Terje's musings on educational research

In spring I was invited to contribute to a book titled “Technology-Enhanced Professional Learning: Processes, Practices, and Tools” edited by Allison Littlejohn and Anoush Margaryan. My role was to write up a commentary chapter (co-authored with Dr. Sebastian H.D. Fiedler) on learning processes. Recently it was announced that the book will be published already in November 2013.

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In winter I was asked to provide an online course at Linz Pädagogische Hochschule for Erasmus exchange students. With a colleague from Linz we agreed to call this course “Learning and teaching in the 21st century”. The purpose of the course was to explore together with students some new trends in learning and teaching. During a 7 week’s period we spent some time on reading, thinking, analysing and reflecting on concepts such as personal learning environments, bring your own device, open content and open educational resources, e-portfolio, etc., but we also tried out some networked tools and services for facilitating our learning and teaching.

I have facilitated many entirely online courses, but despite of my experiences I have to admit that I feel a need to have at least one face-to-face meeting with students to get to know them better. It gives a more promising start for the whole journey with people you haven’t met before. However, I believe we managed to create a nice motivating atmosphere for exploring learning and teaching in the 21st century.

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After my “conference rally” (two in a row just before your holiday is quite challenging) in Poland and Germany I managed to squeeze in a short visit to Linz. I am one of the coordinators of PSST (Personal & Shared Strategies for Teachers in Web 2.0) intensive program and we run this for the second time.

Despite of my short visit, it was a pleasure to be part of the intensive program. I met some nice and interesting people from Croatia, some old colleagues from Romania and a bunch of active participants from Latvia, Romania, Croatia, Slovenia and Estonia. By the time I got there they had created a nice and creative atmosphere, full of interest and motivation to learn something new.

The idea of this intensive program is to bring together people from different countries who are interested in educational technology and its implementation possibilities into teaching and learning. Our participants are mainly students who are in the middle of teacher training programs in their countries. Some of them also work as teachers already. Such a program allows to share experiences, success and failures, introduce new technological solutions and innovative pedagogical approaches, practice giving presentations and formulating arguments.

Due to my recent participation in the PLE2013 conference I decided to introduce the concept of PLE (personal learning environment) and BYOD (bring your own device). We discussed about the potential challenges and benefits of BYOD in primary and secondary education. I tried to encourage people to think about the questions such as: Are technologies merely tools that human beings use? How has “technology” changed the ways in which we know, learn, and communicate? What kind of role technology plays in education? I ended my presentation with the claim (unfortunately I haven’t figured out yet who is the exact author of this, but I stumbled across a photo on Flickr):

“In the same way that music is not in the piano…learning is not in the device”

for some food for thought.

By the way, it is already decided that this intensive program will take place also next year.

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For this year I have planned so far only two conferences. In the beginning of July I was in Torun, Poland for the WCCE2013 (10th World Conference on Computers in Education) with the theme “Learning while we are connected” and in the following week in Berlin, Germany for the PLE2013 (Personal learning environment) with the theme “Personal Learning Environments: learning and diversity in the cities of the future”.

These two conferences were rather different in terms of their organisation. While the first one represents a typical big, traditional conference with keynotes, parallel sessions, etc. the latter one tries to break away from this format and create a relaxed atmosphere, where people can interact more, have discussions and arguments in smaller groups.

At the WCCE2013 conference together with Sebastian H.D. Fiedler, we presented a paper “Networked narrative accounts of personal learning projects: an instrument for systemic intervention research in higher education”. Surprisingly the organisers of the conference put our paper in a session, which had a bunch of papers from a totally different field and had a completely different focus from my point of view. Thus, it created a bit of an alien feeling to be there and I could see the audience didn’t connect much with what I was trying to get across.

Our paper can be summarised as follows:

In the context of systemic intervention research on teaching and learning practices in higher education the reconfiguration of patterns of control and responsibility has turned out to be an essential lever for change. This paper presents how insights from pervious work on adult’s learning projects, the reflective use of negotiated learning contracts and journals, were digitally re-mediated through the use of open, web-publishing practices. We describe how this approach has been used to support participants externalising and “bootstrapping” of personal learning projects in the digital realm and briefly discuss the potential use of the resulting narrative accounts for the reconstruction and analysis of individual trajectories of development.

At the PLE2013 conference we presented the paper “Personal Learning Environments: A conceptual landscape revisited”. This is our attempt to provide a comprehensive overview of the current research focuses within the PLE field.

The abstract of our paper says:

This paper reports on a renewed attempt to review and synthesise a substantial amount of research and development literature on Personal Learning Environments (PLEs) published in recent years. Earlier comprehensive review efforts (Buchem, Attwell, & Torres, 2011; Fiedler & Väljataga, 2011) had attested considerable conceptual differences within the research community. If and how these differences have qualitatively changed since 2010, is the focus of an ongoing literature review project. While the project is still work in progress, some provisional findings and insights are reported and discussed.

Despite of the slightly unfortunate session room it allowed to create a rather lively discussion on issues related to PLE. In general, I got the feeling that we, as researchers, are very much concerned with technological developments of PLEs and don’t pay much attention on pedagogical challenges.

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PSST (Personal & Shared Strategies for Teachers in Web 2.0) intensive program is looking for participants.

