on the needs of the groups.

My initial critique of the term classroom may be too one-sided, I may not be aware of the current status of the term within classical educational research (which is how I would characterize the research at The Danish School of Education when comparing it to my own university), so I’m looking forward to discussing this and learning more during the course …