PhD by Publication – Selection of Papers

In her book, PhD by Published Work, Susan Smith writes that one of the disadvantages of this route to a PHD is that ‘it is tricky to retrospectively shoe-horn diverse papers into a post hoc theme’ (p.34).

This statement seems to suggest that researchers jump from project to project that have no direct links between them. Maybe this is the case for researchers, associated with universities, who may have to work on projects which are not their principal area of interest, either because these projects bring in funding, or because papers from these projects will contribute to their University’s research excellence framework (REF). I can see that this might lead to diverse papers that are difficult to pull together, but neither of these constraints applied to me, since I have always worked as an independent researcher.

Despite this, it wasn’t immediately apparent to me which papers I should select for this PhD by Publication or what the focus of my supporting statement should be. I think there were at least three possible routes I could have gone down, depending on which and how many papers I selected for submission and which papers I left out. As Ian McGilchrist says on p.133 of his book The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World:

It is not just that what we find determines the nature of attention we accord to it, but that the attention we pay to anything also determines what it is we find.

Perhaps not surprisingly, in order to select papers, I first had to refresh my memory about these publications. Once a paper has been published I tend not to go back and reread it multiple times, but instead move on to the next research project. Although I knew the general gist of all the papers, I didn’t remember all the detail. So I started by working on a mini literature review of my own papers, critiquing them, summarising them, checking the number of citations and how and where the work has been disseminated. Looking back at my journal, I can see that I didn’t find this process particularly easy. It was time consuming and my first summaries were streams of consciousness rather than summaries. Ultimately, I ended up with the summaries of the papers I selected that are in Appendix 3 of the thesis – Jenny Mackness PhD (Pub) 2017.

To decide on which papers to select, I used Matthias Melcher’s Think Tool, which allows you to enter text into a mapping tool and look for links between the entered texts.

Since 2009, I have published 20 papers and one book chapter. I entered the Abstracts of all these publications into the Think Tool and as a result was able to create 6 groups of papers and identify cross-paper themes.

Interrelationships between all publications by group and keyword. (Figure 1 in the thesis, on p.16)

I blogged about this process at the time – A new mapping tool: useful for research purposes. From this process it became clear to me that whilst a large body of work was related to emergent learning, and I could have focussed solely on that, in fact even those papers resulted from participation in MOOCs and a deep interest in how learning occurs in these open environments at the level of the individual learner. I felt there was only one group of papers that diverged from this and that was the group that looks at whether and how learning design can be influenced by an embodied view of the world and a view of perception and action as enactive perception using all the senses, but even these papers originated from an interest in the design of learning environments.

Having decided on which groups to focus on there still remained the question of how many papers to select. For Lancaster University, there was no advice on the number of papers to be submitted other than that the material submitted must be “sufficiently extensive as to provide convincing evidence that the research constitutes a substantial contribution to knowledge or scholarship.” At this stage I went into the department to look at the PhDs by Published Work already awarded, to discover that there had only been three since 1999 (1999, 2003, 2010) and each of these was awarded to a member of staff in the department, who submitted 9, 11 and 10 published works respectively together with a supporting statement of around 40 pages, although I have seen other examples from Lancaster University considerably shorter than this. Ultimately, I submitted 13 papers and a supporting statement of 101 pages. I mention this not to suggest that the number of pages is in any way significant, but just to illustrate that it seems that at Lancaster University there is a wide variety of practice. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the case across universities. The uncertainty associated with this was not easy to work with, but on the other hand seemed to mirror the unpredictable learning environments I have researched, where I have worked with no externally imposed rules or expectations.

Throughout this process I felt I was working in the same way I have always worked, i.e. working it out as I went along, and letting the process and structure emerge. One of my ‘critical friends’ who gave me feedback on the thesis after I had submitted but before the viva thought that my important work was related to the ‘Footprints of Emergence’ framework and emergent learning rather than the empirical papers and I think that my colleague Roy Williams, probably thinks the same, although he hasn’t said this. But the analysis of my papers, using Matthias Melcher’s Think Tool,  revealed my ‘golden thread’ (as Susan Smith calls it) to be ‘learners’ experiences in cMOOCs’, so that is what I focussed on.

