MeMyself&I

As I engage in my PhD work and get feedback from ‘critical friends’ I am seeing a slightly different path to how I’ve originally conceived how my thesis will unfold. The new title summarises or captures a more definitive focus for the thesis. This reframing was also heavily influenced by recent readings and updates to my literature review. The literature review is still in progress and it could change again, but I thought I should record my current thinking and see the complete evolution of my PhD journey 🙂

A special thank you to Tim Lever for capturing the essence of my original proposal better than I could, Tim suggested a more focused topic for my work. 

Research topic/title

Enculturation into discipline specific ways of thinking and acting whilst at university: Comparative evaluation of approaches in higher education to preparation for professional practice

Background
The educational issue that my research proposes to address is that traditional learning environments do not represent the values or practices of the profession for which educators intend to prepare students. In these types of environments students acquire abstract and decontextualised knowledge coming from teaching approaches that tend to separate “knowing” from “doing” (Brown, Collins & Duguid, 1989). In approaches where the interdependence of situation and cognition are ignored, the students do not perceive the knowledge acquired as being useful in solving real problems outside university, so what they develop is only “inert knowledge” (Collins, Brown & Newman, 1989). This is a type of knowledge that people can recall when prompted but cannot recall in problem solving situations (Bransford, et al, 1990; Cognition & Technology Group of Vanderbilt, 1990; Herrington & Oliver, 2000). Within the accounting domain, for example, researchers and practitioners both identify inert knowledge in graduate accountants, claiming that graduate accountants accumulate a storehouse of technical knowledge they cannot apply to solve real world problems (Catanach, et al., 2000, Freeman, 2008; Sundem, 1994).

Aims
In response to this educational dilemma, the central aim of my research is to propose, exemplify and test alternative approaches to learning and teaching in higher education that provide students bridges rather than gaps between learning at university and professional practice. Re-engineering the traditional learning environment, and developing and testing prototypes form part of this aim, in which the design of curricula integrates opportunities for students to perform authentic practices and activities that practitioners and experts engage in during real problem solving situations. 

Methodology
I envisage adopting an iterative empirical approach, which will be guided by an experimental framework known as ‘design-based research’ (Brown, 1992; Collins, 1992). Design-based research ‘blends empirical educational research with the theory-driven design of learning environments [thereby shaping] an important methodology for understanding how, when and why educational innovations work in practice’ (The Design-Based Research Collective, 2003, p.5). Consistent with the principles of design-based research, both quantitative and qualitative methods will be employed in the iterative cycle of design, implementation, analysis and modification. Ethnographic approaches will be used as it provides qualitative methods for looking carefully at how a design plays out in practice and how social and contextual variables interact with cognitive variables (Collins, Joseph & Bielaczyc, 2004). Additionally, the quantitative method of administering survey questionnaires provides a means for evaluating the effects of independent variables on the dependent variables (Collins, Joseph & Bielaczyc, 2004). The adoption of mixed methods is useful for the description of phenomena reflecting the complex issues that should be addressed (Brown 1992).

Expected outcomes
The conclusion of my PhD will deliver a greater understanding of how students build their knowledge in learning environments where preparation for professional practice is the explicit aim. It is also anticipated that the outcomes of my research will include practical guidelines for designing learning environments that facilitate better prepared students for their chosen professional careers.

Timetable
As this research will involve human participants approval for Ethics in Human Research will be sought by the end of Year 1. The study will proceed in three phases, as follows:

Phase 1: Development of framework – Year 1
This phase will involve a review of literature on educational innovations facilitated by previous research initiatives. The different educational approaches that have evolved will be contrasted, and I will identify the theoretical frameworks that align with the conventions of selected disciplines as case studies. The goal is to ‘specify the significant disciplinary ideas and forms of reasoning that constitute the prospective goals or endpoints for student learning’ (Cobb et al, 2003, p. 11).

Phase 2: Design and development of prototypes – First half of Year 2
Evaluation of the existing learning designs in use in selected discipline areas will be documented using both archived and classroom observation data. Evaluative comparisons will be drawn about features, strengths and weaknesses between the existing design in use and the intended design of prototypes. The curriculum design principles formulated in the previous phase will underpin the development of prototypes, within which intended learning outcomes, instructional materials, activity structures and assessment are central to the design. Because the focus of this study is on the design of a model of learning, the new learning design is reified in the learning environments. As Kelly (2004) observes, the exploration of research questions about learning are reified, explored, and tested by the design and use of the learning environment.

