Cape Town with #go_gn + OEGlobal. Fantastic!

I am part of a wonderful network, the @GOER_GN, a global network of PhD students that are researching in open education in general. Everyone has a slightly different focus, but all of us are interested in using OPEN as a tool to social justice and inclusion. The #go_gn (how the gang is called) organises once a year a gather together, an intensive seminar for 3 days. There, all of us have a chance to present our research for 20 min, and we get 10 min for comments and feedback from the gang. That is a luxury I have to say! So many bright scholars around me focusing on what I am doing and thinking how to shed light in the not so clear spots.
I had good feedback on my work, basically two things: I can’t solve the world with my PhD, that is for later, so I need to pick up ONE strand and go deep into it. As my beautiful friend @catherinecronin says, go in and go out!  (advice she, in turn, got from one of her committee’s members). Second, I need to differentiate between doing research, as objective as possible, finding out things from the data, discovering the problem and barriers to students’ digital practice, and another is to solve those problems. And I agree, I have a tendency to be pragmatic, well, I am pragmatic! But when one is doing research, the real need is to do the research, to flesh that little bit of the world we are worried about.
Here is the feedback and a succinct account of my work in words of @phillospher1978 aka Rob Farrow, who was taking notes during the sessions.

Caroline’s research centres on personal learning spaces as an alternative for institutional students.  Her project has had to evolve somewhat since she started.  She has been working with undergraduates to explore their personal learning environments.  Similar themes were also raised at a ‘student voice’ conference at Bath Spa.  Guided by Selwyn, Caroline is looking at actual practices and analysing them in terms of openness. Several theoretical frameworks are currently under consideration, including Schatzki (2006) and Kemmis et al (2010).  The aim of education is taken to be flourishing (Wright, 2010).  
A constructive grounded theory approach (Charmaz, 2014) explored assumptions about ‘digital natives’ and provides a richer description of actual student learning ‘spaces’ and the extent to which these are ‘open’ or ‘closed’.  Interesting things arising from the data include the idea that students are overwhelmed by the sheer amount of material available online; students are also concerned about their grades and this can impede experimentation.  There is no shared understanding of digital literacies, but Google is so commonplace as to not even be thought of as a tool.  Many students are intimidated by technology with which they are unfamiliar.   This work has led her to the idea that an explorative mindset needs to be cultivated and encouraged.  

  • Similar themes emerging in the work of others in the grou
  • Need to distinguish the research elements and the attempt to be pragmatic and improve student learning
  • How to deal with students who are risk-averse?
  • Maybe a need to narrow down the study and be less tempted to follow every idea or theoretical lead.  Clear research questions may help.

One thing that has become clearer to me is the danger to be an advocate of our own research. Doing research should not be done to re-confirm what one is advocating for. Instead, it should be the outcome of the study. I attended the talk that Cheryl Hodgkinson-Williams gave at OEGLobal. She was telling us about the new project they are undertaking within a bigger project she leads, ROER4D. The project is studying the impact of OEP in the world. This new project is a meta-analysis (synthesis she also called it), that will analyse and unpack the causes of change in the different countries that are taking part of the project. She said it is not the role of the researcher to advocate but to understand what are the barriers and then find ways to overcome those barriers. And that is where my research will aim to go, to identify the barriers students encounter in their daily academic digital practice. This will be accomplished exploring the state-of-the-actual of students’ academic practice, scrutinising the present and not the potential, staying grounded in the reality, in the daily entanglements of students when engaging with the Web for academic purposes. 
In the conference, I presented my work but in a slightly different manner than I had planned. The reason for this? We had the gala dinner the night before and it was the first talk the last day!! It needed to be dynamic and challenging in some way. So I did a sort of flipped talked. I was willing to explore what the audience thought about the data I have collected. To do this I gave each group (3 groups of ± 6 participants). Luckily enough 2 members of the #go_gn were in the groups which allowed me to have a more detail view of what was discussed in each group.
In this Padlet wall you can see what each group thought was the data about. The stories are short but I am working with some participants to get more details and have a more detailed version of what was discussed in each table. This work has resulted in amazing and unexpected answers!
Overall the experience in Cape Town was one of the best I have had so far and I have assisted to many of them as part of my development as a researcher. I am really grateful for the generosity not only of the organiser, the GOER_GN but also of all the participants that made the work so joyful and intellectually productive. And some dancing did also happen there 🙂

an ethics of analysis and writing

How do you work ethically with material generated in an interview? I’ve been pondering this question recently as part of a more general think about ethical research practice*. Research ethics are c…
Source: an ethics of analysis and writing

  • How do we record and then analyse the important sensory elements of interviews? What does it mean to leave them out?
  • Does our desire to find patterns (themes) lead us to skip over important tensions and individual idiosyncrasies? What does it mean to leave them out?
  • Does the use of particular forms of software accentuate our gaze on broad themes rather than emergent narratives and subtle underpinning metaphors? What does it mean to leave them out?
  • Do the ways in which we transcribe recordings pay sufficient attention to silences, stumbles, awkwardness, intonations, irony, sarcasm and so on? What does it mean to leave them out?