On reflection and given the open structure of the PhD by Publication, I can see that in different circumstances at a different time, I might have selected a different set of papers and ended up with a different thesis. Now there’s a thought! But I’m not going to test out this idea  🙂

Drawing to think

I will start by saying that I do not draw to think, even though I do occasionally draw. I write to think, which is why I am writing this post. Let me explain.

Next week I will attend a one day symposium at Lancaster University on ‘The Materiality of Nothing’

The purpose of the symposium is ‘to extend conversations initiated by the AHRC funded ‘Dark Matters’ project which considered the provocations around Thresholds of Imperceptibility’ I attended the Dark Matters workshop at the end of last year and wrote a couple of posts about it.

For the symposium next week, the invitation from Sarah Casey included the following text:

The Materiality of Nothing is a one day symposium at Lancaster University bringing together practice and perspectives on negotiating the absent, unseen and unknown across art, science and social science. Across the arts and sciences that we call ‘zero’, ‘absence’ or ‘nothing’ remains a potent and powerful entity shaping the way we make sense of the world. It is staggering to reflect that 95% of our universe is invisible to human sensing; the provocation of the unknown and unseen is arguably at the core of creative thinking in the arts and sciences.

This event brings together a range perspectives on materialising the absent, unseen and unknown to reflect on the following questions:

  • How can ‘nothing’ be embodied?
  • How does it feel to encounter the immaterial and how might we negotiate it?
  • How might mathematics – as a speculative ‘messenger’ to and from the unsensed – be understood as a medium for generating touch and relationship (or not)?
  • How might absence, uncertainty be used as provocations and tool for creative thinking?
  • What can this offer in terms of understanding relationship and non-relationship, affect and non affect?

For me this resonates with my interest in Absent Presence and also in what Peter Shukie has called the ‘voice of the voiceless’. In other words, how can we give voice to the voiceless and how we can become more aware of the influences of what is not in plain sight?

A final paragraph in Sarah’s invitation asks us to ….

…. bring along a drawing , notebook or object that could be described as something you think with. The principal editor of Drawing Research Theory Practice Journal  published by Intellect has been in touch and is keen to link up this aspect of the symposium with the journal.

Hence the title of this post.

This invitation has highlighted for me that I do not draw to think, although I am interested enough in drawing to know that many people use drawing to think. Here are a few people that come to mind.

Marc Chagall’s sketchbook

Marc ChagallSource of image

Peter Checkland’s soft systems methodology rich pictures

soft-systems-methodology-for-solving-wicked-problems-5-638Source of image

Nick Sousanis – sketching entropy

Sousanis-Entropy-sketches-49

Source of image

From the Research Theory Practice Journal website it is clear that the journal is interested in physical drawing as opposed to electronic drawing.

This journal seeks to reestablish the materiality of drawing as a medium at a time when virtual, on-line, and electronic media dominates visuality and communication.

This is interesting when artists such as David Hockney are using iPads for drawing. Hockney is on my mind at the moment as I will be going to see his portraits exhibition at the Royal Academy in London in September.

So knowing that I write to think, rather than draw to think, and knowing that the activity for the symposium next week really wants physical drawings rather than ’electronic’ drawings, I am a bit stumped. But I can only do what I can do, so I am taking along the following two examples of drawing/mapping that I do electronically.

ModPo footprints for paper 041013

This example above is how I think about and reflect on any given learning experience. I use the Footprints of Emergence framework which Roy Williams, Simone Gumtau and I developed for trying to understand learning in open learning environments. This has been published as a research paper.  The ‘footprints’ above reflect my experience in the Modern and Contemporary American Poetry MOOC and were included in a book chapter that we published in 2015.

Williams, R., Mackness, J., & Pauschenwein, J. (2015). Using Visualization to Understand Transformations in Learning and Design in MOOCs. In A. Mesquita & P. Peres (Eds.), Furthering Higher Education Possibilities through Massive Open Online Courses (pp. 193 – 209). IGI Global book series Advances in Higher Education and Professional Development. doi:10.4018/978-1-4666-8279-5

The second example is a mapping exercise

enhanced Keywords screenshot 090716 for Lancaster course

For this I used a mapping tool developed by Matthias Melcher to trace the development of my thinking through my research papers. I blogged about it at the time.

