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Rita kop thesis may10


Over the past decades, information technology has had a disruptive effect on adult education. Today, learners can access libraries from their pocket and shape their thoughts while socializing on …

Over the past decades, information technology has had a disruptive effect on adult education. Today, learners can access libraries from their pocket and shape their thoughts while socializing on networks. The position of educators as ‘knowledgeable others’ has been challenged as experts can be found online and learners can control their own learning. Social media are changing adult education, because they offer tremendous potential to enhance learning processes. But do they really?

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  • 1. Networked Connectivity and Adult Learning: Social Media, the Knowledgeable Other and Distance Education Frederika Gerlanda KopSubmitted to the University of Wales in fulfilment of therequirements for the Degree of Doctor of PhilosophySwansea UniversityMay 2010
  • 2. ABSTRACTOver the past decades, information technology has had a disruptive effect on adulteducation. Today, learners can access libraries from their pocket and shape theirthoughts while socializing on networks. The position of educators as ‘knowledgeableothers’ has been challenged as experts can be found online and learners can controltheir own learning. Social media are changing adult education, because they offertremendous potential to enhance learning processes. But do they really?This doctoral thesis questions the connectivist premise of epistemologicaltransformation. It investigates the position of the learner in the learning experienceand his/her level of control in comparison to the tutor and the institution. It examineshow social media can be used effectively in communication in learning. Thislongitudinal qualitative study shows how students, tutors and staff negotiated theintricacies of social media in a formal adult education setting. The researchersurveyed learners participating in three online networks and immersed herself in onefor nine months.The results show that Web 2.0 technologies can facilitate a high level ofcommunication amongst learners and educators, and consequently raise the level of“presence” in the online environment. New technologies were seen to fosterengagement and self-directed learning. The role of adult educators was seen ascrucial for all learners, and for those displaying higher levels of autonomy, theeducator was perceived as a trusted “human filter” of information.The research adds to the under-conceptualized field of networked learning in theWeb 2.0 era, and challenges the notion that knowledge and learning arerevolutionized by new social media. It shows that a trusted “knowledgeable other” isstill at the heart of a meaningful learning experience. Finally, the thesis providesrecommendations for adult educators and institutions to enhance their effectivenessin networked environments characterized by changing attitudes toward interactionfor learning. i
  • 3. DECLARATION AND STATEMENTSThis thesis has not previously been accepted in substance for any degree and is notconcurrently submitted in candidature for any degree.This thesis is the result of my own investigations, except when otherwise stated.Other sources are acknowledged in brackets in the text giving explicit references. Abibliography is appended.I grant powers of discretion for the librarian to photocopy this thesis in whole or inpart without consulting me and to make the thesis available for inter-library loans.This permission covers only single copies made for study purposes, subject to normalconditions of acknowledgement. I have no objections for the title page and summaryto be made available to outside organizations.Signed: Date: 20th May 2010Copyright © Frederika G. Kop, May 2010 ii
  • 4. TABLE OF CONTENTS ABSTRACT ______________________________________________________________________  I  DECLARATION AND STATEMENTS  ___________________________________________________ II  TABLE OF CONTENTS  _____________________________________________________________ III  ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS  __________________________________________________________  VI  LIST OF TABLES _________________________________________________________________  VII  LIST OF FIGURES ________________________________________________________________ VIII  LIST OF CHARTS  _________________________________________________________________ X  _ I ABBREVIATIONS _________________________________________________________________ X  DEFINITIONS ____________________________________________________________________ X CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION  _________________________________________________________ 1  1.1. CONTEXT  ___________________________________________________________________ 1  1.1.1. Personal context  _________________________________________________________ 5  1.2. PURPOSE OF THE STUDY  _______________________________________________________ 6  1.3. THE STUDY __________________________________________________________________ 7  1.4. THESIS ORGANISATION – A GUIDE THROUGH THE CHAPTERS  __________________________ 9 CHAPTER 2: LITERATURE REVIEW  ____________________________________________________ 11  2.1. INTRODUCTION _____________________________________________________________ 11  2.2. THE INTERNET  ______________________________________________________________ 12  2.2.1 Control and Power  _______________________________________________________ 12  2.2.2. The World Wide Web as a Network  _________________________________________ 13  2.2.3. Information abundance ___________________________________________________ 15  2.2.4. Information Communication Technology and Communication  ____________________ 18  2.2.5. New developments in Information and Communication Technology ________________ 20  2.2.6. Access  ________________________________________________________________ 27  2.2.7. Young people and technology ______________________________________________ 29  2.2.8. Technology as part of everyday existence ‐ Identity _____________________________ 31  2.2.9. Post Modernism  ________________________________________________________ 32  _ 2.3. TECHNOLOGY ENHANCED LEARNING ____________________________________________ 39  2.3.1. Adult Education and new technologies _______________________________________ 40  2.3.2. The learning space _______________________________________________________ 42  2.3.3. Theories of mind, knowledge and (online) learning _____________________________ 43  2.3.4. Discussion of theories of online learning and knowledge _________________________ 57  2.3.5. Online pedagogy ________________________________________________________ 59  2.3.6. Institutional Change  _____________________________________________________ 84  2.4. CONCLUSION _______________________________________________________________ 89 CHAPTER 3: RESEARCH METHODOLOGY _______________________________________________ 95  3.1. INTRODUCTION _____________________________________________________________ 95  3.1.1. The move towards qualitative research methods _______________________________ 95  3.1.2. Epistemological Perspectives within Qualitative Research _______________________ 100  3.1.3. Objectivity and generalization in qualitative research __________________________ 102  3.2. CHOOSING A RESEARCH METHODOLOGY ________________________________________ 105  3.2.2. Design Based Research __________________________________________________ 105  3.3. FIT OF DESIGN BASED RESEARCH WITH RESEARCH QUESTIONS _______________________ 108  3.4. DECISIONS ON RESEARCH METHODOLOGY _______________________________________ 112  3.5. RESEARCH METHODS USED ___________________________________________________ 113  3.5.1. Research Methods ABCD Project ___________________________________________ 113  3.5.2. Research methods online network  _________________________________________ 117  3.6. ETHICAL ISSUES ____________________________________________________________ 119  3.6.1. Setting One: the ABCD Project  ____________________________________________ 120  _ 3.6.2. Setting Two: online network study _________________________________________ 122  3.7. METHODS OF ANALYSIS ______________________________________________________ 123  iii
  • 5. CHAPTER 4 FINDINGS OF THE ABCD PROJECT __________________________________________ 126  4.1. CONTEXT ‐ BACKGROUND ABCD PROJECT  _______________________________________ 126  _ 4.1.1. Why choose the ABCD Project? ____________________________________________ 126  4.1.2. The Research Setting ____________________________________________________ 126  4.1.3. The Programme of study _________________________________________________ 127  4.1.4. The teaching and learning environment _____________________________________ 129  4.1.5. Restraints and Flexibility in designing the learning environment __________________ 129  4.2. DESIGN ISSUES _____________________________________________________________ 130  4.2.1. Context  ______________________________________________________________ 130  _ 4.2.2. Instructional Design. ____________________________________________________ 132  4.2.3. Experience Design ______________________________________________________ 135  4.2.4. Control – Constraints ____________________________________________________ 144  4.3. THE LEARNING EXPERIENCE  __________________________________________________ 145  4.3.1. Context  ______________________________________________________________ 145  _ 4.3.2  Learning Preferences ____________________________________________________ 146  4.3.3. Communication and dialogue _____________________________________________ 151  4.3.4. Learning a social activity? ________________________________________________ 159  4.3.5. Thinking Processes  _____________________________________________________ 161  _ 4.3.6. Affective Issues  ________________________________________________________ 164  4.3.7. Control and Constraints __________________________________________________ 165  4.4. THE TUTOR EXPERIENCE  _____________________________________________________ 170  4.4.1. Context  ______________________________________________________________ 171  _ 4.4.2. Teaching Preferences  ___________________________________________________ 172  4.4.3. Pedagogy _____________________________________________________________ 174  4.4.4. Communication and dialogue _____________________________________________ 182  4.4.5. Affective Issue _________________________________________________________ 194  4.4.6.  Higher Order Thinking  __________________________________________________ 196  4.4.7. What fostered learner engagement? _______________________________________ 200  4.4.8. Control – Constraints ____________________________________________________ 201  4.5. MOST SIGNIFICANT FINDINGS _________________________________________________ 211 CHAPTER 5:  FINDINGS OF THE ONLINE NETWORK PROJECT ______________________________ 214  5.1 BACKGROUND PROJECT ______________________________________________________ 214  5.1.1. Research setting  _______________________________________________________ 214  5.2. FINDINGS _________________________________________________________________ 215  5.2.1. Accessing information and validating information _____________________________ 215  5.2.2. Analysis of the online networks ____________________________________________ 220  5.2.3. Knowledge on online networks ____________________________________________ 223  5.3. MOST SIGNIFICANT FINDINGS _________________________________________________ 226 CHAPTER 6: DISCUSSION  __________________________________________________________ 228  6.1. THE INTERNET AND WEB2.0 TECHNOLOGIES  _____________________________________ 228  6.1.1. Processing of information ________________________________________________ 228  6.1.2. Affordances of the new technologies  _______________________________________ 230  6.1.3  Design of learning experiences ____________________________________________ 231  6.2. TOWARDS A THEORY OF NETWORKED BUT MEDIATED LEARNING  ____________________ 240  6.2.1. ‘Pedagogy of abundance’, or ‘pedagogy for human beings’?  ____________________ 240  6.2.2. New interactive technologies and the learning experience  ______________________ 242  6.2.3. The knowledgeable other  ________________________________________________ 252  6.2.4. The relevance of learner autonomy  ________________________________________ 258 CHAPTER 7 CONCLUSIONS _________________________________________________________ 266  7.1 CONCLUSIONS – VIEWS ON KNOWLEDGE AND LEARNING  ___________________________ 266  7.2 CONCLUSIONS ABOUT LEARNING AND TEACHING  _________________________________ 267  _ 7.2.1. Web 2.0 technologies to facilitate communication in learning  ___________________ 268  7.2.2.Recommendations and implications for adult education and institutions  ___________ 268  iv
  • 6. 7.3. CONCLUSIONS ABOUT THE RESEARCH METHODOLOGY _____________________________ 276  7.4. AREAS FOR FUTURE RESEARCH ________________________________________________ 279  7.5. RESEARCH CONTRIBUTION ___________________________________________________ 280  7.6  FINAL CONCLUSIONS ________________________________________________________ 282 APPENDIX 1 RELATED PUBLICATIONS _________________________________________________ XI APPENDIX 2 (SECOND) TUTOR INTERVIEW SCHEDULE ___________________________________ XIII APPENDIX 3 (SECOND) STUDENT INTERVIEW SCHEDULE ________________________________  XVII APPENDIX 4  (SECOND) INTERVIEW SCHEDULE LEARNING TECHNOLOGIST AND PROJECT MANAGER _______________________________________________________________________________ XXI APPENDIX 5 PRE COURSE QUESTIONNAIRE  __________________________________________  XXV APPENDIX 6 EXAMPLE OF SURVEY ONLINE  NETWORK ________________________________  XXVII APPENDIX 7 CONSENT FORM  _____________________________________________________ XXXI  _GLOSSARY OF TERMS ___________________________________________________________ XXXIII BIBLIOGRAPHY ________________________________________________________________ XXXVI  v
  • 7. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTSI would like to thank everybody who has helped me over the past five years to finishthis project. I would like to mention in particular:Lynne Jenkins and Patrick Walters who have been patient and kind and helped meover numerous hurdles on my way to producing this substantial piece of writing andthinking. Lynne helped me to keep organized and Patrick was always ready to comeup with a new title to read or another issue to critically assess. I am very grateful forall the sparring and debating of particular issues in the thesis as it has helped megrow and develop.The participants in the research as this thesis would not have been written withouttheir input.Alyce von Rothkirch for being kind enough to proofread this thesis. Her attention todetail and knowledge of the English language have put my mind at rest and made mefeel confident about submitting this thesis in the English language.Chaouki Regoui for working his magic on the page numbers and table of content ofthis document.My critical friend Paul Bouchard for spending hours and hours on the telephone withme, discussing issues of adult education and networked learning. I have had to thinkand re-think issues that I took for granted and that he made me reconsider. His lovefor the written word has taught me a thing or two about the power of semiotics,digital or otherwise, and has shown me the magic you can bring about with words ifyou dare to use these symbols creatively. The mastodon has awoken! vi
  • 8. LIST OF TABLES Table 1 2.2.6. Reasons why people do not use the Internet_____________________ 28Table 2 3.7. Research analysis matrix __________________________________ 125Table 3 4.4.6. Relation between Higher Order Thinking and tutor level of support _ 197Table 4 4.4.6. Relation between level of presence and engagement of learners ____ 200Table 5 Who is in control? (Adapted from model by Grow, 1996) _________ 259  vii
  • 9. LIST OF FIGURESFigure 1 2.3.3. Influences on education practices (Adapted from Leach et al, 1999) 44Figure 2 Dimensions of learner autonomy (Bouchard, 2009b, p5.) ________ 76Figure 3 3.2.2. ‘Integrative Learning Design Framework’ (Bannan-Ritland, 2003) 107Figure 4 4.1.4. The ABCD online learning environment ____________________ 129Figure 5 Layout of the ABCD online learning environment _____________ 136Figure 6 Front cover of reference book _____________________________ 137Figure 7 A page in the reference book______________________________ 137Figure 8 An example of an ABCD learning activity ___________________ 138Figure 9 4.4.5. Visualisation of a chat session ____________________________ 195Figure 10 5.2.2. Visualisation of network development (Krebs and Holley, ND) __ 221Figure 11 Design is the process of evoking meaning (Shedroff, 2009). ____ 233 viii
  • 10. LIST OF CHARTSChart 1 5.2.1. Main reasons for using the network ____________________________ 218Chart 2 5.2.1. Participants becoming more knowledgeable on the network ________ 219Chart 3 5.2.3. What makes online experts knowledgeable? _____________________ 224Chart 4 5.2.3. Level of truth in what experts disseminate ______________________ 225 ix
  • 11. ABBREVIATIONSABCD Anonymised name of the researched projectDACE Department of Adult Continuing Education, Swansea UniversityESF European Social FundListserv Electronic mailing list software applicationLT1 Learning Technologist 1LT2 Learning Technologist 2LT3 Learning Technologist 3MOOC Massive Open Online CoursePLE Personal Learning EnvironmentPM Project ManagerS1 Student 2S2 Student 2S3 Student 3S4 Student 4S5 Student 5S6 Student 6S7 Student 7S8 Student 8T1 Tutor 1T2 Tutor 2T3 Tutor 3T4 Tutor 4VLE Virtual Learning EnvironmentWAG Welsh Assembly GovernmentDEFINITIONSTutor In this thesis the term tutor is used as a member of staff teaching adult students. This term is widely used in the UK in this context, but has a different meaning in the USA and Canada x
  • 12. CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION1.1. CONTEXTTechnological change and the drive by the developed world for economiccompetitiveness and globalization have greatly influenced adult education in recentyears. They have contributed to the shift in discourse from adult continuingeducation to lifelong learning (Edwards & Usher 1998). This change has not onlyencompassed new skills in the work place. Several commentators (Wellman et al,2003, Shearman, 2000) have indicated that the introduction of Information andCommunications Technology (ICT) has blurred the boundaries between home, work,leisure, learning and play, and has reshaped our life-styles and social interaction,while creating a new form of literacy. Being able to read books is not enough tofunction well in society, “effective” citizens also have to be able to “read” newmedia, understand and learn from interactive learning programmes and adjust to newways of communicating. Self-directed and informal learning from videos, televisionprogrammes and computers have gained in popularity and a more consumer-orientedfield of adult education has been born (Field 1996) in which the learner chooseslearning opportunities that suit him or her and which take place wherever he or shelikes at the time most appropriate to him or her.Governments in the developed world have seen the importance of ICT in the advanceof the “knowledge economy” and in aid of economic development.European Heads of State in Lisbon (European ODL liaison committee, 2004)committed themselves to make Europe the worlds most competitive and dynamiceconomy, characterised by sustainable growth, more and better jobs and greatersocial cohesion, by 2010. At the ‘Knowledge 2000’ conference, Tony Blair, the thenBritish Prime Minister, said: I strongly believe that the knowledge economy is our best route for success and prosperity. But we must be careful not to make a fundamental mistake. We mustnt think that because the knowledge economy is the future, it will happen only in the future. The new knowledge economy is here, and it is now. . . . The Internet is dissolving physical barriers, and levelling the business playing field. Blair (2000, p1) 1
  • 13. In addition, the UK government highlighted the importance of enabling the UK toengage with technology by stating that ‘digital engagement is important because itcan improve people’s lives, opening doors to things that really matter, such aseducation, jobs, entrepreneurial innovation, entertainment and making contact withfamily and friends.’ (Cabinet Office, 2004, page 9)Learners, particularly adult learners, make choices about the level of control imposedby others on their lives and their learning. Indeed, the choice to study at an institutionand with a tutor on a classroom-based course or to study on a course mediatedthrough technology will mean a different level of control imposed on the learningprocess by different actors and on the different aspects of learning itself.Much discussion has taken place about the impact of the introduction of virtuallearning systems on adult education, as technology in education has the potential tochange the traditional level of control over education, and to a certain extent, overthe creation of knowledge that used to be exercised by the authorities of knowledge,academics in universities. The changed position of educational institutions such asuniversities due to the altered sense of space, place and identity in a virtual learningspace has been lamented as a loss, as universities were seen as places where peoplecame together, where minds met and where new ideas were conceived, criticised andtested and provisionally accepted if they were found to stand up sufficiently robustlyunder criticism. Some academics have expressed reservations about the networkedalternatives (Greener & Perriton, 2005) suggesting that Virtual LearningEnvironments (VLEs) have neither managed to be convincing in areas such ascommunication and in engaging students, nor are they an effective alternative to theactual classroom. However, proponents of the use of peer-to-peer technology ineducation have argued that tools such as wikis and blogs, the new social media and“Web 2.0 technologies”, can fulfil exactly this role (Downes, 2006; Lamb, B., 2004).The openness of the media and the willingness of people to share in onlineexperiences encourage the discussion of ideas and collaborative development ofthoughts and knowledge that traditionally form part of a quality universityexperience. The added advantage of the online tools lies in their globally positioned 2
  • 14. communication forums, which provide immediate responses on a scale unimaginablein the traditional university.Education has its roots in age-old cultural traditions that have developed overcenturies. To move away from a teaching room bounded by doors and walls to anopen and undefined virtual environment has major consequences for education. Intraditional teaching there is usually a particular teaching room, and teaching takesplace at a particular time. Peters was reminded of rites with religious undertones,which link location, time and action: ‘Learning and teaching might be based onunconscious, but at the same time “deep-seated” patterns of behaviour, not only ofstudents but also of the teachers. Their ritualisation lends solidity and permanence tothe actions taking place in the teaching space’ (Peters, 1999, p. 1). Although informalteaching has taken place before, it is only recently that suggestions have been madeto seriously change the education system and leave the traditional classroom behind,initially in the 1970s through the radical perspectives of Freire and Illich, and in thepast decades, under the influence of developing technologies. LearningTechnologists, teachers and learners have started to question the effectiveness of theteaching strategies developed over generations (Peters, 1999; Illich, 1971; Freire,1972).In E-learning over the past decades two different positions on the main aspects inpeople’s learning have developed (Weller, 2007). In the first view, information andresources are seen to be at the centre of the learning environment, while in thesecond, communication is seen to be the most important to develop a positivelearning environment. Some argue that an emphasis on resources has lead in e-learning to the delivery of education as a commodity, which suggested thattechnology would not be suitable to bring into practice the ideas of Illich and Freirethat became prominent in the 1970s. Gur and Wiley (2007, p. 1), for instance,discuss the concept of objectification in relation to online learning and conclude that‘education is often reduced to the packaging and delivery of information, in whichthe process of teaching is reduced to the transmission of information and courses aretransformed into courseware.’ The development of VLEs has facilitated thisdepersonalization of learning, as communication in such environments has been seento be problematic, and turned teaching into “delivery” and the process of teaching 3
  • 15. into a transaction consisting of the transmission of information. Intelligent tutoring isanother example of how the delivery of content could be at the centre of learning.Weller (2007) highlighted that e-learning might be organised in quite a different way.In the second model information would be related to two-way communication. Inthis view of e-learning, ‘The Internet encourages discussion, dialogue andcommunity that is not limited by time or place. The role of educators in this world isto facilitate dialogue and support students in their understanding of resources’(Weller, 2007, p.6).Communication has had a place in distance education since the 70s, when Turoffintroduced and developed the first conferencing system that progressed intobecoming full conferencing and personal messaging systems such as Lotus Notes,Forum, First Class and Participate (Harasim, 1995), which contained synchronousand asynchronous systems. In the late 1980s distance education institutions startedtheir development towards the use of the VLE, which has formed a naturalprogression from the use of early conferencing systems such as First Class (Masonand Bacsich, 1998). The VLE combines communication with the distribution ofresources and information.In traditional “brick and mortar” universities, however, technology use has beenmainly limited to the use of VLEs to transfer information, or to store resources andalthough a VLE has a variety of options for communication, these have not alwaysbeen chosen by users ‘as most people have a tendency to take the default path’ (Dron& Anderson, 2009, p.2), the easy option of accessing resources, rather than the morecomplicated option of using the tools made available for communication.In recent years the new developments in technology have encouraged a higher levelof communication in technology-based learning. Especially the use of Web 2.0technologies have been seen to make possible the development of lifelong andlifewide learning with possibilities to facilitate informal and self-directed learningand also opportunities to enhance communication in the online learning environment(Siemens, 2008; Downes, 2009; Dron and Anderson, 2009). The new social mediahave not long been used in an educational context. The first discussions about their 4
  • 16. possibilities for education and learning started about five years ago, just before thisstudy was started (Downes, 2004) and the need for research that analyses criticallyhow Web 2.0 technologies might alter adult learning and teaching in and outsideeducational institutions was also identified (Conole et al, 2006, Gulati, 2006)The term “Web 2.0 technologies”, will in this study indicate the technologies thatemerged around 2004 and which are commonly associated with web applications thatfacilitate interactive information sharing and collaboration on the World Wide Web.Web 2.0 technologies include blogs, wikis, social-networking sites, video and photo-sharing sites and bookmark-sharing sites. A Web 2.0 site allows its users to interactwith other users or to change website content easily, quite often through a contentmanagement system. This in contrast to websites that were the norm in the Web 1.0era, where hyperlinks were the main interactive feature and direct communicationwith other Web users was more complicated. This will be further expanded upon insection study took place in the political and pedagogical context just described. It aimsto challenge the assumptions about the nearly magical properties of the technologiesthat have been made by enthusiasts, but also to find out if the technologies couldenhance the sometimes static online adult education provision at the time.1.1.1. Personal contextMy original background is in primary education. I used to be a teacher and head-teacher in the Netherlands before moving to the UK and eventually working in aUniversity Department of Adult Continuing Education. Lifelong Learning “from thecradle to old age” has been my background and interest for a long time. Workingwith adults in community locations, my initial role was to manage a large project thatprovided an ICT infrastructure in twelve community education centres. This involvedinstalling a computer lab and network connectivity as well as raising awareness inthe communities of South West Wales and the Valleys of what technology couldmean to local people’s lives, digital inclusion, and taking initial steps towards e-learning. 5
  • 17. It became clear very early on that digital inclusion not only involves access totechnology and networked connectivity, but especially gaining confidence andrealising that technology has relevance to one’s life, and breaking down barrierssimilar to non-participation in learning.This led to other e-learning projects, but always with the central premise of the activeinvolvement in learning of people who might otherwise not be involved in HigherEducation. My interest in educational technology, and the drive to make peopleexperience the creative and “fun” potential of technology made me apply for fundingfor the ABCD project. This provided the opportunity to design and develop learningopportunities that used Web 2.0 technology and to investigate whether their usewould enhance or hinder the communication of participants in the teaching andlearning process. In addition, it offered the opportunity to enquire if an environmentcould be created that would facilitate a “human” form of e-learning that mightengage non-traditional adult learners.1.2. PURPOSE OF THE STUDYTerry Freedman advocated robust research in the use of social software in educationto determine if the anecdotes by enthusiasts are a valid indication of the long-termpositive effect of the new social tools (Freeman, 2006). Moreover, Thorpe andGodwin encouraged continued research in the interaction between learner and onlinetutor that includes the ‘impact of the design of tasks and learning environments’(Thorpe & Godwin, 2006, 204) as the design of the learning environment and thetools used will influence the learning experience. Furthermore, Gulati’s research inthe learning experience of professional students on online and blended coursesquestioned the use of institutionally controlled VLEs and in particular theirdiscussion boards. Students used informal strategies for communication and learningoutside the formal environment to complement the formal structures because thediscussion boards created difficulties in the communication process betweenlearners, and between learners and their tutors. She recommended that ‘the new andexisting strategies for online socialising needed to be studied for their effectivenessin enabling group and social identities in the formal educational contexts’ (Gulati,2003, p. 50). 6
  • 18. It seemed important to find out what the learning and teaching experience might bewhile using such tools. Learning technologists could see how they would help tomake the learning environment less formal, how they could create a social onlineenvironment, while the discussions online amongst technologists also indicated howthey could cross the boundaries of institutional and informal learning. How theywould challenge educational institutions to change their practice was anotherimportant issue raised, and worthy of research, as one characteristic of the toolswould be their ability to facilitate self-directed learning and people would be able toconsult experts and peers on internet networks to find information and validateknowledge, rather than to remain within institutional boundaries. This wouldinfluence the institutions themselves. 1.3. THE STUDYThe speculations amongst technologists on the positive and negative effects of socialmedia and their possible disruption of adult education have raised two interlinkedresearch questions: 1. The interpersonal informal online networks that people build up throughout their lives provide expertise and knowledge in addition to the guidance that tutors offer in formal education. Would it be desirable for the learner to be at the centre of the learning experience rather than the tutor and the institution? Other more specific questions will be discussed in answering this research question: How much control could and should be passed over from the institution to the learner in a technology-rich environment to enhance the learning experience? Should students have more say in the content of the learning opportunity and the route the learning journey takes? What would be the implications for the institution? What would be the implications for the concept, reliability and validity of knowledge if knowledge is investigated and created on online networks independently from the institution? 7
  • 19. 2. What Web 2.0 technologies could be used effectively in communication and in learning? How could their use enhance or hinder the learning experience of adults?In the literature review, these questions will be further explored. In order to researchall aspects of these questions it will not be sufficient to solely study formaleducation. Research in the learning that takes place on online networks will also beinvestigated and carried out.The term “online networks” will be used throughout this study and will meannetworks of people who share information on the World Wide Web. A node on thenetwork will signify a person, or a group of people, distributing and sharinginformation.The design of the online learning environment will be an important factor in theeducational issues researched as the design of the learning space influences thelearning experience (Barab & Squire, 2004; Cobb et al, 2003; The Design-BasedResearch Collective, 2003) as well as the informal learning space.Barab and Squire propose that ‘cognition is not a thing located within the individualthinker but is a process that is distributed across the knower, the environment inwhich knowledge occurs, and the activity in which the learner participates’ (Barab &Squire, 2004, p. 1). The context is an important factor in the learning process, as hasbeen conclusively shown by educationalists and psychologists over the past decades(Bruner, 1999; Lave and Wenger, 2002). This means that the contextual realitiesneed to be taken into consideration when researching adult learning and technology.Moreover, the environment in which young people operate is also an importantconsideration. This will, after all, give an indication of future possible changes, as ofcourse young people grow into adults. The above explanation and research questionshave led to the following research aim: 8
  • 20. To investigate how people learn and teach while using social media, and thechallenges and opportunities they face, in two different settings: the ABCD project ina formal education institution, and on three online networks.The analysis of the data gathered will create an understanding of the positive andnegative effects of social media in learning and their possible effects on adulteducation. It will draw conclusions on the effective educational practice when usingthe tools as it will synthesise key influences on online learning and on the use of themedia in question, and it will generate recommendations for future practice.1.4. THESIS ORGANISATION – A GUIDE THROUGH THE CHAPTERSThe thesis is organised in seven chapters. Chapter one and two are introductory andset the subject matter in context. Chapter two contains the literature review thatanalyses the development of the internet, including political, social, andphilosophical influences. It analyses theories of knowledge and learning and howtechnology has influenced these. It investigates issues of learner autonomy, onlinepedagogy and the place of communication in the learning experience and it exploreschanges in behavioural patterns in computer use between young and old people. Italso makes an attempt at re-evaluating the position of knowledge in a connectedworld. It closes with a section on the place of the educational institution, in particularof the university, in a world where life without technology has become unthinkable.Chapter three deals with the research approach and methodology. It exploresdifferent research methods in order to find out the best possible “fit” with theresearch questions. It also explores the ethical issues that need to be taken intoconsideration when carrying out research in a virtual learning environment and in anopen online environment.Chapters four and five will report on the findings of the research in the two settings:The ABCD project and the online networks. Chapter four discusses the context, themethods of analysis, and reports on issues such as the learning experience and theteaching experience, which also include learner and tutor preferences in usingtechnologies, the value of an online presence of participants and the significance ofcommunication in learning. Particular attention is given to issues of self-direction 9
  • 21. and personalisation. An extensive discussion on the positive and negative sides ofWeb 2.0 use in online education will also form part of the chapter. It will also reporton what activities lead to a higher level of engagement, and the skills andcompetencies required to learn and teach in a semi-autonomous learningenvironment. Design issues are also explored to find out what particular aspects areof importance for the creation of engaging learning experiences.Chapter five explains how the online networked research was carried out andanalyses how people communicate online and what makes them learn. It alsoexplores how important “other” people on the network are for learning and inparticular who the “knowledgeable others” are and why. An analysis of the networkwill explain how particular nodes on online networks are perceived by learners.Chapter six contain a discussion of the findings and the literature. It reports on theaffordances of the new tools and the design of meaningful online learningexperiences. It will show a view of networked mediated learning that consists of ananalysis of interactive technologies in the learning experience and their influences increating an online presence, including how to foster affective relationships. The roleof the learner and the tutor will be analysed and the level of control that each of themhas when the new tools are being used. Finally, the benefits and limitations of thisuse on the educational experience and learner autonomy will be addressed.Chapter seven brings the thesis to a close with the conclusions. It containsconclusions on views on knowledge and learning. This section will provide somerecommendations for tutors, learners and educational institutions. The chapter willclose with conclusions about the research methodology and a section on possiblefuture research to advance the knowledge gained through this research. The finalsection will deal with the original contribution to knowledge that this research studyhas provided. 10
  • 22. CHAPTER 2: LITERATURE REVIEW2.1. INTRODUCTIONIn recent years the traditional view of knowledge in a rapidly changing world has beenchallenged (Lyotard, 1984; O’Hara, 2002; Lankshear et al, 2003; Lewis, 1999; Glaser,1999). Moreover, technological change has had a major influence on lifelong learningand has been a force for change in adult education. It has introduced a new flexibility,with a range of new developments, including the introduction of VLEs, knowledgebanks, global online networks, knowledge management systems in the workplace and theuse of handheld and mobile devices for learning. Emergent Internet tools such as blogsand wikis are also making their way into adult education classrooms.Much discussion has taken place about these new developments as it is thought thatnetworked learning spaces could take over from lecture theatres and that libraries, whichused to be places where librarians were the gate-keepers of stores of paper-basedinformation, might be revolutionised by technology, for example with the exponentialgrowth in digital archives and online journal publications.It is perhaps not surprising that a vast number of academics, librarians and teachers havereservations about the pace of change and the need for change, wondering what kind ofknowledge may be acquired, how valid the created knowledge would be, what their roleshould be in the learning process, and who is to control both knowledge and learning?This literature review will explore the ways Information and CommunicationTechnologies and the Internet are changing the educational landscape. It will identify andanalyse the prominent theories of knowledge and views of learning and the mostsignificant changes that Information and Communication Technology might pose foradult education and the possible consequences for educational institutions and educationin general. 11