This post, in particular, the questions I have cited above, has helped my thinking process about the data analysis. I have been struggling to write what my interviewees have said in the focus groups in form of general themes. I haven’t found yet ‘themes’ that make justice to what they feel about the use of digital tools in the university. How they struggle, how they feel so upset with how this element has been addressed in the academic context. I think I fear, in words of Patt, to leave out important tensions, I don’t want to miss any ‘sensory elements of the interviews’.
I have analysed the data with such care, I have read through it so many times, but it is hard to find a sensible way, the right words to make justice to their feelings.
I think about this on a daily basis, I can not, not think about it, but every time I try to generate the themes I feel uncomfortable, not at ease with my participants and with myself, and I think it has to do with what Patt says in this post.
With this insight and the advice I recently got from a scholar to create my own categories, I will return to my data analysis, my transcriptions, the most precious bit of text I have in my whole thesis, and dare to be creative not feeling an impostor, and make justice to what I think is fundamental in any research, the inner world of the participants 🙂

Towards a digital sociology of education, an interview

The whole talk is brilliant! @Neil_Selwyn is interviewed by and  @mark_carrigan. Here is the blog: The Sociological Review if someone is interested in finding more posts and relevant information
Some key points tha illuminate my learning journey as an (very) early career researcher:

  • Digital technology must not be seen as a hubris-driven solution for educational problems. Loving this idea of hubris-driven. I have to admit that when I started my research I thought of digital technology as the panacea in education. After getting into reading, analysing and understanding technology from a more broader and philosophical perspective I started to see so many different avenues that were hidden for me before. I can see how much my position has changed, how much critical I have become, and there is so much to learn still. But defenetly it is imperative to know more and be aware of much more critical stances on technology to ba able to see beyond the fancy view on technology. My process has been amazing! And I have to Bbe thankful to scholars like Selwyn and Martin Oliver, as they have been my main eye-opening readings.
  • Experiences are happening in the digital space, what does it mean to research the practice that unfolds in that space? What is new and what is different in this space?
  • It is important to be skeptic about too much optimism, not to be a cheerleader 🙂 but to see the danger within the politics of educational technology. The power structures it favours.
  • Educational technology needs to be problematised, and there are areas recommended by Neil Selwyn:
    • Materialities of digital technology (software, coding, structure). It is about unboxing these materialities and looking at them closer. It is not about opening up the box when things go wrong; instead, it is about unboxing them while they are functioning and analysing them in depth
    • Platform studies, sociology of software. This, in particular, I found pretty interesting. It is about tearing a system apart. I would say it is analysing how it came what it is. Looking beyond the system.
    • The human aspect of technology. Exploring what people do, activities and practices, emotions, affects. It is not only questions about what works and what don’t and why? Meaning making, how do people make meaning of experiences that are unfolding in the digital space? what is new or different there? what are the continuities or discontinuities in that experience? Values that are shared.
    • Sociology of knowledge in the digital age and how that interacts with education? Exploring literacies and ways of doing things in the digital space. Digital identities and the struggle between the individual and the institutional, that debate between structure and agency.
  • An interesting view of schools as data farms, this I found fascinating
  • Then they talked about the different methods to do research, new modes of enquiry in a digital age where new tools and approaches are developed. What is the new toolkit that the digital offers?
    • Semantic analysis: Digital discourses as they unfold. Twitter feed, blog with comments, instagram feed.
    • Data mapping
    • Computational social science: Big data analysis
    • Trace ethnography: Tracing data through codes and networks. The data as the unit of analysis instead of the individuum.
    • Digital ethnography
    • Platform and software studies (I am interested in this): Researching the systems, the coded spaces, the digital learning environments. Looking for the coded elements of education. Interrogating those codes, the data, the online aspects of education. This tides in with critical reverse engineering which is interested in deconstructing closed educational system and look at how it is build, what assumtions, values and considerations are coded into the platform. Interrogate the code itself. Selwyn argues here that technology is higly political and it some how predefines structures of power within the design. This structures can be very interesting if they are dismanteled. An interesting thing to do would be taking a LMS terring it apart and building it again with your won assumptions, values and intentions
    • Cooperative critical design (I am interested for phase 2 of my research). I found a paper which I am starting to read: Critical Theory and Paricipatory Design. The aim of this method is build and design with the users. The process of designing is important not so much if the design works or not. It would be important to ask why it didn’t worked. It is bottom up design. I think that Feenberg in his book questioning technology talks about democratic design, arguing that this approach is powerful to foster change.
    • Life methods

The talk was highly interesting and enlightening for me as I am still questioning technology and my unit of analysis. I am thinking in applying cooperative critical design as students will be re-designing the informal system of tools they already have in place and through that design process I hope to foster more awareness and critical thinking about the role of technlogy in their education.

