Interesting study on Boundary Objects and virtual collaboration

In our research project we are highly influenced by the Dutch researcher Sanne F. Akkerman and her colleagues and their research on boundary crossing and boundary objects in (vocational) education. Like many others in the field, we have benefited greatly from Akkerman & Bakker’s (2011) excellent review entitled Boundary Crossing and Boundary Objects, and I’ll return to this in future posts.

marheineke2016Nonetheless, other researchers have been studying these concepts from other perspectives, and I recently came across what turns out to be a PhD study (Marheineke, 2016) on the use of boundary objects in virtual collaboration, which seems very promising in relation to our current focus on ICT-mediated boundary objects.

In this study, Marheineke provides an interesting literature review on the use of different types of virtual boundary objects. In his work, Marheineke is inspired by Carlile’s (2004, 2002) typology, which we have been studying as well. However, as Marheineke states “emerging interest in the phenomenon of boundary object(s) has led to many definitions in the literature” (p. 80).

I have yet to study Marheineke’s research in detail, but so far I’m delighted to find many interesting and relevant tables e.g.:


Part of table 3: Selected definitions on the term “boundary object”
(Marheineke, 2016, p. 80-81)


Part of table 7: Boundary objects structuring collaboration
(Marheineke, 2016, p. 95-96)



Carlile, P.R. (2004). Transferring, Translating, and Transforming: An Integrative Framework for Managing Knowledge Across Boundaries.

Carlile, P.R. (2002). A Pragmatic View of Knowledge and Boundaries: Boundary Objects in New Product Development.

Tomatoe, tomatoe – Didactics, … ?

I’m currently writing about the conventions that I’ve chosen to use in my PhD-project. Essentially, my study investigates the development of a design for teaching and learning remediated in the 3D virtual world, SL. In a Scandinavian or German academic tradition, such a study would be situated within the field of Didactics. However, according to Hamilton (1999) and Schnack (2000), in the Anglo-American mind, the term “didactic” has very negative connotations implying a moralizing and heavily teacher driven approach to teaching and learning. At the Master Programme on ICT and Learning (MIL), where I have conducted my research, we often use a didactic-based terminology (e.g. we often speak about didactic elements, didactic analyses, and didactic design), at least when we communicate in Danish. Despite our terminology, we do not adhere to the Anglo-American perception. Nonetheless, Professor emeritus, Karsten Schnack from the Danish School of Education (Aarhus University) actually recommends Danish scholars to avoid using the term when communicating in English:

In English the term “didactics” is rarely used. The reason probably is that the word has strong associations with the adjective form “didactic”, which is more often used. And for some reason “didactic” has a very negative ring to it. When something is done in a “didactic” way or didactically it is considered to be moralizing and/or heavily teacher driven in a negative way.

Since didactic considerations e.g. in Denmark almost always deals with the contrary, a good advice is to avoid using the words “didactic” and “didactics” in English communication. The risk of misunderstandings is very high.”(Schnack. 2000:2 – my translation)

Because of this language barrier it has become customary for many continental European researchers within the field of teaching and learning to either use the German word “Didaktik” or simply use Anglo/American terms e.g. “instructional design” when describing their activities. Accordingly, and mainly to avoid misunderstandings because I write my dissertation in English, I have decided to use the more neutral concepts of “pedagogy”, and “design for teaching and learning” when speaking about matters concerning the field and the process of designing. While this is not something I deal with in greater details in my PhD, I actually don’t think this is “just a matter of semantics” – there is a distinction that makes a difference. The way we construct, interpret, clarify, and negotiate meaning – even based on similar words – changes over time, but also within and cross cultures.

Turning to the term Didactic, there is absolutely no consensus in the literature regarding the meaning  – not even when looking at the origin – the Greek “didaskein”. Even 2.500 years ago, according to Jank & Meyer (2006), the term didaskein could have several meanings; “to teach”, “to be instructed” and “to learn” and the term didaxis refered to both curriculum (primarily as content) and what was learned (outcome). Even though there has been a tendency towards focusing on the teaching aspect of the term Didactic, many Scandinavian researchers refer to the so-called “Didactic Triangle” when trying to explain the basic components of Didactics.