  • 23. 2.2. THE INTERNETPerhaps the most significant development in new technologies for education has been theInternet. The Internet is a global system of interconnected computer networks thatdeveloped from the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), the major think tankof the Ministry of Defence in the United States of America in the 1950s. In the late1970s USENET (User’s Network), and in the early 1980s, BITNET (Because It’s TimeNetwork) and CSNET (the Computer Science Network) were created to facilitatenetworking opportunities within the academic and research community (Harasim et al,1995). When in 1982 ARPA adopted the TCP/IP protocol (Transmission ControlProtocol/Internet Protocol, the communications procedure to connect hosts on theInternet) the Internet was born: a connected set of networks using the TCP/IP standard.Up to that point the development had mostly been the work of scientists, but majoradvances in the power and speed of computers facilitated the growth of the system. In1986 the American Science Foundation Network was formed connecting the academicand science community to five super computers. In 1989 the World Wide Web (WWW),a global network of networks was developed by Tim Berners-Lee. It is a network ofinterlinked hypertext documents that can be searched and on which information can beretrieved by a special protocol known as a Hypertext Transfer protocol (HTTP). Thisprotocol has facilitated the automated searching of the Internet for particular sites andgreatly boosted its use.A year later Berners-Lee developed a browser/editor programme and coined the nameWorld Wide Web as a name for the programme. The development of a browser andHypertext Markup Language (HTML) that could be activated by a mouse click enabledsimple searching (Cerf, 2003). By using a web browser people can view web pages thatmight contain text, images, videos, and other multimedia and navigate between these.2.2.1 Control and PowerSince its inception only limited control has been exercised over the Internet by nationstates. During the 1990s, the commercial world realized the potential of the WWW forcommunication, for managing information flows and for retailing, while users saw itscreative potential. We have seen an exponential growth of the Web. Nation states havehad problems keeping up with new developments and consequently have only hadlimited control over it. Although it is based in the USA, the global nature of its 12
  • 24. development has been a factor in the lack of control by individual states over contentdeveloped. Individual nations police sites originating from their own country and only anumber of nations have gone further than this, notably China and Iran, who haveimposed limitations on the web sites its population is able to access.There has been an exponential growth in the use of blogs (Smith, 2008), and video-sharing sites such as YouTube, on which, in October 2006, 100 million home-madevideos were downloaded per day, and personal presence sites such as MySpace andFacebook that have been embraced by youth culture. They have shown the creativepotential of the WWW if left uncontrolled, which was acknowledged when the EuropeanUnion decided that ‘internet users should be left to police themselves within the boundsof the law’ (Gibson, 2006).It should be noted, however, that most new, successful grass-roots developments havebeen commercialised and integrated in the corporate world. Increasingly concern is beingraised about the influence of commerce on the Web (Burke, 2007; Lanier 2010; Mejias,2009). Lanier (2010) and Mejias (2009) emphasise the high level of influence by a lownumber of companies, such as Google. The market seems to slowly but steadilyinfluence and control the new tools. Burke posits: The connotations of freedom, democracy and egalitarianism are used to sell both White House policy at one end of the spectrum, and the commercial dream of the first “must have” personalized infrastructure (the net, cell phones, blackberry’s etc) to the gadget crazed consumer desires of the middle classes on the other (Burke, 2007, p. 55)On the other hand, others highlighted the freedom to express oneself. Sim mentions forinstance how feminists, including Haraway and Plant, have embraced the Internetbecause of a lack of control and hierarchy over the content. Men and women speak onequal terms and ICT has been embraced in the workplace, where the Internet is beingaccessed through the keyboard, the traditional female device (Sim, 2001).2.2.2. The World Wide Web as a NetworkIt should be noted however that research is now available that shows that the Internet andthe WWW do not act as non-hierarchical networks (Barabasi, 2003; Jones, 2004; Mejias,2009; Burke, 2007; Bouchard, 2010 forthcoming). Burke posits that: 13
  • 25. Control, not freedom has become absolutely distributed and while we enjoy unprecedented access to information and personal communications devices, we are simultaneously smothered by the cloying ubiquity of networks that have no outside, while our media is characterized as “the most highly controlled mass media hitherto known.” (Burke, 2007, p.54)Barabasi looked at the mathematics of the Internet and Web as networks and found thatthey do not perform as “random” networks, but as “scale-free” networks. The differencewould be ruled by two characteristics: “growth” and “preferential attachment”, showingthat this type of network grows “one node at a time” and that a node chooses to whatother node it connects. The more connections a node already has, the more likely it isthat other nodes will connect to it (Barabasi, 2003, P.86), thus creating “hubs”. Thisimplies that there are power-relations on the network and Barabasi’s research shows thatnetworks are not neutral. Bouchard (2010, in press) also questions the possibility ofhierarchy-free peer to peer connections on the Web: However, the notion of supernode predictably emerges when some contributors are recognized by a number of others as having particular relevance to, or knowledge of a problem. There seems to be a natural tendency within the perfectly democratic network to organize itself, over time, in a hierarchical system composed of leaders and followers. We are then left with a social organization that resembles the outside world of government and commerce, with the difference that the currency of exchange in the network is not money or power, but reputation and popularity. (Bouchard, 2010, p. 3)Wellman et al (2003) and Jones et al (2008) highlighted another issue relevant tonetworks on which humans interact; that of the quality of the connection between thenodes. On some networks, such as groups in online class rooms, people have “strong”ties, while on other networks, such as the open online Web, people make connectionsthat are not as strong; they call them “weak” ties. There is a different level ofengagement between strong and weak ties. Dron and Anderson (2007) argue that there isa stronger commitment to activities in “groups’, than on “networks”, where the ties areweaker.Barabasi found that participants on networks are not only selective, but that the nature ofnetworks prevents network “surfers” from having access to all information at the samelevel. 14
  • 26. The most intriguing result of our Web-mapping project was the complete absence of democracy, fairness, and egalitarian values on the Web. We learned that the topology of the Web prevents us from seeing anything but a mere handful of the billion documents out there. (Barabasi, 2003, p. 56)These were just a few aspects of networks that should be considered when researchinglearning in a network environment. Throughout this thesis reference will be made to thehierarchical nature of the open online Web-based networks, the differences in tiesbetween users, and the level of access that people have to information on onlinenetworks as they might possibly influence the learning taking place on these networks.Open Web-based networks are meant when referring to networks in this thesis. Whenreference is being made to nodes on the network, a node would signify a human being, orhuman beings, as a member of the network who act(s) as filter(s) of information.2.2.3. Information abundanceFischer and Naumer’s research on people’s information habits found that most peoplehave ‘deeply engrained habitual patterns in seeking information’ (Fischer & Naumer,2006, p. 2) Their research shows that people will first and foremost find informationfrom people with whom they have a strong relationship, which are usually found in theircircle of family, close friends and their local communities and in places such as doctors’surgeries and libraries. Pettigrew et al state that the Internet is supplementing these‘information grounds’ and is also creating new options for obtaining information(Pettigrew, 1999). The exponential growth and wide availability of information on theInternet has been seen by some as crucial for the new knowledge industries to performwell and also to offer new opportunities for innovation of old ones. Others see thisdevelopment as problematic (Burkeman & Johnson, 2005; Bruce, 2000; Armstrong,2004; Gandel et al, 2004; McKie, 2000; Sandbothe, 2000).Burkeman and Johnson wonder if we really want all this new information? Theyhighlight that; The end result of a perfect search world is that as fast as answers are generated and consumed, new questions come quicker, with the consequence that ignorance expands. . . What we know that we don’t know expands faster than what we know. . . . there is this sense that the world is out there to be Googled. But linking from one thing to another is not the same as having something to say. A structured thought is more than a link.’ (Burkeman & Johnson, 2005, p. 5) 15
  • 27. Furthermore, Hagel explains that there are other problems with the informationabundance and introduces the notion of the “attention economy”. In an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate the attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it. (Hagel, 2006, p. 1)Hagel argues that the more information is available, the less time we have available to gointo any depth when analysing the information. In addition, Goldhaber (1997) posits that,by using new technologies, we might end up chatting, but not necessarily about anythingof substance. The abundance of information and the poverty of attention could be thecause of changes in thinking processes. If we compare the information behaviour ofpeople in antiquity with current scholars, the former were able to spend their timecontemplating minute details and perhaps discuss findings with a small number ofpeople, while contemporary thinkers, if they make use of the Web, might be engagingwith gigabytes of information and possibly communicate with a wide variety of peopledispersed all over the globe simultaneously. Suggestions have been made that these newways of working might influence our thought processes (Bauerlein, 2008; Armstrong,2004). Dennis and Al-Obaidi (2010) for instance compare changes in modes of thinkingand concepts through the new technologies with an “epistemic rupture”, whileGreenfield problematizes Internet use as opposed to the book. When we read a book usually authors take you by the hand and you travel from the beginning to the middle to the end in a continuous narrative series of interconnected steps. It may not be a journey with which you agree or that you enjoy, but none the less as you turn the pages one train of thought succeeds the last in a logical fashion. (Greenfield, 2006, p. 1)She argues how in traditional education teachers and tutors compare and contrastnarratives with one another and help people with the building of a conceptual frameworkin doing so (Greenfield, 2006, p. 1; Greenfield, 2004). The Web is changing this linearprocess and of course not everyone uses books in the linear fashion she describes. NewInternet-based ways of obtaining information, such as following hyperlinks, which are anintegral part of the Internet experience, and the creation of knowledge by participation ininformal, interactive online phenomena, in which people take part at their leisure offer 16
  • 28. opportunities for engagement in a wide range of subject choices according to one’s owninterests. This offers learners the chance to follow their own learning journey in amanner suited to actively constructing knowledge and linking it to their own experiencesin an autonomous fashion, while collaborating with others. Greenfield is concernedhowever, that if people do not have access to a robust conceptual framework developedover time with the help of knowledgeable others, they might have problems constructingknowledge (Greenfield, 2004).The abundance of information on the Internet and other information sources have raisedconcerns about the feasibility for individuals to critically analyse all that is available toensure reliability and validity and to manage the vast streams of information nowavailable. Bauerlein (2008) even goes as far as arguing that the lack of attention spanbecause of this overload of information and the different resources used today havecreated the “dumbest generation of Americans” to date. CIBER (2008) researched howpeople acquire information and how information behaviour has changed over time. Theysurveyed literature from the 1980s and 1990s and carried out primary research oninternet based behaviour themselves and they found that “power-browsing”, the clickingof hyperlinks and the skimming of web pages, replaced traditional chronological readingand longer term critical thinking. Advanced information searching was lacking and thelevel of information literacy, in the form of validating information and sources, was at alow level (CIBER, 2008).Sandbothe argues that the ‘comprehensive and systematic development of reflectivejudgement at all levels of the population and on a global scale is the central task for ademocratic educational system in the twenty-first century’ (Sandbothe, 2000, p. 67). Thismight not be promoted by the new ways of accessing information. Moreover, McKieemphasised that people, when they start an information search, will take into account theamount of time required for the search, where they expect to find the information and theroute to take to get there. Not everyone uses the same route as people are different andhave different learning preferences, cultural backgrounds and personalities. She arguesthat to give too much guidance would be a mistake as it would constrict the experienceand the possibilities of finding the relevant information (McKie, 2000). 17
  • 29. Walters and Kop (2009) argue that information literacy is acquired at a young age andhighlight that “information behaviour” is a developmental process at a deep level andthat this sort of behaviour will be very difficult to advance substantially later in life, eg.on a course at university. Bass, on the other hand, highlighted that there is a great deal ofevidence to show that electronic environments encourage analytical and reflectivepractice. In addition, ‘there are clear indications that the electronic era will provide anunprecedented opportunity for immersion in archival and primary materials, andconsequently the making of meaning in cultural and historical analysis for all kinds oflearners, from novice to expert’ (Bass, 1999, p1.).Bruce saw the information abundance as an advantage over earlier media in ‘the way itcan open up our questions. We ask one thing, but the Web leads us to ask more questionsand to become aware of how much we do not know’ (Bruce, 2000, p. 107). He wouldlike us to use the Internet not to “pick and choose” what fits in with our own points ofview, but also to take on board what discomfits, and to look for alternatives that make usthink. It should perhaps be questioned if people will do this of their own accord or thatthey will need the guidance of an educator. He saw the greatest challenge as a change ofour search strategies from looking something up, to incorporating web-searching intothinking and reflection processes in order to enable a fruitful investigation. Newemerging collaborative tools that facilitate networking and communication with othersmight aid in developing such a referencing strategy.2.2.4. Information Communication Technology and CommunicationFrom its inception claims have been made about the exciting opportunities for interactionon the WWW (Standish, 2000), ranging from clicking a mouse to engaging in in-depthonline communication. Tim Berners-Lee saw the development of the Web as follows: The basic idea of the Web was that of an information space through which people can communicate, but communicate in a special way: communicate by sharing their knowledge in a pool. The idea was not just that it should be a big browsing medium. The idea was that everybody would be putting their ideas in, as well as taking them out. This [the Internet] is not supposed to be a glorified television channel. (Berners-Lee, 1999, p. 1) 18
  • 30. His vision was that people would not only use the WWW for consumption, but also toexchange knowledge by communication. Some, however, argue that there are numerousreasons that inhibit people from expressing themselves online. The scale and anonymity of the potential audience discourages the kind of personal engagement that might be found in a conversation. The predominantly passive experience of the Web may have reduced in users the capacity for a dialogical response, in spite of the constant emphasis in the ostensible interactivity of Web use. (Standish, 2000, p. 166)Initially people have to overcome the fear of failure and gain confidence before realisingthat the internet-experience can be quite pleasant: ‘The absence of the more rigidconventions of letter writing may release a kind of spontaneity. Attentive and with thefreedom to innovate, you become absorbed in the writing, which elaborates, becomesdiscursive and picks up speed’ (Standish, 2000, p. 166). During the past ten years andthrough the inception of Web 2.0 technologies a different form of communication mightbe possible online. Since antiquity communication and dialogue have been seen as thecrucial components in the creation of knowledge, but communication technology seemsto be changing its nature. Dewey saw communication as the most important aspect inmaking people what they are: mind, consciousness, thinking, subjectivity, meaning, intelligence, language, rationality, logic, inference and truth – all of these things that philosophers over the centuries have considered to be part of the natural ‘make-up’ of human beings – only come into existence through and as result of communication. Dewey (1958, p. 17)Dewey argued that ‘the world of inner experience is dependent upon an extension oflanguage which is a social product and operation’. By communication with others ourinner thoughts become clear. In addition, meaning making in communication does nothappen for only one participant of the activity. ‘It is because people share in a commonactivity, that their ideas and emotions are transformed as a result of and in function of theactivity in which they participate’. It is not one or the other participant that changes, bothparticipants will be influenced by communication (Biesta, 2006, p. 17-19).Online communication is quite different from that in a face-to-face environment. It is afast connection between systems and networks, conveying messages produced by people.Online messages are not necessarily the same as communications between people face- 19
  • 31. to-face: they are one-way, the receiver might not know the sender, nor her intentions or ifshe can be trusted (Kop, 2006). Meyerson (2001, pg.36) highlighted that intechnologically mediated communication we might replace a dialogue between people,’the human pursuit of common understanding’, with an exchange of messages. Heanalysed Habermas’ ideas of communication who questioned if it would at all bepossible to reach a shared understanding of the world through an exchange of messages.Meyerson perceived a message to be a one-dimensional version of meaning and a‘narrowed-down model of meaning’ (Meyerson, 2001, pg.40).It might be possible to convey more meaning in online communication in the Web 2.0era than was possible in the Web 1.0 era with the tools available today. Bass expects thatthe distributive effect, namely ‘the shift from one-to-many to a many-to-many model ofcommunication is one of the most important features of new media, and provides afundamental groundwork for a great many changes in social structure and subjectformation’ (Bass, 2000, p. 6). Siemens agrees with this and argued that the moreconnections with other people we can make, and the more networks we are connected to,the better we will communicate, as long as we have effective structures in place to accessand syndicate the messages (Siemens, 2006a, 2008). If this is compared with Dewey’sideas of communication, it seems that the emphasis has changed from “communicatingwith others and both learning and changing through the interaction”, to a much “looser”form of communication. Wellman (2003) compared these differences forms ofcommunication as the differences between “strong” and “weak” ties” between people.The intensity in the level of communication is different.2.2.5. New developments in Information and Communication Technology2.2.5.1. Emergence of Web 2.0 technologyOver the past five years, the WWW has moved on from being a resource of information(web 1.0) to emerge as an instrument of communication and networking (web 2.0.). Dronand Anderson posit that the main dissimilarity between Web2.0 and Web 1.0 ischaracterised by ‘a distinctive cultural shift in emphasis from total control of websiteauthorship by the technorati to a gentle relinquishing of control to the masses – the user-generated Web’ (Dron & Anderson, 2009, p.2). The ease with which it is now possible toproduce and make changes to web pages, in addition to the ease with which it is possible 20
  • 32. to communicate and collaborate in a many-to-many format rather than a one-to-manyformat, have created a shift in the development of the Web. People can use informalsocial software tools, such as blogs (web-logs), instant messaging, wikis (collaborativewebsites), networked social spaces, including MySpace, Flickr (images) YouTube(videos), social book-marking sites (such as and social searching, whereinformation streams can be shared and connected to those of others, thus creatingnetworked information. The key to social software is that it brings people in contact withlikeminded people, thus creating a community. McLuhan in his classic UnderstandingMedia suggested ‘The medium is the message’ (McLuhan, 1964, p.1), which isespecially appropriate in the new wave of Web 2.0 Internet developments. He arguedthat ‘the personal and social consequences of any medium – that is, of any extension ofourselves, results from the new scale that is introduced into our affairs by each extensionof ourselves, or by any new technology’ (McLuhan, 1964, p. 1). In other words, it is notonly the medium that is important, but the changes that the media cause. Through ourextended reach, our range of opportunities changes, which will have an impact on otherareas of our lives.The emergence of Web 2.0 technologies seems to be something that has such an effect,as for a number of years we have been using the Web to find information, much likebooks in the past, but on a larger scale. The new social tools have changed ourrelationship with the medium and made it possible for humans to move the Web on froma one-directional broadcasting model into a many-to-many form of interaction. The newdevelopments have ensured that we are no longer solely consumers of onlineinformation, but can also be online contributors. People in our local communities canhave a voice that can be heard all over the world (Shearman, 2000) using words, images,film and music. It is very much a mix of consuming and creating: people might “mashup” text, music or video produced by others and reshape it into their own image anddistribute it worldwide or within their online community.A blog is one example of a Web 2.0 technology and is a variation of an interactive onlinediary, usually written by one person, who would publish a number of date-stampedpieces of writing, videos, sound or images. The most current will appear at the top, andwill offer the opportunity for people to post comments to which reactions are invited. Ablog reflects personal opinions and areas of interest of the “blogger” and can be a very 21
  • 33. personal diary, although numerous academic, journalistic, subject specific andeducational blogs have emerged. Generally the aim is not only to publish individualideas and views, but to link these to friends’ views and other people’s ideas withdifferent visions, and comment on these, usually by providing hyperlinked evidence. Anargument and communication with others are important components of the blog, whichmakes it more than a personal diary. ‘It reveals something about how we think thatwould not be explicit in another medium’ (Mortensen & Walker, 2002, p. 249) accordingto Mortensen and Walker, two academics working on blogs. They explain that our blogs became tools with which to think about our research, its values, connections and links to other aspects of the world. They altered the way in which we approached online communication, and have influenced the writing of both our dissertations. (Mortensen & Walker, 2002, p. 249-251)Most bloggers have a “blog-roll” showing a list of links to favourite blogs, which makesthat communities of interest are formed quite easily. In fact, blogs can be produced byfree, user-friendly software, containing search facilities, while possibilities to subscribeto blogger news-feeds have contributed to the increased speed with which a steadilygrowing web of interrelated searchable sites, has emerged. Downes argued that blogs arerevolutionising publishing on the Internet (Downes, 2004) while Johnson stated thatblogging has moved on from being a pastime of amateurs to a grassroots movementresulting in a “network of interesting voices”. Blogs are created by individuals operatingoutside institutional constraints who do not always “play by the rules” exposinginaccuracies in traditional media publishing (Johnson, 2005, p. 1). Blogging has becomeincreasingly popular. Technorati (2008) have tracked 133 million weblog records since2002 and have found that 1.5 million blogs are posted in an average week. Communityblogs have also materialized, where like-minded people work together on thedevelopment of an interactive website. ‘Many-to-many’ communication features arebuilt into these sites to enable communication between large numbers of people.Wikis are quite different. They do not have a diary format but are websites, which offerpeople the opportunity to add text, images, video, possibly whole books. Moreover,individuals are encouraged to edit entries from other people if they think they have anyknowledge to add. One or more people are responsible for the venture, but the aim is todevelop a project collaboratively. The best-known wiki is the Wikipedia 22
  • 34. (, which has grown into a huge online encyclopedia in 80languages in which people can find information about numerous topics.One of the differences to blogs is that the form of communication in wikis is based ondocuments rather than messages, which are much easier to edit and re-edit by a numberof people until they become coherent pieces of writing that are useful to anybody. Itsstrength is its ease of use: it uses a simplified hypertext language – as with blogs,technology does not have to stand in the way of the medium. A site can have multiplecontributors who can stay anonymous. There is a wide spectrum of wikis and ways inwhich wikis are being used: on the one side Cunningham’s first system ‘TheWikiWikiWeb’ excels through its openness and simplicity, while on the other end of thespectrum corporate wikis are being used as intricate knowledge management tools(Lamb, B. 2004).When discussing wikis, most commentators see their strength in offering a frameworkfor collaboration. Some even see them as the ultimate in democratic creation thatencourages participation by providing opportunities for anybody to add anything,anywhere at any time. At the same time this is seen as their downfall as what has beencreated today can be destroyed tomorrow. If we look at the best-known open contentwiki, the Wikipedia, surprisingly, ‘what seems to create chaos, has actually producedincreasingly respected content which has been evaluated and revised by the thousands tovisit the site over time’ (Lih, 2004, p. 3).Social bookmarking and tagging gained in importance in 2003 when waslaunched. Social bookmarking applications are web-based rather than desk-based andenable users to store links to web-addresses online and “tag” their bookmarks with key-words that have a relevance to them and make them available online to others. Thistagging is what makes them social and special. Instead of searches being led byinstitutions or commercial search engines, the searching by keywords that were providedby other members of a group, makes the searching social.‘This form of organising information through user-generated tags has become known as“folksonomy”. It implies a bottom-up mode of organising information as opposed to ahierarchical and top-down taxonomy’ (Owen et al, 2006, p. 17). There is a range in theformality of different bookmarking sites. Academic sites such as Connotea and 23
  • 35. CiteULike have a planned style of tagging with a clear audience in mind, others such asFlickr, a photo-sharing site, promote a more light-hearted and personal style of tagging.Discussions amongst the user groups of tagging sites on the desirability of more controlon the tags used are extensive: e.g. a blog could be tagged as weblog, blog, blogs, orblogging, making searching more difficult than a more regulated system, but so far thechoice has been to maintain flexibility and openness. Shirky (2005) argues that, if thesystem would be turned into a normal search engine, the strength of the organicorganisation that emerges from user-generated tagging would be lost.Other Internet based innovations are social networking spaces. Currently most popularare personal spaces such as MySpace and Facebook, photo sharing sites such as Flickrand video sharing sites such as YouTube, where people can share information, photosand videos. Instant Messaging or “chat” sites such as MSN might be seen by some asmere text chat sites, that are not much different from the chat sites that were used in the80s and 90s for synchronous communication (Mason and Bacsich, 1998), but where thecurrent wave of chat sites differ is that people can communicate in groups, they canincorporate multimedia files and use VOIP for sound and video communication and thechat facilities can be integrated themselves on other applications such as socialnetworking sites. Further, the popularity of iPods has instigated the development ofdownloadable music and videofiles called podcasts. These might be seen as an extensionof a radio or a television show. The difference lies in the easy opportunities forresponding by using online tools. With the press of a button and through fairly user-friendly applications people can be in direct contact with the producer and can produceand send sound and video files themselves in response, whereas this would have been amuch more elaborate process using traditional media. The latest development aremicroblogging sites such as Twitter, which offer the opportunity for the fast passing ofshort messages around a network, and, as with other social networking, following themessages, or “tweets”, of particular interesting people. Networks – Really Simple Syndication (RSS) and The Semantic WebThe emergence of these sites and applications has meant that vast numbers of peopleshare files and communicate over the Internet, which has created huge informationnetworks. Really Simple Syndication (RSS) and other software have been developed thatallow people to organise web sites in searchable patterns through the use of tags. The use 24
  • 36. of this filtering software to manage the load of information on the Internet is increasing.Readers and environments to display the results of these aggregators are also in use andhave been developed. Also, in particular communities of interest, people have come tothe fore who do the filtering for other people and send out newsletters on a regular basis.Tim Berners-Lee and a team of researchers are currently working on an even wider-reaching organisation of the Web. He started the Semantic Web initiative, which is ledby the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C, 2009). His vision was to ensure that routinetasks related to the Internet no longer have to be carried out by humans, but that the Webitself will take charge of them. The search engine is one example of this. Matthewsquotes Berners-Lee et al: ‘The semantic Web will bring structure to the meaningfulcontent on the Web pages, creating an environment where software agents roaming frompage to page can readily carry out sophisticated tasks for users’ (Matthews, 2005, p. 3).In an interview with The Times Online, Tim Berners-Lee thought a new type of Google,a big mash-up of applications, might be developed in the future: Imagine if two completely separate things — your bank statements and your calendar — spoke the same language and could share information with one another. You could drag one on top of the other and a whole bunch of dots would appear showing you when you spent your money. If you still werent sure of where you were when you made a particular transaction, you could then drag your photo album on top of the calendar, and be reminded that you used your credit card at the same time you were taking pictures of your kids at a theme park. So you would know not to claim it as a tax deduction. Its about creating a seamless web of all the data in your life. (Richards, 2008, p. 1.)A large research team is working on the development and it is not quite clear what theimpact on education will be. The most likely implications are that there will be morerefined information management and discovery tools, better search facilities forcatalogues of online libraries, better interaction between groups of people, andapplications for e-learning, including sharing learning objects, photos, videos, sound fileswill be available over peer to peer networks. Some learning technologists, researchersand educators (Siemens, 2008b; Downes, 2006; Arina, 2006) advocate that Web 2.0 andsemantic web technologies could be useful in the educational arena as they could fosterinformal learning through communication and collaboration with others on onlinenetworks in combination with intelligent recommender systems. 25
  • 37. ConvergenceThe convergence of computers, telecommunications, broadcasting, music distribution,and other media is expected to aid with network-forming, and, according to some, willchange our society forever (NetworkWorld, 2006). We can use mobile phones andwireless technologies with cameras and state of the art music players “on the hoof”, andour televisions, computers and telephones are all merging into one system.Rapid developments in the mobile world means that the applications available only a fewyears ago now seem almost prehistoric. The “brick”-size mobile phone that could just beused to make a crackly phone call has been replaced in today’s era of convergence withone small pocket size device containing a photo-camera, film camera, music player,television, office organiser and computer. Palmtop size computers and laptops are alsowidely used. The wireless network coverage and convergence of wired-up telephone-lines, wireless broadband Internet access and wireless phone connections have opened upa world of developments and innovative opportunities for commerce, consumers, andeducationalists alike. Wagner states: Whether we like it or not, whether we are ready for it or not, mobile learning represents the next step in a long tradition of technology-mediated learning. . . . It responds to the on-demand learning interests of connected citizens in an information-centric world. It also connects formal educational experiences with informal, situated learning experience. (Wagner, 2005, p. 44)In Australia, Barbaux researched how mobile technology can be used in an educationalcontext: The ubiquitous pocket-sized mobile devices are the first digital technologies that afford a “better fit” between everyday life and learning activities. Like pen and paper and books did before them, they allow learning to take place in locations and at a time chosen by the learner. Barbaux (2006, p. 132)Barbaux sees this element of choice by the learner as the biggest positive effect ofmobile and wireless technology on education, but also its biggest challenge. It not onlyoffers new opportunities for learning and communication on a global scale, but theconvergence of learning with everyday life will put the learner in control of theexperience. Learning will have to compete with other time pressures and perhaps withinteresting applications available on the device, which means that the learning 26
  • 38. experience will have to be interesting otherwise the learner will choose to do somethingelse with her time. Of course learners have always made choices about where and how tolearn and how to spend their time, but the scale and availability of a vast amount ofinformation and communication channels through a small hand held device with theclick of a button makes this different. This might also bring new pedagogical challenges(Barbaux, 2006). Clearly, the possibilities to customise and personalise learning to anindividual’s needs in combination with the options for communication and networkingon a global scale will challenge the way teachers have taught for centuries.Broadband and Internet access, including VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol, onlinetelephone such as Skype), is now accessible on mobile phones, which will push forwardthe boundaries and the further development of applications that are currently onlyavailable on computers onto mobile devices, so they can be accessed at any place at anytime at a reasonable price. It is hard to predict what the implications of futureconvergence will be for education. In the developments so far, the more applications andtechnologies have converged, the lower the access threshold as the technology hasbecome more intertwined with everyday life.2.2.6. AccessGovernments clearly see the advantages of getting citizens engaged with Information andCommunications Technology (Blair, 2000; WAG, 2002). They call for everyone to havethe opportunity to acquire the necessary skills and to get engaged with ICT, but how canthis be done? Although broadband access has penetrated much of the UK apart fromsome black-spots, 30% of the UK population does not have Internet access (NationalStatistics, 2008, 2009). 34% of these say they don’t need Internet as it is not useful or notinteresting, while 24% say they just don’t want the Internet. Some still say that the cost istoo high, although that figure has dropped to 15%, while lack of skills has become moreimportant at 15%. Access has clearly increased compared to the UK figures in 2006,when 47% did not use the Internet at all and 51% of the people who weren’t using theInternet felt that they did not need it or did not want to use it, compared to only 17% whodid not know how to use it and 12% who could not afford it. In 2008 65% of UKhouseholds could access Internet from home and of these 65% households, 80% hadbroadband Internet access, up from 40% of UK households in 2006 (National Statistics,2008). Of all home communications technologies, the Internet has the lowest ownership 27
  • 39. figures and the highest ‘Voluntarily Excluded’ (no need/do not want) figures (Ofcom,2008), although more and more people are engaging with the technology.If we compare these figures with the Welsh adult participation in learning statistics fromthe National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (Aldridge et al, 2007), the peoplewho do not participate in learning, e.g. people from social classes IV and V (partlyskilled manual and unskilled manual backgrounds) are least likely to have access to theInternet at home or to access the Internet at all, while the older generation (those aged55+) are the least predisposed to use the Internet. People over 65 are least likely to accessthe internet of all age categories (70%), while 16-24 year olds have all used it (NationalStatistics, 2008). The reasons why people do not use the Internet are varied as Table 1indicates.Why do people not use the Internet? (National Statistics, 2008)Don’t need Internet as is not useful or interesting 34%Don’t want Internet 24%Don’t have the right equipment 22%Lack of skills 15%The equipment is too expensive 15%Access cost too high 10%Table 1 2.2.6. Reasons why people do not use the InternetPeople with access to the Internet at home are also most likely to access it elsewhere.The reluctance to engage with technology is common across the globe as exemplified inStanley’s study, looking at the obstacles that prevent socio-economically disadvantagedpeople in San Diego achieving basic computer literacy. Although approximately 20% ofthe research respondents cited cost, again the vast majority emphasised psychosocialobstacles, what Stanley refers to as “relevance, comfort zone and self-concept” (Stanley,2003, p. 2). Whilst it is possible to teach people how to use technology or to give themaccess to the technology if they cannot afford it themselves, it will be much harder toconvince the ‘non-believers’ of its potential. If governments are serious about thepotential benefits ICTs can offer to communities they will have a considerable task inconvincing the people that technology has relevance to their lives.One approach could be to use mobile and wireless technologies to which many peoplehave access already, for learning, or to increase opportunities using digital interactive 28