Where: Linz, Austria

When: 07.07.2013 – 21.07.2013

Why: to share your ideas and experiences regarding Web2.0 and social media use in education, learning and teaching; to learn with experts and other participants about how to implement and exploit various technological solutions and strategies for learning and teaching purposes; to find new friends; to get to know new cultures, people and countries; to have fun; to go sightseeing

For whom: For students ((bachelor and master level) in the field of teacher training (any subject matter), educational technology or anybody else, who is interested in Web2.0 in education and training. Only first 6 students will be accepted from Estonia. Even if you are going to graduate this spring you are welcome to participate!

Participants: In addition to Estonians, there will be students from Slovenia, Austria, Latvia, Romania, Croatia (total 36) and a panel of international experts.

Costs: Travel costs; accommodation (double room shared with another student), some meals will be covered.

Working language: English

Website: http://psst.cc/ (currently the website is work in progress and is not yet updated, but you can see last year’s event)

Accommodation: Julius Raab Heim student housing

Contact and registration: Dr. Terje Väljataga (institute of Informatics, Centre for Educational Technology), terjev[at]tlu.ee

If you got interested and need more information about the intensive program, do not hesitate to contact me immediately.

See you in Linz!

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Recently I have spent quite some time on various project proposals. One of our proposals finally got a positive feedback. This project is called LEARNMIX. It is about re-conceptualization of the e-textbook as aggregations of both professionally developed and user-contributed content accessible through a wide range of devices. To make it short, our aim is to develop an empirically sound e-textbook concept in the context of schools by bringing together ubiquitous user interface design and pedagogical models. Our approach starts with criticising current interpretations of e-textbook as a simple replication of printed textbooks. We aim at bringing teachers and students into the process of creating learning materials in addition to publishers. We should acknowledge that students themselves represent a resource that has been largely wasted and that can be brought into play through pervasive technology and ubiquitous computing (Scardamalia & Bereiter, 1991). They can construct and build knowledge by incorporating artifacts professionally developed (books, textbooks, handbooks, etc.) and presented by the authoritative others (teachers, facilitators, other people often unknown, etc), with their own artifacts, to build new knowledge. Technological developments allow everybody to remediate and remix content pieces to create new representations, relationships and expressions. Our first kick-off meeting is going to take place in April 24th.

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In the beginning of August 2012 I took part in an intensive program called “Psst” (Personal & Shared Strategies for Teachers in Web 2.0). The purpose of the program was to provide opportunities to develop knowledge and skills using technology for teaching and learning. The intensive program brought together 25 students from Romania, Slovenia, Latvia, Estonia and Austria. Topics covered during the intensive program were rather wide, from storytelling to serious games, from Web3.0 and copyright issues to philosophical aspects of technology in our society and education.

Although being in this field for quite some years now there is always something new to learn. Students’ presentations demonstrated the use of various tools and services in formal educational settings. I got a bunch of new tools to try out myself. For instance, BigBlueButton synchronous communication tool turned out to be a rather useful finding for my teaching. As I have a few courses taught entirely online, I’ve been looking for quite some time a nice alternative to Flashmeeting. In addition, Anneli demonstrated some tools for storytelling (ZimmerTwins, Creaza, Mapskip, Storybird). However, having all these fancy tools at our hands, I noticed that we tended to forget about what actually makes up a story and what the necessary characteristics are. Is a video introducing a set of London’s sights forming a story?

Our Latvian team also demonstrated some interesting sites and tools for making music, which I can imagine can be a nice supplement to music lessons. Some examples are:

or some music databases, in which the content is under one of the Creative Commons licenses:

I found Christian Kogler’s presentation about McGurk effect (a perceptual phenomenon) and interesting one. He also claimed that “we don’t see what we don’t know”, which made me think of a concept “affordances” we have used in our research to analyse the rationale for using particular tools for certain purposes.

Although our colleagues use quite a bit of technology in their classrooms, I nevertheless got the impression that we tend to repeat traditional teaching practices without considering or rethinking whether the roles and responsibilities should change, whether a different culture of learning should be accepted and promoted. And what is exactly this different culture of learning?

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A few weeks ago we had scheduled interviews with new potential master students, who want to enroll in either “Educational technology” or Teacher of informatics, school ICT manager” programs. For the first program a portfolio and a motivation letter were required, for the latter one only a motivation letter was a basis for selecting new students in addition to the face-to-face interviews.

It came out that the “Educational technology” program was rather popular this year, from 20 applications only 12 students were accepted for the state-funded positions. The “Teacher of informatics, school ICT manager” program hasn’t been very popular for quite some years now, however, to my surprise we received 10 applications. The number of state-funded positions in this program is unlimited. So, if someone is still interested in this, we will open a new call for applications in August.

I was happy to see that also a slightly older generation has decided to come back to the university and study something new. I have to admit, that they gave me the impression of being more self-confident and aware of their wishes and visions of where they want to go than freshly graduated students.

Welcome to Institute of Informatics, Tallinn University!

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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.

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In summer, from July 30th till August 3rd there is going to be a conference OST’12: Open and Social Technologies for Networked Learning in the premises of Tallinn University. It is sponsored by IFIP Working Group 3.4 (Professional Education) and is jointly organized by Tallinn University (Estonia) and University of Tampere (Finland). The deadline for paper submissions is 12th of March 2012.

One day before the actual conference we are also organising a Doctoral Consortium for PhD students. The intention of this Doctoral Consortium is to promote the development of a supportive community of scholars and a spirit of collaborative research in addition to supporting and inspiring PhD students during their ongoing research effort. The last option to submit a paper for the Doctoral Consortium is March 22nd, 2012.

Btw, it is definitely the best time of the year to visit Tallinn and enjoy an organised trip to some of the beautiful places in Estonia. Welcome to Estonia!

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