I suspect that neither of these is considered examples of drawing to think, but they’re as close as I can get.

I am very much looking forward to the symposium next Thursday.

Further thoughts about our presentation: 10th Networked Learning Conference 2016

This week Jutta Pauschenwein and I presented a paper Visualising Structure and Agency in a MOOC using the Footprints of Emergence Framework at the 10th Networked Learning Conference in Lancaster, UK. Here are the slides for our presentation.

On their own these slides do not make a lot of sense, so we have added notes, which you can see by going to the Slideshare and clicking on Notes. Or here is a PDF with the notes: NLC2016-slides-notes-mackness-pauschenwein

We were pleased that our session generated a few comments and questions. Helen Crump commented that she had used the Footprints Framework in the past and found it interesting. You can see Helen’s footprint here.

I don’t remember the exact questions we were asked at the end of our presentation, but there was some discussion about whether it is realistic to think you can get an alignment between the teacher’s design intentions for a course and the learners’ experiences. Jutta responded to this saying that she wasn’t trying to get an alignment, more to know where there is misalignment, so that she can adapt her course.

We were also asked whether it would be possible to use the Framework with large numbers as in MOOCs. In Jutta’s MOOC, 49 learners  (out of 460) voluntarily drew footprints, without any input other than a video. Normally we would recommend a one hour workshop as a minimum for introducing the Framework to new users. For a long time we have wanted to create an electronic version of the Footprint drawing tool, which would not only allow learners to draw and share them more easily, but would also collect written comments and reflections on the factors and automatically score the footprints for further analysis. For this paper we did this manually. So there is still plenty of scope for development, which is needed if we want to use the Framework with large numbers of users.

I don’t know if other paper authors do this, but I usually try and anticipate the questions we might get. This time, before the conference, I gave the paper to a friend asking for potential questions that might arise from the paper. Although these questions were not asked at the conference, I will share them here (and my answers) as I found them useful in preparation for our session. So here they are:

  1. What does structure and agency mean?

For our work ‘structure’ means how a learning design balances openness and structure and how this balance is implemented in relation to the interactivity it enables.

‘Agency’ means the extent to which learners are enabled to develop their capability for effective action on their own terms; how the environment enables them to explore, establish, network and present themselves, their ideas, aspirations and values through writing and presence.

  1. Why are structure and agency appropriate lenses to study learner experience and teacher/designer role?

Structure and agency are particularly appropriate lenses to study the learner experience and teacher/designer role in the context of MOOCs, because MOOCs are changing the shape of structure and agency in open online learning environments and these changes are beginning to affect more traditional learning environments – as we see in practices such as the flipped classroom. MOOCs are complex learning environments, in which the structure may be very loose/open and in which learners may have considerable autonomy. Ashwin (2012) has argued that research into teaching and learning interactions in Higher Education has consistently looked the interrelationship between structure and agency. He also argues that there has been a tendency in research to separate the learner experience from the teaching experience. Like him, we believe that a holistic view is needed to understand the learning experience in MOOCs.

  1. What is the relationship of structure and agency to the clusters in the footprints model?

In this paper we consider structure and agency in terms of the Footprints of Emergence Framework. The Framework takes a holistic view of learning in prescribed and open learning environments recognising the interrelationship between structure and agency and how they influence each other. In this framework 25 learning characteristics are organised into four clusters. Two of these clusters – open structure and interactive environment, relate to the design or structure of the learning environment, and two to learner agency.

  1. Did the MOOC participants really understand the footprints tool?

It is difficult to know this without interviewing them. Experience with the Footprints has shown that ideally users are introduced to the Footprints through a workshop and that when this is done, it doesn’t take long for people to understand how to use them and draw a Footprint. But the value of the footprints is in the depth of reflection that they can invoke if discussed. Interviews were not part of this research but will be for future research. One of the difficulties has been in translating the Footprint characteristics explanations into German. What we do know is that participants voluntarily drew and shared their footprints, learning how to do this by watching a video.

  1. How can you be sure that the cluster elements are as influential in shaping the learning experience as you claim given the importance of autonomy and self-determination of the learner?