When dealing with teaching and learning, and at the core of any Didactic Design, there’s always a minimum of three basic components to consider: the teacher, the student and the content/subject matter. However, depending on your focus, the triangle can also be used to point to different, more specialized design approaches:

  • Pedagogical Design – with particular focus on the pedagogical practice typically emphasizing the responsibility/role of the teacher
  • Instructional Design – with particular focus on development and implementation of tools and content (materials)
  • Curriculum Design – with particular focus on content based on curriculum as organizational framework for practice
  • Learning Design – with particular focus on the learning practice typically emphasizing the responsibility/role of the learner

Since I use the term Didactic in a very broad sense, I would consider any of the above mentioned approaches didactic designs as long as they were dealing with teaching and learning in formal, educational contexts. During my PhD research, I have often presented and discussed my work with Anglo-American educators/researchers, and while most seem to understand what I’ve been working on as long as I remember to say “instructional design”, the irony is that to many Scandinavian researchers this label implies “a moralizing and heavily teacher driven approach to teaching and learning.” So I guess in order to understand each other, we need to dig deeper and discuss the finer details of our practices and understandings ;-)

One matter of detail that I’ve often discussed, both with Danish and International colleagues, is the locus of control in the teaching and learning situation. I was recently reminded of a very interesting pedagogical framework developed by Niels Jakob Pasgaard, who blogs at eDidaktik. Pasgaard’s framework is based on a distinction between a monological, a dialogical, and a polyphonic way of teaching. It is derived from the work of M.M. Bakhtin, and Pasgaard uses the Didactic Triangle to illustrate his points:


Read a more detailed description here

What’s really interesting about this framework is the way it highlights the different approaches to the selection of the content/the subject matter, and the way knowledge is created based on different forms of teaching and learning. Furthermore, the framework can be used to analyse and thus select appropriate tools for teaching and learning – and Pasgaard offers examples of all three types here.

To me, Pasgaard’s framework is an excellent example of how the work of someone coming from a Scandinavian Didactic tradition doesn’t necessarily equal a negative approach to teaching and learning, rather – and as a core principle in Didactics – Pasgaard critically reflects upon our practices and understandings. Just as I have witnessed several Anglo-American “instructional designers” do.



Hamilton, D. (1999) The pedagogic paradox (or why no didactics in England?), Pedagogy, Culture & Society, 7:1, 135-152

Schnack, K. (2000) Er didaktik og curriculum det same? Danmarks Lærerhøjskole.

Jank, W & Meyer, H. (2006) Didaktiske modeller. Grundbog i didaktik. Gyldendals Lærerbibliotek.

OMG! SL made it to the 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment (NGTA) report

Hat tip to Ener Hax for pointing to this report made by The National Gang Intelligence Center (NGIC) who prepared the 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment (NGTA) that examines emerging gang trends and threats posed by criminal gangs to communities throughout the US. It comes as no surprise that “gangs are becoming increasingly savvy and are embracing new and advanced technology to facilitate criminal activity and enhance their criminal operations”:

According to NGIC reporting, gang recruitment and intimidation is heavily facilitated through the Internet. Gangs use social networking sites such as Facebook to promote their gang, post photos of their gang lifestyle, and display their bravado, which ultimately influences other youth to join gangs. (NGTA, 2011:41)

Following this line of thoughts, nor should it come as a surprise that Virtual Worlds also are mentioned, but I admit that I was in fact surprised to see SL highlighted in this context:

NGTA, 2011:41

Of course it makes perfect sense; the military has been using virtual reality/virtual worlds to simulate and train for decades, so why not gangs. Yet, for someone who has been using SL for years, this perspective does come off as a bit exaggerated, and I admit that it made me chuckle over the morning coffee. I tend to agree with Maria Korolov‘s comment on this:

I mean no disrespect; I know that gangs pose a serious and oftentimes lethal threat to many, many people all over the world. It’s just very interesting to see a different perspective on one of my favorite technologies. Paraphrasing McLuhan; “We become what we behold. We shape our technology, and then our technology shapes us.” Context always matters!


BTW; according to the above-mentioned report OMG is not an expression of surprise, but stands for Outlaw Motorcycle Gang … context, context …

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.


*) 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.

My first presentation at UCB’s Center for New Media

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:

BTW, for the presentation I’d found a nice template displaying an Ethernet cable, which I thought suited the topic very well – only later I realized that as part of the terms of use I’m not allowed to upload them to any sort of file sharing site and this is why they can only be found here in pdf format … and so I will not use that type of template again!