  • 40. television and reach people in their own homes. Most people prefer to access the Internetfrom the comfort of their own home. Another issue preventing access was highlighted bya study commissioned by the Department for Education and Skills (DfES). It identifiedproblems with the standard Internet interface for a number of non-users, which inspiredLaurillard to start work with the DfES on the development of ‘Cybrarian’, an interfacethat will tailor the web to the needs of the individual. (Lamb, J., 2004). TheMassachusetts Institute of Technology is also researching the development of a moreintuitive interface between computer content and human beings and demonstrated forinstance how the computer can be projected and used on any surface available (Mistry,2009).Davies states that lack of engagement with technology ‘is a social, economic, andcultural phenomenon, relating to motivation, confidence, assistance and the type ofcontent available on the Internet’ (Davies, 2005, p. 14). Fahy et al apply Bourdieu’sconcept of cultural capital, indicating that those who most need help in accessingeducational opportunities are most likely to be those who lack skills and hardware to usethe technology (Fahy et al, 2001). It is also important to bear in mind that excludedcommunities do not consist solely of groups such as the unemployed and ethnicminorities. They also encompass rural communities, disabled and older people. For thesegroups technology has the potential to offer major benefits for communication andinteraction.2.2.7. Young people and technologyThe new technological developments have been driven by technology, but also by youthculture. Although this thesis is related to Adult Education, it has relevance that youngpeople use technology in the same way as older generations use books, paper and pen.Marc Prensky was one of the first to argue that current institutions were not designed forthe students of today and tomorrow. He used the “native” and “immigrants” metaphor tohighlight possible distinctions between ‘digital natives’, who have been immersed intechnology all their lives, who are used to these immediate forms of communication withpeers, and who use technology in a very different way from ‘digital immigrants’. They are used to the instantaneity of hypertext, downloaded music, phones in their pockets, a library on laptops, beamed messages and instant messaging. They’ve been networked most of their lives. They have little patience for lectures, step-by-step logic, and “tell-test” instruction. 29
  • 41. (Prensky, 2001, p. 3)Greenfield mentioned that findings in a recent survey of 8-18 year olds indicate thatchildren now spend on average 6.5 hours a day using electronic media and be ‘multi-tasking’ (using more than one device at the same time) for up to 8.5 hours a day(Greenfield, 2006). She is concerned that the way young people use technology willcause major changes in the way we learn: ‘The brain is very sensitive to what happens inthe environment, so we are going to be changing quite a lot because of information, bioand nano-technology’ (Greenfield quoted in Keating, 2006, p. 1.; Greenfield, 2004).Greenfield (2004) anticipated major changes and problems in the workplace as thediscrepancy between the young, ‘who speak IT as a first language’, and the older ones,who do not, will cause friction as the young will increasingly feel that the old do not getthe best out of the technology and hold back new development and innovations.However, these ideas are contested and refuted by current research (Bennett, 2008;Bullen, 2009). Selwyn argues that the evidence is not yet available to show that theyoung are engaging in a transformative way with technology but posits instead that theyuse it in a mundane way and that they do not necessarily engage with technology at all(Selwyn, 2006). UK National Statistics show that 96% of 16-24 year olds used theInternet in the first quarter of 2009, while older people have a much lower access level,e.g. 72% for people between the ages of 55 and 65, 30% for people over 65 (NationalStatistics, 2009). This shows that the heaviest use of the Internet is by young people, butdoes not necessarily indicate the level of engagement with any other applications thancontacting friends, looking for information or revealing issues about themselves inpersonal space such as MySpace, or YouTube. Bennett et al (2008, p. 775) carried out acritical review of the literature related to the ‘digital natives’ debate and likened it ‘to anacademic form of a “moral panic”, as they found a profound lack of empirical andtheoretical evidence to indicate that learners have actually changed all that much or forthe need of a changed educational system. They found a high number of position papers,such as the one by Prensky, which had been used to highlight claims of change in youngpeople’s behaviour, but empirical research has been lacking and has only recently beencarried out. Bullen et al (2009) published research in which they showed that there is nogenerational difference in use of the Web. 30
  • 42. 2.2.8. Technology as part of everyday existence - IdentityTechnology seems to have become increasingly integrated in our existence. Heidegger(1977) explored the principle of “ready-to-hand”: (Zuhandenheit), the way in which toolsin the hand of a human being nearly become part of that human. Standish mentioned thatwe don’t realise how tools have become part of our existence until they stop working.The car and the computer are prime examples (Standish, 2000). Another example is howpeople experience immersive environments such as computer games. They use keyboardand mouse unconsciously and are only partially aware what happens around them; theyreach a “flow state” (Metros, 2001) in which they lose awareness of the physical worldaround them, and get totally absorbed in the playful activity. Bass states that ‘this kind ofmulti-sensory computer design that resulted in some of the really basic components ofhuman-computer interaction, such as the mouse and the “drag and drop” file anddirectory structure was based on a fundamental belief in the potential “fluidity”; betweenhuman thinking and thinking technologies’ (Bass, 1999, p. 1). As McCarthy and Wright(2004) point out, technological developers take into consideration the overall impression,feelings, interactions that a user has; they make an effort to support the creation ofrelationships with individuals and create an environment that connects on an emotionallevel. This close connection between people and technology has raised questions andconcern about possible changes in identity in the “real” and face-to-face world.According to Owen et al (2006) the two most important aspects in the shaping of ouridentity while participating in online experiences are the interrelation of real and virtualidentities, and the way we construct our identity through producing and consumingdigital content. The “new” Internet offers us opportunities not only to have a realidentity, but also to invent a new one. Virtual reality games and related developmentssuch as “Second Life” thrive on this. Also in online communities and shared spaces suchas Flickr people provide feedback on actions, interactions, images and text, whichencourages reflection and adaptation of identity. The Internet can hide a person’s gender,race, appearance or class, which has been seen to some as advantageous as this can takeaway prejudices that exist in the actual world (Turkle, 1995).Owen et al clarify that the virtual identity is inextricably linked to the offline identity.Even if people sometimes play-act on the web, the online world is constructed in the 31
  • 43. context of the real world (Owen et al, 2006). Online activities influence and possiblycolour our view of the world and one can assume that this process started with theintroduction of television. Baudrillard highlighted the “viral” development onlinethrough applications such as Second Life and social networking sites such as Facebookand YouTube where people make virtual “friends” and have been known to make moneyout of selling their personae (Walters & Kop, 2009). The online self could differ from theself in real life and start to lead a life of its own.2.2.9. Post ModernismJean-François Lyotard in The Postmodern Condition put forward a convincing argumentshowing that the purpose of knowledge has changed in a changing world. His bookanalysed the status of knowledge and the way it has transformed under the influence oftechnology. In modernity the production and distribution of knowledge was justified inrelation to “grand narratives”, such as communism, social democracy, ones related toreligion – and narratives which incorporate the pursuit of truth, liberty and the bettermentof humanity. In postmodernity, he argues, knowledge is increasingly commodified: theacquisition of knowledge is no longer an end in itself as it was previously, but hasbecome a commodity that can be bought and sold and that has exchange value. Scientificknowledge in terms of its functions of research and education are judged and legitimisedby the way they relate to the performance of society; the principles of scientificinvestigation have come under the influence of performativity. The validity ofknowledge is now judged by the way it relates to the performance of society. Spencerwrites: Postmodernists contend that the search for an overarching philosophical world- view based on truth and ethical purpose is illusory and doomed. They challenge the post Enlightenment perspective that knowledge is liberating, that it is valuable for its own sake and that educators are taking part in a great civilising mission to encourage individual critical enquiry. (Spencer, 2004, p. 9).Lyotard questioned old certainties about ‘who decides what knowledge is, and whoknows what needs to be decided. In the computer age the question of knowledge is nowmore than ever a question of government’ (Lyotard, 1984, p. 9). While in the past theuniversity would have been the authority in matters of knowledge, there are currentlymultiple sources of authority (Siemens, 2006b; Delanty, 2001). In addition to the 32
  • 44. university, governments, think-tanks and independent researchers have becomeauthorities on knowledge.Lyotard argued that these developments have had a profound influence on the nature ofknowledge. As education is now concerned with providing people with the skills andknowledge to function well in society’s institutions, rather than being an end in itself,educational processes and curriculum content are changing considerably. The traditionalemphasis on knowledge organised in disciplines has been modified to encompass anumber of disciplines as well as key skills for employment and generic skills.Lyotard envisaged that the teaching of subject knowledge might in the future be takenover by new technologies, while teachers input would lie with providing learners withthe skills to use Information and Communication Technology effectively. He predictedthe demise of the role and the status of the professor as the authority of knowledge wouldmove towards other institutions. Teaching people how to access information sources andhow to evaluate information found, not only for the sake of its “truth”, but increasinglyfor its use value would be at the heart of education.Profound developments have indeed taken place in the field of ICT, notably the growthin Internet use and the changes the Internet and broadband and wireless technology havebrought to accessing information and facilitating communication. As Lankshear et alargue, ‘practices involving new ICTs and, notably, the Internet, occurring within non-formal and non-educational sites have crucial significance for how we think aboutknowledge and truth, and about their relationship to educational work’ (Lankshear et al,2000, p. 25). Spencer argues that it is ‘the nature of knowledge itself not just the processof delivery which has changed’ (Spencer, 2004, p.9).Spencer discussed the shift from liberal adult education towards postmodern ways ofthinking and describes some critical views (Spencer, 2004, p. 7), e.g. by Taylor et al whocriticized postmodernism as ‘dangerous or ignorant or both’ and argued that it provides a‘theoretical gloss’ for determinist views on technological change and apologies for ‘freemarket cultures’. They called for institutions to revitalise Enlightenment humanism. Onthe other end of the scale one finds people who attack postmodernism with a utopianstance, and feel that the potential of ICT for knowledge creation is not emphasisedenough. Raschke (2003, p.102) compared ‘traditional teaching to listening to a Mahler 33
  • 45. symphony on a CD player with headphones while online education is comparable toplaying the violin in the orchestra’. This is an analogy that would appeal to Downes andSiemens who both argue that connecting to people in online networks and to onlineinformation enhances knowledge creation (Siemens, 2006c; Downes, 2006) as theforming of networks and extensive communication in communities of interest willgenerate new ideas and a joint quest for new concepts. In section the differentviews of knowledge will be discussed and analysed as the view that knowledge can becreated and constructed is contested.Sim (2001, p. 40) discussed another one of Lyotard’s dislikes for computers, namely theway they facilitate the thinking process. She highlighted how they are driven too muchby performativity rather than by the unpredictability of human thought. ‘In what we callthinking the mind isn’t “directed” but suspended. You don’t give it rules. You teach it toreceive.’ Sim further explained: ‘Computers on the other hand are so directed, and lackthe element of rule-defying creativity-or, for that matter, sheer bloody-mindedcontrariness that is built into the fabric of the human. Without such creativity, Lyotardcontends, thinking cannot transpire’ (Sim, 2001, p. 40). What is education for?In a time of profound change it would be wise to reflect on the question “What iseducation for?” Philosophers of education throughout the ages have pondered thisquestion, and the main issues identified were: the involvement of the state in education,who should be educated, and if education should be a social endeavour or if it should betailored towards individual interests and abilities (Noddings, 1998). Some would arguethat the function of education is to facilitate individual growth in a person, who can thenlive wisely and serve the wider community (Wheelahan, 2005; Midgley, 1989). Liberaladult educators would argue that education is still the route to emancipation and socialchange (Delanty, 2001). In a postmodern society, however, governments invest mosteducational funding in upgrading the skills of the population in order for the country tocompete in a global market. Even though politicians aspire to education for social justicein their rhetoric, in reality the majority of the money is spent on skills development(Blunkett, 1998; Leitch, 2006). 34
  • 46. Government PolicyGovernments in the developed world have seen the importance of ICT in theadvancement of the “knowledge economy” and in aid of economic development. TheEuropean Heads of State committed themselves in Lisbon in 2000 ‘to make Europe theworlds most competitive and dynamic economy, characterised by sustainable growth,more and better jobs and greater social cohesion, by 2010’ (Commission of EU, 2003, p.3).The British government emphasized the importance of enabling the UK to engage withtechnology: ‘Digital engagement is important because it can improve people’s lives,opening doors to things that really matter, such as education, jobs, entrepreneurialinnovation, entertainment and making contact with family and friends’ (Cabinet Office,2004).The Welsh Assembly Government has embraced the opportunities Information andCommunication Technologies offer to the people of Wales and set out its vision withregard to ICT in its strategic framework Online for a Better Wales. It offers a positiveview on how the development and integration of ICT in all walks of life could have aprofound impact on Welsh communities. The Welsh Assembly Government wants Walesto be: United through the use of ICT, confident in promoting our achievements on the world stage and be creative in exploiting ICT for the benefits of individuals, communities and business. . . . Active in its use of ICT in local communities, where the voice of local people is heard and Fairer- a place where everyone is valued and ICT is used to give everyone an opportunity to play a full part. (WAG, 2002, p. 3, bold in original)At all policy levels (European, UK-wide and Wales-wide) strategies have beendeveloped for the integration of ICT in areas of development in education, economicdevelopment, communication with the public, health care, and funding has been madeavailable to ensure ICT infrastructure will be accessible to the public in libraries andschools (Kop & Woodward, 2004).The Welsh Assembly Government, for example, has shown its commitment to improvingthe use of ICT in Welsh communities by piloting funding programmes such as 35
  • 47. Communities@One, which was linked to the Communities First initiative for thedevelopment of communities, and which provided community groups with fundingopportunities to use technology for engaging with local people, while raising awarenessof online services and facilities. Another area of development emphasized in its strategicprogramme was the need of ICT skills for all, and European structural funding has beentargeted to develop individuals’ ICT skills in Wales. The development of a Wales-wideICT infrastructure was also underlined as a priority and initiatives such as “BroadbandWales” provided subsidised broadband internet access to small and medium-sizedenterprises, and “The People’s Network” offered free Internet access in all libraries inWales. European structural funding has been extensively used to provide ICT equipmentand broadband Internet access in local community centres through projects such as“Connecting Communities Cymru” (Kop & Trotman, 2002).Furthermore, e-Learning strategies have been developed to encourage the increase offlexible and accessible online courses in the UK (DfES, 2005), and Wales in particular,as it is a country with a dispersed population. The Welsh strategy holds 14 objectivesbased on enhancing connectivity, content, confidence and competence in using ICT forlearning (WAG, 2004). What all policy documents have in common is a deterministicview of technology and e-learning. Without exception they promote e-learning as apositive step towards social inclusion and widening participation in learning (Gulati,2006). Selwyn, who has extensively researched the use of ICT for social inclusion, is notimpressed with the mismatch between government rhetoric and real achievements inovercoming social exclusion by using ICT. He feels that there is too much emphasis inthe debate on what ICT could do, rather than what it is actually achieving, which in hisview is compounded by the utopian visions of academics and policymakers alike(Selwyn, 2006).Claude Fischer, predicting the role of technology in daily life, wrote: ‘We cannot assumethat people use a technology because “it is there” or because it is “obviously”advantageous. . . .We need to ask how and why purposeful actors choose to adoptspecific technologies and what they do with them’ (Fischer, 1985, p. 284). This will bethe key of engaging people with technology as Neil Selwyn also emphasized in a paperon social inclusion, technology and young people (Selwyn 2006, p. 5.). He 36
  • 48. acknowledged that some of the latest “bottom-up” approaches by governments haveresulted in the development of online communities for young people where they canexpress their concern about the environment, education and political representation. Hewould like to see ‘genuine efforts to empower young people to use ICTs for what aretruly their own modes of participation in society, rather than the continued pursuit ofofficial “digital divide” agendas based around macro-level interests of state, economyand polity’. Education – formal learning to embrace informal learning?The transformation of society by technology in the past 25 years has been all-embracing:There are few workplaces in the country that have avoided using computers to streamlinethe organisation, to increase choices for customers, to facilitate the automation, for betteror for worse, of customer service systems. The globalising effects of network-formingand information systems on commerce have been immense. The effect of convergence onentertainment is currently changing and shaping the way we will amuse ourselves in thefuture. The education world has not managed to escape the influences of newtechnologies. Governments have developed strategies to embed technology intoeducation and invested vast amounts of money to do so (WAG, 2002; DfES, 2005). Theuncomplicated way in which communication, multimedia and information sources can belinked today is having an impact on education. Responses by teachers, tutors andlecturers have been ambivalent. Standish shows some of the problems teachers identifiedin relation to ICT: The transformative power of the Internet for education should not be in doubt. But neither is it doubted by many of those who fear its effects. Their hostility relates to the potential of the Internet to reduce knowledge to information, to displace the immediacy of classroom interaction, or to fragment and depersonalise learning. (Standish, 2000, p. 153)As the pace of change is fast it is hard for teaching staff to keep up with the changes.Not all people see problems; some observers of the developments feel we shouldembrace change and suggest that to get the best out of the new media, it is important tolet go of the traditional class-room ways of teaching and learning altogether and look atteaching in a new light (Bereiter, 2002; Lankshear & Knobel, 2003; Lee, 2000, Siemens,2008b). Lankshear and Knobel refer to school classrooms, saying that 37
  • 49. all sort of contrived practices have been created in order to find ways to accommodating new technologies to classroom “ways”. It has wasted the potential of new technologies to provide bridges to new forms of social and cultural practice. (Lankshear & Knobel, 2003, p. 1)Lee and Scardamalia and Bereiter are concerned that educational institutions do not takeenough notice of the ways in which learners use technology outside an educationalenvironment (Lee, 2000; Scardamalia & Bereiter, 1994). Lee identifies in the teenagersof today a way of “chaotic” learning, happily venturing into the unknown, and learning as they “do” and discover. . . .The “Net” users appear at ease handling a variety of tasks at once, and moving from one activity to another in a seemingly random manner. [They] not only make extensive use of the electronic networks, but network with like minded folk across the world in their learning. (Lee, 2000, p. 1)Moreover, the future possibilities of the Semantic Web with its ability to “understand”information (Matthews, 2005) will have a profound effect on the role of humans indeveloping and creating knowledge. The organisation of information and communicationinto searchable and interlinked systems has become crucial and is seen to change theoverload of information into manageable systems. The business world has grasped thepotential fragmentation of knowledge and devised data and information capturingsystems that not only store, but also connect information, knowledge managementsystems, in order to capture valuable knowledge in the workplace (Kidd, 2002). Downespoints out that knowledge acquisition does require evaluation and assimilation (Downes,2003) while Drucker, when discussing e-Learning in the business sector, argues that‘success depends less on the amount of information you have than on the number ofconnections you can form and reform to link information and people’ (Drucker, 2000, p.6). For information to transform into knowledge, human thinking and interaction will berequired. Furthermore, as Gulati (2003) and Selwyn and Gorard (2004) argue, for ICT-assisted learning to really become effective, formal learning needs to be complementedwith informal online learning as students need opportunities to relate what they learn totheir own context.In many education institutions a Virtual Learning Environment has been added to thephysical learning space and electronic libraries and knowledge banks are supplementingtheir physical counterparts. Moreover, Web 2.0 technologies have made their way into 38
  • 50. educational institutions and some learning technologists (Arina, 2006; Wilson et al,2006; Lankshear & Knobel, 2006) envisage how they can be used to move from ahierarchical teaching approach that is structured in courses, controlled by the institutionusing a lecturing model in an enclosed environment, accumulating individual knowledge,to a networked approach that is adaptive to learners’ needs, that uses an aggregationmodel in a personalised open learning environment, that is a fluid extension of the widerinformal personal space and that facilitates a new way of knowing and learning.A transition to the latter model could clearly lead to an undermining of the authority ofthe knowledge-keepers of the past as people can communicate and find knowledgeableothers on a global scale, can collaborate informally on knowledge creation projects suchas wikis, and discuss topics of interest with others, while at the same time connect this toinformation that is readily available. They can bypass academia altogether. Social toolsare already called disruptive technologies as they are changing the work-practices ofjournalists and broadcasters and might also change educational practice (Kop, 2007).2.3. TECHNOLOGY ENHANCED LEARNINGOver the past decades Information and Communication Technology has changeddramatically. Twenty years ago most computers were used to create efficiency in theoffice, but ICT development has now moved very much into the realm of the home.People used to use technology for writing letters, creating spreadsheets or databases andperhaps emails, but now technology facilitates communication and the sharing ofinformation, documents and images on a global scale in a host of new ways. The moveaway from connecting via dial-up telephony to Internet based protocols, and thewidespread availability and use of broadband has been one important factor in thisdevelopment. The other has been the playfulness and imagination especially of youngpeople when using the technology, which has led to a creative boom and the developmentof more inventive applications.The explosion of mobile phone photography, blogs and wikis and their fast distributionand linkage via RSS feeds to networks of people in the blogosphere has already had itsinfluence on the traditional media, even disrupted them and pushed their developmentinto new directions, and changed their communication from a “broadcasting” to a “manyto many” format (Huffington, 2006). 39
  • 51. Adult educators have been reluctant to engage with these technological developmentsand have more likely than not seen them as undermining the traditions of adult education(Martin, 2006). Technology has been too widely used by politicians to push for aneconomic discourse with an agenda of upskilling the workforce (Blair, 2000; Leitch,2006), something which took concrete shape in the vocationalisation of the curriculum.Moreover, the naïve enthusiasm of learning technologists and the failure of initial high-profile and well-funded e-learning programmes (Bacsich & Bristow, 2004) alsocontributed to a scepticism of what ICT could offer adult education.The discourses of adult education, such as the social purpose tradition and liberal adulteducation, have been marginalised in favour of one promoting economic competitivenessand free-trade globalization in recent years – lifelong learning in what has been termed a“learning society”, rather than adult education for social change. Learning opportunities arebeing created away from institutions in community centres, the workplace, at home.Technology has accelerated this development and the effect of the latest Internettechnologies, and the possibilities they offer for personalization, community and network-forming, are seen as drivers for further change in adult education.2.3.1. Adult Education and new technologiesIn Europe, the UK and Wales e-Learning strategies have been developed (WAG, 2004),which contain objectives based on enhancing connectivity of individuals and institutions,content of online courses, confidence and competence of people in using ICT forlearning. The European Union commissioned extensive research in the effective use oftechnology in education, and innovation in education through the use of technology inFramework 5, 6 and 7. Extensive research and development projects in the use of ICT inteaching and learning, and in how teaching and learning can be innovated and supportedthrough ICT have also been carried out through funding by Joint Information SystemsCommittee (JISC), funded by UK governments.E-learning sparked the imagination of governments who could see a return oninvestments because of expected economies of scale. This was shown to be an expensivemistake at the height of the “”-boom in 2000, when the then UK Secretary ofState for Education David Blunkett launched the UK eUniversities Worldwide project,investing £55 million and expecting to attract a million students by 2010. It was 40
  • 52. envisaged that the future would lie in online learning, but after it only managed to attract900 students by 2004 the project was abandoned (Bacsich & Bristow, 2004). One couldargue that a project of this size and nature needs more time to develop. It was also takingplace at a time that the majority of the population did not have access to computers andmight not have had the confidence and competence to study online (National Statistics,2002). Gradually more people purchased computers and as funding for ICTinfrastructure in institutions, libraries, community schools and community centresensured ICT competence and a growing confidence in using ICTs in the generalpopulation, ICT enthusiasts started developing their first online courses.Clarke argued that it is important to address access issues and to realise that e-learningcannot only be seen as a cheap educational fix : ‘in order for online learning to fulfil itspotential, the needs of disadvantaged individuals and communities must be carefullyconsidered and the use of online methods tailored to meet these needs’ (Clarke, 2002, p.3). This is also emphasised in numerous publications by Selwyn and Gorard in theirresearch on adults and ICT (Selwyn & Gorard, 2002; Selwyn & Gorard, 2004; Selwyn etal, 2005).Some commonly used technologies are not perceived as learning tools by students. Forexample, mobile phone texting, social networking tools such as Facebook and messagingtools such as MSN are commonly used but may not be associated with formal learning.Attewell in her research on mobile learning has suggested that integrating the technologythat students use in their daily life and giving value to for instance mobile phones andchat, can help non-traditional learners fight resistance to the use of ICT in formaleducation (Attewell, 2005).In traditional “brick and mortar” universities the first online courses mimicked the face-to-face classroom environment and were later developed and commercialised intoVirtual Learning Environments (VLEs) and integrated in institutional administration andmanagement systems. Gulati questioned the wisdom of the purchase of VLEs by 86.3%of UK Colleges and Universities by 2003 without too much evidence on how thesewould actually improve the learning experience of students. It is only in recent years thatresearch in the use of VLEs has been carried out (Gulati, 2006; Weller, 2010). 41
  • 53. In distance education institutions, such as the Open University in the UK, the VLE wasintroduced as part of a progression via a long road of development in communicationwith students. Educators there researched and developed communication structures withstudents, which progressed from tutorials and telephone conferencing systems in the 70sto synchronous and asynchronous computer mediated communication systems. Theseevolved (Mason and Bacsich, 1998; Mason & Kaye, 1989) to more sophisticated systemslinked to resources in the 90s and their Moodle system with First Class and social mediaapplications today.In the past three years, as the Web 2.0 tools are coming of age and mobile technologieshave been introduced in the educational field, other strategies are being tested. LearningTechnologists have been instrumental in the debate on teaching and learning, as thetechnology used in a learning environment determines what type of interaction betweenlearners and tutors will be possible in a technology-rich environment. A number ofdifferent theories of knowledge and learning have come to the fore under the influence ofnew developments in ICT.2.3.2. The learning spaceThe way we teach and learn is influenced by a number of factors and as alreadymentioned in the introduction, “the place” in which teaching and learning takes placeinfluences the process. The virtual learning space could be perceived to be different frommore traditional sites of learning, which induces a different learning experience.Peters (1999) described some of the characteristics of the virtual learning space: thelocations are not set, they are not surrounded by walls, but are open and infinite; peoplecan access learning spaces all over the world and people all over the globe, and theamount of information is limitless; the distances between the people involved arevariable and varied – one moment people could be interacting with somebody fromanother country, in another the interaction could be with friends in the same town.Distances do not have an effect on the interaction, and the spaces appear more value-neutral than in the traditional learning environment, and do not have a quality ofexperience comparable with real spaces. The familiar spatial patterns are missing: left,right, top, bottom don’t matter, it is the hyperlink that connects. In the words of Turkle:all representation is ‘liberated from the constraints of physical reality’ (Turkle, 1995, p. 42
  • 54. 103) and for the viewer a new virtual world comes into existence with infinitepossibilities to learn. People can interact with objects or get immersed in playing a game.They can communicate with their tutor as if they sit opposite them, seemingly closer thanin a lecture theatre.Such enormous change in a relatively short space of time has an effect on the confidenceof the people involved. Older people, whose experience of teaching and learning hasbeen steeped in traditional teaching approaches will question the need for change. Ofcourse, the mindset of the people involved is an important factor. A tutor who has had allher education in the traditional way, will need to be convinced that the new way ofteaching is valuable. On the other hand, the mindset of people born into the age of ICT,who have been immersed in technology all their lives, will already be adapted to rapiddevelopments (Frand, 2000).Teaching and learning is not only influenced by the space in which it takes place, or thetraditions in which they developed, but also by the views of the people who design thelearning opportunity and who work in the classroom.2.3.3. Theories of mind, knowledge and (online) learningLeach et al (1999) at the Open University adapted Alexander’s framework to give a goodoverview, not only of the observable influences on institutional teaching practice, such asthe subjects taught, the administration and pedagogy used, but also of the views, culturesand beliefs that act upon the curriculum in a more subtle way. These influences are notalways obvious in day-to-day practice, but teachers are steeped in ideas, beliefs andcultures that influence teaching and learning; ideas rooted in past traditions but stillevolving. Figure 1 highlights the influences on educational practice. 43
  • 55. Figure 1 2.3.3. Influences on education practices (Adapted from Leach et al, 1999)Leach et al posit that values and beliefs of educators and those managing educationalinstitutions have an impact on activities taking place in teaching and learning settings.The views on mind, knowledge and learning of educators will influence how peopleteach, while teachers’ and learners’ context, interests and experience will also have aninfluence on class room practice. Leach et al (1999, p. 9.) raise some key questions inrelation to education: ‘What is an educated person? Why should learners be educated inthis way? What should learners learn? And how should it be learned, taught andassessed’? Their framework only deals with formal education based in an institution, butas technology affords possibilities for different, more informal and personalised learning,an informal, networked approach of learning will also be taken into account.An important aspect of understanding how people learn is informed by psychology andbefore considering the theories of the mind relevant to this thesis a brief outline of themain developments in the discipline will be outlined.Psychology as an experimental science began in the late nineteenth century with thework of Wundt, James, and others and this was closely followed by the inauguration ofFreud’s method of psychoanalysis. Both of these approaches drew on a dualistic module 44
  • 56. of the reality which posited the conscious mind as a reality on a par with the physicalworld of matter and energy. (Lyons, 2001)In the early twentieth century, Watson launched the behaviourist approach to psychologyin reaction to the perceived lack of success and objectivity of both the subjectiveapproach of Freud and the introspective studies of Wundt. Behaviourism emphasised themethod of laboratory based animal experiments which avoided any reference to theconscious mind and focussed attention on the relationship between behaviour and theenvironment. Behaviourist methodology had much in common with philosophicalpositivism and dominated academic psychology until the second half of the twentiethcentury. This broadly biological approach to psychology has much in common withevolution as an explanation in psychology which has become important in recentdecades. (Lyons, 2001)Behaviourism’s dominance began to decline with the powerful criticism of thebehaviourist model of language acquisition by the linguist Noam Chomsky. (Lyons,2001) Technological developments during and after the second world war helped torenew interest in psychological explanations involving mental states and representations.The rise of computer science, ideas about information processing, and developments inneuroscience led to the development of the broad field of cognitive science. (Lyons,2001) A recent influential trend in cognitive science, influenced by ecology, is theconsideration of the importance of the environment in addition to the mind and body –situated cognition (Robbins & Aydede, 2008) .The thesis will mostly focus on aspects of the cognitive science picture of the mind – thesymbol processing / computational model and the situated view - although somereference to behaviourism will be made. Theories of mindEducation theorists grappling with the way the mind works have asked a number ofquestions to establish what influences our learning: How important is the world “inside”our minds when we come to grips with the social processes and artefacts around us?How important is context in the way we acquire knowledge? Educationalists havewondered about the importance of our answers to these questions in devising strategies 45
  • 57. for teaching and learning. The two theoretical traditions within cognitive science alreadyidentified for further discussion of this issue are: 1. The “symbol-processing” or“computational” view of mind. The focus of theorists in this tradition has been tounderstand learning in terms of an individual’s internal mental processing and thesymbolic representations of mind. 2. The “situated” view of mind or “culturalism”. In thesituated approach theorists see human knowledge and interaction as inseparable from theworld in which they operate. (Bruner, 1999) The symbol-processing view of mindBredo explored the symbol-processing view of mind and provided following definition: ‘The human brain is seen as an information processing system that receives encoded messages through its sensory and motor connections, which interact with information held in its memory, to make sense of them by creating a symbol representation of the problem and using heuristics to identify solutions.’ (Bredo, 1999, p. 28.)He identified three dualisms on which this approach is based, Firstly a separation oflanguage and reality. The symbol-processing view of mind accepts that symbols mirrorreality. Knowledge is seen as a store of representations, which can be translated intolanguage, which can then be used for reasoning. The only way to find out if ourrepresentations of the world are correct is by checking them against the world, which isdifficult in this view, as our only contact with the world is via these representations. Thesecond dualism on which the computational view of mind is based, is the separation ofmind and body. All learning is seen in terms of conceptual processes located in theindividual’s head, without physical interaction with the surroundings. Bredo describesas the third dualism the split between the individual and society. In the symbol-processing perspective thinking, learning and development are seen as processes takingplace inside the individual, with social influences coming from the outside. There is aseparation of the learner from the environment, with the learner seen as acting on theenvironment, rather than as being immersed in it. There is a divide between the knowerand the known.Bruner saw this view as involved with information processing: ‘how finite, coded,unambiguous information about the world is inscribed, sorted, collated, retrieved, andgenerally managed by a computational device.’ (Bruner, 1999, p. 148) In his view this isnot the only way the mind works. 46
