Posts Tagged ‘situated learning

I am reflecting on another recent success of my authentic learning research that has become a part of my being. I submitted a paper to HERDSA for the first time this year. My intention when I submitted was to get feedback on my work, I heard that HERDSA has a very good reputation for its rigorous review process.

And rigorous it was, the most informative feedback I’ve received by far. The only ever time I was asked to respond to every reviewer’s feedback and suggestions. I was required to document my reaction/response to each and every recommendation made by the reviewers. The learning for a relatively new researcher like me had been tremendous. There were many praises and encouragement as well included in the reviewers’ feedback, which was motivating for me and my co-researcher.

At the HERDSA Conference in Darwin, I was informed by folks from Sydney University that my research had influenced their presentation on role play, which was surprising to know. However, the biggest surprise came during the closing ceremony when my name was called to receive the best paper award for authentic learning. I couldn’t help but reflect on what the conclusion of my PhD thesis holds. I dream of contributing to knowledge to improve educational practice. With the two recent successes at conferences, I wonder if I am on track to make a difference.

Well, the PhD journey has just began, it is a while to go yet. It is good to know for now that interests in my research project continue to come my way. I have been invited again to present at another university on the same topic below. 

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

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).

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. 

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.

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.


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.

There have been numerous attempts to formulate pedagogical models that exemplify the thinking of situating learning in activities that resemble the contexts where the knowledge the students are learning can be realistically applied (Bransford et al., 1990; Brown, Collins & Duguid, 1989; Herrington & Oliver, 2000; Barab & Duffy, 2000).

I have been exploring a number of pedagogical models that support this line of thinking, which many suggests effectively prepare students for the profession and life in general. The reason why I think this topic is worthy of investigation is based on my philosophical belief that context-dependent teaching strategies foster meaningful learning, compared to traditional instructional approaches that tend to ignore the interdependence of situation and cognition (Brown, Collins & Duguid, 1989).  The literature suggests that one of the by-products of the traditional methods of instruction is the development of “inert” knowledge (Brown, Collins & Duguid, 1989; Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt, 1990; Herrington & Oliver, 2000; McLellan, 1994). Inert knowledge is a type of knowledge that people can recall when prompted but cannot recall in problem-solving situations (Herrington & Oliver, 2000). It is common for accounting researchers and practitioners to identify inert knowledge in graduate accountants, although they do not use this term specifically. For example, Sundem (1994) argues that ‘the average graduate accumulates a storehouse of knowledge, but has difficulty applying it to real situations’ (p. 39). Similarly, Catanach et al. (2000) assert that although graduate accountants may be technically proficient, many of them cannot ‘integrate rule based knowledge with real world problems’ (p. 583). This situation, coupled with the push to improve the quality of student learning outcomes, present a genuine educational problem. 

In the last five years, I have engaged in accounting education research in an attempt to address these problems through course redesigns and learning interventions, informed by design-based research methodology (Design-based Research Collective, 2003). A number of related problems emerged from these investigations, highlighting the need to better understand:

  1. how different cohorts of students perceive and experience situated learning; and
  2. how academic teachers from diverse backgrounds and employment status perceive their role and experiences in situated learning environments.

My PhD work hopes to use this understanding to develop a practical framework to build the capacity of students for active learning in authentic contexts that prepare them for the accounting profession in particular, and life in general. And likewise to build academic teachers’ capacity to design, develop implement, support and evaluate curricula facilitated in authentic learning environments.

The idea of ‘capacity building’ has been talked about in recent times in a variety of contexts. I will explore this idea in a separate post.


Barab, S & Duffy, T 2000, From practice fields to communities of practice. In D. Jonassen & S. M. Land. (Eds.), Theoretical foundations of learning environments (pp. 25-56).  Lawrence Erlbaum, NJ.

Bransford, JD, Sherwood, RD, Hasselbring, TS, Kinzer, CK & Williams, SM 1990, Anchored Instruction: Why we need it and how technology can help, in Nix, D & Spiro, R (Eds), Cognition, education and multimedia: Exploring ideas in high technology, Lawrence Erlbaum, NJ. 

Brown, JS, Collins, A & Duguid, P 1989, Situated cognition and the culture of learning, Educational Researcher, 18(1), 32-42. 

Catanach, AH, Croll, DB & Grinaker, RL 2000, Teaching intermediate financial accounting using a business activity model, Issues in Accounting Education, 15(4), 583-603. 

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

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

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

McLellan, H 1994, Situated learning: Continuing conversation, Educational Technology, 33(3), pp.39-45. 

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

Well I have procrastinated long enough, and my boss David Jones knows this trait of mine only too well. David happens to be one of the most prolific bloggers I know… check him out, and gave me an ultimatum to blog my thinking about my PhD enrolment. I will start by reflecting on the following questions/ideas in separate posts:

What is the aim of your thesis? What’s your question or problem? I think this is something to do with your perception that what you are currently doing is not scalable.

– Why isn’t scalable? What is the source of the problems you are facing?

– What’s your definition of capacity building?

– Why is capacity building important to learning design/universities?

– What have people already written about this?

– What are the problems with what they’ve written?

One of my problems is narrowing down the problem/question, so hopefully this blogging exercise will finally get me focused.

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