The cluster elements are intended to reflect the learning experience, rather than shape them. They are based on our own experience of learning in open and prescribed environments and of our knowledge of educational research and educational theorists. When we designed the Footprints of Emergence Framework and worked on the factors, we considered them to be a palette. In other words, we did not say that they were the definitive list of characteristics that describe the learner experience. We offered them as a palette of characteristics which could be selected from or which could be replaced by other characteristics. Our experience has shown that these 25 factors provide a rich picture of the learning experience, but a designer using the footprints drawing tool is free to add or take out factors.

  1. Emergent learning is not predictable as you say and the participants were asked not to be too precise about positioning their responses when drawing footprints – doesn’t this make the footprints tool a very crude and approximate way of measuring the efficacy and effectiveness of the learner experience?

The Footprints of Emergence Framework is not intended to measure the efficacy and effectiveness of the learner experience. Principally it is intended as a tool for promoting deep reflection on the learning, design or teaching experience. But in our research we realised that if we scored the Footprints retrospectively and objectively, then it is possible to compare footprints and begin to explore the balance between structure and agency, prescription and emergence. Reflection is never a precise measure. 

  1. How much credence can we give to the scores given the observation in Q6?

As much credence as any evaluation tool. The factors were scored against a given range independently by each of us and then compared. We used a scale of 1-30 for the spectrum of prescribed learning to the edge of chaos. Any disparities (which were minimal) were discussed and then the final score agreed. The scores in themselves are not important. The patterns that the scores might reveal are of more interest. We are confident that the patterns that emerge through this process, can inform us about the balance between structure and agency, but do not see this as a precise measure. All we can say here is that the majority of MOOC participants had an emergent learning experience and that the MOOC design was successful in assuring a balance between structure and agency.

  1. Isn’t there a risk that given the sample who drew the footprints – largely students on a course run by one of the researchers – that the data was biased to how the students perceived the intentions of the researcher?

Yes and that is acknowledged in the research. What is needed is to interview the participants who drew footprints, and ideally these interviews would be carried out by a researcher not known to the participants. Past experience in earlier stages of the research when the drawing tool was used with individuals has shown that interviews are needed to ensure that the final footprint drawing is an accurate representation of the users’ experience. This research using the Footprints of Emergence Framework at scale is in its early stages. Future research will include interviews of participants.

Networked Learning Conference 2016 starts today

Tomorrow (Tuesday) Jutta Pauschenwein (@jupidu) and I will give a presentation at the Networked Learning Conference 2016 in Lancaster about the work we have done together using a visualisation tool, Footprints of Emergence, to try and understand more about how learners and course designers experience the relationship between structure and agency in a MOOC.

We have been working with the Footprints of Emergence framework for a number of years. The framework was developed in collaboration with Roy Williams and Simone Gumtau in 2012 and over succeeding years we have published papers and run workshops about it – even one at Lancaster University a few years ago.  I included references to our papers in my last post – Presenting at the 10th Networked Learning Conference, Lancaster.  Jutta has used the framework extensively with learners and teachers at her institution in Graz, Austria.

The Footprints of Emergence drawing tool requires users to reflect deeply on 25 characteristics of open learning environments (factors), which are organised into four clusters.

Screen Shot 2016-05-09 at 07.13.19

Learners consider how prescribed or emergent their experience was in relation to each of the factors and indicate this by placing a point on the relevant line on the template. This process results in a ‘footprint’.

Here are some examples of footprints which we have collected over the years on our open wiki – http://footprints-of-emergence.wikispaces.com/home

Screen Shot 2016-05-09 at 06.46.15

Footprints have been drawn not only by learners, but by teachers, designers and researchers, both for formal and informal learning experiences. Jutta, for example, has recently travelled extensively in Argentina and Chile and used the footprints to reflect on her emergent learning experience of travelling alone. See https://zmldidaktik.wordpress.com/2016/02/21/reflecting-emergent-traveling-experiences/

In this research Jutta used the Footprints of Emergence framework to help her design a MOOC – Competences of Global Collaboration –  and then asked the MOOC participants to draw footprints as part of the final evaluation process. Our paper has now been published on the Networked Learning site, as have all the papers. See http://www.networkedlearningconference.org.uk/abstracts/mackness.htm