  • 58. The situated view of mindBruner argued that the symbol-processing theory of mind might not offer enough of aview on how the mind works as ‘the process of knowing is often messier, more fraughtwith ambiguity than such a view allows.’ He also highlighted that how the mind worksmight depend on the tools it has at its disposal and that with the addition of computers tobooks in recent years we might ‘change our mind on how mind works.’ Bruner furtherargued that the mind would not exist without culture and that human knowledge andinteraction are inseparable from the world. ‘Although meanings are in the mind, theyfind their origin and meaning in the community in which they were created. . . . It isculture that provides the tools for organizing and understanding our worlds incommunicable ways’ (Bruner, 1999, p. 148-149). The mind is both represented by andrealized in the use of human culture. This mode is not only shared by a community, butalso passed on from generation to generation to maintain a culture’s way of life andidentity. Meanings are in the mind, but they find their origin and meaning in thecommunity in which they were created. Human knowledge and interaction areinseparable from the world. The biological viewIf we compare these views of mind with biological theories of the brain, starting with theview of Galton in 1869, who argued that human intelligence was largely a matter ofgenetic inheritance, we can conclude that views have changed considerably over theyears.The belief in innate capacities has influenced what was taught, who was taught and howsubjects were taught for many years. Research into the effects of coaching and practiceon IQ test results has challenged the belief in innate ability. In their argument for theprovision of opportunities for all, rather than only to support people with great aptitudefor music, Sloboda et al explained how early learning opportunities in music increasemusical ability greatly (Sloboda et al, 1999). Edelman who studied the nervous system indetail, saw the mind as a mechanism that continuously communicates through the activemaps of the brain and he saw experience as active and constructed by the individual(Sacks, 1999). This is in line with the situated view of mind, which sees the learneracting with rather than on the environment. It is in contrast to the symbol-processing 47
  • 59. view of mind and memory as a database. It also resonates with Resnick’s view of a brainas being “plastic”: it will change through intellectual activity (Leach et al, 1999). Theories of knowledgeThe Wikipedia described “knowledge” as: what is known. Like the related concepts truth, belief, and wisdom, there is no single definition of knowledge on which scholars agree, but rather numerous theories and continued debate about the nature of knowledge. Knowledge acquisition involves complex cognitive processes: perception, learning, communication, association, and reasoning. The term knowledge is also used to mean the confident understanding of a subject, potentially with the ability to use it for a specific purpose. . . . Knowledge is the awareness and understanding of facts, truths or information gained in the form of experience or learning “a posteriori”, or through introspection “a priori”. Knowledge is an appreciation of the possession of interconnected details which, in isolation, are of lesser value. (Wikipedia, 2007)This was its definition in 2007. The description of knowledge today (January 2010) inthe Wikipedia is quite different. The Wikipedia is a “wiki”, a social software application,which according to its enthusiasts allows for “collective knowledge creation”. TheWikipedia has been produced by the collective effort of numerous people all over theglobe. The following section will expand on the possible changes to knowledge that theemergence of new technologies has brought about, but this definition of knowledgeillustrates how the concept of knowledge is currently contested.Throughout the ages the concept of knowledge has been defined in different ways. Theearliest accounts of discussions on knowledge, which I will throughout this thesis refer toas “traditional knowledge” were associated with Plato’s Republic (Lewis, 1999). Platomade the distinction between episteme, knowledge, which was valued highly as it wasconsidered to be pure truth, and which was reached by means of intelligence and reason,exemplified in mathematics. Doxa on the other hand was “opinion”, and included thevisible physical realm, culture, that could never be “true knowledge”. Knowledge wasidentified with justified true belief and has a reliability that belief does not have (O’Hara,2002; Delanty, 2001).This idea was developed by the classical thinkers of antiquity and the medieval scholars(Hadot, 2002) but even today there is an important sense in which Plato’s definition of 48
  • 60. knowledge is still considered to capture an important aspect of the concept of knowledge(Boghossian,2007; Gutting, 2009) . However, this changed in emphasis and detailsubstantially with the invention of the printing press.Since the Enlightenment and in the era of “mass print literacy”, the textbook was themedium of instruction and the prime goal of the education system was effectivetransmission of the canons of scholarship. This traditional form of knowledge wasshaped inside the university, which meant that universities were the authority ofknowledge. Knowledge was closely related to the sciences and seen to be objective,based on facts. In the more human areas of science, e.g. ecology and psychology, theobjectivity started to be lost to a certain extent as the context in which these domainswere situated were seen to play a more prominent role. Usher et al state that postmodernism enables a questioning of the scientific attitude and scientific method, of the universal efficacy of technical-instrumental reason, and of the stance of objectivity and value-neutrality in the making of knowledge claims. (Usher et al, 1997, p.7)In late modernity, in addition to traditional knowledge, “useful knowledge” became moreprominent. Knowledge became commodified and its main value was to be its usefulnessto society (Wheelahan, 2005; Delanty, 2001); the application of knowledge, which isproblem-driven and characterised by the context of its application. It crosses boundariesof disciplines, is seen by some to be more creative and less hierarchical than traditionalknowledge, and is shaped outside the university (Wheelahan, 2005). ‘Traditionalknowledge is homogenous and relatively autonomous. Useful knowledge isheterogeneous and, it is claimed, more socially accountable and reflexive’ (Delanty,2001, p. 110).Some argue that the authority of particular people in developing knowledge has beeninfluenced by the circumstances of the time. Gandel et al (2004) stated that in antiquitythe scarcity of written material ensured a highly controlled environment. Knowledgedissemination was slow and access to knowledge and learning was restricted to theprivileged elite. The prevailing technologies did not allow for extensive distribution untilprinting was invented and developed (Gandel et al, 2004). At that time the need forexpertise in social and economic development required universities to be developed, butmainly disciplinary knowledge was valued and taught. Guy argued that ‘the debate – 49
  • 61. indeed the war – over what counts as knowledge is intrinsically linked to who gets to saywhat counts as knowledge’ and that the people who were the authority on knowledgethroughout the ages might have only shown one part of the knowledge picture because ofthe context in which they operated (Guy, 2004, p. 142). Does this imply that a differenttype of knowledge is called for?Barnett (2004) had his own interpretations of knowledge in relation to uncertaintyand change. He would like to see curriculum and pedagogy to move away fromknowledge and skills to be a “pedagogy for human beings”. He discussed a thirdform of knowledge which would involve learners thinking about and confrontingthemselves with the uncertainties and dilemmas in their lives and in their field ofknowledge, in which the human being itself is implicated. This is similar to ideasby Beck (1986) and Jansen & van der Veen (1992) on learning in the RiskSociety. Delanty broadened this from individual learners to society andinstitutions: ‘By knowledge I mean the capacity of a society for learning, acognitive capacity that is related to the production of cultural models andinstitutional innovation’ (Delanty, 2001, p. 5). He particularly referred to the wayknowledge has penetrated all areas of life. The notion of a knowledge society hasdeveloped at a time when the distance between professional and lay knowledgehas diminished.Wheelahan, when discussing vocational education, indicates that a person needs all threemodes of knowledge to live in an ever changing world: Learning that is entirely based in the work-place or in the educational institution is inadequate – both are needed, and students need to be able to make connections between them. This provides the scaffolding students can use to consider propositional knowledge – it is not to be learnt for its own sake or as dead knowledge, but as an intellectual tool to be used in practice. (Wheelahan, 2005, p. 639)The Internet has added fuel to the debate on knowledge as learning technologists can seea different form of knowledge emerging through the connective nature of new Internettools. Downes speaks of ‘connected knowledge’, Siemens of ‘Connectivism’. They arguethat ‘knowledge … is distributive, that is, not located in any given place (and thereforenot ‘transferred’ or ‘transacted’ per se) but rather consists of the network of connections 50
  • 62. formed from experience and interactions with a knowing community’ (Downes, 2006, p.1).The third form of knowledge, as defined by Barnett and Wheelahan (2005), and ideas ofdistributive knowledge are contested. Paul Boghossian (2007) for instance rejects theseforms of knowledge. He emphasises the need for knowledge to be objective. Heparticularly values ‘universality’ and ‘mind-independence’ of knowledge. In addition, hesees ‘justified true belief’ as the best definition of ‘knowledge’ and rejects knowledge as‘socially constructed’. He does not deny that knowledge could be producedcollaboratively, or that people’s social and political values may influence the knowledgethey produce; but he argues that ‘many facts about the world are independent of us, andhence independent of our social values and interests’ (Boghossian, 2007, p. 20). Hefurther claims that there should always be evidence to support that particular beliefs areindependent from our social background to transform them into knowledge. He rejectsthe relativist view that constructivists, such as Rorty, hold that there are no factsindependent from the world in which people live and that the justification of facts willnever be independent from us and our social context.Rorty (1997) does not reject the traditional view of knowledge and truth, but argues thatthey are always influenced by the context in which they are applied. He also states that assoon as we try to think about these concepts in an abstract way and move away fromtheir contextual application, they lose their core critical content and do not provide uswith guidance to action at all; they become semantic ‘word games’ without substantivemeaning to everyday life. Theories of learning - From Behaviourism to ConnectivismMany theories of learning have been proposed over the ages and two main positions havebeen identified in these theories, although some cross between the two positions: 1.Didactic models linked to symbol-processing views of mind, such as behaviourism andcognitivism, where the tutor is thought to transmit knowledge and the student willacquire it. 2. Models linked to situated views of mind, such as social constructivism andcommunity of practice, where the learner is thought to build on experience and formerlyacquired knowledge by participating and interacting in a social context (Rogers, 2002).Sfard (1998) related these two positions in theories of learning to the way learners 51
  • 63. interact with knowledge. The first group was linked to an “acquisition metaphor”, whilethe second group of views was linked to a “participation metaphor”. To provide clarityabout theories of learning, these metaphors will be used to highlight the majordifferences for learners in each theory.In the introduction of this section, 2.3.3. , psychological issues in relation tobehaviourism have already been highlighted. Behaviourism has developed a considerablebody of ideas and methods that show how to shape and modify behaviour and aidlearning. These approaches concentrate on overt behaviour. Behaviourists posit that welearn by receiving stimuli from our environment that provokes a response. The teacherreinforces the approved responses while discouraging the ‘wrong’ responses. Anexample would be training how to ride a bike or car, or indeed the acquisition of almostany skill. Once acquired these skills are no longer subject to any conscious thought andthis typifies the most important area of behaviourist method for this dissertation.Indeed, behaviourist research has discovered a wealth of learning that requires no, oralmost no, conscious thought. This makes the acquisition metaphor the only oneapplicable to this theory. Of course, conditioning by reinforcing, encouraging, anddiscouraging, implies that the tutor is in charge in this interaction; he or she is all-knowing and leads the process. This may be most appropriate for skills training butperhaps less appropriate for more complex learning and thinking.In cognitivism the subject material that the teacher-agent has chosen and that the learnerseeks to master dominates the learning process. On the one end of the spectrum a form ofcomputational learning takes place, but moving to the other side, more reflection andreasoning take place in learning. There is an active engagement of the mind in learning .Both behaviourist and cognitive theorists recognise that low-level and high-levellearning takes place. Learning is hierarchical and advances as more and more learningtakes place. Not all learners will achieve the highest level. In this view knowledge can bethought of as a commodity, easily divided into ‘chunks’ which can be digested andinternalized by learners. The acquisition metaphor applies. Once acquired, knowledgecan be ‘banked’ as an abstract entity stored in the mind of the learner (Freire, 1972).Constructivism developed from cognitivism and, in addition to the subject knowledgethat tutors supply, formerly acquired knowledge and experience of students is 52
  • 64. acknowledged and students are encouraged to actively construct their ways of knowing,while building an understanding linking what they learn with their personal experience.There should be room for self-directed problem solving, so the participation metaphorapplies and a tutor will have to allow for a dynamic process, give more options to allowfor students with different backgrounds.From this developed social-constructivism with which the name of Vygotsky is mostoften connected. He identified two important elements in the learning process:“language” and “scaffolding.” He noted that children used self-talk to work their waythrough complex problems and externalized them through self-guidance and self-direction. This is important as social interaction with others helps to formulate speech inthe child. In addition, instructional scaffolding, in the form of encouragement andreviewing of materials provides support for learning and problem solving and reducescomplex problems into “manageable chunks” (Kop & Hill, 2008). Social interaction andparticipation in activities with (more knowledgeable) others are key to this view oflearning and make the participation metaphor most appropriate.Wenger, while arguing for social interaction, suggests that learning does not only takeplace within a learning institution: ‘Our institutions . . . are largely based on theassumption that learning is an individual process, that it has a beginning and an end, thatit is best separated from the rest of our activities, and that it is the result of teaching’(Wenger, 1998, p. 3). He put forward that learning is lifelong and lifewide, embedded inour lives. Other theorists have argued that most of our learning takes place outside aformal classroom (Illich, 1971, Dron, 2002). With the introduction of new technologies anew intensity in the debate on the role of informal and non-formal learning has ignited.(Sharples et al, 2005; Gulati, 2006; Selwyn, 2005; Vavoula, 2005; Downes, 2006). We learn across space as we take ideas and learning resources gained in one location and apply or develop them in another. We learn across time, by revisiting knowledge that was gained in an earlier, in a different context, and more broadly, through ideas and strategies gained in earlier years providing a framework for a lifetime of learning. We move from topic to topic, managing a range of personal learning projects, rather than following a single curriculum. (Sharples et al, 2005, p. 2)Lave and Wenger researched the way people learn in their daily lives and suggested thetypology of a ”community of practice”, which is based on the premises that humans are 53
  • 65. social beings, that knowledge is developed through active engagement in valuedundertakings. Learning is no longer seen as individual, but learners make sense of theirsurroundings in a social setting, by communicating with others. Knowledge is situatedwithin a community, and knowledge is dependent on its social context. People build onearlier experiences and knowledge (Lave & Wenger, 2002). Translating this into aneducational environment, they aim to leave behind a curriculum dominated by theteacher, the institution and the government, and to embrace a curriculum in which thestudents take control of their learning, make connections with their own experiences andknowledge in cooperative activities with their fellow learners. Initially the tutor might bethe expert, but by engaging the learners in participation in problem-solving activities,information gathering exercises and communication with peers, experts facilitate theirmove from the periphery to the centre of the learning community, which they call“legitimate peripheral participation”. They advocate an apprenticeship model, where themaster guides the apprentice to the centre of the community of practice. Activeparticipation in learning activities, rather than passively receiving knowledge from theteacher is key in their theory and Sfard’s (1998) metaphor of participation would fitbest.Fenwick described the notion of ecological pedagogy that takes this one step further. Sheargues that ‘pedagogy is grounded not only in community and in social relations, but alsoin the natural, the cultural and biological. Learning is embedded in our lived-in world”.(Fenwick, 2005, p.1.).Siemens (2008a) and Downes (2006) have argued in the past few years that it is time fora new learning theory fit for the 21st century that would take account of the newtechnological realities of the Internet and the new tools it brings with it. They started adebate via the Internet, in the blogosphere in 2005, through online global conferences(200 participants in 2007) and large online courses (number of participants 2200 in2008). As their ideas are pertinent to this thesis, their theory has been examined moreclosely than the other theories. Is Connectivism a learning theory?Kop and Hill (2008) in Connectivism: Learning Theory of the Future or Vestige of thePast? provided an analysis of a body of literature to establish if Connectivism can be 54
  • 66. seen as a learning theory. It was written after the 2007 online “Connectivism” conferenceheld by the University of Manitoba and draws on the relevant conference discussions andconference wikis, while also drawing on discussions and papers available on the Interneton the subject in addition to the literature. This sub-section will draw heavily from thearticle.The concept of Connectivism as a learning theory has had some criticism, including fromVerhagen (2006), who argued that the theory remains unsubstantiated philosophising thatlacks substance, while Kerr suggested that existing theories, such as socialconstructivism and Papert’s constructivism “satisfactorily address the needs of learningin today’s technologically, connected age”. Proponents of Connectivism are ‘exploring amodel of learning that reflects the network-like structure evident in online interactions’(Siemens, 2008, p. 12), but is this enough to constitute its formulation as a new learningtheory, and does Connectivism have anything new to offer?Kop and Hill put forward the need for some criteria to establish Connectivism as alearning theory. They used the criteria set out by Miller in “Theories of DevelopmentalPsychology” (1993) to clarify differences between a “theory” and a “developmentaltheory”. Miller (1993) posits that an emerging theory should adhere to the principles ofscientific research, and thus use scientific methods, and be based on previouslyconducted studies. A theory should be logically constructed and verifiable throughtesting. A developmental theory would ‘describe changes within one or several areas ofbehaviour, describe changes in the relationships among several areas of behaviour andexplain the course of development that has been described in terms of the first two tasks(Miller, 1993, p. 5-6). They established that Connectivism could be seen as adevelopmental theory, but not a theory (Kop & Hill, 2008, p. 3) as the documents writtenabout ‘connectivism’ did not include any verifiable evidence, but were describingpossible changes in people’s behaviour.What exactly is Connectivism?Connectivism is a view of learning that Siemens (2006a) characterised as the extensionof learning, knowledge and understanding through the expansion of a personal network.In Connectivism, the starting point for learning would be the moment a learner feedsinformation into a learning community. A learning community is described as a node, 55
  • 67. which is always part of a larger network. Nodes are the connection points that are foundon a network and a network consists of two or more nodes linked in order to shareinformation and resources. Nodes may be of varying size and strength, depending on theconcentration of information and the number of individuals involved in a particular node(Downes, 2006).Siemens (2008a) asserts that knowledge is distributed across an information network andcan be stored in a variety of digital formats. Learning and knowledge are said to “rest indiversity of opinions” (Siemens, 2008a) and in connectivism learning happens incognitive and affective domains and both contribute to the learning process in importantways (Kop and Hill, 2008).Boghossian (2007) with his traditional view of knowledge would have major objectionsto the lack of justification of opinions and the perhaps somewhat naïve belief that oncepeople are connected on networks, the volume of information and people’s capacity tofilter out untruths will ensure the creation of knowledge. Downes understands that thismight be problematic and emphasised the importance of diversity, openness, autonomyand connectedness for connectivism to work well (Downes, 2007a) and also starteddiscussions on “critical literacies” (Downes, 2009b).Siemens further explains that, ‘The capacity to know is more critical than what isactually known’ (Siemens, 2008a). The ability to make decisions on the basis ofinformation that has been aggregated from networks is considered integral to the learningprocess. One might question if this is any different from how learning is explained inother learning theories. The only difference seems to be that it happens on a larger scaleand with an exponentially increasing amount of information.In connectivism there is not an overarching tutor, and there is no acquisition ofknowledge. The knowledge resides on the network (Downes, 2006) and is produced byinteracting nodes. These human nodes might produce digital artefacts and publish themonline and it is in this participative activity that learning occurs. One could argue thatacquisition takes place amongst the people “surfing the network” looking forinformation. They go to trusted sources for their information, which could be compared 56
  • 68. to a tutor in a formal education environment who distribute knowledge. So both Sfard’s(Sfard, 1998) to acquisition and the acquisition metaphor would apply. This is not theway Downes and Siemens see knowledge “movement” on the network, however, theyposit that knowledge is not acquired, but remains on the network and as people producedigital artefacts related to their learning, which they distribute, that the participationmetaphor would be more appropriate.As Sfard (1998) argues, people believing in situated cognition, who define knowledgeand learning to form an integral part of the context in which it is produced and advocatethe metaphor of participation, seem to forget that the knowledge is built on earlierknowledge that has been acquired by learners. She further posits that ‘within theparticipationist framework, some powerful means for conceptionalization of learning arelost, and certain promising paths towards understanding its mechanisms are barred’Sfard, 1998, p. 10), suggesting that theorists should not totally disregard one or the othermetaphor, and that it might be impossible to convey in a learning theory all aspects ofeach learning context; It seems that the sooner we accept the thought that our work is bound to produce a patchwork of metaphors rather than a unified , homogenous theory of learning, the better for us and for those whose lives are likely to be affected by our work. (Sfard, 1998, p.12)The next section will examine which of these theories actually applies to adult learningand education in an era where technology is increasingly interwoven with the fabric oflearning.2.3.4. Discussion of theories of online learning and knowledgeLave and Wenger (2002) and Cobb (1999) emphasised constructivist and socio-culturalperspectives, aimed at leaving behind a teaching curriculum dominated by the teacher asexpert in her discipline, and embracing a learning curriculum in which the students takecontrol over their own learning, making connections with their own experiences andknowledge in cooperative activities with fellow- learners (Lave & Wenger, 2002; Cobb,1999). Active participation in collaborative learning activities would be at the heart ofthe learning experience, rather than passively receiving traditional knowledge from theteacher. This active element, and especially in a social context, has been embraced by 57
  • 69. developers of e-learning (Salmon, 2004; Laferièrre, 2006). The crux to active learningand understanding of new concepts in these views would be online collaboration.(Laferièrre, 2006; Mayes, 2002; Salmon, 2004, Gur & Wiley, 2007). Furthermore, asMayes suggests, ‘activity, motivation and learning are all related to a need for a positivesense of identity shaped by social forces’ (Mayes, 2002, p. 169). In the words of Lyotard:‘A self does not amount to much, but no self is an island; each exists in a fabric ofrelations that is now more complex and mobile than ever before’ (Lyotard, 1984, p. 15).Sfard (1998) emphasised, however, that it might not be a good idea to totally disregardtheories that adhere to the acquisition metaphor rather than the participation one, as insituated theories knowledge is not only based on participation, but also on experienceand earlier acquired knowledge that might have been acquired. Connected learning – networked learningSiemens, Downes, and Rennie & Mason have all argued that something fundamentallyhas changed with the latest developments of the Web: the ease of communication andalso the possibilities to use aggregators to bundle communications and informationtogether and filter them has meant that the context of learning has changed (Downes,2006; Siemens, 2006; Rennie & Mason, 2004). Downes coined the phrase ‘connectiveknowledge’, Siemens speaks of ‘Connectivism’, Rennie and Mason speak of ‘theconnecticon’. All three speak of connected learning. Goodyear et al (2004) andDirckinck-Holmfeld et al (2009) seem to prefer the term networked learning. There doesnot seem to be a fundamental difference between the two forms of learning, apart from apreference by particular authors to use one or the other term. Goodyear mentioned that‘networked learning is a diffuse idea’ (Goodyear, 2009,p.viii) and to clearly understandwhat we mean by “connected learning” or “networked learning”, it would be good tolook at how to define the term. Goodyear et al (2004) defined networked learning as: learning in which ICT is used to promote connections: between one learner and other learners; between learners and tutors; between a learning community and its learning resources (2004, p.1.)In the Web 2.0 era, where the affordances of the technologies allow for the making ofconnections with humans and resources, this definition seems appropriate. The word 58
  • 70. “connections” is seen to be the central word in this definition according to Jones andDirckinck-Holmfeld (2009) and this has also been the central term used by Downes(2006) and Siemens (2006) in their explanation of the term “connectivism”.The definition of networked learning as highlighted above does not preclude formaleducation or informal learning and it could be used for behaviourist or cognitive teachingand learning strategies, or (social) constructivist or community of practice, depending onthe nature of connections made. If they are one to many, from the top down, from thetutor to the learner, networked learning could be completely different from a settingwhere the connections are many-to-many and where they could run in any directionbetween the participant (s) and resources related to the learning. Sfard’s metaphors arerelevant here again as well. Depending on people’s view of education, the emphasiscould be on acquiring knowledge from others, or on participating in knowledge activitiesand communication and collaboration.Siemens and Downes argue that in a traditional formal education setting, where the tutoris in front of the group, or in an online environment where s/he is at the centre ofactivity, s/he will most likely be transferring traditional knowledge to the students, whichwould mean that the dynamics would be very different from a situation where the tutorwould have the role of facilitator, or where s/he would be completely absent. Theparticipation metaphor would come into existence and the acquisition one would becomeless prominent. Technology could in the era of Web 2.0 and the Semantic Web offer aperson a wide range of tools for research and communication. This would alter thelearning setting as in the past the scope for online communication was limited (Mason &Bacsich, 1998). Networked learning does not have to be restricted to formal learning,and with the proliferation of technology, networked learning is increasingly associatedwith informal learning.2.3.5. Online pedagogyThe rise of technology has, apart from its perceived influence on the economiccompetitiveness of nations, also pressurised society in a different way. It has lead to theincreasing bureaucratisation of institutions. Foucault mentioned the stifling influence oftechnological systems on hospitals, prisons and education, while Illich discussed therestriction on freedom, the ‘enclosure of the commons’, the increased policing and 59
  • 71. surveillance of everyday life (Foucault,1977; Illich, 1992, p. 51). Owen et al exploredseveral models of knowledge building in which the new Internet developments could beused to create a more open and less stifling learning environment. They drew on work byNonaka, Ashby and Bereiter and Scardamalia to link their findings to the ‘crit’, which isthe central feature in the teaching of creative practice in art, design and architectureschools as they could see similarities between the ‘crit’ and Internet-based learning usingthe latest technologies. ‘It consists of a critical dialogue between peers where work-in-progress is exposed for developmental discussion.’ They identify five qualities for the‘crit’ to function well: Intention/aspiration to create knowledge: a passion which needs encouragement to flourish; autonomy of workers: the students should have freedom to create; fluctuation and creative chaos: there should be few boundaries to the resources and the timescales across which students work (creativity is very difficult to fit into a room with bounded resources and a 50-minute period); redundancy: working on only one idea is counter-productive. Learners should not accept their first idea as the only idea; requisite variety: in this context we might mean sources of inspiration, cultural and physical tools, and sources of knowledge and so on. This implies access to a lot of resources. Thus a good writer’s workshop or art and design studio is not limited in thought, or by the walls, and should draw on all the world’s knowledge. (Owen et al, 2006, p. 36)The online community of practice is seen by them as the ideal place to achieve thesequalities, as the judgement by a group of trusted people and the place where you canpresent ideas without fear of rejection are important: ‘acquiring knowledge involves aninterplay between socially defined knowledge and personal experience which ismediated by membership of a group’ (Owen et al, 2006, p. 37).Other theorists (Arina, 2006; Siemens 2008b; Downes, 2006) identified how the secondwave of Internet technologies could be instrumental in moving from a hierarchicalteaching approach to a networked approach, where acquiring knowledge would bereplaced by participation in knowledge production. This could be wider than acommunity of practice. Web 2.0 technologies could facilitate the transformation from aneducational model that is structured in courses, controlled by the institution using aknowledge acquisition model in an enclosed environment, to becoming a model adaptiveto learners’ needs, owned by individuals, while using networked aggregators andcommunications tools in a personalised open learning environment and a participationmodel. This could become a fluid extension of the wider informal personal space. 60
  • 72. Communication could be facilitated through the use of social software such as blogs andwikis, while information could be validated by others on the Internet through socialbookmarking tools and recommender systems, in addition to tutors and experts furtherafield being members of their network. This resonates with the ideas of Illich in the1970s, who saw the need: 1. To liberate access to things by abolishing the control which persons and institutions now exercise over their educational values. 2. To liberate the sharing of skills by guaranteeing freedom to teach or exercise them on request. 3. To liberate the critical and creative resources of people by returning to individual persons the ability to call and hold meetings – an ability now interestingly monopolized by institutions which claim to speak for the people. 4. To liberate the individual from the obligation to shape his expectations to the services offered by any established profession- by providing him with the opportunity to draw on the experience of his peers and to entrust himself to the teacher, guide, adviser or healer of his choice. (Illich, 1971, p.103)His vision was to see people take ownership of the learning process, rather thaninstitutions to control education. In order for agency and participation to return to thelearning experience, Illich (1971, p. 2) called for ‘the possible use of technology to createinstitutions which serve personal, creative and autonomous interaction and theemergence of values which cannot be substantially controlled by technocrats.’ He sawthat the alternative to ‘scholastic funnels’ (Illich, 1992) would be true communicationwebs. However, moving from an institutionally controlled learning environment towardsan Internet-based open environment creates several problems. An important question toask is whether communication facilitated by this type of technology would be effectivein the learning process? Would communication with global communities of (possibly thesame) interest help in knowledge construction? How would communication comparewith the pre-VLE communications tools and VLE-based discussion boards that arecontrolled by the tutor? Would the move away from the acquisition metaphor towards aparticipation one be beneficial for learners? Communication and dialogue in online learningAs mentioned in section 1.1., communication and dialogue have been seen by some ascrucial components in the learning process. There have been a range of communicationstools in education since the 1970s. Systems such as First Class, which could, and still can,be used for synchronous and asynchronous communication have been used in distance 61
  • 73. education institutions since 1994 (Mason & Bacsich, 1998) and have become moresophisticated over time. Online communication is different from communication in a face-to-face environment; people send messages to and receive messages from people they mightnot know or trust. This causes challenges with communication, which have been seen asproblematic by many practitioners, particularly in terms of using discussion boards inVirtual Learning Environments (VLEs), but also in the pre-VLE era as problems with thequantity and quality of messages by learners were already noticed with the earlierconferencing systems (Mason & Bacsich, 1998). Issues of power and control, lack ofautonomy, high level of tutor support required, in addition to affective issues and a low levelof personalisation have all been identified as being challenging (Mason & Weller, 2001;Mann, 2005; Kop, 2006; Conrad, 2005).The relationship the learner has to the community he or she learns in is a determiningfactor in the learning process. Emerging Web 2.0 technologies are seen to foster positivecollaboration as they create an immediacy that has been missing from the VLE. By usingvideos to directly speak to tutor and learner, participants in the learning experience, a closeconnection might be facilitated. Chat has also been highlighted as a powerful tool to createsocial interaction and to enhance the social and affective engagement (Carroll et al, 2008).This “transactional nearness” resonates with the thoughts of critical educators such as Freireand Macedo (1999, p. 48) who emphasised that tutors should have a directive role. In thiscapacity, tutors would enter into a dialogue ‘as a process of learning and knowing’ withlearners, rather than the dialogue being a ‘conversation’ that would remain at the level of‘the individual’s lived experience’. Freire felt that this capacity for critical engagement isnot present if the role of educators is reduced to facilitators. It should be questioned if thiscapacity for critical engagement is possible at all in a connectivist networked environmentwhere people are likely to communicate with likeminded people, rather than look for thechallenge that a local tutor would provide.Siemens argues that the distributive effect of communication is one of the most importantfeatures of the new wave of Web 2.0 tools and highlights that the more connections withother people we can make, and the more networks we are connected to, the better we willcollaborate and develop ideas and learn, as long as we have effective structures in place toaccess and syndicate the messages (Siemens, 2006b). 62
  • 74. He does not make clear, however, how the transactional distance between people mightaffect the learning. Dron and Anderson (2007) give this considerable thought and do make aclear distinction between learning in groups, on networks and in collectives. They discussthe concept of presence and argue that there is a difference in presence and subsequentengagement in these three entities. They see the level of emotional engagement and presencebeing the highest in groups, which would be a typical classroom or distance educationstudent group. They would be lower for online networks, which would typically be theblogosphere, or the large informal online courses that are currently experimented with(Siemens & Downes, 2008, 2009); and the lowest for collectives, which would use tags toconnect. Jones et al (2008) make a similar distinction, but define the differences as the levelsof engagement between ‘strong’ and ‘weak’ ties. Dron and Anderson (2007) emphasise thatthere is an interrelationship between “engagement in learning”, “transactional distance”, and“emotional involvement”, based on organisation of learning, communication and learnerself-direction: the closer the feeling of connectedness, the higher the level of commitment tothe learning activity; the closer the relationship with the people involved in the undertaking,the higher the inclination to engage in communication and learning. Chaves in his “On-LineCurriculum Interaction Model” emphasises the need for the development of ‘virtualcommunity learning platforms’ that would incorporate tools facilitating verbal and non-verbal immediacy (Chaves, 2009, p. 7) in order to really engage learners. The concept of presenceAs technologies have proliferated and immersive environments and games haveemerged, the literature on presence has also grown (Metros, 2001; Carroll, 2008;Shedroff, 2009, Anderson, 2008). In Lombard and Ditton’s (1997) literature review onpresence six conceptualisations of presence were identified. Even though their reviewwas carried out in the late 90s, the six interrelated variations that they identified on theconcept of presence appear to be valid today. They are: 1. Presence and social richness. Scholars interested in communication and organisations identified the word presence with a medium which was ‘perceived as sociable, warm, sensitive, personal and intimate when it is used to interact with other people’ (Lombard & 63