Jisc data service consultation service

@Jisc is working on the data service consultation online tool. They are creating a crowdsourced online survey that will take the best questions used in the Student Digital Experience Project to fill a database from where users can pull out questions that are relevant to their own research.
It is work in progress to which I am looking forward to use it in my own research!
Here the information in much more detail
[slideshare id=54729840&doc=jiscdataservicevintro-151104115247-lva1-app6891]

So close and so far away

It has been some time that I haven’t been able to write in my blog, although I have been writing so much in my private space.
I have been working very hard in my research design (the image above is the result of that work) which is about all the logistics that I need to follow to connect my findings to the research question. It provides also a blueprint for success 🙂 It guides the process of finding the evidence or the data that will possibly answer the research questions. I also have been thinking about fare ways to invite students to participate in the project not using or taking advantage of my position of lecturer. I already have green light to address them in the core modules discussion time. I am thinking and writing about the benefits students will take advantage of when taking part of this study. I had a good conversation with my former external supervisor Jan van Maanen, a Dutch mathematician, teacher and historian. His advice was very dutch: think about having fun and providing them with time afterwards to have good conversations and a nice snack with drinks. So we decided to call it “the week summit”, I have thought to organise the activities near the end of the week in the student union launch in order to work first and then chill and enjoy the rest of the evening.
We coincide in using the summit in an arithmetic way –> sum-it a sum of activities that will bring us to know more about how students would like to be involved in re-shaping their own informal personal learning space which is the aim of the second phase of the project.
So my design research, the blueprint version 1.1 is ready to go and the idea is to brake my study in two phases. Phase 1 is about mapping students’ current digital practice. Understanding what motivates them when engaging in the Web with different platforms and tools in formal and informal settings. To explore their expectations, views, fears, anxieties in relation to their digital experience within the university and also when they are working from elsewhere.  My potential participants are going to be y-1, y-2 and y-3 students in educational studies, many of which are then taking the PGCE -postgraduate certificate in education-.
The methods I am using are:

  • focus group to start the conversation with students in relation to their experience and expectations,
  • the V+R continuum  approach which will give me an idea of what motivates students to engage in the Web both, in formal and informal settings and how does their informal digital space looks like
  • the day experience adapted by Dr. Mathew Riddle and Michael Arnold (university of Cambridge and Melborune respectively). It was inspired by social and behavioural science methodologies including the Experience Sampling Method (Hektner et al, 2006, Intille et al, 2003), the Day Reconstruction Method (Kahneman et al, 2004) and work on Cultural Probes (Gaver et al, 1999, Arnold, 2004).  The day experience was used on the Learning Landscape Project at the University of Cambridge in 2007. The method is attempt to reduce recall distortion and the ideological biases of other sampling methods such as interviews, surveys and focus groups. It can record temporal and situational information in qualitative and quantitative detail, and may be extended to a longer period if needed. The authors suggest It is particularly suited to those who wish to use a novel qualitative method to examine every day life situations.
  • An online survey

The aim of phase 1 is to capture how are students engaging with the Web, what platforms and tools do they use and for what purpose. Explore into their digital habits. Other aspects to explore are the views, expectations, vision, fears, needs and blocks students have in relation to the digital world and their experience in formal and informal settings. For that I am using Jisc’s cards and posters, both are already tested by other researchers and they seem to work well for starting a fruitful conversation about the topic.
One of the things I am also interested is how can the university digital literacy policy and culture include students’ informal digital habits and in doing so look at ways the university can match students’ digital literacy expectations where possible. Once all this data is collected it will be analyzed looking at what digital skills are revealed and what digital habits emerge. It will provide the study with a comprehensive view, a typology of students in relation to their digital literacies.
I am not only interested in the term “digital literacies” but also in “web literacy” which is an initiative of Mozilla Firefox in order to provide people with tools that will allow people have a proactive and informed attitude towards the web, teaching them the necessary skills to read, write and participate in the Web. How I will integrate both terms, digital and web I am still not sure. Intellectual work that needs to be done but what is clear to me is that both complement very well.

