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

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.:

marheineke2016_table3

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

marheineke2016_table7

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

/Mariis

References

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.

Designs4Learning – PhD project on transformation of knowledge

hachmann_logoOver on Designs4Learning, my friend* Roland Hachmann has recently started blogging about his PhD-project, which is part of the research program Designing for Situated Knowledge in a World of Change at the University of Southern Denmark. Roland explains that his project

… focuses on how designs for learning at the teacher education, that embrace practice (contexts) as a core element, can support transformation of knowledge. The project investigates a group of students, who move across educational and professional contexts to resituate and transform their academic knowledge and put it into use as they teach fifth graders. The project uses design based research as a methodological approach and furthermore draws upon theories from the situated and socio cultural domain, where learning is seen as a result of participation and use of artefacts situated in specific contexts.

In his project, Roland is also investigating the concept of transfer, and he recently published a very interesting post entitled Concepts of transfer and transformation in designing for situated knowledge across contextsIn this post, you’ll find some valuable ressources Roland created in collaboration with fellow PhD-student, Lea Tilde Rosenlund: a map of different transfer concepts, a presentation on transfer, and not least a bibliography of transfer literature. It’s really worth checking out!

Given that we clearly share research interests and that we, in our research project, are inspired by theories in the socio-cultural domain as well (e.g. we have used Activity Theory and boundary crossing theory for our analyses), Roland and I have discussed the possibility of sharing knowledge and perhaps collaborating in the future. For now, I’m just delighted that Roland has started blogging and sharing his thoughts with the rest of us.

/Mariis

*) Disclaimer.
Roland and I have known each other for years. We initially met at The Master Programme on ICT and Learning (MIL) at Aalborg University, where Roland first attended one of my courses in Second Life, and later I invited him to co-facilitate in another course as part of my research. Since then we have stayed in contact, and I’m happy to call him my friend :-)

mewRoland aka Mew Aeon in Second Life.

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.

DD

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:

Mono-Poly

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.

/Mariis

References

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.

SL and Physics lessons – between Heaven and Hell!

Since December 5th, 2011 I’ve been running a PD class with students from the Master’s Program on ICT & Learning (MIL) at Aalborg University, and in order to pass the course, the students were asked to do in-world team presentations on the teaching and learning potential of SL. On Wednesday January 25th, Team E had to do their presentation, and this is the final post describing the students’ presentations. Background information on the course/the presentation task can be found in the post describing the first presentation, and here are links to the second, third, and fourth presentations.

Team E and their focus


Team E: Anina & Happytown

Team E’s members, Anina & Happytown are both K-12 teachers, and one of the challenges they have experienced in relation to teaching Physics in RL, is that the pupils often find it to be a boring subject matter, and so they wanted to investigate the possibility of using SL to design for fun and engaging activities, leading to the following investigation question:

How can physical activities be remediated in Second Life?

Well knowing that SL doesn’t allow for users below 16, Team E made a point out of explaining how their work should be seen as a pilot test for later exploration in a closed environment in Open Sim.

Team E’s sandbox
Just as the previous four teams, Team E also had a sandbox available from December 9th, 2011, and the pictures below reflect the progression in their work.


On December 17th, nothing much seemed to be happening in Team E’s sandbox.

A couple of days later on December 19th this shape – looking like The COI model – appeared.

Just a few days before the Midway presentation Team E’s sandbox still looked quite empty on January 1st, but we were in for a big surprise :-)

During their midway presentation on January 3rd, Team E showed us examples of how physics can be applied in SL.

… and Team E had designed animated sleighs, which their fellow classmates were invited to try out.

And then by January 11th, Team E’s building process had really taken off.

Team E also had a cute angel hovering above their sandbox on January 11th.

January 13th; more things started to happen in the air surrounding Team E’s sandbox.

On January 17th, I met briefly with Team E’s Anina to show her how to create a shared media screen.

On January, 21st it became very clear that something different was going on in Team E’s sandbox …

But exactly what, remained to be seen …

Team E’s presentation
Team E’s agenda looked like this: 

  • Remediation
  • Physics
  • Exercises
  • Reflections on our design – What have we been thinking?
  • Visit to Oddprofessor’s Museum and Science Center
  • A heavenly closure in the sky

Team E’s slide display on one of the clouds.

Team E made extensive use of the shared media feature throughout their presentation, and chose to show their slides on one of the clouds. The tricky issue with shared media is that each user sees the displayed media individually and so the start and stopping point of a video differs. However, Team E had sent out instruction prior to their presentation and after further elaboration in-world, everybody seemed to be on the same “slide”. The team explained how they had wanted to investigate Bolter & Grusin’s concept of remediation and use it to redesign some exercises from an existing instructional design from a Physics class.


The continuum of remediation.

As part of Team E’s design strategy, they had chosen to remediate the activities in the exercises in a respectful manner drawing on RL examples, and then remediate the setting in a more radical manner based on a Heaven-Hell analogy. By drawing on different aspects of the remediation continuum, Team E wanted to design authentic exercises that would stimulate their target group’s learning and engagement due to the more fun and interesting surroundings.


Graphic overview of some key elements in Physics.

After this brief introduction to their design ideas, Team E went on to explain about the exercises that the other teams had to do, and we were asked to follow the “highway” and enter Hell …


On the Highway to Hell … aka to the Physics exercises!

Each team had been assigned their own place in Hell …

With some help from my co-facilitator, Inge Team E had designed four sound-proof rooms, one for each team, that all contained three different exercises. For each exercise, different information was displayed as text or videos, and the teams had to complete at least one exercise, and write the results in shared documents.


Gravity exercise with a ball of lava to calculate mean acceleration.

Pendulums to calculate cycle time in Factor Physics.

Calculating friction of different materials.

Results from the exercises had to be written in the shared docs on the walls.

I didn’t manage to visit all teams, but all of them seemed to be fully engaged in the exercises, which was no surprise with the great designs and devilish teachers:


Anina,

and Happytown – their mere appearance made me listen carefully too ;-)

After the exercises, it was time to resurface and go back to Heaven.


The Stairway to Heaven.

Back in the clouds, Happytown and Anina returned to their investigation question and elaborated on some of the theories (Wadley, The COI-model) they had used to support their work. Based on Nielsen’s work, Team E spoke of the necessity of the users’ ability to use their imaginative powers to feel immersed in an environment such as SL, and about the need to design for active knowledge construction via in-world artifacts.


The COI model on display.

For the mandatory tour outside the team’s own sandbox, Team E had chosen Oddprofessor’s Museum and Science Center, and we were asked to go there and explore the many fine examples of interactive objects and activities for further inspiration. The place has been created by Oddprofessor Snoodle who uses it to teach Physics/Chemistry for deaf students, and the place is filled with fun and engaging learning activties.


Exploring the many activities in front of the Free Fall Towers.

Learning through bowling :-)

My co-facilitator, Inge volunteered to stand in the line of fire from the canon!

Back in Team E’s sandbox, it was time for reflection and feedback.


Truly a beautiful setting for the final team presentation in the course.

Team E had wanted to show us, how SL can be used for teaching RL Physics, and I think they made a very convincing case. Their ambitious design impressed all of us, and it was a pleasure to witness such a good use of many of the features in SL. Anina & Happytown really have embraced SL, and their enthusiasm shone through their presentation, making many of us wonder what we could have learned, if only we had had the opportunity to learn Physics this way! In summary, Team E provided us with a very fine closure of this course on the educational use/potential of 3D Virtual Worlds :-)

/Mariis