  • 75. Ditton, 1997, p.4). In communications theory it was seen that communications media would have to overcome different communications constraints, such as ‘time, location, permanence, distribution and distance’ and also would be expected to convey the ‘social, symbolic, and nonverbal cues of human communication’. This form of presence is associated with ‘two important forms of non-mediated interpersonal communication: intimacy and immediacy’ in the form of body language through for instance smiling and eye contact, and also voice quality, speech duration and laughter (Lombard & Ditton, 1997, p.4-5). In this sense a medium high in ‘presence as social richness’ would convey a high level of intimacy. In addition, it is suggested that ‘choice of language can help create a sense of psychological closeness or immediacy’ and that the ‘choice of medium for interaction can also influence this sense of immediacy’ (Lombard & Ditton, 1997, p.5)2. Presence as realism Media that represent a realistic representation of people, objects and events also contribute to the level of presence. Television and film are media that try to do this. By creating a sense of reality in the pictures they produce and create an experience that would be plausible in real life (Lombard & Ditton, 1997) and thus make that people would like to be involved in the experience.3. Presence as transportation Presence as transportation could take three forms: it could transport people or scenes from different times or different places to the here and now, it could move us to other locations or other time zones, or these two are mixed to a time and place where they are shared. The idea in this form of presence is ‘the degree to which participants of a telemeeting get the impression of sharing space with interlocutors who are at a remote physical site’ (Mulbach et al, 1995, p.293). This could be in video or film, or through videoconferencing.4. Presence and immersion 64
  • 76. In this form of presence the participant perceives to be immersed in a virtual environment. This could entail not only psychological immersion, but also through the senses in for instance immersive virtual reality systems, simulations, IMAX theatres wearing 3D-glasses. As in 2, this would heighten people’s engagement with the experience. 5. Presence as social actor within medium In this form of presence a para-social interaction is created. This would entail for instance that ‘personalities use direct address camera views. . . informal speech patterns, sincerity, and simplicity . . . . In a parasocial interaction media users respond to social cues presented by persons they encounter witin a medium even though it is illogical and even inappropriate to do so’.(Lombard & Ditton, 1997, p.8). A heightened form of presence is created, where it seems that an interaction with the viewer or another person is taking place on the screen, while in reality this is not the case. Examples of these would be avatars, or examples have been highlighted of people talking to people on television screens (Lombard & Ditton, 1997) 6. Presence as medium as social actor In this form of presence participants in the media experience will interact socially to clues provided by computer programmes themselves (not representations of people). It seems that people respond to computers as social entities, especially if there are associations in the activity with social activities in real life, such as education. Lombard and Ditton (1997) gave the example of people being more susceptible to praise by a tutor in an intelligent tutoring system if it was given by a different computer than when their own computer praised its own performance.The main characteristic running through all six conceptualisations of presence is that of‘perceptional illusion of nonmediation’ (Lombard & Ditton, 1997). Lombard and Dittondefine presence as follows: The computer user experiences the subjective feeling that a medium or media-use experience produces a greater or lesser sense of presence is attributable to there 65
  • 77. being a greater or lesser number of instants during the experience in which the illusion of nonmediation occurs. (Lombard & Ditton, 1997, p. 10)In other words, if a participant in an online activity experiences the activity as if it wastaking place in real life, without the mediation of the computer there is a high level ofpresence. For the research of learning in virtual environments not all concepts arerelevant, but especially 1. of “presence as social richness” seems appropriate, and also 2“presence as realism”, 5 “presence as social actor within medium” and 6 “presence asmedium as social act” are relevant to a certain extent as they all relate to the socialinteraction of people with other human beings on the screen.Anderson (2008a) analysed how presence relates to online teaching and learning inparticular and posit that deep and meaningful learning results if three forms of presenceplay a role in education. He highlighted cognitive presence, that ensures a certain level ofdepth in the educational process, which could be compared to “intensity” as highlightedby Shedroff (2009) and “Vividness” by Lombard and Ditton (1997) in the creation ofmeaningful online experiences. Anderson also refers to social presence, which would besimilar to the social presence described by Lombard and Ditton, and in a formaleducational environment that of a teacher presence.Lombard and Ditton (1997) further expand on the causes and effects of presence andposit the most important factors related to presence are “sensory richness” and“vividness”, which are also issues brought up by Shedroff (2009) as important factors inenhancing online experiences in the form of “sensorial triggers” and “intensity”.Moreover, they highlight that the higher the number of human senses engaged in theactivity, the higher the presence experienced will be. Lombard and Ditton (1997) arguethat ‘visual media have more social presence than verbal (audio) media, which in turnhave more social presence than written media. Particular camera techniques when usingvideo can for instance enhance presence by using close-up views, direct addresstechniques where the person in the image speaks directly to the user, or by creatingviews through the eye of the user.Lombard and Ditton, and Shedroff , all emphasise that the level of interactivity is anotheraspect that enhances presence. ‘The number of inputs from the user that the medium 66
  • 78. accepts and to which it responds’ could affect presence and the level of experience, whilethe type of input by the user, ie. through voice, video, or button clicks, and the type ofresponse received was also seen as an influence on the level of presence (Lombard &Ditton, 1997, p.18), in addition to the speed with which the medium responds to userinputs. Furthermore, the number of people involved in the activity was seen as a factorin the level of presence, as was the content of the online presentation during onlineactivities. Moreover, Lombard and Ditton reported on a possible effect of the level ofenjoyment and “fun” that people experience on presence, while Metros (2001) describedhow people moved into a “flow state” in immersive environments that had a positiveeffect on their involvement in a learning activity.So it is argued, that the higher the level of presence, the higher the level of involvementin the online activity and the deeper the experience. The question of how to createpresence in the design of online learning would become pressing if its effect would be ahigh level of engagement and depth of learning. The online learning place, space, environmentEarlier the importance of the learning space was highlighted. Moving from a face to facelearning environment to an online learning space can be a big step. Illich would like usto use technology to achieve a holistic learning environment in which people themselvesare the agents who determine what there is to be learnt and which tools to use to achievepositive outcomes. This idea is also at the heart of the “Personal Learning Environment”(PLE) development (Owen 2006, Siemens 2008b, Downes 2006, Oblinger & Oblinger2005). Different online learning environments have different affordances. The Virtual Learning Environment and its designICT specialists in design have drawn up a number of design principles that are ofinfluence in the experience people have when using a web site. For the design of alearning environment some are more important than others. Nielsen (2003) emphasised anumber of Human Computer Interaction principles on usability and accessibility thatdesigners will have to keep in mind when designing an online learning environment. Heresearched usability and identified a number of issues that will influence the experience:‘If your pages don’t load quickly, users won’t wait; if your pages are confusing or hard 67
  • 79. to read, users will look elsewhere; if users can’t find what they want, they will leave.Nielsen, 2003, p.1.)’ Moreover, Shedroff, who researched experience design said: ‘While everything, technically, is an experience of some sort, there is something important and special to many experiences that make them worth discussing. In particular, the elements that contribute to superior experiences are knowable and reproducible, which make them designable.’ (Shedroff, 2009, p. 1)He provided six design principles which together ‘create an enormous palette ofpossibilities for creating effective, meaningful, and successful experiences. . . . They are:Time and duration; interactivity; intensity; breadth and consistency, sensorial andcognitive triggers, and significance and meaning (Shedroff, 2009, p. 1). In the case of alearning environment, cognitive and information design would be important, in additionto instructional design in the learning experience of the students.Shedroff further states that The most important concept to grasp is that all experiences are important and that we can learn from them whether they are traditional, physical, offline experiences or whether they are digital, online, or other technological experiences. . . . Most technological experiences-including digital and, especially, online experiences- have paled in comparison to real-world experiences and have been relatively unsuccessful as a result. What these solutions require is for their developers to understand what makes a good experience first, and then to translate these principles, as well as possible, into the desired media without the technology dictating the form of the experience. (Shedroff, 2009, p. 1)The problem with commercial Virtual Learning Environments is that it seems they weredeveloped before much research in design of online environments had been carried out.This has resulted in unsatisfactory environments. Most educational institutions have aVLE that acts as a platform between face-to-face teaching and learning and the onlinevariety. Major problems have been identified with VLEs, the main one being therestricted opportunities they offer for communication between students and betweenstudents and educators. The development of the VLE has assisted in thedepersonalization of learning, turning teaching into delivery (McWilliam & Taylor,1998) and the process of teaching into a transaction consisting of the transmission ofinformation.This is in spite of research showing that a dialogue between the lecturer and learner andamong learners, leads to a richer and more engaging learning experience (Freire and 68
  • 80. Macedo, 1999; Biesta, 2006; Mason, 2006; Gur & Wiley, 2007; Carroll et al, 2008), inaddition to research showing the importance of affective issues in the online learningenvironment (Gulati, 2006; Picard et al, 2004; Gur & Wiley, 2007). One of the biggestchallenges for tutors has been to intrinsically motivate the learners to use thecommunications tools, while major problems with VLE based discussion boards havealso been identified. The integration of a variety of learning tools within one VLE, hasbeen the start of making them accessible to the learner and easy to use for the tutor. Asindicated by MacDonald (2008, p. 26) the use of a variety of media in learning couldenhance the quality of teaching as the choice would offer opportunities to ‘accommodatea diversity of students needs’.However, these systems are very much part of formal and institutionalized structuresderived from traditional face-to-face formal teaching strategies. The development ofonline social tools, learner-centred learning spaces, availability of broadband and VOIP,and the exponential growth and informality in which they are being used outside formaleducation, for instance in online social networking areas, have shown that interest-drivenand user-controlled communication tools are attractive to millions of people outside aneducational setting (Conole et al, 2008). Towards a learning placeThe crux of engaging learners in an online environment then would be to create a placewhere they feel comfortable, trusted and valued. The task would be to move away fromusing a VLE primarily as a space that holds content and imagine it as a community, aplace where dialogue happens, where people feel comfortable, and interactions andcontent can be easily accessed and engaged with. Carroll et al (2008) argue that there is aneed for such a place in the online learning environment and posit that there aresimilarities with the concept of “Third Place” as used by Oldenburg, who saw it as anenvironment that ‘hosts the regular, voluntary, informal and happily anticipatedgatherings of individuals beyond the realms of home and work’ (Oldenburg, 1989, p.16).Beyond the first and second places of home and work, Oldenburg referred for his thirdplace to physical spaces such as pubs and town squares; informal public places whereindividuals meet up with others and interact. He argued that the relationships forged inthese environments, both close and casual, add richness to society (Carroll et al, 2008). 69
  • 81. Carroll et al (2008) also relate the “Third Place” to “serendipic learning”; ‘learning thatoccurs by chance in a learner-centred environment in which participants are enabled tobuild and maintain their online presence’. And they highlighted similarities with theideas of Pettigrew who writes about the creation of information grounds – ‘i.e. placeswhere individuals meet informally for one purpose but from whose behaviour emerges asocial atmosphere that fosters the spontaneous and serendipitous sharing of information(Carroll et al, 2008, p. 154). Fisher et al (2004 – later writing as Pettigrew) present thepropositions of the information grounds framework and Carroll et al (2008) explain thatthere are aspects of this framework, for instance the fact that different social groups play important roles in the information flow, that people engage in formal and informal information sharing, that people use information in alternative ways and that many sub-contexts exist within information grounds, that can be present in a learner-centred online environment if the concepts of personal and emotional presence are allowed to foster. (Carroll et al, 2008, p. 154) Interaction – Personalisation – ControlSeveral authors have suggested a particular model for e-learning, most notably GillySalmon, who developed a 5-step model, initially facilitating access to technology andfostering motivation, followed by online socialisation, after which information exchangebetween tutor and learner is fostered, followed by knowledge construction and furtherdevelopment (Salmon, 2004). Terry Mayes also developed a model, but that was basedon how technology can support three steps of learning: conceptualisation by presentingthe subject matter, construction by clearly outlining tasks, and contextualisation wherelearners make meaning within their own contexts, at which stage communication andfeedback with the tutor are required. He also noted advantages in storing thecommunications of current learners for future learners and creating a form of “vicarious”learning (Mayes, 2002) as an additional dimension.Salmon’s model is the most widely used and is linked to an institutionally controlledVLE, where the tutor controls what is happening in the virtual classroom and only in thelatter stages of the model the tutor will relinquish some control to the learners. Moule(2007) and Gulati (2006) criticised Salmon’s model. Moule (2007) identified especially 70
  • 82. problems with the length of the period of engagement in the 5-step model and itsassociation to a constructivist view of learning. She contrasts it with the "e-learningladder model". The basic difference with this model being it’s acknowledgement of arange of educational theories and pedagogical approaches, including an instructivist one,and not just an over-emphasis on a constructivist learning method. Moule argues that notall e-learning is constructivist, and that in each step the learner adopts different learningapproaches relevant to his or her requirements, rather than to follow each step set out inSalmon’s model hierarchically.Gulati (2006), in her PhD thesis, questioned if the model supports a constructivistapproach at all. She problematised Salmon’s approach by asking a number of questions:Does this linear approach support a socio-constructivist view, in which knowledgebuilding on formerly created knowledge and experience would be possible? Does therequirement to participate in online discussion offer enough options for personalisation?Or is it mainly devised to conform to a tutor-led way of working? Do online learningspaces facilitate trust and are they open enough for learners to ask questions and toquestion others in line with a constructivist and community of practice view? Does thestress on participation in discussion boards cause power relations that are to theadvantage of some and not to others?She carried out an extensive review of the research literature to find answers to thesequestions and found that compulsory participation in asynchronous discussion bylearners was more ‘driven by the need for online tutors to monitor their learners, than topromote autonomous, flexible, meaningful, and social constructivist experiences’(Gulati, 2006, p. 42). Meaning making involves the making of mistakes and reflection onlearning. It is doubtful that people will fully expose their thinking processes if theirwriting is there for all to see and graded by the tutor. Aviv and Picciano found that thereis quite a range of difference in the students’ learning processes (Gulati, 2006). Learnersconstruct knowledge in a variety of ways and have a varying need to belong in acommunity, which all depend on their own needs that originate in their own context.Some people will perform well by not contributing much in discussions, but insteadspend time in self-directed study away from the course site, while others perform well bycommunicating extensively with tutor and other learners. Nonnecke and Preece explainthat when people are not participating in the discussion board (otherwise called 71
  • 83. ‘lurking’) this is not necessarily a bad thing: ‘Lurking is not free-riding but a form ofparticipation that is both acceptable and beneficial to most online groups. Public postingis only one way in which an online group can benefit from its members’ (Gulati, 2003, p.51). Research by Bedouin in non-participation in online discussion found that the peoplewho were not very visible in the online classroom ‘spent most time reading assignments,reading others’ comments, web searches, writing assignments and spent less time onwriting online messages’ (Gulati, 2003, p. 52).Gulati’s research indicated that half of these learners identified themselves as self-directed learners, rather than social learners. The way people participate in onlinediscussion depends, apart from a tendency to autonomous learning, also on a number ofother factors as argued by Mann and also Levy. They posit that the openness in onlinedialogue and the power-relations within an online learner group are important issues increating relations of trust within the online community (Mann, 2005; Levy, 2006). Thisresonates with Gulati’s research results that also identified that the power relations in thediscussion forum influence participation. She found that confidence and affective issueswere important aspects, while the level of knowledge displayed by some participants wasalso a determining influence on the level of participation and confidence of others.Moreover, she noticed that the lack of informality on the discussion board resulted inpeople moving to other, more direct and informal forms of communication such as email,while the presence of the tutor also deterred some students from participating (Gulati,2006). This was confirmed by Levy (2006), who used synchronous instant messaging tomimic the informality of classroom communication, which helped some students, but notall. A few very much disliked this instant form of communication and did not use itagain, while others thought it a very poor substitute for classroom interaction.Gulati indicated that ‘communication-overload’ and a move too soon from ‘lowerchallenge’ discussion to ‘higher challenge’ discussion meant that learners did not engageas much with the communication activities as anticipated (Gulati, 2006, p. 54). Levypointed out that discussions were more successful if they were linked to practicalactivities than if they were used for topic-based and more abstract purposes. Her researchsupports the view that multiple modes of communication are best to promote a wideparticipation in learning, as it caters for ‘different communication styles, preferences andpurposes’ (Levy, 2006, p. 274). 72
  • 84. Thorpe and Godwin carried out a large study in the student experience in e-learningcourses: 4512 students on 36 undergraduate courses were surveyed with a response rateof 46.9%. They challenged the notion that interaction in e-learning should be person-to-person. They researched the validity of learner-to-content interaction strategies. Sinceonline learners are not only networked to other people, but also to information, theyfound it important to explore the impact of this on their cognitive processes. Studentswere asked, in an open question format, if personal interaction in conferencing and emailhad made a positive, and/or a negative impact on their study. They asked the samequestion in relation to software, CD-ROMs and Internet opportunities included in thecourse.They found that: Communication with other students without barriers of place and time effectively expands the learning relationships available. Identification with peers has important effects on the quality of the attention and the impact of reading other students’ comments, which generates cognitive processes of explanation, self-explanation, reflection and internalization. (Thorpe & Godwin, 2006, p. 218)This would also indicate that the development of a learning place would be beneficial tocommunication and learning. They also found that the use of multi-media in a learningenvironment enriched the learner experience and clarified hard-to-understand concepts.‘There was evidence that students value both interpersonal and content interaction butfor different reasons, and it is not helpful to polarize the two or privilege one overanother’ (Thorpe & Godwin, 2006, p. 219) .What Thorpe and Godwin ignored in the design of their research, were questions relatedto the findings by Gulati on the importance, or desirability of self-directed and informallearning. It is not unthinkable that if students communicate with others outside theircourse group about the course content, the need for tutor-led discussion might becomeredundant. Moreover, without knowledge of the level of students’ engagement withothers outside the student group, the findings are of less value. They hinted at the valueof autonomous study, through access to resources beyond the course, enabling greater independence. They were able to broaden their knowledge, access current information to deepen understanding of issues. Others valued it for research or projects which would not 73
  • 85. be feasible otherwise. What might look at first sight as merely electronic delivery of information, is actually enabling a process of independent and active study, and developing of research skills. (Thorpe and Godwin, 2006, p. 213)However, only anecdotal evidence supported this in their paper. The question asked tothe students related to “Internet resources included in the course, rather than outside thecourse” which clearly left out of the research an important dimension of autonomousstudy.The analysis of the papers in this sub-section suggests that tutor-led asynchronouscommunication by itself is not enough to provide learners with enough feedback andsocial engagement: it is not a natural way of communication, it is formal, and there aremajor power-issues that influence learners’ confidence in their use. One could argue thatthe level of presence is low. This might be boosted by the introduction of learning ingroups, although Roberts and McInnerney (2007) highlighted some problems with onlinegroup learning. They found in their research that most problems are inter-related and theseven most common ones ranged from student antipathy towards group work, theselection of the groups, a lack of essential group-work skills, to “the free-rider”, possibleinequalities of student abilities, the withdrawal of group members, and the assessment ofindividuals within the groups. These are similar problems as have been described for theuse of discussion boards.Conole et al (2008) carried out research in the student learning experience and includedhow people used technology outside the formal educational setting and found thatstudents used technology extensively. They highlighted the importance of Web 2.0technologies and Voice Over Internet Protocol for communication, and web-searchingfor information.These new technologies provide opportunities for more self-directed learning, with onlya supporting role by the tutor: learners can communicate with anybody with a connectionto the Internet and find information that relates to their own interests. This strategy issupported by a number of educators: McKie argues that ‘Students are autonomousbeings. They should be encouraged to explore for themselves, to make and take 74
  • 86. responsibility for their own choices on the basis of their own interests and situation’(McKie, 2000, p. 111). Standish would not use a curriculum that is too closed in onlinelearning: ‘A programmed curriculum dedicated to learning outcomes drains the life outof what is to be learned, yet there are many well-intentioned educators who woulddevelop online education just the same way’ (Standish, 2000, p. 159).Perhaps it might be a wise teaching strategy for tutors to relinquish some power duringthe session and, as indicated by learning technologists (Walton et al, 2008), allow forpersonalisation of the learning experience by including some Web 2.0 technologies intheir programmes and trust their students to engage in blogging or wiki-writing on theInternet and be satisfied with the organic “growth” of understanding made possible bywikis and blogs, which would also allow for learning from others. Arina indicated thatthe learner motivation is higher if the student is in control rather than the institution, asapart from control over the content the learner would also be in charge of the purpose ofthe learning and of the process itself (Arina, 2006). Learner autonomy – self-directed learningGerald Grow (1991) developed a model of ‘matches’ and ‘mismatches’ of teaching stylesand learning stages and highlighted the fact that learners move through different phases ofself-direction. He also suggested that the tutor helps or hinders that development byimposing different levels of control at different stages of the learning programme. Adultlearners make choices about the level of control imposed by others on their learning andthe choice to study through an institution and tutor, independently, or mediated throughtechnology will mean a different level of control being imposed on the learning process bydifferent actors and on different aspects of the learning itself. As Dron (2007) emphasised,there is a fine balance between the control of an institution and a tutor on the one hand, andthe making of independent choices by the learner on the other. He referred to Knowles,Moore, Boud, Schwartz and Laurillard when he argued that the learning process breaksdown if learners have more choice than they can handle, or, likewise, if the tutor imposes 75
  • 87. too much control on the learning process. Bouchard (2009a, p. 96) has identified severalfactors that are significant in learner control. Learner Control Conative Social Confidence Initiative Motivation Life context environment Algorithmic Learning Sequencing Pacing Resource Monitoring activity selection Evaluation Semiotic Types of Text- Multimedia Search social hypertext approaches interaction Economic Perceived value Cost-benefit Opportunity Value of knowledge ratio cost assessmentFigure 2 Dimensions of learner autonomy (Bouchard, 2009b, p5.)He clustered them in four groups, the first one relating to issues of motivation, initiative andconfidence – the conative factors; the second group of algorithmic factors involving controlover the learning activity, such as sequencing of tasks, formulating goals and selectingresources; the third group of semantic factors relating to issues of language andcommunication used in the learning and teaching process; and the fourth group of economicaspects, the choice to learn for personal gain such as for future employment, and the possiblecost of other study options. In short, learners will conduct a breakdown of costs and benefitsthat the particular learning option would bring and make choices accordingly.Clearly, an understanding of how people learn and what motivates them to learn isimperative in order to create a good educational experience, and implicit in a soundteaching strategy. In addition, an awareness of the factors of importance to foster learnerautonomy while designing online adult learning experiences and semi-autonomous learningsystems is crucial as learning at a distance will imply a certain level of self-direction by the 76
  • 88. learner. Bouchard’s algorithmic factors, for instance, would be the instructor’s responsibilityin a formal classroom, but are in an autonomous learning system linked to tasks thatthe learner will have to carry out independently, which could be problematic. Conativefactors would, in a traditional adult education class, be important aspects for learners eitherto choose to participate in learning or not. If confidence levels are low, it is not likely that aperson will take up learning by using a Personal Learning Environment for instance. On theother hand, the availability of particular semiotic features, such as multimedia, mightmotivate the learner to take on a learning project. In addition, the language and multimediaused play an important part in who is engaged by a semi-autonomous learning system andwho is not. This knowledge will allow tutors to relinquish control if and when appropriateand provide learners with additional choices, without them feeling overwhelmed byuncertainty about the new unknown that there is to be learned. The Net-Generation and (adult) educationChanges in pedagogy are not only demanded by the newly emerging tools, but alsobecause a new generation of students, with potentially different needs and expectationsrelated to their “connected” lifestyles, are entering our educational institutions. Researchby Kvavik shows that 72% of young students prefer moderate or extensive ICT in theclassroom, while 2.2% prefer entire online teaching and only 2.9% classes without ICTat all, which indicates that teaching strategies will need to be adapted to make more useof Interconnecting Technology (Kvavik, 2005). In addition, the current prominent viewsof social-constructivism and “community of practice” support teaching approaches thatpromote social interaction and active participation in learning activities.As mentioned in 2.2.7., the behaviour of young people outside the educational contexthas been a driver for the fast emergence and penetration of Web 2.0 technologies.Although not all young people have made technology part of their lives (Selwyn, 2006),most young people have embraced ICTs. Prensky (2001, p.1) was one of the first toargue that a major shift is taking place in how people use technology. He said in 2001:‘By the time they reach 21 most young people in the UK will have: Sent over 200,000text messages, played 10,000 hours of videogames, watched over 20,000 hours of TV,talked 10,000 hours on mobile phones, seen over 500,000 TV adverts, spent less than5,000 hours reading [books].’ And although these figures are out of date, they indicate ashift away from books and a move towards technology by young people. 77
  • 89. Hartman et al see advantages in the way this new generation “multi-tasks” and focuseson team-building, while the challenges they mention are the ‘shallowness of their readingand TV viewing habits, a comparative lack of critical thinking skills, naïve views onintellectual property and the authenticity of information found on the Internet’ (Hartmanet al, 2005, p. 6.1) ‘Doing is more important than knowing, and learning is accomplishedthrough trial and error as opposed to a logical and rule-based approach’. (Kvavik, 2005,p. 7.1). As continuous multitaskers, the Net Geners are adept at context switching, often engaged in several activities at the same time (in the classroom, this behaviour can be disconcerting to instructors). Four out of five students believe the internet use has had a positive impact on their academic experience, and three out of four say they use the Internet to research more than they do the library. (Hartman et al, 2005, p. 6.3)Barone even wondered if current education institutions will be able to engage the Net-Generation: A wave of young people empowered to create knowledge, not merely absorb it, now flows in and out of the classroom, calling into question the convictions and processes that have served as the foundation of traditional higher education. It remains to be seen whether traditional higher education will adjust sufficiently to truly engage the Net Generation. (Barone, 2005, p. 14.1)Education institutions of today need to work with the new students to harness thepotential of ICT to ensure the continuation of the preservation of ‘true academic values,such as pursuing knowledge for the sake of knowledge, the process of discovery itself, orcritical inquiry’ (Hartman et al, 2005, p. 6.11) Current learners’ learning environmenthas changed dramatically. Their learning resources no longer solely consist of theresources the tutor or lecturer has provided in the past, such as books, but willincreasingly include the Web. Does traditional Higher Education do enough to engagethe Net-Generation in developing intellectual depth and good judgement in evaluatingand using online sources of information? Hartman expected that the Net-Generation willstart to question the traditional ways of teaching they still experience in the classroomand lecture theatre, as these ‘do not match up with the interactive access to informationand modes of communication by which they learn in other aspects of their lives’(Hartman et al, 2005, p. 6.5). Major problems can be expected as the academy changesslowly. We live in a just-in-time world of technology, where wireless technology ischanging classroom dynamics with instantaneous access to maintain relationships and 78
  • 90. contacts with people beyond personal meetings. It ‘changes power relations and shift thelocus of control in the learning process from the faculty member to the student’ (Barone,2005, p. 14.3-14.8).Young people use communication tools in their private lives to facilitate their connectedlifestyles, and these could also be used to form a bridge between what happens insideand outside education. The first young people who haven’t known a world withouttechnology have come to an age at which they might enter adult education, but adulteducation has not shown many signs yet of adapting to the changes required to engagethe Net-Generation. Bennett et al (2008) undertook a critical review of the evidence for apossible mismatch between the learning needs of young students of today and the wayeducational institutions teach them and found that ‘young people’s relationship withtechnology is much more complex than the digital native characterisation suggest’(Bennett et al, 2008, p 783). They called for a halt to the ‘moral panic’ and for researchto be carried out as there is no evidence to suggest that current teaching styles arerejected. This of course does not mean that in the light of major change in society acritical appraisal of current teaching strategies would not be desirable. Social software and adult educationCommunication and participation are at the heart of all peer-to-peer tools that are widelyused outside formal education and a number of academics have shown an interest inblogs and wikis and have seen their potential in an educational environment (Downes,2004; Lankshear & Knobel, 2003; Mason, 2006). Owen et al (2006) see collaborationand access to much more knowledge as the two most distinct ways in which socialsoftware will change education.Comments from lecturers about the use of blogs in their classes include: ‘the push intocritical thinking, critical reading and reflection’ (MacIntire-Strasbourg, 2004, p. 1), ‘theability to achieve active back-and-forth discussions outside the classroom’ (Martin &Taylor, 2004, p. 1), and ‘Students are blogging about topics that are important to them.Students direct their own learning while receiving input and feedback from others.’(Ferdig & Trammel, 2004, p. 5). ‘Students come to appreciate the value of collaborationor develop confidence and find their own voices’ (Mason, 2006, p. 130). 79
  • 91. Lamb also noted the openness of the wiki environment. He saw a number ofpossibilities to use wikis in an educational context: as spaces for brainstorming, ascollaborative areas for teams to work on projects, outlining and managingactivities or research, or as repositories of shared knowledge (Lamb. B., 2004).Paradoxically, this could also be their downfall as anybody can alter or edit anydocument on a wiki. Wikis are believed to foster the notion of “communalintelligence”.This would be supported by Surowiecki, who explored the idea that ‘large groupsof people are smarter than an elite few, no matter how brilliant—better at solvingproblems, better at fostering innovation, better at coming to wise decisions, evenpredicting the future’ (Surowiecki, 2003, p. 7). Not all agree, as the consequencemight be a fragmentation of knowledge. Midgley is concerned that working inlarger teams and subsequent specialization could result in researchers limitingtheir understanding to a small part of the whole project. Consequently people donot understand the connections between things: ‘Traditionally, the value ofknowledge centred on understanding – on the power to see the connections ofthings, to wonder at them, and so to live wisely’ (Midgley, 1989, p. 3).Taking the Wikipedia as example of a collective knowledge development project onecould argue that the contributors could never have produced a “knowledge product”containing this high a number of subjects and connections individually. Of course,people believing in traditional knowledge might disregard the Wikipedia as resembling aknowledge project at all.Another important issue in the use of wikis is control. James and Lamb indicated theneed for teachers to hand over control of content in using wikis to ensure successfulknowledge-building. The role of the tutor would lie in “setting the scene” and thinkingup problems related to the subject being taught, while allowing students to develop thewiki to their own liking (James, 2004; Lamb. B., 2004).Papers by lecturers, who have used blogs and wikis in adult education, have containedevidence to support that these tools provide opportunities to improve the traditionallearning environment, particularly with their features supporting communication, 80