My research questions and a bit more

I am writing my tentative research questions although my feeling is that they are going to change the more I understand some of the theoretical aspects. Nevertheless it is good to put them outside and maybe there are some suggestions.
How can the university support and encourage Educational Studies undergraduate (y-2 and y-3) to enable their effective engagement with digital technology and research skills to become digital research literate and flourish in the 21st century?
(This is maybe better, but still thinking):
How do y-2 and y-3 Ed studies undergraduate interact with online tools and for what purpose within the academic environment? 

  • What are students’ needs, expectations, visions, aspirations, fears, etc. in relation to the use of technology (the digital environment) and their dissertation process? Can both be then matched? Or should each of them be viewed separately? (Students voice and engagement)
  • What if any informal system of digital tools do students already have? (exploring their life space)
  • What is involved in the design, production, and implementation of a digital ecosystem –a personalized learning environment- for second and third-year undergraduate students in education studies as a means to craft their thesis in the dissertation module? (i.e. scaffolding, modeling and feedback).
  • What, if any, minimum prior knowledge or competencies (skills, abilities, attitudes, habits, knowledge) do students need in order to design and craft their PLE as an effective way to engage with more advanced digital literacy in a research rich environment?
  • What new skills and knowledge is developed as a product of the design and development of the PLE?
  • How can the digital experience be embedded in the curriculum in a way that is meaningful for the student?
  • What is the impact for the student, the teachers, and the university?
  • What is the relation between students PLE and the University VLE? What are the tension between both spaces and can they complement each other or do they exclude one another?

Theoretical framework:

  • Network earning
  • Connected learning
  • Personal learning environment
  • Digital literacy and competence
  • Learning theories
  • Self-directed learning
  • Social-cultural theory (Vygostsky, Engestrom, Leontev)
  • Post-humanism (Braidotti)
  • Sociology theories in order to contextualize our society (Bauman: Liquid modernity)
  • Field theory and the Life space of an individual (collecting data)

Taylor & Francis Online :: Prototyping and Contemporary Anthropological Experiments With Ethnographic Method – Journal of Cultural Economy –

Taylor & Francis Online :: Prototyping and Contemporary Anthropological Experiments With Ethnographic Method – Journal of Cultural Economy –.
An interesting view on prototyping: The paper explores some experimental strategies in the pursuit and production of ethnographic research. There is a need of new forms that impinge on how it establishes the conditions of fieldwork in contemporary multi-sited spaces of complex assemblages and big projects through which ethnography operates and defines its objects of study. These formats are conceived as ‘third spaces’ (with which I can identify my work) materialised as staged occasions, studios, labs, established alongside the traditional serendipitous path of fieldwork, and involve explicit intellectual partnerships with persons who might otherwise be viewed as facilitators or subjects of research. These third spaces produce prototypes as accessible alternative products of contemporary ethnographic experiments (which what I will do).
I am still looking for the article as it is not in my library data base but what I have read in the abstract is already pretty interesting.

The role of theory in educational research. I part

Notes from my readings on: The Routledge Doctoral Student’s Companion. Pat Thomson and Melanie Walker. 2010
Chapter 2: Ignorance in educational research
Theory in research problematise, critiques, challenges and complexifies. It allows you to challenge taken-for-granted orthodoxies and it opens up the space to understand the social conditions for the production of knowledge.
It helps us to find concepts that frame our study, to analyse it, interpret it and reflect.
We must be capable to locate our selves with confidence within a theoretical landscape appropriate to the study. Through concepts we come to know what we are looking for and what we are looking at. There are signposts that show us where to go in a crossroad or in the middle of the vastness of an empty landscape. They tell us how to get where we are aiming to.
The search to understand requires solid conceptual work and conceptual mediation in communicating ideas and understanding to different audiences. The researcher must construct their own frameworks in the early stages of the study. Methodology shall grow out of this theory and conceptualisation. It is important to understand the pragmatic contexts in which knowledge can be defined as new.
The different materials a researcher grabs in order to construct new knowledge varies from data of various forms and types, direct experience, concepts, theories of their own, or those developed by others, etc. All these materials help researchers to answer questions they have already considered, already familiar to them -blank spots- in emergent theories and conceptions of knowledge, or to consider questions they haven’t considered before -blind spots-. 
What could be the characteristic configuration of the blind or blank spots?
Thomas Kuhn (1970), represented this structure like a disciplinary matrix. Rows represent concepts or methods of investigation, the columns phenomena that members of the discipline tend to examine. Such a matrix defines sets of related cells, each corresponding to the intersection of a particular concept or method and and a particular object of investigation.
Matrix of sociology inquiry