Later this morning we will head over to Lancaster for the start of the conference at midday. Amazingly for this part of the world the sun is shining and there is not a cloud in the sky. Jutta and I have had a great weekend together in the sun, talking about footprints and a whole host of other things. Here is Jutta’s post about this – https://zmldidaktik.wordpress.com/2016/05/08/emergent-learning-in-the-lake-district/ 

Presenting at the 10th Networked Learning Conference, Lancaster

In a couple of weeks I will present a paper with Jutta Pauschenwein at the 10th Networked Learning Conference in Lancaster, which is very convenient as it is less than half an hour from my home. I think this image below will be the first slide of our presentation, but we are still working on it. The abstract of the paper has been published on the Networked Learning Conference site. Abstract

Screen Shot 2016-04-27 at 09.48.31

The conference is using https://sched.org to help participants organise themselves and decide which sessions they want to attend. I have just spent a bit of time exploring this and it is very easy to use, which is helpful. I have already decided my schedule.

I have also spent some time today, looking at the presentation that Jutta and I will be giving. Jutta will arrive here from Graz, Austria on the Thursday before the conference. We will spend the Friday working on finalising this presentation, and also catching up on other projects and then over the weekend, if it is fine, we will be walking in the Lakes and maybe cycling. I hope Jutta will like the Lake District, but I suspect she will think it a mini version of Austria :-). We will hopefully have plenty of time to talk, which there never seems to be enough time for at conferences, but maybe this conference will be different.

Our presentation relates to on-going research into emergent learning and the use of the Footprints of Emergence Framework developed collaboratively with Roy Williams and Simon Gumtau in 2011/12 (see references below). This is a drawing tool for reflecting on learning experiences in any learning environment, but particularly complex open learning environments such as MOOCs. It can be used by learners, teachers, designers or researchers. The results are always interesting and often surprising. Over the years we have collected examples on an open wiki – https://footprints-of-emergence.wikispaces.com/ . The Networked Learning Conference papers are limited to 8 pages, so we put the footprint drawings related to this presentation on the wiki here.

This is not the first time that Jutta and I have worked together. We met in the Change11 MOOC run by Stephen Downes and George Siemens and then again in a course run by Etienne and Beverly Wenger-Trayner in which we were both online participants. Bev has just posted a video about this year’s courses. And then in 2014 Jutta invited Roy Williams and me to be the keynote speakers at her e-learning conference in Graz, where she and I met in person for the first time. It was a very enjoyable experience and the preparation for it meant that Roy and I thought through our research into emergent learning even further. Jutta published our paper and I blogged about the presentation here.

Jutta has been enthusiastic about the Footprints of Emergence Framework from the start and uses the footprints a lot, both personally and with her students. In our presentation for the networked learning conference we will explain how she used them with participants and teachers in the Competences for Global Collaboration MOOC, which she has now run twice and how this has informed our thinking about the balance between structure and agency in open, online learning environments.

We welcome questions either here or at the conference and are both looking forward to discussions and the whole event.

Update 28-04-16

Jutta has also written a blog post about our presentation, in German See https://zmldidaktik.wordpress.com/2016/04/28/vortrag-bei-der-networked-learning-konferenz-in-lancaster/ 

References

Williams, R., Karousou, R., & Mackness, J. (2011). Emergent Learning and Learning Ecologies in Web 2.0. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 12(3). http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/883

Williams, R. T., Mackness, J., & Gumtau, S. (2012). Footprints of Emergence. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 13(4). http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/1267

Williams, R., & Mackness, J. (2014). Surfacing, sharing and valuing tacit knowledge in open learning. https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&pid=sites&srcid=ZGVmYXVsdGRvbWFpbnxlbGVhcm5pbmd0YWcyMDE0fGd4OjUyNGIwOTJiZTMzZjhlNjM

Reflections on the FH Joanneum (Graz) E Learning Conference, 2014

There is a tension between trying to explain emergent learning as related to our work on footprints of emergence, and maintaining an open emergent environment around the topic; something contrary in trying to reify emergent learning?

We are aware that the research we have been working on for the last 5 years or so is difficult to communicate clearly and we had to think very carefully about this for our recent keynote for the E Learning Conference at FH Joanneum in Graz, Austria, and German speaking audience.

