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research

Activity Theory, Authentic Learning and Emerging Technologies

Selection_001For the past few years I’ve been involved in an NRF-funded research project looking at the use of emerging technologies in higher education. One of the products of that collaborative project was an edited book that has recently been published. Professor Denise Wood, one of the editors, describes the book on her blog:

This edited collection seeks to fill the current gap in understanding about the use of emerging technologies for transformative learning and teaching by providing a nuanced view, locating higher education pedagogical practices at an intersection of emerging technologies, authentic learning and activity systems.

The book, which is edited by Professors Vivienne Bozalek, Dick N’gambi, Denise Wood, Jan Herrington, Joanne Hardman and Alan Amory, includes case studies as examples, and draws from a wide range of contexts to illustrate how such a convergence has the potential to track transformative teaching and learning practices in the higher education sector. Chapters provide the reader with a variety of transformative higher education pedagogical practices in southern contexts, theorised within the framework of Cultural Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) and tool mediation, while using authentic learning as a pedagogical model upon which this theoretical framework is based.

I made a small contribution to the book in the form of a case study that emerged from my PhD work as part of the project. Professor Jan Herrington wrote the introduction to the section on the Case Studies:

Moving from theory to practice in higher education is deeply challenging. While exploring pedagogical models in the literature may lead to tacit understanding of general principles, actually implementing these principles in practice can be an entirely different matter. Authentic learning is a pedagogical model that is sometimes misunderstood, such as when teachers believe that in order for authenticity to be achieved, learning must occur outside the classroom in the real world. In fact, authenticity – as described in this model – can readily be achieved within the regular classrooms and lecture halls of the university environment. Providing examples of successful cases of such authentic learning environments offers an opportunity to explore the practical application of a theoretical model, and provide concrete instances of implementation in different subject areas. This chapter provides three such cases. The cases presented here provide international examples of authentic learning in practice across different discipline areas, using different technologies, and focusing on different aspects of the approach. The first case (Case study 14.1) describes the use of reflective analysis and role play in the study of obstetrics, using the model of authentic learning described in Chapter 5 (Herrington, 2014). It focuses on the use of technology as a mediating vehicle for authentic learning through the use of practice dilemmas. The second case (Case study 14.2) describes specific tasks developed within an authentic learning environment, using characteristics of authentic tasks (Herrington, Reeves, Oliver, & Woo, 2004). This case describes the use of complex contexts and the development of case notes in the study of physiotherapy. The final case (Case study 14.3) explores the use of wikis and blogs to mediate authentic learning in sport science education. All the cases represent authentic learning in action, and include details of the context, the tasks, and the problems that inevitably arise when teachers necessarily relinquish their more traditional role to allow students to take primary responsibility for learning. They are also effectively works in progress, where solutions are refined and improved in successive iterations. But above all, they are visible and tangible exemplars of theory in action.

While my own contribution was small, I’m really proud that I could be part of the initiative. The book is available on Amazon in a variety of formats.

Categories
research

Writing a research proposal for T&L

Writing a research proposal for teaching and learning
Prof. Denise Wood (18 July, 2013)

Here are my notes from a presentation by Prof. Denise Wood on developing a research proposal for projects looking at T&L.

Image from Tony Duckle's Flickr photostream
Image from Tony Duckle’s Flickr photostream

Understanding the funding body is important when it comes to applying for funding. Disciplinary specific proposals may not be successful when it comes to T&L projects.

Local evidence of successful projects is important before applying for larger grants. Collaborative teamwork is a great way to build ideas and test concepts. Local resources help you get started and build a track record. Generating pilot data helps to begin publishing. When panels review research proposals, your previous experience in obtaining funding and successful proposals is highly emphasised.

Why are you undertaking the study? Knowing your goals will justify your design decisions. What are your goals:

  • Personal
  • Practical
  • Intellectual / theoretical

Writing proposals is closely tied to career trajectory

How are you using research and research projects to improve your teaching practice?

What conceptual framework are you using:

  • Research paradigm
  • Experiential knowledge
  • Existing theory and research
  • Pilot and exploratory studies

Interested in addressing a gap, bringing in personal reflections that guide and influence the research. If you only think of your conceptual framework as a literature review, then you limit the scope of your research to what others have done.

Research questions:

  • What is the relationship between the goals and the conceptual framework?
  • Help to guide the actual research design / methods
  • Used to connect the problem and practical concerns
  • Should be specific and focused on the study
  • Need to allow flexibility to reveal unanticipated phenomena (if the questions are too focused you may miss emergent ideas)
  • Need to avoid inherent assumptions as they bias the study

Find a balance in the number of questions (3-4 is usually adequate)

Begin with divergent thinking to allow yourself space to explore many possibilities. Mind mapping is useful to identify high-level ideas. Begin reading broadly and then begin narrowing the focus. You can’t answer all possible questions in one study.

Try to avoid getting too caught up in the details of the research methods. Only use methods that you understand.

Note that you will be informed by your own epistemological understanding of what knowledge is and how we come to know. Your methods (quantitative, qualitative or mixed methods)  will most likely mirror your understanding of how we come to know. This will in turn guide how you sample, gather and analyse data.

For local studies, it’s OK to use a pilot within a classroom. Use this to identify a single context. Larger proposals would be better to expand the scope of the study and test the outcome of the pilot. On the basis of the smaller studies, you can make an argument for the larger study. Think laterally about how you can collect data.

  • Validity: How might you be wrong?
  • Bias (what assumptions do you bring with you? Results and interpretation distorted by your own values and preconceptions)
  • Reactivity (quantitative researcher may try to control for the effect of the researcher influence; qualitative researcher looks at how they actually influence the outcomes)

How do you reduce bias and reactivity?

  • Studies should be intensive and long-term (not the same as longitudinal study)
  • Gather rich, thick data (less likely to get from surveys / questionnaires; rather use interviews or focus groups)
  • Respondent validation of outcomes (is what you heard the same as what they meant?)
  • Identifying discrepant cases or evidence (you should take outliers into account, but identify and reflect on them, not necessarily include in the main data and suggest reasons for the discrepancy)
  • Triangulation
  • Comparative data (look at different contexts and populations)

Proposal checklist:

  • Identify a funding body
  • Objectives of the funding body
  • Use the guidelines that the funding body provides
  • Previous funded research and see what has been accepted and / or rejected
  • Links with existing research that the body is involved with
  • Evidence of value, need and benefits (institutional, local, national, international)
  • Background / conceptual framework
  • Methodology
  • Evaluation strategies are valued in educational research
  • Engaged dissemination whereby you share your results as you go, using a variety of methods, including publications, conference presentations, social media and workshops
  • Budget: must meet funding body requirements, realistic, value for money, justify costs
  • Milestones: linked to objectives and outcomes
  • Researcher capabilities: ensure you can deliver what you say you can, track record, previous collaboration, strategic, roles and responsibilities, realistic within workload

Try to model your proposal on successful projects. Learn from the mistakes of others. Sit down with a colleague and ask for constructive feedback.

Explicitly make reference to important and contextually relevant policy documents.

Identify how your research is going to create systemic change.

How are you going to evaluate your process and outcomes?

  • Formative: should be ongoing and used to modify project
  • Summative: can be broad and can go beyond the stated outcomes

Design-based research: can use milestones that are linked to formative evaluation. Identify problems early on and adapt quickly.

How are you going to convince the funding body that the people you’re collaborating with are adding value to the project? You must justify the presence of every team member and highlight how they will contribute.

How are you plugging the holes that funding assessors are going to be looking for?

Differentiate between deliverables (the tangible products that will come from the project) and outcomes (the achievement of stated aims and objectives).