  • 92. collaboration, reflection, ordering thought and knowledge (Ferdig & Trammell, 2004;Lankshear and Knobel 2006; MacIntire-Strasbourg, 2004, Mason, 2006).Social tools are already called disruptive technologies as they are changing the work-practices of journalists and broadcasters (Matheson, 2004; Huffington, 2006). LearningTechnologists expect them also to disrupt and change education. It is up to the Academyto take up the challenge to ensure that students engage critically with the Internet, by theframing of questions, by working with the learners on developing intellectual depth andby a critical analysis of source material found on the Internet, as well as by fitting thislearning process into the institutional structure.The way the gate-keepers of knowledge engage with the new developments varies; anumber of academics and librarians have noted the bias and unreliability of some writtenmaterial in blogs, wikis and personal spaces and do not want any engagement with thenew developments at all, while others have embraced blogs and wikis as tools for debateand found out that they work differently from a traditional academic environment. Northremarked: The sites are no respecter of status. You don’t get any deference to professors or to people who say: ‘research shows…’ People reply: ‘Post a hyperlink to the research then, and we will see for ourselves.’ That is a virtuous kind of Socratic dialogue model. You don’t know anything about the person you are having an argument with, and what’s at stake is the argument itself. (North, 2006, p. 6)While Walker noted: Blogging alongside other academics in my field . . . is a form of indirect collaboration . . . . There is an openness and a willingness to share in blogging . . . that means I know more about many of my fellow bloggers’ research than I do about a colleague whose office is down the corridor. (quoted in Glaser, 2004, p. 1)It seems new developments are still at the realm of enthusiasts, who are trying out newapplications to see how they could be used in an educational context. Large-scaleresearch using these applications has not been carried out yet.Other applications used are video and podcasts. They seem to have been mainly used toexplain difficult concepts. Not much research could be found on their use in educational 81
  • 93. contexts either. Kamel Boulos and Wheeler (2007) highlighted the possibilities ofpodcasts in the creation of scenarios in health care education, while Savel et al (2006)reported on the use of podcasts for the fast and cheap delivery of media content. It isonly since access to broadband has become widespread and the availability of easy-to-use and freely available audio and video production and distribution software haveemerged that it is now possible to produce and distribute video and audio easily. Forexample, people’s use of sites such as YouTube is now substantial, ‘people are watchinghundreds of millions of videos a day on YouTube and uploading hundreds of thousandsof videos daily. In fact, every minute, 20 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube’(YouTube factsheet, 2010). How can they be used in a meaningful way in an educationalcontext? Chaves (2009) would like to see them used to raise presence, create animmediacy, to close the distance that is created by using text in online educationalenvironments rather than to use them solely to translate difficult concepts. Knowledge in a connected worldJenkins (2007) argued that academia will have to engage with the new Web 2.0technologies that are widely used outside educational institutions. He states that ‘the bestthinking (whether evaluated in terms of process or outcome) is likely to take placeoutside academic institutions -- through the informal social organizations that areemerging on the Web’ (Jenkins 2007, p. 1) and he would like educators to get involvedin the discussion by using the tools themselves.From the literature in this review so far, it seems likely that the nature of knowledge inan era of global connectedness is changing. Six aspects seem of importance in this: 1. Current theories of knowledge, such as (social) constructivism, and research of the brain suggest that context and social interaction are vital components in learning, in the internalising of knowledge and in the knowledge creation process. 2. Even though mixed evidence is forthcoming, it seems likely that young people today, the adult students of tomorrow, use different technologies from the ones that their adult counterparts used, including lecturers and tutors: their immersion in technology from birth and their total absorption of the communicative and connective possibilities of social software seem to make it possible that their approach to learning will differ from earlier generations. 82
  • 94. 3. The new social media, such as blogs, wikis, pod and videocasts, and social bookmarking tools make it possible for people to acquire knowledge outside the formal authorities of knowledge of the past, for instance institutions of Higher Education, and develop networks and connections with people all over the world to develop knowledge, very much in a “conversational” way. Potential knowledge is tested for reliability by groups of people that share an interest in addition to the tutor in the formal learning environment. 4. The tools themselves invite changes in knowing and learning. If we look at wikis for instance, they invite a collaborative knowledge creation process, rather than an individual one as might be seen to be the norm in a cognitive view of knowledge and learning. 5. New Internet technology makes personalisation of learning possible. ‘ICT has embraced “personalisation” really well; it’s an easy concept to fulfil through technology . . . . Personalised learning, of course, takes proper account of learning styles, of the varied roles needed for collaboration to be effective, of different intelligences and emotions. But it does not have to mean to work alone.’ (Heppell, 2006, p. 1) 6. The world outside education is changing dramatically. Technology is converging and telephone, television and entertainment are merging into one, while the workplace has changed substantially under influence of ICT. Some argue that this will have a great effect on learning.Over the past centuries, our organization of knowledge has been determined by the wayeducators were able to transmit knowledge to others with the aid of books. In the age ofconnected computers this is changing. A tutor has the availability of very different toolsthan she had in the past and Bill Gates quite aptly remarked that ‘training the workforceof tomorrow with the high schools of today is like trying to teach kids about today’scomputers on a 50-year-old timeframe. It’s the wrong tool for the times’ (Siemens,2006b, p. 31).As new tools have emerged, institutions can no longer avoid at least thinking about theirimplications for learning. Apart from books there are e-books, digital archives of booksand films, electronic papers and journals and communication tools that could connectlearners to more knowledgeable others outside the institution, but still within his or her 83
  • 95. comfort zone of an online community of his or her choice. Young people use technologymore than they use books in their personal lives and as Gulati (2006) convincinglyargued, a linear approach to teaching will not necessarily be the most effective way tofacilitate learning for all students under these circumstances. Outside the educationalinstitution learners have instantaneous access to knowledge, organised in a variety offormats that they can align with personal requirements and preferences, rather than theoften bureaucratic requirements of the educational institution.2.3.6. Institutional Change2.3.6.1 The institution in a changed environmentAccording to some, educational institutions cannot remain the same under the pressure ofthe new technologies (Bass, 2004; Walton et al, 2008). Important are the broad changes that are occurring across all disciplines and subject areas and that are the consequence of increasing amounts of scholarly work and communications taking place in electronic environments: the increasingly collaborative nature of knowledge, the shift from individual “ownership” of ideas to ideas that are communally generated, the erosion of the idea of closure, the movement from univocality to polyvocality in certain scholarly contexts, the shift from linear to associational thinking, and the overall change in emphasis – in scholarship and teaching- from knowledge as product to knowledge as process. (Bass, 2004, p. 2)Until now the changes in adult education institutions have been mainly driven bytransformations in post-modern society. The need for an up-skilled workforce tofacilitate the economic competitiveness of countries on a global market place hasrequired a modular education system with a curriculum aligned to the needs of theworkplace. Education is no longer seen as the main vehicle to gain wisdom andunderstanding, to learn how to be a good human being who functions well in society inall aspects of life: morally, emotionally, socially and culturally. The role of education hasmoved towards a performative goal: To teach people the skills and knowledge requiredfor institutions and businesses to perform well in society. Readings speaks about changeswithin the university, the institution is ‘no longer linked to the destiny of the nation-stateby virtue of its role as producer, protector and inculcator of an idea of national culture’(Readings, 1996, p. 3). The institutions have lost their reason for being as they existed inthe Enlightenment era, where they had ‘the national cultural mission’ at their hearts. Herefers to Cabal in writing that the administrator, rather than the professor is now theimportant figure in the university and that “accountability” and the pursuit of 84
  • 96. “excellence” are at its heart as universities now compete in a global marketplace(Readings, 1996, p. 3).In the 19th century, the modern university developed into an institution that was crucialto social, economic and political goals. Knowledge was related to disciplines, whichunderpinned all practice (Delanty, 2001). Usher et al argued that postmodern adulteducation has changed in such a multiplicity of forms, and in such a variety of places,that the teaching of knowledge organised in disciplines is no longer appropriate. Thepostmodern scepticism about “grand narratives” has led to doubts about the claims thatcertain types of knowledge, certain disciplines, are “better” than others, which has hadconsequences for education: On the one hand, it has contributed to an erosion of the “liberal” curriculum and an emphasis on learning opportunities that emphasise the efficiency of the economic and social system. On the other hand, the decentring of knowledge has resulted in a valuing of different sources and forms of knowledge and a corresponding devaluing of specialist discipline-based knowledge. (Usher et al, 1997, p. 8)‘It does not mean that the disciplines need to be totally ignored. Instead, what needs to bedone is a reconsideration of their role and a reconfiguration of their place in thecontemporary postmodern scene.’ (Usher et al, 1997, p. 68). Furthermore, theintroduction of technology in education and the Internet and its ‘communicationsrevolution’ have made ‘clear that dominant conceptions of knowledge, curricula andpedagogy are in drastic need of rethinking’ (Usher et al, 1997, p. 24). People can findsubject knowledge on the Internet and can communicate on the Internet with a widegroup of experts. Moreover, Illich’s ideas of allowing people to make connections inlearning webs with resources they feel they require, with people who can teach themsomething that is interesting to them, and with people whom they can teach, are relevantto adult education. The level of critical analysis of people and their level of autonomy tobe able to learn independently is debatable, however, and has not been extensivelyresearched. Evolution or revolution?The way in which global networks and communities of interest are currently beingformed through emerging technologies is encouraging people to develop new anddifferent forms of communication and learning outside formal education. By creating a 85
  • 97. personalised learning space linked to a local learner group, or possibly to a globalnetwork of people and supported by a knowledgeable tutor, the learning space is veryopen. It seems likely that “digital natives” will thrive in this environment, as it is whatthey have been accustomed to outside formal education. For the “digital immigrants”,particularly older learners and people from social classes IV and V, who traditionallyalso have a low participation rate in adult education, it might be a step too fast and toofar. The factors in Bouchard’s model of learner autonomy would play a role here(Bouchard, 2009a). These learners might have problems accepting that they are in chargeof the learning process and have a less structured learning environment than in atraditional classroom, where the tutor will no longer perform at centre stage, but willhave the role of guide through the “information maze” and “connectedness”. In order tokeep up with the change, learners would initially need training in information literacyand a more traditional learning space, structured by the tutor to gain confidence andknowledge.Of course, there is a steep learning curve for tutors as well, as they have beenconditioned in traditional professional patterns and might have to adapt to a change intheir role of providers of content to one of facilitator or supervisor. Some head teachersof schools have started using their students to teach the teachers the intricacies andopportunities for education of the new technology, as change has taken place so rapidlyin the last decade that it has become near impossible for teachers to go with the flow andadapt to the next level of new technology (Dodson, 2006). Ronald Barnett pointed outthat in this world of “supercomplexity” the world of work is changing: ‘Work,communication, identity, self, knowing and even life: the meaning of fundamentalconcepts are no longer clear in a world of change’ (Barnett, 2002, p. 9). It becomesincreasingly important for tutors to learn about technology “on the job” and “in the job”.It has been part of the academic brief over the centuries to research changes in societyand develop in order to accommodate these changes within the institution, but theaccelerated pace of technological change is problematic and will require someprofessional adaptation.In addition to changes for students and members of staff, institutions will also have tocontend with change in the way the learning space has been laid out over the pasthundreds of years. A need for inclusion of informal spaces has been identified, where 86
  • 98. learners can access their online networks, as these would be an integral part of thelearning resources of the future: In the new academy informal learning spaces take on new importance. Informal learning spaces with wireless capability suit the Net Generation’s habits of being constantly connected, social, and interactive with peers. Establishing vibrant learning communities cannot be confined to class times or formal classrooms. A significant percentage of learning takes place outside the formal classroom, wherever people gather to interact-whether that is in the hallway or in a virtual community of practice. (Barone, 2005, p. 11)The lecture theatre might need to be redesigned to include informal corners, or lecturersmight allow mobile and wireless technology to enter the theatre and be used to carry outtasks with small groups, or to contact their virtual and mobile networks, rather than thelecturer being the sole focus of attention: During the computer era of the past fifty years, education has been re- conceptualised around the construction of knowledge through information processing, modelling and interaction. For the era of mobile technology, we may come to conceive of education as conversation in context, enabled by continual interaction through and with personal and mobile technology. (Sharples et al, 2005, p. 6) Authority of knowledge, stability of knowledgeOver the past decades the authority of knowledge has shifted. In the Enlightenment era,the university clearly held the position of authority of knowledge. This all changed inpostmodern time. Readings claimed that the university has changed into a ‘bureaucraticenterprise without moral purpose’ (Readings, 1996, p.3). The university is no longer thedominant producer of knowledge. Other institutions have become major producers, suchas think tanks, research institutes, multinational corporations, as knowledge is related tothe performance of society. In addition, what counts as knowledge has changed. It ismore dynamic and related to the social, political and cultural climate of the time(Delanty, 2001; Lyotard, 1984; Readings, 1996). Lyotard lamented this change, sayingthat: the process of delegitimation and the predominance of the performance criterion are sounding the knell of the age of the Professor: a Professor is no more competent than memory bank networks in transmitting established knowledge, no more competent than interdisciplinary teams in imagining new moves or new games. (Lyotard, 1984, p. 53) 87
  • 99. However, Delanty saw a new role emerging for the university: This restructuring in the mode of knowledge implies not the end of the university but its reconstitution. The great significance of the institution of the university today is that it can be the most important site of interconnectivity in what is now a knowledge society. There is a proliferation of so many different kinds of knowledge that no particular one can unify all the others. The university cannot re- establish the broken unity of knowledge, but it can open up avenues of communication between these different kinds of knowledge, in particular between knowledge in science and knowledge as culture. (Delanty, 2001, p. 6)Delanty proposed that communication is the new tie at the heart of contemporary societyand could be the unifying factor in our supercomplex society. He referred to Habermas’sideas on communication in the public sphere. Of course mass media and commerce arealready heavily engaged in the arena of public communication and have shaped it to acertain extent. However, this was in “broadcasting mode” before the Web 2.0developments. The new digital media allow for a two-way exchange. They areincreasingly changing the mass media themselves: there is interactive television,newspapers have blogs and podcasts and ask their audience to engage and producecontent. Matheson discussed the online news-blog in terms of ‘knowledge-as-process,rather than knowledge-as-product’ (Matheson, 2004, p. 458). The new “bottom-up”developments in communication through social software on the Web could ensure a newplatform of public communication and dialogue.A substantial number of academics are already involved in communication of this nature(Glaser, 2004; North, 2006; Mortenson & Walker, 2002; Mason, 2006). As is shown inthe development of the Wikipedia not only can anybody interested get involved in thedebate and development of knowledge, but the meaning of knowledge is changing. Atransition to this model of online dialogue could clearly lead to an undermining of theauthority of the knowledge-keepers of the past, the university, as people cancommunicate and find knowledgeable others on a global scale, can collaborate onknowledge creation projects, and discuss topics of interest with others, while at the sametime connect this to information that is readily available. They can bypass academiaaltogether. This increases the need for critical analysis of online sources. Networks ofsocial sites such as blogs and wikis collating people’s ideas and views, aggregating thesethrough RSS feeds and social book marking could do this to a certain extent, but the need 88
  • 100. for a knowledgeable guide through online resources will be pertinent to education in thefuture. Validating knowledgeIf knowledge is developing in a more communal way than in the past, the validation ofknowledge will be different from that in the era of accountability and individualknowledge development. If the learner finds information on the World Wide Web andcommunicates in the “blogosphere” to make sense of that information according to hisown interests and experiences while learning away from the institution in collaborationwith others, the institution will still have to devise structures to fit the learning into itsquality systems. It is a paradox that technology has facilitated a closer control ofassessment and validation of knowledge, while what will be required to use the newtechnologies effectively are flexibility and a willingness to adapt to new assessmentpractices.The Web and its new developments will drive forward changes in assessment practices.There are already moves towards the use of e-portfolios, where people work in any ITformat, and in which documents and other products can be stored, shared and validated.In addition, voices are being heard suggesting the introduction of collaborativeassessment, where all involved in the learning community will also be involved in theassessment process (McConnell, 2002). Applications such as “Turnitin” are increasinglybeing used to detect plagiarism and there will be an important negotiating and facilitatingrole for the local tutor in linking the online learning to a local community of practice andaccreditation structure.2.4. CONCLUSIONOver the past ten years major changes in technology have taken place. The use ofcomputers has increased dramatically and the emergence of creative andcommunications applications and tools has enriched the Web from a medium that wasmainly a source of information into a network of interlinked other networks on whichpeople communicate and share information, sound, video and image files which they canproduce themselves. The question that has arisen throughout this review is how thepotential of these changes can be harnessed to enhance adult education. In addition, theneed for research into the possible requirement of change in adult education in the light 89
  • 101. of attitudes and behaviours of people in using these tools, but also as these technologiesare increasingly intertwined with everyday life. One interesting aspect is the distinctchange in communication that the new technologies have brought about.There seems to be a discrepancy between the way people use communication technologyon their informal, personal networks and in their educational environment. Dron andAnderson (2007) have given considerable thought to the transactional distance betweenparticipants on these networks. They are particularly interested in the use of thesenetworks in an educational context and make a clear distinction between learning ingroups, on networks and in collectives. They argued that there is a difference in presenceand subsequent engagement in these three entities. They saw the level of emotionalengagement and presence being the highest in groups, which would be the typicalclassroom or distance education student group. They would be lower on online networks,which would typically be the blogosphere, or the large informal online courses that arecurrently experimented with (Siemens & Downes, 2008, 2009); and the lowest oncollectives, which would use tags to connect. Dron and Anderson (2007) emphasised thatthere is an interrelationship between ‘engagement in learning’, ‘transactional nearness’,and ‘emotional involvement’: the closer the feeling of connectedness, the higher the levelof commitment to the learning activity; the closer the relationship with the peopleinvolved in the undertaking, the higher the inclination to engage in communication andlearning.Their ideas are interesting as they relate to a number of issues that have come to the forein this literature review. Eight issues seem most significant to the changing nature ofknowledge and adult learning in a technology-rich world: 1. Changes in theories of education, knowledge and learning. Current prominent theories of knowledge, learning and education move away from the traditional view that knowledge is true justified belief. The view that knowledge that has been accumulated over ages through work by authorities in different higher domains has become contested. In postmodern times the application of knowledge and its usefulness to society has become more important. 90
  • 102. Also the current notion that all knowledge is embedded in its context has meant that the concept of “objective knowledge” is contested in addition to the “transfer of knowledge” from tutors to learners. New views of learning, such as “social constructivism” and “communities of practice” show that learning is not a cognitive process that takes place solely inside a person’s head, but that it is situated in the context in which it is created; that participation in a community and interaction with other human beings foster the meaning-making process. Current developments in communication technology have instigated a debate on a potential new learning theory, named ‘Connectivism’, that some observers see as the logical development in learning theory development to encompass the informal learning people do on the Internet. Through interaction with nodes on online networks, people can access information and communicate with others on a global scale. ‘Connectivism’ is contested as it might only be a further development from earlier theories. Even though in theoretical terms its existence might not be justified, in a pedagogical sense the need to (re)-consider the learning process has become apparent as new technologies open up new possibilities for active engagement by the learner in non-formal and informal learning through the use of emerging technologies, which could strengthen student learning. Indeed, current theories indicating that learning is socio-culturally situated, advocate engagement in informal activities that provide opportunities for the learner to make connections with his or her own context and experiences, to personalise the learning.2. Information Communication Technology has created an abundance of information. On the one hand this has offered new opportunities for knowledge creation as the information streams can be linked to other human beings through ICT based communication tools. The spatial way in which information is laid out and connected on the Web through hyperlinks, and, for instance, in wikis, rather than the linear way in which an author leads an individual through a book have been identified as advantageous as people will encounter unexpected information that will aid new thought. It has also been seen to help self-directed learning as it 91
  • 103. can be a way for learners to follow their own learning journey, rather than to be directed by others. However, this has also been seen as a disadvantage as it could encourage shallow “information-hopping”, rather than engaging learners in higher-order thinking. Moreover, it might diffuse information and mean that people lack the coherence that the structured book would provide. Critical analysis of information sources is important and social networks and social book-marking are seen as one way to facilitate this. The bottom-up “folksonomy” of tagging by other people, rather than using the mechanical commercial search engines are seen to provide more reliable information that is validated by others. However, the influence of inequality and power structures on the Web, which influence learners’ access to information, have been seen as problematic. Educationalists would like the local tutors to continue to be an active influence in directing learners in their search for information. The age old debate on what is true is still very relevant in the internet era as anybody can post “their own truth” and their own story and the ability to filter information to distinguish between facts and beliefs becomes an increasingly important skill.3. The way young people use ICT outside an educational context, and the way in which ICT tools and equipment have become an integral part of everyday existence are seen to be important drivers for change in the way learning might develop in years to come. Young people have been immersed in technology all their lives and new innovations and creative application of technology emerge on a daily basis and are taken up by large groups of young people worldwide outside educational institutions, and increasingly by adults as well. It is likely that some of the new developments will find their way into adult education. The possible opportunities and innovation that for instance the use of mobile and wireless technology, and the use of social software, VOIP and The Semantic Web offer, are all seen as forces for change. 92
  • 104. 4. The distribution of home access to technology and the Internet amongst the adult population is uneven. Older people and people from social classes IV and V are seen to be least likely to use new technologies and the Internet, although the growth of internet take-up is steadily increasing. This will have implications for Technology Enhanced Learning. A slow evolution rather than a fast revolution to make changes in adult education seems most appropriate if a large part of the population does not yet access the Internet.5. Students need support in the changing learning environment, but so do their tutors. The role of the tutors and of the learners, and of the learning technologist for that matter, need a closer study as the intricate interplay between these participants in the online learning development are of vital importance to the creation of meaningful learning environments and learning experiences.6. Issues of learner self-direction, learner autonomy and learner control have shown to be of importance. As the online learning environment is positioned between the institution and the Web, depending on the level of personalisation and the level of informal learning, different levels of self-direction and different roles by the tutor are likely. For instance, research is currently being carried out in Personal Learning Environments. Such environments would be identifiably personal, not shared or owned by an institution or corporation. Decisions on what application or institutional learning environment to include in the environment would be made by the learner. The learner would be in control, not a learning institution. Of course a variety of questions have been raised about this type of developments as validity and reliability of information for learning would depend on a certain level of information literacy and critical thinking. How these affordances of new technologies would fit with institutional needs and requirements will be of major concern to adult educators.7. Communication is seen by most educators as an integral part of the learning process. The way it has been facilitated through Virtual Learning Environments has been perceived as problematic by many practitioners and researchers. Issues 93
  • 105. of power and control, lack of autonomy and lack of options for personalisation, and affective issues have been identified as being difficult in research on VLEs. These issues might be solved better outside the institutional structures as informal social media have been highlighted as possible media that could help learners to facilitate true dialogue in their online learning experiences. Claims are being made that new social tools might facilitate the creation of an “online place”, a trusted community to learn in, in a better way than discussion boards have done in the past, and could provide more options for personalisation, and self-directed learning in a communicative environment. Only small-scale research has been carried out so far, and mainly anecdotal evidence from enthusiasts has been used to substantiate claims.8. Politicians and some observers would like adult education practice to embrace technological change. Institutions such as universities are already losing their autonomy as knowledge producers and disseminators of knowledge, under influence of rapid changes in technological development and the commodification of knowledge. The research indicates a need for institutions to closely follow and influence the developments and the debate, and carry out research in how institutions can evolve and use the emerging technologies to their advantage. 94
  • 106. CHAPTER 3: RESEARCH METHODOLOGY3.1. INTRODUCTION Learning theorists will no longer be able to study learning from the detached pose of the empirical scientist. The days of the controlled study involving 24 students ought to end. Theorists will have to, like students, immerse themselves in their field, to encounter and engage in a myriad of connections, to immerse themselves, as McLuhan would say, as though in a warm bath. (Downes, 2006, p. 1)Stephen Downes and his ideas on Connectivism take researchers into new unchartedterritories, which might require particular research methods. He expressed the needfor researchers to immerse themselves in the field. Several traditions have developedin educational research to lead to this statement.3.1.1. The move towards qualitative research methodsThe first educational research reports emerged in the late nineteenth century andearly 20th century. Educational research originated in psychology and was conductedin the same way that scientific research had been conducted until then: usingquantitative methods by non-practitioners to gather and analyse empirical data.Educational researchers at that time agreed that a rigorous research framework, basedon empirical knowledge produced by scientific methods, would be the way toimprove educational practice. They adopted a “positivist” approach to research,which emphasised quantitative measurement of the educational process aiming totransform education into a science (de Landsheere, 1993). Educational research wascharacterised by the development of tests, intelligence, experiments, and stringentobservational schedules in order to gain an objective measure of educational practicein order to facilitate improvements.Psychology and its research methods greatly influenced educational research, butfrom 1930 onwards the sociology of education became more influential. Sociologicalresearch was also quantitative in nature, but was different in that it aimed to achieveequal opportunities for people from all social backgrounds, which meant thatstatistics and large surveys were carried out to establish how inclusive educationreally was. In the 1960s the evaluation of education also became more prominent, as 95
  • 107. did research in school effectiveness. These were all still carried out using quantitativetechniques.In the early 1970s major criticisms of the scientific approach were made. Thevalidity of “scientific” educational research was questioned, as it had been previouslyquestioned by thinkers such as Max Weber (1922) in other social sciences.Hammersley et al were some of several researchers expressing their doubt: The numerical evidence produced by such research has the appearance of being “hard data” of the kind used in natural sciences, there are, in fact, fundamental doubts about its validity; about whether it represents accurately what it claims to represent. (Hammersley et al, 2001, p. 13)Donaldson analysed educational experiments by Piaget and questioned their validity.She argued that experiments are social situations in their own right and thatinterpretations of particular “situations” are in fact influenced by multiple areas ofthe context that cannot be controlled. For example, test questions might beinterpreted differently by the participants than the researcher had envisioned andcould lead to a different outcome to the research (Donaldson, 1993). She believedthat qualitative research would be required to research the interpretive andinteractional processes taking place in an educational setting.Stenhouse argued that while the research at the time was conducted to influenceeducational policy and improve educational practice, the nature of the research, themethods used and the pre-set parameters of it, would have been inadequate tomeasure the complex interactions and situations arising in an educational setting(Stenhouse, 1995). Furthermore, critics of the use of the scientific method ineducational research suggest that ‘human social life is not characterised by fixed,mechanical causal relationships’, but it ‘involves complex processes of interpretationand negotiation that do not have determinate outcomes’ (Hammersley et al, 2001, p.14).In fact, a move towards a different model took place, following criticisms by peoplelike Schön that scientific methods are inappropriate for the measurement ofeducational professional practice as scientific knowledge is basically different fromthe ‘knowledge-in-action’ and ‘reflection-in-action’ so characteristic of the 96
  • 108. development of educational practice (Schön, 1983). Carr and Kemmis followedHabermas in claiming that the scientific methods ‘used in quantitative educationalresearch treats human relations as subject to bureaucratic manipulation and control.’In their view it does not take into account the possible distortion of educationalpractice by particular ideologies (Hammersley, 1993, p. 214-215). This is alsoemphasised by Weiner when she queries the validity of “hard” data on genderdifferences in mathematics (Weiner, 1995).A new enlightenment model of research became more prominent that aspired toprovide policy makers and practitioners with insights into education. Its mainfeatures were the use of qualitative research with ‘a focus on the natural setting; aninterest in meanings, perspectives and understandings, an emphasis on process;inductive analysis and grounded theory’ (Hammersley et al, 2001, p. 49). Severalstrands emerged, each with a different emphasis: ethnography, discipline-focusedinquiry, critical research and educational action research, which all use qualitativeresearch methods, as opposed to relying solely on quantitative methods. Advantagesof qualitative methods over quantitative ones were seen to be that deep exploration ofeducational phenomena would be possible, that the voice of marginalized groupswould be louder, and more options for analysis of data would be available involvinginterpretation of meanings and human actions rather than numbers. This shift inresearch methods also made a change in the involvement of the people in thesituations researched.One of the qualitative forms of research, which involves participation by the peoplein the field that has grown in prominence, is “educational action research”. It takes adistinct position in the role the practitioner plays in educational research (Weiner,1995). People advocating action research and teacher research agree that carrying outresearch in their practice should be an essential part of an educational practitioner’srole.At this point it might be important to establish what is at the heart of educationalpractice. Carr stated that the word “practice” is used in a variety of ways, which arenot always compatible. It is used to refer to ‘activity to acquire certain capacities andskills’ and to ‘activity which demonstrates that these skills have already been 97
  • 109. acquired’ (Carr, 1993, p. 161). Carr argued that the activity and theory areintertwined and inform one another, as ‘practice has its roots in the commitments ofthe practitioner to wise and prudent action’ (Carr, 1993, p. 182). This symbiosisbetween theory and action, where actions in the classroom inform theory and wheretheory impacts on actions in the classroom and the role teachers can or should play inall of this, is at the heart of action research and teacher research. Researchers,including Elliott and Carr, argue that it is not just the active engagement in educationthat makes for good practice, but also the theory related to the activity and the waysin which the activity is influenced by institutions, politics and society (Weiner,1995). For an educational practitioner to carry out his work to the highest standard,he will have to research issues related to his practice, according to action researchers.In addition to questions about the validity of scientific approach in education, criticshave queried its political and ethical neutrality. A form of “critical” educationalresearch emerged that argued that the focus [of research to date] had been on the distribution of education rather than on the functions performed for capitalism by the educational system. The effect of this, it was suggested, was to reinforce the widespread belief in the political neutrality and value of the education offered in schools, when this should have been challenged (Hammersley et al, 2001, p. 18).They proposed ethnography as the most appropriate method to research education,and ‘to be of value, it is suggested, ethnographic research should be concerned notsimply with understanding the world but with applying its findings to bring aboutchange’ (Hammersley & Atkinson, 1995, p. 15).The ethnographic approach is one of the qualitative methodologies that has gainedpopularity in educational research. ‘Ethnography is a method for collecting data, butthis cannot be distinguished from the broader theoretical and philosophicalframeworks that give authority to this way of collecting data. Because method andmethodology are so intertwined some authors describe ethnography as a perspectiverather than a means to collect data’ (Brewer, 2000, p. 7). At the heart of ethnographyis the focus on the natural setting. Researchers in this tradition attempt not to disturbthe setting they are researching, hence the name related to this type of research of 98