Phase 3: Implementation, data collection, analysis, and modification – Second half of Year 2
Multiple cycles of implementations and evaluations will be carried out in partnership with academic teachers at different campuses of a regional university. Both students’ and teachers’ perceptions of their physical and online “classroom” experiences will be investigated and, following the main tenets of design-based research, evaluation will be carried out using multiple strategies, e.g. online observations, recording of classroom episodes, survey questionnaire, individual interviews and focus group interviews.  

Within the different cycles of the implementation, the iteration process for analysis – prototypes modifications – evaluations will be documented in my thesis, and will focus on validating assumptions embodied in the prototypes, developing new ones, and finally refining and enhancing the different prototypes.

By Year 3 if not sooner, I will take leave of absence from work to take up full-time engagement in my PhD and complete the study. By the second half of Year 3 I envisage the writing and compilation of the thesis chapters will commence, which will include revisiting the literature review again along with methodological assumptions, following the lived experience of this research.

References 

Bransford, J.D., Sherwood, R.D., Hasselbring, T.S., Kinzer, C.K. & Williams, S.M. (1990). Anchored Instruction: Why we need it and how technology can help. In D. Nix & R. Spiro (Eds.), Cognition, education and multimedia: Exploring ideas in high technology, pp.115-141, Hillsdale: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Brown, A.L. (1992). Design experiments: Theoretical and methodological challenges in creating complex interventions in classroom settings. The Journal of the Instructional Sciences, 2(2), pp. 141-178.

Brown, J.S., Collins, A. & Duguid, P. (1989). Situated Cognition and the Culture of Learning, Educational Researcher 18(1), pp.32-42.

Catanach, A.H., Croll, D.B. & Grinaker, R.L. (2000). Teaching Intermediate Financial Accounting Using a Business Activity Model, Issues in Accounting Education, 15(4), pp.583-603.

Cobb, P., diSessa, A., Lehrer, R., Schauble, L. (2003) Design Experiments in Educational Research, Educational Researcher, 32(1), pp. 9-13.

Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt (1990). Anchored instruction and its relationship to situated cognition, Educational Researcher, 19 (6), pp.2-10.

Collins, A. (1992). Towards a design science of education, In E Scanlon & T O’Shea (Eds), New directions in educational technology, Springer, Berlin.

Collins, A., Brown, J.S., & Newman, S.E. (1989). Cognitive apprenticeship: teaching the crafts of reading, writing and mathematics. In L.B. Resnick (Ed.), Knowing, learning, and instruction: essays in honor of Robert Glaser. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Collins, A., Joseph, D. & Bielaczyc, K. (2004). Design research: Theoretical and methodological issues. The Journal of the Instructional Sciences, 13(1), pp. 15-42.

Design-Based Research Collective (2003). Design-based research: An emerging paradigm for educational enquiry, Educational Researcher, (32)1, pp. 5–8.

Freeman, M., Hancock, P., Simpson, L., & Sykes, C. (2008). Business as usual: a collaborative and inclusive investigation of existing resources, strengths, gaps and challenges to be addressed for sustainability in teaching and learning in Australian university business faculties. ABDC Scoping Report, March, 1-54. 

Herrington, J., & Oliver, R. (2000). An instructional design framework for authentic learning environments. Educational Technology Research and Development, 48(3), 23-48.

Sundem, G.L. (1994) Scholarship in four dimensions, CA Magazine, 127(3), pp.39-44.

And so my research journey continues with an amazing reward that I never dreamed of getting.

I am relatively new to research and getting my paper reviewed is always the aim when I submit. I figured that even if the paper doesn’t get accepted there remains significant learning to be had – the reviewers’ feedback is often very enriching. But getting a paper accepted at a prestigious conference gives me a different level of buzz. To me it means a possibility of getting a fair hearing for what I have to say and share, as well as getting valuable feedback.

I have a 100% acceptance rate to date, as I said I am very new to all this so this outcome alone I find overwhelming. One of my ‘critical friends’ advised me to “enjoy it while it lasts” that the longer my acceptance record keeps, the worst the feeling of the first rejection. I brace myself  every time and am always preparing for the worst. Well now I am throwing caution to the wind… as noted in my earlier post, I want to share this journey. Let this be the small beginning of my sharing.