We are also aware from workshops that we have run in the past, that we need a more straightforward drawing tool for producing footprint visualizations, i.e. a tool that minimizes a focus on the technology and allows for deeper reflection on the characteristics (factors) of open learning being considered.

To this end we asked a talented friend of my son’s, Mike Harding, who has the technical expertise, to help us produce some software which would enable easier drawing of the footprints. By help us, I mean do it! We don’t have the expertise. I should add that Mike has done this on a voluntary basis.

I do not have time or space in this blog post to explain the footprints. For readers new to this, please see this blog post ‘Characteristics of Open Learning Environments‘ and our open wiki.

Mike’s work is in progress. We discovered at the conference, as we expected, that the prototype he has developed does not yet work on tablets – but it does work in various browsers on laptops and PCs. The huge advantage of the tool is that it contains all the information about the factors (characteristics of open learning environments) within the website. In the past we have used paper templates for drawing the footprints and separate sheets of paper listing the factors with their descriptions. See for example the handouts that Jutta produced for the conference workshop. Handout (1) Handout-Footprint-zeichnen (1)

If you are interested in the development of this software go to http://www.footprintsofemergence.com/, register to create an account and just play. Click on the factor nodes for information about each factor and drag the factor to where you want it to be on the prescribed to chaos spectrum. If you haven’t a clue what this is all about – this video might help (although it refers to using a Word template, rather than this new software development).

There is still a lot of work to be done on the software. According to Mike, the first thing to be done is to sort out the mathematics behind all this. A correction to this would eradicate the pointed and overlapping lines on the footprint drawings, so that they appear more like the originals that we produced in Word.  There are also other developments that we have in mind, which I won’t go into here.

Below is my footprint, drawn using Mike’s software, which reflects my experience of the Graz conference. I have drawn this from the perspective of my experience of the day. Interpretation of this footprint has to bear in mind that I was one of the keynote speakers and speaking in English to an audience whose first language was German. Most of the papers presented at the conference were of course in German, although one was presented in English. Many thanks to Erika Pernold and Maja Pivek (Programme for Graz e-Learning Conference) for presenting their talk about the COPE14 MOOC  in English, so that we could understand – and Jutta Pauschenwein and I collaboratively ran a workshop at the end of the day in both German and English. In between these sessions, I stayed out of the German speaking sessions (unfortunately I do not speak German) and chatted with anyone who could speak English. These experiences obviously influenced the drawing of this footprint.


Screen Shot 2014-09-24 at 17.02.21

 

As mentioned above, this footprint reflects the fact that I was one of the keynote speakers. Those factors out in the challenging emergent zone are related to this. But there are also many factors in the sweet emergent zone. This related to the design of the conference. Lots of people knew each other – this was the 13th year this conference has run. There was a wonderful diversity of people from Higher Education, schools, training companies and charities and the conference was led by Jutta Pauschenwein who is committed to open learning and lots of interaction. The conference felt relaxed with plenty of time for people to talk to each other and it has been interesting today to read Patter’s post on unconferences. I think the Graz conference achieved a lot of what Pat Thomson writes about.

It has also been interesting to compare my footprint with the footprint that Jutta produced prior to the conference, i.e. a footprint of her design aspirations.

Screen Shot 2014-09-24 at 18.09.27

There are a number of similarities between our two footprints. Much of what Jutta aspired to in her design, I experienced. Where there are differences, I think they are due to my unique role in the conference and the fact that I was in a previously unknown country where I did not know the language or the culture. This was not a problem for me. I found the conference an extremely enjoyable experience – but nevertheless my footprint reflects my unique experience. There is no right or wrong in this, but it is interesting to make the comparison between the two footprints. Perhaps more useful than this, is for Jutta as the conference designer to make the comparison between her footprint and a series of footprints drawn in the workshop at the end of the day – as she has done in a recent blog post . These comparisons could potentially influence the design of future conferences.

These are only some of my reflections on the very rich experience of the Graz conference. Many thanks to Jutta and her team for making this a memorable event.

Future directions for the Footprints of Emergence framework

This is the last in a series of five posts written in preparation for an e-learning conference keynote that Roy Williams and I will be giving on September 17 in Graz, Austria.