  • 110. naturalism. There is doubt if this is at all possible as one could argue thatresearchers’ presence does influence the research situation, and variations on thisapproach have been developed, but an attempt is always being made to achieve anundisturbed setting. In addition, researchers in this tradition work towards researchdata and analysis that reflects as closely as possible what is happening in the chosensetting. The researcher is interested in the processes taking place, the perspectivesand understandings of the people in the setting. They are not so much interested inthe “input and output” of education, but in what happens between the two: ‘itpresents detail, context, emotion and the webs of social relationships that joinpersons to one another’ (Hammersley et al, 2001, p. 55).Quantitative research can show that change has taken place before and after tests, butqualitative research can show the detail of how change came about. Ethnographersdo not usually start out with a theory, but by examining a setting in depth theory canbe derived, and the theory ‘is grounded in the social activity it purports to explain’(Hammersley et al, 2001, p. 56). Moreover, Hine (2000, 2005) highlighted that in atechnologically rich environment, such as the Internet, the technology itself and theartefacts it produces should be taken into consideration in the ‘online’ ethnography,as these are part of the research setting and might influence the human interactionsresearched.Ethnographers try not to make any assumptions about the setting before the researchstarts. The methods applied therefore are open and try to capture the processes andinteractions that are taking place in depth. Usually observations and interviews arethe main methods of obtaining data. There are different ways of observation inethnographical studies, ranging from participant observation to non-participantobservation, depending on the cases studied and the setting in which they areconducted. In current educational research a mixed approach is used quite often.One of the main criticism of ethnography as a research method has been the place ofthe researcher in the research and the possible theoretical and personal bias this couldcause, in addition to possible problems with sampling as usually a small number ofparticipants are questioned. In section 3.1.3. objectivity and generalizability inqualitative research will be discussed more extensively. 99
  • 111. Terry Mayes emphasised the need to not only research issues related to theinstitutions and teachers, but to also capture the learner perspective. (Mayes, 2006).His report on the LEX (Learning EXperience) project provided a convincingargument to choose an alternative method to that used in the past to research e-learning. The mainstream approach reveals some influence of constructivist pedagogy, but largely neglects a genuinely learner-centred perspective: that students experience formal learning in emotional terms, that their motivation to learn is only understandable by looking at their lives holistically, and that technology is embedded in their social experiences. (Mayes, 2006, p. 3)He used Interpretative Phonomenological Analysis (IPA) and typified the method as‘a method for exploring how participants make sense of their own experiences’(Mayes, 2006, p. 6). It explores a particular phenomenon and tries to capture ‘adetailed story of the participant’s own experience, rather than an objective account. Itassumes that participants are experts in their own experiences and can offerresearchers an understanding of their feelings, intentions and motivations, andattitudes’ (Mayes, 2006, p. 6). In addition, it is interpretative: the researchers enter into a process of interpretation. The researchers bring their own expertise to bear on the reflective process in achieving meaning. The interpretations can be drawn from a range of theoretical positions but they should emerge as interpretations of the participant’s account, rather than emerging from prior hypotheses. (Mayes, 2006, p. 7)3.1.2. Epistemological Perspectives within Qualitative ResearchThe discussion in chapter 2 on epistemological perspectives, the traditional view ofknowledge most prominent in formal education, and (social) constructivismemerging in online and distance education, shows that different views of knowledgewill lead to different strategies in teaching and learning. They are influenced bydifferent views and understandings of the world, and different world views will alsoinfluence the way in which we ‘define and address the problems we see’ (Gulati,2006, p. 61) and how we analyse and research these issues (Guba, 1990). This meansthat different views on qualitative inquiry have emerged. Denzin and Lincoln (2003) 100
  • 112. highlighted three main philosophies: Interpretist philosophies, philosophicalhermeneutics and social constructionism. In an interpretatist view the maindifference between human action and physical movement is that human action ismeaningful. The researcher not only sees the action, but must also interpret it: A wink is not a wink . . . a smile can be interpreted as wry or loving, or that very different physical movements can all be interpreted as acts of supplication, or that the same movement of raising one’s arm can be variously interpreted as voting, hailing a taxi, or asking for permission to speak, depending on the context and intentions of the actors. (Denzin and Lincoln, 2003, p. 296)The researcher remains objective, though: she interprets texts or observes actions, butin the interpretivist view she is able to see and describe the action, or interpret a text,without getting involved herself. In the hermeneutics perspective, however, theresearcher is involved in the action: his own tradition and views of the world areincluded in the inquiry, which usually comes into being during a dialogue with theresearch subject: ‘understanding is produced in that dialogue, rather than reproducedby an interpreter through an analysis of that which he or she seeks to understand’(Schwandt, 2003, p. 302, emphasis in original). And ‘in hermeneutics the researcheris non-objectivist: Meaning is negotiated mutually in the act of interpretation; it isnot simply discovered’ (Schwandt, 2003, p. 302). Social constructionalists posit that knowing is not passive – a simple imprinting of data on the mind – but active; that is, the mind does something with these impressions. . . . In this sense, constructivism means that human beings do not find or discover knowledge so much as we construct or make it. We invent concepts, models and schemes to make sense of experience, and we continually test and modify these constructions in the light of new experience. Furthermore, there is an inevitable historical and socio-cultural dimension to this construction. We do not construct our interpretations in isolation, against a backdrop of shared understandings, practices, language, and so forth. (Schwandt, 2003, p. 305)It is also called perspectivism and all knowledge claims are seen to be evaluatedthrough a conceptual framework on the world. It rejects ‘a naïve realist andempiricist epistemology that holds that there can be some kind of unmediated, directgrasp of the empirical world and their knowledge (i.e. the mind) simply reflects ormirrors what is out there’(Schwandt, 2003, p. 305). 101
  • 113. 3.1.3. Objectivity and generalization in qualitative researchThe USA National Research Council Committee produced guiding principles forScientific Research in 2002. Shavelson et al argued that all the sciences, includingscientific educational research, share principles. In their words,all scientific endeavours should:  Pose significant questions that can be investigated empirically,  Link research to relevant theory,  Use methods that permit direct investigation of the questions,  Provide a coherent and explicit chain of reasoning,  Attempt to yield findings that replicate and generalize across studies, and  Disclose research data and methods to enable and encourage professional scrutiny and critique’ (Shavelson et al, 2003, p. 26)This seems to be a guide relevant to most disciplines of study. The aim of mostempirical research is to be as objective as possible. In fact, most researchers aspire tobe unbiased in their views, to be objective in their methods and to create knowledgethat is reliable and that stands up to scrutiny.Most educational enquiry aims at objectivity, at knowledge whose validity isindependent of the researcher. Qualitative researchers, however, question whethersuch knowledge is achievable. Foucault, Derrida and Lyotard rejected the possibilityof objective scientific understanding of the world on the grounds that this assumesfixity of meaning which does not really exist. Eisner criticised procedural objectivity;he argued that you cannot split the reality from the researcher. ‘Knowledge is alwaysconstructed relative to a framework, to a form of representation, to a cultural code,and to a personal biography’ (Eisner, 1993, p. 54). Moreover, Phillips posited thatthe way evidence is collected and by whom will determine the research results(Phillips, 1993). This would mean that all research has a subjective element, which issupported by the views of researchers in the critical tradition, who argue that power-relations in research in the past meant that the voice of the oppressed was seldomheard. Phillips (1993, p. 59) argues that ‘there is no absolutely secure starting pointfor knowledge’ and quoted Karl Popper to support this claim: The question about sources of knowledge . . . has always been asked in the spirit of: “What are the sources of our knowledge – the most reliable ones, those which will not lead us into error, and those to which we can and must 102
  • 114. turn, in case of doubt, as the last court of appeal? I propose to assume instead, that no such ideal sources exist – no more- than ideal rulers – and that all sources are liable to lead us into error some times. And I propose to replace, therefore, the question of the sources of our knowledge by the entirely different question: How can we hope to detect and eliminate error? (Popper quoted in Phillips, 1993, p. 59, emphasis in original)What Phillips proposed is ‘to open [research methodology] up to scrutiny, tovigorous examination, to challenge’ (Phillips, 1999 p. 71). In other words, to ensureobjectivity in qualitative research, there should be an extra layer of discussion aboutthe research, either with participants or with outsiders to the research. We can use theconcept of truth, as long as we understand that what we regard as true depends onshared frameworks of perceptions and understanding. Gergen and Gergen (2003)spoke of objectivity in terms of “sunset maps”: ‘One might say the sun is setting,while astronomers might at the same time say that the sun does not set. Theimportant issue is to not mistake local conventions for universal truth’ (Gergen &Gergen, 2003, p. 587). They emphasised the importance of ‘being mindful of theconstructed, the ephemeral, the hyperreal, while not giving up on empirical analysisof lived experience in a world that still seems quite real and solid to its inhabitants(even if it doesn’t seem as solid as it might once have felt).’In virtual ethnography there are other issues of objectivity to consider, such aspersonal or theoretical bias, as the researcher might be intertwined with the settingand with preconceived ideas about the setting. Some might argue that this willcompromise the unbiased collection of data. Beaulieu (2004) highlighted thedifferent approaches an online researcher can take to avoid bias; the main one beingthe possession of a level of “discipline”. Several methods of discipline wereproposed, including approaching the setting as a network and distancing oneself fromit by taking different roles on the network, or to become a “lurker” and notparticipate at all. She also discussed the opposite strategy, one of human interactivity.The researcher would gain a full understanding of the setting by being involved. Thiswas also a strategy favoured by Hine (2000) who insisted on the value ofparticipating in online networks in order to check interpretations, and also on theinherent value of the learning process while participating. The importance of intersubjectivity as a method of objectification in online ethnography was also stressed by 103
  • 115. Beaulieu (2004); the seeking of interaction and reflection on these interactions forinstance by blogging, emailing and involvement on discussion forums. The uses of the technology are aligned to the cultural phenomena being investigated (the blog and the phenomena studied ‘live’ in the same sphere). The internet best speaks for itself and is best addressed via the blog, which becomes the ideal instruments for knowing about it. Such alignments are formative moves in the production of knowledge about the internet as object. . . Blogs both help these ethnographers create the object, and make visible the subjectivity of the researcher. The blog is therefore felt to be a context and a mode of communication, a hybrid tool for making, presenting and reflecting on the object that is furthermore exposed in a new way. (Beaulieu, 2004, p.151)She notes that it might be difficult to “leave the field” after a blogging episode.Another criticism of qualitative research methods has been that their subjectivitymeans that the research is embedded in its context and that generalizability isdifficult. Of course it has been one of the main aims of scientists to achievegeneralizability for their inquiry. Indeed, Lincoln and Guba, posit that scientistsincreasingly aim for successful prediction and control of the living environment andgeneralization fits well with this. To not take this stance would mean that not muchof value is left: What ‘would be left is knowledge of the particular – and they ask“What value could there be in knowing only the unique?”’ (Lincoln & Guba, 1985,p. 110-111). They argue that the belief that generalisation is possible for the socialsciences, as well as for the natural sciences, is based on false premises. They wrote: It is virtually impossible to imagine any human behaviour that is not heavily mediated by the context in which it occurs. One can easily conclude that generalisations that are intended to be context free will have little that is useful to say about human behaviour. (Guba & Lincoln quoted in Schofield, 1993, p. 96)Schofield stated that there is a consensus ‘that generalizability in the sense ofproducing laws that apply universally is not a useful standard or goal for qualitativeresearch’ (Schofield, 1993, p. 97). He provided us with some guidelines on howgeneralizability can be achieved in qualitative research. He advocated in particularthe use of “thick descriptions”, providing readers with a considerable amount ofbackground information, which will make it easier for researchers and practitioners,who would like to use the research findings and developments to compare them totheir own context, to find the best fit with a particular situation. Thick descriptions 104
  • 116. are also emphasised as a good way to increase generalizability in qualitative researchby Gergen and Gergen (2003).Another way to extend generalizability is to increase the number of sites and casesstudied in order to increase and widen the sample and safeguard reliability of thedata. To make qualitative research projects relevant to a wider audience and todevelop collective professional knowledge, big research partnerships could be ofhelp.3.2. CHOOSING A RESEARCH METHODOLOGY3.2.2. Design Based ResearchIn the relatively new field of Learning Technology, researchers have been grapplingwith the question of how best to research innovations. As designing a new learningenvironment is a multi-facetted process, researching if an innovation is effective in aparticular educational setting is complex as well. To add to this, LearningTechnology is a multidisciplinary field that has attracted people from a wide varietyof domains from the sciences, engineering, humanities, psychology to education, allwith different traditions in research approaches and methods. What then would be asuitable research approach for the rigorous investigation of educational issues in thecontext of innovation and design of new technology based learning environments?A number of researchers in the field of Learning Technology, or as it is sometimescalled “Educational Technology”, have chosen to use a Design-Based Researchapproach (Kelly, 2004; The Design-Based Research collective, 2003; Bannan-Ritland, 2003; Barab & Squire, 2004), which is sometimes also referred to as DesignExperiments (Gravemeijer & Cobb, 2006; Sloane & Gorard, 2003), or as EducationalDesign Research (van den Akker et al, 2006).At the heart of Design Based Research is a methodological approach that examinesand analyses in a systematic way every aspect of a new learning design innovation.From the moment the initial idea for the development is born, through an iterativeprocess of development and testing, to the dissemination, diffusion and adoption-stage of the tested prototype of the designed environment, research takes place. 105
  • 117. Design Based Researchers work with practitioners and designers to ensure that allaspects of the innovation in the process are scrutinised.Shavelson et al suggested that the Strengths of design studies lie in testing theories in the crucible of practice; in working collegially with practitioners, co-constructing knowledge; in confronting everyday classroom, school, and community problems that influence teaching and learning and adapting instruction to these conditions; in recognizing the limits of theory; and in capturing the specifics of practice and the potential advantages from the iterative adapting and sharpening theory and its context. (Shavelson et al, 2003, p. 25)Shavelson et al also remarked that researchers using a design-based researchapproach argue for ‘intensive, longitudinal studies that trace the design process andcapture meaning constructed by individual subjects over time’ (Shavelson et al,2003, p.27). However, they are critical of the possibilities for generalisation ifrandomized experiments do not form part of the research design. They gave asexamples the use of small trials to test the usability of particular software to increasepossibilities for generalisation. Moreover, Sloane and Gorard argued that ‘thetheories we hold, and the training we have received, critically affect the data wecollect and the lenses we choose in looking at such data. As one might expect, acombination of theory and empiricism is usually the most fruitful’ (Sloane &Gorard, 2003, p. 30). They argued for a mixed-method approach in research. Muchcurrent educational research uses a mixed-method approach, even though someresearchers argue that qualitative and quantitative research stem from such differenttraditions, and different suppositions about the nature of the events studied, that itwould be impossible to use both in the same research. The consensus amongsteducational researchers, however, is that mixed-method approaches are possible andsometimes even desirable, as the differences between the two in educational researchare not so “deep” and “clear cut” as some suggest (Hammersley et al, 2001, p. 27).Bannan-Ritland (2003) produced the ‘Integrative Learning DesignFramework’(Figure 3) that is being used as the basis for research in newdevelopments by some learning technologists. In her framework a heavy emphasis isplaced on the development of the design of the learning environment. Research takes 106
  • 118. Figure 3 3.2.2. ‘Integrative Learning Design Framework’ (Bannan-Ritland, 2003, p. 22) 107
  • 119. place before the learning environment is produced, for instance using methods suchas interviews, surveys of experts, or focus groups, while a needs assessmentdocument is formulated. While producing the learning environment, designersproduce logs, and expert reviews and audience reviews are carried out, while aprototype model is being developed. Then an evaluation stage takes place in whichthe usability of the design is being tested. Observational data, videotapes andresearch reports forms the data.This is an iterative process in which testing follows new developments and so on. Inthe final stage the broad impact of the innovation is being evaluated. This could bedone by data-mining, extending the research to multiple sites, interviews andobservations, while the diffusion and adoption of the design will come to the fore. Atthese stages, close attention is being paid to how the activities are integrated in thedesign. One strand of the model would look at the instructional design, the writing ofthe materials by tutors, and how this interplays with the design of the learningenvironment. Another would follow the innovation through to diffusion andadoption. The final strand would involve the educational research, in whichobservations of users and facilitators, both in the classroom and the homeenvironment would be expected to take place (Bannan-Ritland, 2003). This approachwould investigate a number of aspects relevant to the research questions in thisstudy, but not all.3.3. FIT OF DESIGN BASED RESEARCH WITH RESEARCH QUESTIONSIn order to find answers to the two research questions, it would be important toinvestigate two different settings. Two settings were chosen.Setting one was an educational setting, and to be more precise, a two and a half yearlong project that had as its aim the development and delivery of an onlineprogramme in a University Department of Adult Continuing Education. Theprogramme plan had a certain flexibility in the way it was developed. It entailed thedevelopment of a bespoke learning environment, the use of Web 2.0 technologies onan online adult education programme. The expectation was that tutors would beencouraged to be facilitators; providing the tools for learning, signposting learners toresources while the creation of activities that would encourage learners to direct their 108
  • 120. own inquiry-based learning were also incorporated in the plan. The learners wouldhave access to a learning environment that they could personalise, where they wouldbe more autonomous than in a traditional learning setting. Moreover, it wasenvisioned that they would be given the opportunity to direct their own learning byusing Internet-based collaborative tools and online networks. In the Design BasedResearch Model, the research of the educational strand would be based onhypotheses regarding the effectiveness of the innovation.To answer the research questions, it would be important to capture the learner andtutor experiences in a more holistic way. An ethnographic approach through the useof Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis, as advocated by Terry Mayes (2006)would allow for the close examination of the experience of 10 learners and 4 tutorsas a sample of the participants involved in the programme. A deep understanding oflearning experiences would be achieved through observing how they would use thelearning environment and tools. Through interviews at different stages of theprogramme it would be possible to elicit their preferences for a tutor-led or learner-led learning environment. By analysing the content of their blogs, wikis anddiscussion board participation it would be possible to analyse their experience withWeb 2.0 tools for communication. In addition a deep understanding of the teacherexperiences would be acquired. Analyses of statistics generated by the learningenvironment would provide an overall picture of how often people used the learningenvironment and at what critical times.The learning environment being used would influence the learning and teachingexperience. In order to investigate the other strands of the innovation, such as thedesign of the learning environment, interviews with the project manager and thedevelopers of the environment and resources would be used at different stages of theprogramme. A developmental blog that archived the experiences of the design teamat each stage of development, and the problems that they experienced in the process,would also be used.The Framework by Bannan-Ritland was regarded as useful for this part of theresearch as it investigates all aspects that influence the learning and teachingexperience. It was thought better if the emphasis of the model was focussed towards 109
  • 121. the educational strand, as the learner experience in the move from an institutional toa personal learning environment are at the centre of the research question. It wasimportant however, to take note of the influences of the design of the environment onthe learning experience in the research. Carroll (2008) in her PhD thesis on aestheticsin online engagement emphasised the importance of the visual experience in design.This, together with issues of the modelling of tasks and activities, might be a factorin learners choosing to use particular tools or not, rather than educational issues. Itwould be important to obtain data capturing details that discriminated between thetwo possibilities.Coccioli reviewed the literature on Design Based Research and concluded that Design Based Research is a set of methods that have much potential for contributing to educational knowledge and reconnecting educational research with real-world practice. Despite its many positive possibilities, certain problems remain. Most notably, DBR employs liberal use of networked technologies such as the Internet yet does not yet attempt to understand the ways in which such technologies restructure traditional categories of things, such as identity. Rather, DBR up to this point enforces place-based studies and rely on more traditional ethnographic techniques. (Coccioli, 2005, p. 14)Design Based Research was considered an appropriate research method to researchthe project indicated above as it includes a number of “place-based” elements. Theuse of an ethnographic approach was suitable as it would encompass a longitudinalstudy of the learning environment and the interactions between learners and tutors.One aspect that the Bannan-Ritland model could not interrogate that would be ofimportance to this study was the invisible and informal learning that takes placeoutside the formal learning environment.Research in the intricacies of learning taking place in the second setting, the onlinenetwork, was seen to be of importance to get answers to the research questionsrelated to the informal online networks. If people are encouraged to move away fromthe institution for their learning, it would be useful to find out if the informal (online)networks in which they do find their information and where they might developunderstandings, are important to their study and if they are good sources of reliableinformation. Would information they find there be validated by other participants onthe network? As indicated in section 2.2.2. networks are not neutral places (Barabasi, 110
  • 122. 2003; Bouchard, 2010) and people access information through “hubs” or “centralnodes” on networks, while communicating through different quality “ties” (Jones etal, 2008), which would influence the information retrieved. A network for this studywould be an open online area where people meet, as nodes on networks, whilecommunicating with others and while using blogs, wikis and other informationstreams.De Laat highlighted the complexity of researching networked learning in his PhDthesis. He emphasised as key problems, the issues of human agency and themultitude of issues involved, such as the dynamics of the network, power-relationson the network, and the amount of content generated. Effective analysis wouldrequire a multi-method approach. He suggested the use of computer-generatedcontent analysis to explore what people are discussing. In addition, interviews withan emphasis on critical event recall focussing on the experiences of participants tofind out ‘why they are talking as they do’ and Social Network Analysis to find outthe dynamics of the network to see ‘who communicates with whom’ (de Laat, 2006,p. 110). Social Network Analysis is a quantitative method and could illuminate whothe central nodes on the network were, in other words which people on the networkperformed vital roles of connecting to the otherwise un-connected. It could alsoprovide information on the importance of “connectors” to other networks, whichwould be important in finding out who the innovators on the network were, i.e. theones to link vital information streams (Krebs, 2007).The network that de Laat investigated was a group of online learners at Masters levelin a VLE. I investigated a more complex learning environment: it was more open,involving people on a global scale, not screened for any other reason than theirinterest in the topic of discussion. His methods seemed to capture all activity on aparticular closed course related network, but I decided that the nature of the oneresearched would be different and that I would need different research methods togain a deeper understanding of the activities on the online network.To interrogate the research questions in the study effectively, the most fittingresearch approach in this setting was seen to be an ethnographic approach. I becameimmersed in the network for nine months, in which I posted on my blog and in which 111
  • 123. I also commented on and linked to other blogs and became a participant observer,taking part in the typical activity on the network. I wrote my own blog,, to see how easy it was to become enculturated in the network. Ibecame a member of the network of “learning technology”. I was to find the“gatekeepers” and “key-nodes” of the network and research how these networks“worked”. In addition, questionnaires were used with participants on three openonline networks to examine the nature of new knowledge generated and if learningtook place. This method was also used to establish how reliable participants foundthe information available through the network, and how important communicationwas in this process. Were there issues of power and control that prohibited learningin online networks? How did participants’ knowledge develop? Did they need todirectly communicate with people, or was the communication that took placebetween others and the information they provided enough to help the meaningmaking process? This meant that a limited form of network analysis was used byasking particular questions regarding the networks used by participants to add anextra dimension to the ethnographic method of observation.3.4. DECISIONS ON RESEARCH METHODOLOGYAs indicated in section 3.1., the choice of research methodology in educationalresearch has caused some controversy over the past decades, with experts oneducational research leaning towards the need for qualitative research in order tofully capture the processes that take place in a learning environment. It was decidedto choose Design Based Research as the main research method for this study, inparticular the model advocated by Bannan-Ritland (2003), to test all aspects and theinter-relatedness of the aspects shown in her model. The model was used to get in-depth insights in the learning and teaching experiences of participants on the onlineprogramme and to establish in how far the design of the environment had an effecton the learning outcomes and experiences. The particular focus was on the capturingof educational data for which an ethnographic approach was used; observing whattook place on the learning environment, and carrying out (telephone) interviews withparticipants and developers on two occasions during the programme.An ethnographic approach is distinctly qualitative, which involves qualitativeobservations and qualitative interviews with participants. It is possible to hold 112
  • 124. quantitative interviews using a positivist approach. These would be characterized bystandardized questions; the same for each interviewee with not much space todiverge from the original questions, nor for further probing. This method wasrejected as it would not be appropriate for this enquiry as the importance to “dig asdeep as possible” to ensure rich data that would reflect a personal experience wasrecognised; the interviews allowed for an open discussion that ‘generate[d] anauthentic insight into people’s experiences’ (Miller & Glassner, 2004, p. 127). Theresearcher used some questions and sub-questions that would allow for follow-upresponses to initial responses. The main challenge in this approach would be to avoidbias as it is easy to lead interviewees (Miller & Glassner, 2004). The observations inthis part of the research involved a presence on the online environment, in each andevery area, to capture any activity that took place in order to achieve a completeoverview of the learning experience.In addition, an ethnographic study of an online network was chosen, the immersionin the network, yes, as if in a warm bath, to fully experience what it is like toparticipate and become enculturated in an online learning network. In addition,questionnaires with participants in three networks have been used to capture andanalyse activities on particular networks.3.5. RESEARCH METHODS USED3.5.1. Research Methods ABCD ProjectThe aim of the research methodology was to capture a full overview of the learningand teaching that took place on the ABCD environment in all its facets in addition tothe design influences on these experiences. Some of the main features of the studywere to capture in narrative how students and tutors used the learning technologiesemployed on the project, in particular Web 2.0 technologies, and also their cognitivedevelopment in the learning process. The aim was to capture some of the factors thatBouchard (2009a) identified as related to learner autonomy: conative, semantic,affective and social factors in the changing learning environment, in addition tologarithmic issues of organising and sequencing their learning in the experiences oflearners and tutors, as described in chapter A methodology capable of doingthis would have similar characteristics to the ones described by Mayes in a his study 113
  • 125. using I.P.A., which was slightly different from the ABCD project, but had enoughcharacteristics in common to justify using a similar methodology. The followingcharacteristics were seen to be important: ‘It should be ‘naturalistic’ (focusing oninformal as well as formal learning), it should be capable of capturing the complexityand authenticity of case studies, it should sample purposefully (choosing learnerswho are characterised by behaviours or qualities of particular relevance), it shouldemploy semi-structured interview schedules’ (Mayes, 2006, p. 4), and it should focuson e-learning contexts relevant to the study.As described in section 4.2. The Integrative Learning Design Framework (Bannan-Ritland, 2003) was used as a basis for the research and analysis of the ABCD Project.The different elements of the framework, namely product design, experience design,usage design, instructional design, innovation developments and educational researchhave all been investigated during the research period. There were different stages ofdevelopment, starting with a literature review and market research to ensure thedesign would be fit for purpose and suitable for the target audience. The next stagewas the developmental stage, where an iterative process of development, testing andre-development of the learning environment and resources were carried out. The nextstages were the evaluation of the local impact, the instructional design andeducational research, for which the I.P.A. has been used, and the final stage was theevaluation of the broader impact; social network analysis on online networks, thediffusions of successful tools, and the project dissemination.Even though this is a thesis in adult continuing education, it was found to beimportant to pay attention to issues of design, in particular of experience, usage andinstructional design of the learning environment, as they could influence the learningand teaching experiences. However, in this thesis not all stages of the developmentphase will be elaborated upon, only issues directly influencing the educationalprocess.Apart from the iterative process of design, development and testing, and once againupdating and testing, the main research approach has been an ethnographic one.Through observations of activities and communications taking place in the learningenvironment, and (telephone) interviews with learners, tutors and designers at two 114
  • 126. stages during the programme, a rich overview of experiences, including challengesand highlights, has been obtained.The research process began early on, before the project started, as the design wasinfluenced by earlier e-learning projects at the setting, and by the literature oncommunication in e-learning facilitated through VLEs, and the problems withcommunication and lack of “true” communication possible in VLEs, as indicated insections 2.3. (Kop & Woodward, 2006). These issues influenced the design of theresearch. Semi-structured interviewsA variety of qualitative research methods were used. In addition to semi-structuredinterviews with tutors (Appendix 2) and students (Appendix 3), in which their storieswere captured, semi-structured interviews with the project manager and the learningtechnologists (Appendix 4) have been vital in finding out the main issues influencingthe learning and teaching experiences and strategies. Before the online teaching andlearning started a survey was carried out to capture background information ofparticipants in the programme (Appendix 5).Semi-structured interviews were used for all interviews, where the questions wereused as prompts to engage participants in providing as detailed an account aspossible of their experience. Rather than the interviewer controlling the interview, anattempt was made to engage in a dialogue in which the interviewee’s answers wouldbe at the heart of the interviewer’s probes for deeper information to ensure that therecorded experience was an accurate account of the experience.Some interviews were lengthy conversations, while others were more akin to shortquestion and answer sessions. This was very much dependent on the preference ofthe participants for elaboration or succinctness. The interviewer had a number ofquestions and sub sections prepared to be able to probe deeper if interviewees’answers would remain at the surface. All interviews were recorded on a digitalrecorder and the sound files transcribed. 115
  • 127. Observations on the online learning environmentIn addition, the environment itself and all activities taking place in it (e.g. in wikis,on discussion boards, in chat rooms, while using reflective journals, and resourcesrelated to the programme) have been under observation for the two years of theproject duration in order to analyse the approaches to and levels of communicationand interaction taking place using the different tools. Moreover, learning materials,including visual artefacts, such as videos and podcasts, have been scrutinized todevelop a holistic picture of the experiences of tutors and learners.Field notes were made in addition to a research diary. A blog by the developersduring the development stage, reports of team meetings by project staff and informalmeetings with the project manager, tutors and learning technologists have allcontributed to a complete overview of the ABCD Project and all its facets. Interviewquestions to all participants in the project have been used to gain an understanding ofthe importance of the design and development on the actual learning and teachingthat was taking place. The sample: Students, tutors, project manager and learning technologistsThe sampling criteria were based on the assumption that each learner is an individualwho learns in his or her unique way. Also each tutor approaches teaching in adifferent way. Qualitative researchers disagree on sample size. Barteau and Barteau-Wiame argue that you sample until ‘you reach theory saturation point, that is untilyou know that you have a picture of what is going on and can generate anappropriate explanation for it’ (Mason, 1996, p. 97). Lincoln and Guba suggest thatthis point is reached when interviewing twelve people of a particular group(Fenwick, 2003). Mayes indicates that the average sample size for InterpretativePhenomenological Analysis research is ten and warns against too large a number ofstudents to avoid too large a dataset (Mayes, 2006). From the 17 students who movedon from the face-to-face to the online course 10 were selected as participants in theresearch. For this study care was taken to have a heterogeneous sample of students,containing men and women of different ages and from different socio-economicgroups. Patterns of access and use of ICT are very different for people from different 116
  • 128. ages and social classes (National Statistics, 2008), so a distribution of these factorsamongst the participants would make the findings more reliable.A complication relating to the sampling was that the majority of participantsrecruited to the programme were young men, as opposed to the usual patterns ofrecruitment in adult education courses, where mature women are in the majority.Most students were from lower socio-economic groups. A group of ten students wasinterviewed twice over the duration of the project, eight men and two women, whichwas a representative sample of the students in age and background. Three of the malestudents “dropped out” during the course. They were still interviewed twice andwere asked some specific questions about this. Data from their reflective diaries andfrom their communications and activities on the online environment were alsoanalysed for particular causes of their “drop-out”, which will be expanded upon insection out of the seven online tutors were interviewed, two men and two women. TheProject Manager and the three learning technologists taught the first face-to-facemodule and were interviewed about their teaching experience and were alsointerviewed twice during the programme to capture their involvement in the iterativeprocess of design and development of the learning environment and the onlineactivities and multimedia resources. In addition, they were questioned on the onlinehelp desk support that they provided to students and the instructional design workthat they carried out with tutors.3.5.2. Research methods online networkThe methods used to research the online networks were two-fold: immersion in alearning technology network, and a survey of members of three online networks. Amixed methods approach was applied, using qualitative and quantitative methods; acombination of an ethnography to get a deep understanding of the activities on thenetwork, and a survey of participants on three networks to widen the scope of theinquiry to other networks and to directly question participants on the networks. Itwould have been desirable to also include interviews with participants on thesenetworks, but because of time constraints this was not possible. As explained in the 117