My recent submission with a collaborator was at ED-MEDIA. When the reviewers suggested to consider submitting the paper to the International Journal of eLearning I was ecstatic because up until this point, I had been too scared to submit to journals. I have always been envisioning failure not success! 

Recently, I have been celebrating the paper’s selection to receive the Outstanding Paper Award, which will be presented in Honolulu, Hawaii the day before the allocated presentation slot at ED-MEDIA 2009. I have just finished preparing for the presentation, see the slides below or download the presentation notes pages version.

As I prepare for the first conference I am attending this year, I started to think why I need to go and what I will get out of it.  My reflection began when I came across this…

Source: "Piled Higher Deeper" by Jorge Cham http://www.phdcomics.com/comics/archive.php?comicid=478

Source: "Piled Higher Deeper" by Jorge Cham http://www.phdcomics.com/comics/archive.php?comicid=478

 I disagree. It is fun to attend a conference because for me learning is fun and that’s what happens when I go to a conference – I learn. The biggest benefit I gain from attending a conference is connecting with kindred spirits, folks whose work I admire and which inspires me. Conferences have a way of renewing the passion that brings like minded people together, and being part of that is a privilege that I truly value.  Attending a conference provides an opportunity to learn from experts, share ideas with others, and identify new knowledge and  techniques in my field of instructional design. I think it is quite a productive experience for a PhD candidate, given the knowledge explosion in the current information-rich era. It is a great way to keep abreast of emerging themes and technology.

But it is also hard work. My attendance will always be tied up with having an accepted paper. Throughout my PhD journey and beyond, my aim is to get my written work reviewed, as well as receive oral feedback during presentation.  I could then ‘network’ with folks doing similar research who are likely to extend my ideas. I think it is a win-win situation, and it is fun! But I’m sure that others will have opposing views about attending conferences instead of concentrating on thesis writing… well I say horses for courses!

I wonder if every PhD candidate feels the same way when they commence their PhD candidature… full of hope and aspirations, with ambitions that appear unreachable. How many actually get there and reach the top of their game? Or is it something like the one depicted below?

 

Source: http://www.phdcomics.com/comics/archive.php?comicid=1012

Source: "Piled Higher and Deeper" by Jorge Cham http://www.phdcomics.com/comics/archive.php?comicid=1012

 

Well right now, I do have ambitions, though I should say not at the Nobel Prize level. But I am also full of fear… fear of the unknown. I’ve embarked on what appears to be very much a solo journey but should it remain to be so? Perhaps it is because of how I am approaching my journey – somewhat closed – like putting a password to my blog on the framing of my PhD. Why did I do this, what was my fear exactly? That someone might adopt my ideas before I could secure a candidature? Perhaps. 

Dare I say I’ve had an epiphany… that despite my advocacy for social networking in this brave new world, I didn’t practice what I preached. I’m embarrassed to admit this but I’m glad that I came to the realisation sooner rather than later. How can I grow if my world remains closed, how can I reach my life ambition in a closed world? 

I need someone to share my journey, in fact I need the whole world in this journey… so I will use this space to share anything and everything I could to chronicle my PhD-related work, and anything in between.

Being passionate about my belief is one thing, finding a reliable source for validation about such belief is quite another.  The wisdom of Punya Mishra goes a long way when convincing others about the value of contextual learning:

Teachers learning to use technology for pedagogy is best achieved by situating them in contexts that honor the rich connections between technology, the subject matter (content) and the means of teaching it (the pedagogy). This led to a pedagogical approach we have called Learning Technology by Design.

I have been a follower of the TPACK approach for sometime but can only manage to apply it in a one-to-one project-based situation, e.g. when involved in major course redesign projects. The TPACK framework has become intrinsic in my practice, so much so that I no longer think about it, it just happens. Time and again I’ve observed the holistic development of those with whom I collaborated, becoming advocates and mentors themselves. Reconnecting with Punya’s writing tonight reinforced once again why we need such a framework.

In the coming weeks, my goal is to continue the journey that I’ve started, collaborating with academic staff to learn technology by design. This time though there are opportunities to foster community of practice.

I felt it important to record my thoughts here about approaches to academic development as I take part in an institutional-wide project , a big component of which is shifting existing mindsets about the use of learning management systems and associated tools and features.

