Terje's musings on educational research


Last week I had an opportunity to visit ICALT2012 conference in Rome. Although, I consider ICALT in general as a very technology-oriented conference, Dr. Milos Kravcik and his colleagues have managed to offer something for me by organising again a workshop dealing with self-regulation in education. In some ways it was a continuation of their workshop, which took place last year in ICALT2011 in Georgia.

As expected most of the participants found it hard to present their ideas and work within 10 minutes, which unfortunately resulted in a situation, where there was any time left for later discussions and questions raised by the workshop organisers. This would have been the most interesting part for me.

For this workshop I carried out together with Sebastian Fiedler a small study in Tallinn University. As I have been teaching in Institute of Informatics for quite some years and trying to bring in innovative practices, but also enhance students’ competencies in the area of self-direction, I started to notice differences in students’ use of their weblogs. It was interesting to see how mainly 3 different use patterns occurred among our master students:

1. Some students use their weblogs only where it is required (some courses in our institute are weblog-based) and make a rather typical use of features a weblog offers, such as, categorisation, tags, study-buddies.

2. Some students use their weblogs (in addition to required courses) also for reflecting on courses and activities, which take place in learning management systems or in some other closed environments. This group of students has extended their weblogs and has started to perceive their weblogs as a central environment for organising their master studies.

3. Some students add work and hobby-related information in addition to their formal studies. For instance, they provide reflection on work-related tasks, present their CV, write about their ideas in the field of technology and education.

It is interesting to note that we have four different master programs in our institute. Two older ones, from 2002 and two recent ones. The recent programs consist of some courses, where digital instruments such as social media is used, but the older programs run mainly in a traditional way. Thus, looking at these four programs hardly any student from older programs uses a weblog, but students from the recent programs have started to make use of their weblogs as a central environment for their studies.

Redesigning courses in a way that gives students more control and freedom, we can witness how a light top-down push has encouraged students to experiment with the self-controlled, digital instrumentation. Practicing personal digital instrumentation they are gradually becoming more competent in supporting and digitally mediating their study practise, but also developing their dispositions in the area of self- direction.

With the use of weblogs and other digital instruments, particular patterns of control and responsibility, ownership, provision, and so forth, emerge, which start to compete with, contrast, and contradict the patterns and practices that are still dominating higher education. This, in turn, can be seen as a driver of adoption of new practices by other teachers.

Recent discussions on self-regulation and technology tend to be about recommender systems for students, which help them to choose a right activity. I have seen many such presentations and I still find it hard to understand in what way and how these systems actually enhance students competencies in the area of self-direction. Perhaps I have to learn more about studies with real users in order to grasp the idea.