Phenomena under investigation
Themes of analysis Jobs + work Sociology of education Sociology of religion Medical sociology Political
  • Social control
  • Social stratification
  • Status attainment
  • Bases of integration and
    differentiation: class,
    gender, race
  • Social relationships: groups,
    household, community
  • Social change

The other option would be changing the phenomena under investigation to a school context. That would mean being the phenomena the lesson, the classroom, the schools, the school district and communities, the state.
Blank spot ignorance corresponds to cells of the sub-matrix (the second one) that are visible, clearly marked, but have not been investigated as adequately as scholars would like. Blind spot ignorance  corresponds to matters that don’t fit anywhere on the grid. The concepts or phenomena they implicate are not so much missing from cells where we think they should belong, but obscured by the matrix itself.
It is important THE WAY TO LOOK AT A PHENOMENA ??? Don’t understand what means the way, Is it maybe regarding if I see the classroom (student population) as a whole instead of seeing at the student as an individual in individual classes. If you ask questions to different schools and not to different classrooms you may make some differences invisible. Instead if you ask about classrooms within schools then you may find some differences in outcomes.
Well defined blind spots or blank spots can provide a map that helps the researcher to stay on track. Even when all the blanks are covered the disciplinary rows can still create opportunities for generating new knowledge. The stimulus required can be as simple as renaming a row or a column, or merging a pair of cells or as complex as adding a row or a columns from the matrix of another discipline. An example is the new knowledge regarding ‘social context for learning’ within the educational profession.
Knowledge about ignorance: It is far more better to talk about reducing ignorance than to pursue new knowledge. The same research methods, criteria for evaluating evidence, and logic of argumentation or exposition can apply within either perspective. Weather people, researcher, students regard something as new knowledge depends on what the person already knows about the subject. Do the propositions help to fill in a gap blank spot or reveal a blind spot in current theories of doctoral education?
An interesting paragraph that summarises a research speech:
“So what does this mean? It is definitely a compelling argument, but is there empirical evidence to substantiate what would otherwise remain as an unwarranted claim? If evidence is wanting, then how can we best translate the proposition into testable hypotheses, (ii) apply an effective research design, (iv) develop appropriate sampling and data collection procedures, preferably random and N>200, so that we can (v) conducto rigorous statistical analysis of the data, preferably using the “definite” causal modelling techniques to achieve the highest levels of confidence and reliability and validity? ”
Important to consider as a researcher: To have a a master of well-crafted arguments supported by good data (qualitative or quatitative).
Important to have a position and a bunch of concept in order to do research, that will shape the research object.

Questions for the EERSS

I am assisting to the European Educational Research Summer School in NTNU Norwegian University for Science and Technology in Trondheim, Norway. For that I am doing some background readings in order to get the most out of it.
Question I would like to answer in that week are:

  1. What does it mean to choose pragmatism as my research approach?
  2. What is knowledge under such a premise? How is knowledge acquired? What would be a consistent or pertinent method I shall use in order to capture evidence of knowledge construction in students (what ever the students are: Prospective teachers or math high school students). How can we look at the pieces of knowledge students will produce while learning a subject (math)? Is it possible to create a knowledge artefact recolector? What framework can I use to interpret knowledge artefacts as the units of analysis to look for deep understanding?
  3. PLE are challenging environments to research due to their uniqueness, reflecting students’ needs and ways of learning. What would be a good approach to research in PLE? Can I see a PLE as a complex system?
  4.  Is the HCD a good consistent approach to gather information about what young students expect from their math classroom, math lesson, math teacher, technology use in the learning experience, how they use technology daily, what they expect from technology in their daily life, do they really want to be social connected in the academic environment, to see the emergent needs of young students regarding the learning of math (a way of creating the future), what are the patterns that are emerging in the field (where should I look for this information).Do students see social media as learning tools?
    User participation by means of self-documentation. How to design the probes that will research this self-documentation. Look at the daily factors of students learning lives.  Look into HCD page in cultural probes. It is in the readings of class 3.
    FrogDesign: Help communities to solve problems, generate solutions, connect resources and pool knowledge to solve a challenge and create change
  5. The nature of learning is changing. It is more dynamic and the social tools do foster this dynamism. It is more social, more collaborative. It is not a readymade thing any more it is a constructed experience between teacher and learners. The emphasis is on the learner experience, on his/her performance of learning.
    To transfer the open-minded innate approach of using social media into a structured learning environment requires a careful examination of the tools, the student, the affordances, amongst others. “Patterns of use are complex” Luckins et al. 2009