I was intrigued by my colleague Damien’s recent blog , within which reference was made to educational terms as “education buzzwords” or “eduspeak”. Damien asks:

 How exposed are academics to this language by curriculum designers (now known as edunerds – pronounced ed-u-nerds)?

Damien then provides “an initial list of eduspeak buzzwords”, some of which are technical language within the education domain, others are newly coined educational terms arising from the trends of information age and influences of new technology.

Upon reading Damien’s blog, I too couldn’t help but reflect on the difficulties I faced almost daily with the language of other disciplines, more recently the technical language in auditing, accounting, economics and finance as I engage in curriculum design work in business education. But the fact remains that I am very comfortable with the language of my discipline, as the academics I have been working with are comfortable with their respective discipline language.

Why might this be the case? One explanation is that of acculturation. We absorb the culture, values and practices of our discipline and we find meanings through written and spoken words. Without this common language, our world in this culture/discipline would be meaningless. The notions of natives and immigrants are apt here – it is a lot harder to learn  and master a second language!

But the interesting thing in the eduspeak debate is that criticisms of this nature are more prevalent in the world of academia, compared to say the world of medicine. As observers as well as consumers of the medical field, we simply accept that there are many medical jargon that will take us years to understand, but we try to anyway, perhaps out of fear, interest or simple curiosity.

On that note, I would like to share an interesting observation about the transformation of an academic who was totally “non-edunerd” when our curriculum renewal project began a year or so ago. She now finds herself proposing a PhD research on education-related topic. The language spoken in her PhD proposal was not one coming from a Finance expert but one who has developed an interest in educational practice. Sure, it is her second language, and she is finding it a challenge, but her decision to acculturate no doubt will alleviate many of her difficulties over time.

I guess it is about ones willingness to understand the culture and practices of a particular discipline that makes the difference. But at the end of the day this boils down to interest, motivation and the affordances of time.

After long and laborious work, thinking and writing about a myriad of ideas relating to the educational issue I wanted to pursue in my PhD study, I think I finally got it.

My working title is something like this:

Enculturation into discipline specific ways of thinking and acting whilst at university: Implications for professional practice

 I have synthesized  the problematic for the research, as follows:

The educational issue that my research proposes to address is that traditional learning environments do not represent the values or practices of the profession for which educators intend to prepare students. In these types of environments students acquire abstract and decontextualised knowledge coming from teaching approaches that tend to separate “knowing” from “doing” (Brown, Collins & Duguid, 1989). In approaches where the interdependence of situation and cognition are ignored, the students do not perceive the knowledge acquired as being useful in solving real problems outside university, so what they develop is only “inert knowledge” (Collins, Brown & Newman, 1989). This is a type of knowledge that people can recall when prompted but cannot recall in problem solving situations (Bransford, et al, 1990; Cognition & Technology Group of Vanderbilt, 1990; Herrington & Oliver, 2000). Within the accounting domain, for example, researchers and practitioners both identify inert knowledge in graduate accountants, claiming that graduate accountants accumulate a storehouse of technical knowledge they cannot apply to solve real world problems (Freeman, 2008; Sundem, 1994; Catanach, et al., 2000).

The central aim for my research that I have so far identified is:

To propose, exemplify and test alternative approaches to learning and teaching in higher education that provide students bridges rather than gaps between learning at university and professional practice.

The preliminary research plan goes something along these lines:

I envisage adopting an iterative empirical approach, which will be guided by an experimental framework known as ‘design-based research’ (Brown, 1992; Collins, 1992). Design-based research ‘blends empirical educational research with the theory-driven design of learning environments [thereby shaping] an important methodology for understanding how, when and why educational innovations work in practice’ (The Design-Based Research Collective, 2003, p.5). Consistent with the principles of design-based research, both quantitative and qualitative methods will be used in the iterative cycle of design, implementation, analysis and modification. Ethnographic approaches will be used as it provides qualitative methods for looking carefully at how a design plays out in practice and how social and contextual variables interact with cognitive variables (Collins, Joseph & Bielaczyc, 2004). Additionally, the quantitative method of administering survey questionnaires provides a means for evaluating the effects of independent variables on the dependent variables (Collins, Joseph & Bielaczyc, 2004). The adoption of mixed methods is useful for the description of phenomena reflecting the complex issues that should be addressed (Brown 1992). As this research involves human participants, approval for Ethics in Human Research will be sought. The study will proceed in three phases, as follows:

Phase 1: Development of framework

This phase will involve a review of literature on educational innovations facilitated by previous research initiatives. The different educational approaches that have evolved will be contrasted, and I will identify the theoretical frameworks that chime with the conventions of selected disciplines as case studies. The goal is to ‘specify the significant disciplinary ideas and forms of reasoning that constitute the prospective goals or endpoints for student learning’ (Cobb et al, 2003, p. 11).