First slide in presentation

Previous posts relating to this presentation are:

  1. Evaluation of Open Learning Scenarios
  2. Characteristics of Open Learning Environments
  3. Emergent Learning in Open Environments
  4. Theoretical influences on the characteristics of open learning environments

Our research [1] [2] focuses on how learners experience complex, unpredictable, uncertain environments, such as MOOCs, where their learning is likely to be emergent.

Over the last two or three years the amount of research into learning in MOOCs has grown. See for example MOOC Research Initiative Reports from the Gates Foundation funded projects  and the proceedings from the European MOOCs Stakeholders Summit 2014 .

Some researchers, like George Veletsianos [3], have questioned whether there is enough emphasis in recent research on the ‘learner voice’. This is a question that also concerns us. We believe that it is essential to encourage and listen to the ‘learner voice’ (whoever that learner might be), if we are to understand the epistemic and ontological shifts and transformational learning that can happen in open learning environments.

The Footprints of Emergence framework is a tool [2] [ See also previous posts in this series], which can be used by learners to surface the deep, tacit knowledge and understanding that is associated with these transformational shifts in open learning environments such as MOOCs. We are interested in learning more about the impact of open learning environments on these shifts by encouraging learners to be researchers of their own experience.

The Footprints of Emergence framework [2] [4] can be regarded as a probe for evaluating learning in open environments. It engages learners in deep reflection, supports them in taking control of their own reflection and evaluation, can be used to encourage discussion and collaboration between learners, teachers and designers, and can be used to visualise the dynamic changes that occur in learning over time.

A difficulty that we have encountered with the framework and drawing tool is that they require explanation and practise in use, i.e. they require time and effort to engage with, sometimes more time than people have and more effort than people want to make. Our aim is to try and simplify the process, without losing the depth of reflection that the current process leads to. To this end we are, through a colleague, hoping to develop some software, which will make the drawing process more straightforward. This would leave the user freer to concentrate on the meaning and use of the factors (see the second post in this series for more information about the factors) and the interpretation of the final footprint visualisation. The development of some software would also potentially make it easier to work with larger groups of learners.

Such a development would enable us to focus on the meaning of evaluation of learning in open learning environments. This has been challenging us for some time. If learning in these environments is emergent, surprising and unpredictable, how can we ‘capture’ it and value it. The common response in current MOOC research has been to try and scale up traditional assessment methods through the use of big data, automated assessment or peer review. Our current thinking is that new paradigms such as open learning may require new ways of thinking about assessment. The Footprints of Emergence framework enables a move away from traditional approaches and puts the emphasis on reflection and self-assessment. This aligns with the view expressed recently by Stephen Downes [5] that we need to move beyond assessment [6] as we know it and put it in the hands of learners.

To summarise the directions in which we are moving: We are interested in –

  1. Exploring further the characteristics of open learning environments that result in transformative learning
  2. Increasing our understanding of how learners learn in open learning environments
  3. Finding new approaches which go beyond assessment and put learning and assessment in the control of the learner
  4. Exploring the notion of probes for assessment and learning design
  5. Developing the footprints of emergence drawing tool so that it can be used more easily with larger groups of learners.

References

  1. Williams, R., Karousou, R. &  Mackness, J. (2011) Emergent Learning and Learning Ecologies in Web 2.0. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning. Retrieved from: http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/883
  2. Williams, R., Mackness, J. & Gumtau, S. (2012) Footprints of Emergence. Vol. 13, No. 4. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning. Retrieved from: http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/1267
  3. Veletsianos, G. (2014) ELI 2014, learner experiences, MOOC research, and the MOOC phenomenon – Retrieved from: http://www.veletsianos.com/2014/02/10/mooc-research-mooc-phenomenon/
  4. Footprints of Emergence open wiki – http://footprints-of-emergence.wikispaces.com/
  5. Downes, S. (2014) Beyond Assessment – Recognizing Achievement in a Networked World Jul 11, 2014. 12th ePortfolio, Open Badges and Identity Conference , University of Greenwich, Greenwich, UK (Keynote). Retrieved from: http://www.downes.ca/presentation/344
  6. Mackness, J. (2014). Blog post – Beyond Assessment – Recognizing Achievement in a Networked World. Retrieved from: https://jennymackness.wordpress.com/2014/07/13/beyond-assessment-recognizing-achievement-in-a-networked-world/