Phase 2: Design and development of prototypes

The curriculum design principles formulated in the previous phase will underpin the development of prototypes, within which intended learning outcomes, instructional materials, activity structures and assessment are central to the design. Because the focus of this study is on the design of a model of learning, this is reified in the technology-enhanced learning environments. As Kelly (2004) observes, the exploration of research questions about learning are reified, explored, and tested by the design and use of the learning environment.

Phase 3: Implementation, data collection, analysis, and modification

Multiple cycles of implementations and evaluations will be carried out in partnership with academic teachers at different campuses of a regional university. Both students’ and teachers’ perceptions of their “classroom” experiences will be investigated and, following the main tenets of design-based research, evaluation will be carried out using multiple strategies, e.g. observations and recording of classroom episodes, survey questionnaire, individual interviews and focus group interviews.  Within the different cycles of the implementation, the iteration process for analysis – prototypes modifications – evaluations will be documented in my thesis, and will focus on validating assumptions embodied in the prototypes, developing new ones, and finally refining and enhancing the different prototypes.

And finally the intended outcomes of my research:

The conclusion of my PhD will deliver a greater understanding of how students build their knowledge in learning environments where preparation for professional practice is the explicit aim. It is also anticipated that the outcomes of my research will include practical guidelines for designing learning environments that facilitate better prepared students for their chosen professional careers.

References 

Bransford, J.D., Sherwood, R.D., Hasselbring, T.S., Kinzer, C.K. & Williams, S.M. (1990). Anchored Instruction: Why we need it and how technology can help. In D. Nix & R. Spiro (Eds.), Cognition, education and multimedia: Exploring ideas in high technology, pp.115-141, Hillsdale: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Brown, A.L. (1992). Design experiments: Theoretical and methodological challenges in creating complex interventions in classroom settings. The Journal of the Instructional Sciences, 2(2), pp. 141-178.

Brown, J.S., Collins, A. & Duguid, P. (1989). Situated Cognition and the Culture of Learning, Educational Researcher 18(1), pp.32-42.

Catanach, A.H., Croll, D.B. & Grinaker, R.L. (2000). Teaching Intermediate Financial Accounting Using a Business Activity Model, Issues in Accounting Education, 15(4), pp.583-603.

Cobb, P., diSessa, A., Lehrer, R., Schauble, L. (2003) Design Experiments in Educational Research, Educational Researcher, 32(1), pp. 9-13.

Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt (1990). Anchored instruction and its relationship to situated cognition, Educational Researcher, 19 (6), pp.2-10.

Collins, A. (1992). Towards a design science of education, In E Scanlon & T O’Shea (Eds), New directions in educational technology, Springer, Berlin.

Collins, A., Brown, J.S., & Newman, S.E. (1989). Cognitive apprenticeship: teaching the crafts of reading, writing and mathematics. In L.B. Resnick (Ed.), Knowing, learning, and instruction: essays in honor of Robert Glaser. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Collins, A., Joseph, D. & Bielaczyc, K. (2004). Design research: Theoretical and methodological issues. The Journal of the Instructional Sciences, 13(1), pp. 15-42.

Design-Based Research Collective (2003). Design-based research: An emerging paradigm for educational enquiry, Educational Researcher, (32)1, pp. 5–8.

Freeman, M., Hancock, P., Simpson, L., & Sykes, C. (2008). Business as usual: a collaborative and inclusive investigation of existing resources, strengths, gaps and challenges to be addressed for sustainability in teaching and learning in Australian university business faculties. ABDC Scoping Report, March, 1-54. 

Herrington, J., & Oliver, R. (2000). An instructional design framework for authentic learning environments. Educational Technology Research and Development, 48(3), 23-48.

Sundem, G.L. (1994) Scholarship in four dimensions, CA Magazine, 127(3), pp.39-44.

 

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