  • 129. final paragraph of section 3.2.2. Sloane and Gorard (2003) and Hammersley et al(2001) indicate that a mixed-methods approach can be desirable and that anethnographic approach not necessarily should preclude the use of quantitativemeasures. Immersion in a learning technology networkI immersed myself in the worldwide online network of learning technologists asparticipant observer by creating my own blog (, where fornine months I wrote regular blog posts related to learning technology: I commentedon blogs by other educational technologists, I participated in an online conference onConnectivism and in a very large open online course on Connectivism. I took part indiscussions and wikis, wrote blog posts and comments on other people’s blogs andanalysed how others participated on the network. I also made an effort to find outwho were the important nodes on the network, i.e. the important participants andaggregators of information on the network and asked what made them important. Inaddition, I analysed who were perceived as being the experts on the network and howeasy or difficult it was to move from the periphery of the network to the centre andbecome a more important member. A qualitative analysis of the network was carriedout to find out the roles of the different nodes on the network. Survey of members of three online networksIn addition to this, a survey was carried out amongst members of three onlinenetworks to establish how they perceived their own learning on the network and therole that other participants on the networks played in their learning. Questionnaires(Appendix 6) were distributed amongst participants on the learning technologynetwork during the Connectivism course. The course leader included it as a post inhis daily newsletter. The two other networks surveyed were of librarian bloggers andof ICT researchers linked to JISC, the Joint Information Systems Committee, a bodyfunded by the UK government to enhance the research and development ofInformation Technology in education. An email was sent out on the listservs of thesetwo networks asking volunteers to participate in the research.The research method in relation to the sample (size) has been a challenge. Therewere 2200 participants on the “learning technology” network, but it was impossible 118
  • 130. to know how many people saw the message that the course leader sent out to drawpeople’s attention to the survey, so it was impossible to establish what the percentageof respondents was. The same problem occurred on the other two networks. It wasimpossible to know if all members on the group email list would read all theiremails, which meant that it was impossible to know the response rate. An additionalissue has been the self-selection of the participants, as it was impossible to know ifthey were representative of the network. However, this method was seen as the onlyway to gain in depth information from participants. The total number of respondentsto the surveys has been 65; 46 on the “learning technology” network, 13 on the “ICTresearch network” and 6 on the “library blogger” network. The learning technologynetwork was worldwide, with an emphasis of participants from North America (n=20- 43%) and Europe (n=10 - 23%), with the ICT network having an emphasis onEuropean participants (n=11 - 85%) and the library bloggers network being fullyEuropean. The age of participants was varied. Amongst library bloggers the majorityof participants fell in the 31-40 bracket (83%), while the participants from the ICTresearch network fell in a higher age group: 31% were between 41 and 50, and 23%were between 51 to 60 years old. The age of participants from the learningtechnology network was varied, ranging from 30% in the 31-40 category, 11% in the41-50 bracket, 41% were between 51 and 60, and 16% were over 60 years old.The research is interesting for this thesis as all people who responded were interestedin learning technology, so its results would be indicative of how the people mostpositive about learning online would experience their learning on networks.However, the low response rate meant that the research could only be used toilluminate particular issues, but that generalisation from the results would not bepossible. Moreover, the sampling strategy (using networks related to learning andtechnology) meant that respondents would be leaning towards a positive stance ontechnology-enhanced learning which had to be taken into account in the analysis,which also meant that the validity of generalisations from the research would belimited. People were allowed to give multiple answers to one question.3.6. ETHICAL ISSUESEvery researcher has to consider the ethical implications of their methods ofobtaining the data and the use they make of it in the study concerned. Sometimes 119
  • 131. obtaining data is a matter of accessing statistics or documents, but especially wherepeople are involved in the research, careful consideration of the level of informedconsent by participants will be required. Lankshear and Knobel highlighted that all research involving participation by human subjects, whether conducted in physical settings, virtual settings, or both, is inescapably intrusive to a greater or lesser extent. Participants’ routines and, indeed, to some extent their lives, are changed from what they otherwise would have been because of the researcher’s intrusion into their routines. Obtaining informed consent does not obliviate intrusion; it simply gives the researchers permission to intrude. (Knobel & Lankshear, 2004, p. 3)Moreover, Miller and Bell argued that ‘gaining “informed” consent is problematic ifit is not clear what the participant is consenting to and where “participation” beginsand ends’(Miller & Bell, 2002, p.53). They would like researchers to reconsiderthroughout the research process if participants need to be asked for additionalconsent.Furthermore, Anderson and Kanuka suggested that the most important issue is that of‘creating and maintaining respectful relationships with the participants of the study’.They also highlighted that there are additional ethical issues in an onlineenvironment that are not always apparent to ethics committees. They advisedresearchers to ensure ‘personal integrity and self-regulation, which includes opennessand honesty about all aspects of the study, as well as reflection on our actions before,during, and after conducting a research project’ (Anderson & Kanuka, 2003, p. 56).What particular ethical issues would be relevant for the study in the two settings?3.6.1. Setting One: the ABCD ProjectAccess to the ABCD sites was obtained from the relevant people: the Head ofDepartment gave permission to access the setting and also the Project Manager.Approval by the departmental Ethics Committee was obtained. Informed consent wasobtained at the start of the programme from all students on the course, this to be ableto observe the participants while using the learning environment and all applicationsrelated to it, such as blogs, wikis, and an ePortfolio-application. In addition, consentwas sought for the analysis of content generated by using the learning tools and 120
  • 132. systems, and for using the learning environment’s statistics. Furthermore, permissionwas obtained from each participant interviewed, and for the use of the data gathered.All data used in the research reports was anonymised; no student or tutor namesmentioned, and project and university names were changed.Another ethical issue affecting the research was the fact that I, the researcher, wasworking in the department in which the research was carried out. Moreover, I wasthe instigator of the ABCD Project and applied for the funding and was involved inthe decision making process with regards to the programme curriculum andappointment of project development and design team. Furthermore, I line-managedthe project manager for the duration of the project in educational matters.Positivists might say that the lack of objectivity because of these issues wouldadversely affect the research, but in Design Based Research, as with Practitioner andAction Research, there are clear advantages of the researcher being at the heart of thedevelopment. For instance, when looking closer at Bannan-Ritland’s LearningDesign Framework it clearly shows the advantages of a researcher immersed in theresearch from the start as the “Informed Exploration” stage would be based on veryearly exploration of the subject and informing the further development of the designof the learning environment. It also would be at the heart of the iterative process ofdevelopment, testing and developing again of the design and development. Ofcourse, as an ethnographic approach was chosen for the educational research, and theresearcher had to be involved in documenting, observing and questioning thedevelopments and participants, objectivity in the positivist sense would not enhancethe research as it would have made it impossible to capture the intricacies of theeducational process fully.I, as researcher, did do all in my power to ensure an unbiased approach during theinterview stage by piloting the main interview schedule and ensuring scrutiny of thequestions by four outsiders to the research for bias. All was done to create anenvironment of trust between the researcher and the participants to ensure a closeworking relationship and a willingness to discuss all possible issues. I was quite 121
  • 133. aware that my close involvement with the project might prohibit participants todisclose issues, but the opposite happened; learners asked me to pass on problemsthey experienced with the learning environment to the design team, or onpedagogical issues with the tutors, which I did and as such my involvement formedpart of the iterative process of development, testing and re-development.3.6.2. Setting Two: online network studyResearching an online network has more complications from an ethical perspective.What consent should be obtained when observing people’s behaviour on the Internetand analysing their writing and multi-media contributions? Views on this vary, butthe main arguments put an emphasis on the question of how public the online spaceis. According to Lankshear and Knobel, within the Humanities, consent is notrequired for research conducted in public spaces. They emphasised however, that it isnot clear amongst online researchers what is a public or a private space. Some arguethat ‘the publicness or privateness of an online space should be judged according tohow it is perceived by the people who interact within it’ (Knobel & Lankshear, 2004,p. 5). Password-protected communities are seen to be private places and researchingthese would require informed consent. Open discussion forums and archivablediscussions are generally perceived to be public spaces. Some researchers set up theirown website in which they state their research intentions and to ‘which participantsto an online community can be directed’ (Knobel & Lankshear, 2004, p. 5).I set up my own blog and website and I clearly introduced myself to the network andposted my intentions to research it. I also wrote extensively on the nature of theresearch on my website and provided opportunities for participants and non-participants to contact me. Knobel argued that this type of ‘openness will contributeto the researcher’s credibility as someone with nothing to hide from studyparticipants (Knobel, 2002, p. 9). I treated openly accessible blogs, wikis and otherresources as public spaces, and I obtained informed consent from any participant onthe network who filled out a questionnaire. Participants have been assured of theiranonymity in the research and of confidentiality. As expressed by Knobel andLankshear: seeking, obtaining, documenting, and honouring informed consent are indissolubly related to issues of trust and honesty, and entail researcher 122
  • 134. obligations to protect the privacy and to respect the dignity of every study participant and others whose interests are impacted through collecting data (Knobel & Lankshear, 2004, p. 6)I posted a message on my website, which was linked to my blog, to indicate that Iwas researching learning on online networks. This was to provide clarity withregards to the research aims and objectives in addition to information regarding theresearch. I have freely participated on open networks, on Massive Online Courses,such as the Connectivism courses by Downes and Siemens in 2008 and 2009, and ononline conferences as part of this research.Carrying out the online surveys on the other two closed networks was preceded by anintroduction and a link to the website so participants could find out more about theresearch, and a message regarding ethics (see appendices 6, 7, and 8) to ensure thatparticipants would be fully informed about the research and would be able to provideinformed consent before filling out the online questionnaire.3.7. METHODS OF ANALYSISAll data have been analysed using qualitative methods, apart from statisticsgenerated by the environment itself and an online pre-course student survey(Appendix 5) to capture student proficiency and confidence in using technology.A practical approach to analysing qualitative data was sought that moved from adescriptive to an analytical approach, and found in The Ladder of AnalyticalAbstraction by Carney (Miles and Huberman, 1994, p92). The large amounts of datahad to be organised in such a way that categories, themes and sub-themes wouldbecome clear.All interview and observation data have been analysed using discourse analysistechniques of coding, sub-coding and organising data in patterns and categories thatappeared. Initially exploring and describing what happened during the two years ofthe programme, and how it happened, but then moving to an analytical stage; cross-checking these initial findings against the research questions, and eventually moving 123
  • 135. to a synthesis stage, integrating the organised data into an explanatory framework, containing several stages of development. The analysis developed from describing what actually took place over the two years of the research, to analysis and synthesis of the data and visualising it for clarity. A conceptual framework of the analysis has been included as Table 2, Research Analysis Matrix that shows this process.Research site 1: ABCD ProjectLearner experienceCritical Thinking Process Affective Learning Communication Control Contextevents issues ConstraintsTransition Critical Thinking Online - Face Face to face Autonomy Technologiesf2f to to face usedonline Spatial/Linear Level of Tutor Presence Personalisation Resources support Meaning making Engagement – Synchronous Technology Multimedia drop outAction Learning A-synchronous ToolsResearch strategies availableModule Web2.0 Web2.0 Support technologies in students learning Learning a Student prior social activity? experience with technologyTutor ExperienceCritical Higher order Affective Teaching Behaviour Communication Control Contextevents thinking issues Constraints Knowledge Pedagogy Level of Face to face Autonomy Technologies feedback used Meaning making Personalisation Level of self- Presence Personalisation Resources direction Differences Engagement VLE Learning Multimedia tutors environment and resources Differences Web2.0 Institutional Tools start end constraint available Support and professional developmentDesign IssuesAdoption Experience Instructional Control Contextprocess design design ConstraintsUser fit Interaction – Variety in Tutor IT Choice of Communication knowledge and knowledge VLE and Dialogue skills tutorsReadiness Meaning Role of tutors Tools Pedagogical significance – and learning objectives Cognitive and technologists information designCritical Multi-sensory Pedagogicalevents approach framework Intensity - Institutional Change and Presence constraints innovation Usage Design TimeSite dynamics and transformationCritical Initial user Changes in innovation Effects of Web2.0 tools onevents experience communication and learning 124
  • 136. experience Effects on user Implementation problems Effects on teaching strategies constructs/cognition Programme problem solving Effects on organisational practice Explanations for transformationsStudent Impact (direct, meta-level and side-effects)Research site 2: Online networksMatrix related to research questionsResearch Questions Student/tutor role, attitude and VLE/space/place Significance -Meaning use tendencies design importanceWeb2.0CommunicationLearning strategiesTeaching strategiesSelf-direction - controlKnowledge change? Table 2 3.7. Research analysis matrix 125
  • 137. CHAPTER 4 FINDINGS OF THE ABCD PROJECT4.1. CONTEXT - BACKGROUND ABCD PROJECT4.1.1. Why choose the ABCD Project?As indicated in section 3.3 it was important to research an educational setting thathad a bespoke online learning environment, offering flexibility in the applicationsused, and providing the option to use Web 2.0 technologies. At the time when theresearch took place the VLE at the university where the research was carried out, didnot provide the option of using Web 2.0 tools. To have an adapted environment thatincluded these would make it possible to compare different approaches tocommunication: the interaction in a face-to-face environment, the traditionaldiscussion forums used in a VLE and communication through using new Web 2.0tools.In order to answer the research questions, it was important that there was flexibilityin the level of control imposed by tutor or learner during the learning experience toexplore issues of learner autonomy and control in different approaches. Theseconditions were all fulfilled by the ABCD Project. In addition, the researcher wasclosely involved in the design and development of the curriculum and the learningenvironment. This would be advisable in Design Based Research as any changes,developments and experiences by the staff and students involved in the project couldbe researched from an early stage.4.1.2. The Research SettingThe ABCD Project was based at a University Department of Adult ContinuingEducation and funded through the European Social Fund. This department had atrack record of Widening Access to Higher Education to non-traditional students anda history of innovative practice. For example, higher education was provided in thecommunities of the UK through a network of community partner centres. Thedepartment ran a community-based, part-time B.A. in Humanities degree schemewith confidence building foundation programmes, and was recognised for its successin recruiting and retaining adult students from under-represented social groups. In 126
  • 138. this regard it promoted the shared values of “bringing learning closer to home”,responding to community needs and enabling equal partnership with communities. Ithas provided a platform for negotiation by working through numerous projects tobring about change both in the supply of and demand for learning. The departmenthas a history of technological innovation in the curriculum, and online courses weredeveloped through several projects. The ABCD Project was developed with the aimof providing access to Higher Education to people “under-employed” in localenterprises and making higher-level learning accessible to people in the workplace.4.1.3. The Programme of studyThe ABCD Project was a two-year programme for people working or managing asmall or medium-sized Enterprise (SME) or Social Enterprise, or volunteering in thecommunity sector, and lead to a Level 1 Higher Education Certificate, a total of 120credits. Aims were to upgrade the technological, innovation, problem-solving andaction research knowledge and skills within their work environment. It was assessedfor quality through the usual university quality systems. Learners and tutors wereusing the latest technologies in both learning and creating online content, whichmeant that students would learn how to use and produce blogs, podcasts, wikis,social bookmarking, videos and chats in addition to using these tools in their learningand assessments. The first module took place in a face-to-face setting in four areas ofthe UK. All other modules were online. The curriculum was varied and included ascompulsory modules: Introduction to online communication and new technologies;Critical Thinking and Information Literacy; Reflection, Innovation & Creativity;Understanding Action Research; From Theory to Practice: Research and Report. Inaddition, E-commerce and Sustainable Development for Business were optionalmodules. As the project was funded by the European Social Fund, the programmewas free to people living in the four counties closest to the university.The rationale for the module choice was two-fold: some of the modules wouldprovide background knowledge and skills to be able to learn effectively in a semi-autonomous online learning environment, such as ‘introduction to onlinecommunication and new technology’ and ‘critical thinking and information literacy’,while others would provide knowledge and skills to innovate the workplace, such as“reflection, innovation & creativity” and “understanding Action Research”. 127
  • 139. Students researched their work place and the expected learning outcomes were: to beable to demonstrate a knowledge and understanding of a range of new technologiesand social software; various concepts of critical analysis, action research,information literacy; the application of research techniques and innovativetechnologies to their workplace, and developments in community enterprise and/or e-commerce.These learning outcomes were assessed through formative assessments throughoutthe programme in the form of activities and personalised communication andfeedback. Writing the reflective journal was compulsory, although the content wasnot graded to avoid compromising the reflection process (Boud & Walker, 2002). Atthe end of each module learners also took a summative assessment and produced apiece of work, which could take the form of a digital artefact such as a video podcast,or a research project, a presentation or a more traditional written assignment. Inaddition, at the end of each module learners had to submit five of their owncontributions of their choice to discussion boards or wikis, which would be graded.Built into the programme were activities and teaching strategies to facilitate a“journey towards autonomy” for the students, starting with a traditional class roombased module, fully supported by a tutor presence at all teaching sessions and endingwith an action research project where the tutor was a supervisor guiding students byonline chat and the use of feedback in an online reflective diary.Activities ranged from solving puzzles, working together in a wiki to produce avideo podcast, to responding individually or in a group activity after viewingparticular video resources, or engaging with learning objects or readers. Moststudents attended the weekly chat sessions. 128
  • 140. 4.1.4. The teaching and learning environmentThe ABCD Programme was taught using a fully customised online learningenvironment. The university’s Learning Management System, Blackboard, was notused for the programme as at the time it did not contain the tools regarded asnecessary for the programme, such as blogs and wikis. It was also regarded as notflexible enough for the purpose of the ABCD programme. The open source MoodleLearning Environment was being used and adapted to suit the needs of theprogramme.Figure 4 4.1.4. The ABCD online learning environmentThe online environment as shown in figure 4 provided a supportive framework, andincluded communications tools and resources. Course materials included tailor maderesources in a variety of forms, including video, documents, an interactive coursereference book, slideshows and podcasts. In addition to this, students were expectedto make use of resources more widely available on the Internet and elsewhere.4.1.5. Restraints and Flexibility in designing the learning environmentThe ABCD Project had a Project Manager, responsible for the curriculum and thedevelopment of the learning environment and the pedagogical development of theprogramme. In addition, the project had three full time learning technologistsavailable for the design and development of the learning environment, resources andinstructional design with the tutors. One of the technologists with particular 129
  • 141. knowledge of Human Computer Interaction was responsible for the design of thegraphics as well as the design of the experience, accessibility and usability. Anothertechnologist had a background in multimedia and had particular responsibilities forthe development of the Moodle environment. The third technologist had a technicalbackground to ensure all applications would work and fit in with the university’stechnological environment. The availability of this team and their skills andknowledge ensured that a bespoke learning environment could be created that wouldhave all features to support the aims and objectives of the project.4.2. DESIGN ISSUESAccessing any website is a multi-sensory experience. Web 2.0 technologies havemade it possible to incorporate a number of applications and features to enhance awebpage from the Web 1.0 information and read-write capability with hyperlinksinto an interactive experience using communication and visual elements. Asmentioned in section, careful design of the learning experience, involvingexperience design and including information and cognitive design, as well as usagedesign and instructional design, could be important in the learner and tutorexperience.4.2.1. ContextThe programme took place in a university environment. The university, however,does not have extensive resources available for the development of e-learning. Ateam of three technologists to support academic staff operates out of the Library andInformation Service, consisting of instructional design staff and staff who administerthe university’s Virtual Learning Environment Blackboard. No staff is available tohelp with and develop the design of e-learning software, learning objects and tools.Even though expertise in multimedia and web design is available, the resources touse them for this new programme were very limited. As the ABCD programme wasfunded by European Structural funds, it was possible to appoint a team of designspecialists. One of the learning technologists working on the project was an expert inHuman Computer Interaction (HCI), in particular in the aesthetics of the design,which meant that extensive thought went into the initial design of the learningenvironment. One was a multimedia specialist with expertise in the use of video andsound in an online environment, while the third technologist had a more technical 130
  • 142. background with the skills to develop learning objects and to ensure the integrationof the environment and its components in the university computing systems. TheProject Manager was a specialist in open and distance learning with a wideexperience in instructional design, and worked with tutors and lecturers on the designof the curriculum to ensure the learning environment and resources would not onlybe sound from the point of view of design, but also from an educational perspective.She was responsible for the design and development of the curriculum and for theeducational integration of the programme into the quality structures of the university.As mentioned previously, the project team decided not to use the university’s VLE,but to adapt the open source Moodle environment to the distinctive needs of thelearners on the project. Learning Technologist 3 expressed concisely why a VLEmight not be suitable to support the needs of all students in the long term: Moodle and Blackboard are good solutions out of the box but I think in the long term, they’re no good. I think they just become very big containers holding information and as soon as they get a certain size, everyone says “I can’t be bothered anymore”. (LT3)Tutor 1, who was also a member on the university e-learning team mentioned that theproject would be a good opportunity to compare Blackboard and Moodle, as theuniversity was keen to find out if Moodle was worth adopting. In addition, allmembers of the project team had doubts about the possibilities of their design ideaswithin the university VLE Blackboard Learning Management System (LMS). TheProject Manager spoke about the VLE as ‘being very linear and regimented, andclunky, without much scope to make it engaging’. She would ideally have liked tosee an environment with a seamless interface between the LMS and different tools.Neither Blackboard nor Moodle could provide that, and a variety of tools wereadded, which caused problems, which will be explained in some of the followingsections. Change and innovationThe emergence of Web 2.0 technologies such as blogs and wikis in 2004, a yearbefore the start of the project, was one of the main drivers for change in the e-learning practice of the department in which the project was based. Blogs and wikiswere in the literature seen as possible innovators of educational practice (Downes,2004; Lamb, B., 2004, Mortensen & Walker, 2002) and there was great 131
  • 143. dissatisfaction with the traditional VLE as it was seen to lack flexibility, acontemporary layout and the opportunity to use peer-to-peer tools (Kop &Woodward, 2006). It was envisaged that Web 2.0 communications tools embeddedin a Moodle LMS that seemed to have scope for adaptation could enhance thecommunication in the online environment greatly. The fact that funding wasavailable to appoint three full time learning technologists and a project manager alsohelped in this development. Pedagogical objectivesFrom the start it was important to include particular adult education values in theprogramme, such as the development of learner autonomy, and a high level of criticalthinking in relation to the course content. The programme included steps in its designto encourage students to move from dependence on the tutor to autonomy and toengage students critically with the course content. The instructional design processwas important in embedding these values in the curriculum and in student learning.4.2.2. Instructional Design.The learning technologists had a great knowledge of technology, but they were lessexperienced in instructional design work and it was the Project Manager whoinitially set the direction. The introduction of Web 2.0 technologies was challenging,as there was not much research available to learn from others on how to deploy themin an online learning situation. Particularly research on their use in an adult educationenvironment with learners from a wide variety of backgrounds was lacking (Gulati,2006). Learning Technologist 1 described how the process of development changedthroughout the programme. At the start her approach was to let the tutor decide onthe materials, provide paper-based materials and transfer these into online activities.These would typically be work sheets on information literacy that would betransferred online into text based activities by using “Course Genie”. Initially in thecourses that Tutor 5 and Tutor 2 developed and taught, course materials had not beenproduced yet, not even for a face-to-face paper-based session, and they found itdifficult to judge the variety in materials and activity and communication required tocreate a good learning experience. Many materials were developed and changedagain. At that point the Project Manager realised that too much of the developmentswere content-based. She worked with the tutors to create communication channels by 132
  • 144. using Web 2.0 tools to foster interaction between participants, rather than to create acourse that would consist of individuals accessing online information. As highlightedby Weller (2007) there is a balance to strike between information andcommunication in online courses. Consequently, the modules developed at a laterstage of the programme, contained more Web 2.0 communication than earlier ones: What’s really come through from it as an experience has been that content for this type of course is the least important thing and that the most important thing is communication between the learner and the tutor and a sense of . . . presence of the tutor…we’re kind of fixing that as we went along and that’s just because of learning from it . . . doing the iterative process. (PM) From the early modules as a team we realised that things needed to change . . . the [the modules] just seemed too dead and I know every tutor has a different approach, but it just seemed like that. (LT1) The roles of the stakeholders: tutors and technologistsTutors came with very little understanding of what the project team were trying toachieve, which was ‘to take essentially all traditionally “paper-based” material andmake them more visual, more engaging’ (PM). The tutors were all very pleased withthe support they received from the technologists to achieve this. In general, thetechnologists would adapt to the needs of the tutors: ‘It was great, because she neveronce said ‘no’ to anything that we suggested or wanted. It was always ‘yes, yes’ andwith that tune, you can’t go wrong really’ (T3).Two quotations from Tutor 2 and Learning Technologist 3 have been included hereto illustrate the instructional design process: They made things really jump out, you know, from a multi-sensory perspective. It was interesting to know how we could bring in all the elements of the sensory bits of learning. I found that really helpful, particularly working with LT3. I absolutely loved some of the work he did on personality traits in management…it was like games with pictures, it was just great. He brought it to life, made it fun, more interesting, it wasn’t like a big piece of text. (T2) After a time I started to understand what people tried to aim and achieve…T2 has asked me something and she’s gone with the information and I realised, OK, T2 doesn’t know the technical side, she doesn’t understand, so she doesn’t know what she is asking for, so I have to break that stuff down, talk to T2, and then build something that is possible, and it worked pretty well. (LT3)Learning Technologists clearly have to be very good communicators, listening and“talking by design” in the learning objects they produce. The technologists’ role inthe instructional design process evolved from providing technological support to 133
  • 145. getting involved in the conceptual development of the modules through extensivediscussions with tutors: It changed drastically . . . it went from being a bit more passive in the early ones . . . to me playing a more interactive role with the tutor in that I found myself learning about the subject area and then interacting with the tutor in the best way. I suppose the sharing of knowledge, the best way of putting it up online so while the earlier modules I could go through everything and not have an idea of what the module was about . . . [in the later one] I was very much in there and learning too. (LT1)That later module was the most successful and all three participants in thedevelopment, LT1, T3 and T4 emphasised that the way the three of them had workedtogether meant that something special had been developed, which in the endachieved very positive outcomes in the teaching and learning process. Theimportance of the relationship between the designers of the environment and thetutors has also been highlighted by Siemens (2008b) I wouldn’t do one by myself. I’d rather not. I could, I’m sure I could, I’m confident that I could do it, but I think the added value is the social dimension. Doing it with other people, that provides a much better milieu and it fits with Action Research too, because we have different perspectives and we can act as critical friends for each other. So, if I forego that and just deliver it, it will just be another course. Another online course, you know. (T4) Usually an hour or hour and a half long session and all three of us learnt quite a lot, not just the subject matter, but about learning, and interacting and the environment. It’s quite complicated and if I had to write down what’s going on there, it’s quite complicated and a rich interaction of three people. Yes, and I think that the sum of our parts was definitely much more, because what came out of it was something quite unique I think. The way it was put across was quite unique and much more than we could have done as individuals, because of that sparking off of ideas and feeding off each other...I really learnt so much more about the topic through actually doing it this way. (T3) Then when T3 and T4 came along, it was totally different. They were all in there; we’d meet once a week and we could be down there for two or three hours and it was very much like a big discussion. And it was them teaching me and then me getting an understanding of what it was about and what they wanted and then working out the best way of putting that online. So it was definitely more interactive and . . . in those sessions we kind of figured it out together how to do it. (LT1)They felt this was an ideal way of instructional design. Of course, it was very timeintensive and LT1 points out: 134
  • 146. They taught me, but if you were designing twelve modules a year, you can’t devote that much time to each subject area because you would explode with information. (LT1)She thought a good way to operate was to initially explain to the tutor which toolwould work best for what particular activity or mode of communication, show themhow they worked and had worked in earlier modules, get tutors to think about thewhole process first, before then getting involved in sessions to develop the onlineresources. Tutors 3 and 4 felt the developmental process they went through with theircourse was valuable not only in a technical sense for the development of engagingresources, but also to further their own knowledge and conceptual thinking of thecourse content: Students have exercised my thinking & rethinking & LT1 has really challenged me via her email questions – but ‘best’ for me remains face-to-face dialogue, especially as a triad – that’s when my conceptualising is tested most and best. (T4, reflective diary) You know I think we got as much, if not more, out of it as the tutors as they did as learners . . . I just got so much out of it in terms of learning about learning, communicating, thinking, reflecting . . . I really learnt so much more about the topic through actually doing it this way. (T3)Tutor 2 also experienced this engagement with the learning technologist as verypositive: The resources were far more exciting. LT1 was so clever. I mean LT1 has a real artistic flair, which, you know, she gave me so many ideas. I’d take stuff in, and she would tease things out. (T2)Of course working in a team like this is challenging for the participants, and the tutorloses control somewhat. As Tutor 3 described in section, being a co-tutor andworking in a team changes the tutor role and the control he or she has over thelearning and teaching process. Another major change is the move away from thelinearity of books towards an online learning environment that allows for a spatialand multi-sensory learning experience.4.2.3. Experience DesignHuman Computer Interaction (HCI) has grown as a discipline within ComputerScience and is very much involved with the experience that people have while being 135
  • 147. online. Included in this section are significant findings related to the onlineparticipant experience. Meaning and Significance - Cognitive and Information DesignBefore the project started the team had a clear idea of how the learning environmentshould guide people through the learning activities. The Project Manager mentionedthat time constraints, given the limited funding period of the project, influenced thepossibilities to develop this to the full. She felt that the Moodle environment and thestructure the project team created on Moodle were a compromise between what wasintended, which was a visually mapped-out journey where the students would be ableto see their progress, and a fully self-directed course. The use of an interactive book,where people could turn the pages to get to the next part of the course wasenvisioned. The idea was to use something familiar, a book, to lead people throughthe materials, but for technical reasons it could not be achieved. The interactive bookwas used as a reference book for all course materials instead (figure 6 and 7).In its place, the online ABCD Learning Environment was chosen because of its clearstructure, where individual modules would be identifiable, where tools would bevisible on the first page, and where some more playful information sources wouldalso be shown (Figure 5).Figure 5 Layout of the ABCD online learning environment 136
  • 148. In order to make the environment meaningful for learning, a variety of tools,applications and learning objects were chosen to emphasise the cognitivedevelopment and information sources. As mentioned earlier, an interactive referencebook of (information and learning) resources (Figure 6 and 7) was developed whichproved to be popular with students. It had the appearance of a real book, peoplecould turn pages and the book held all major information resources in the full ABCDprogramme. ‘I like the reference book, the one that you virtually turn the pages on. Again, because the sequence is very logical, just like a book, so you know you can go back and forth through the pages and have a good idea of where you are in the text. That’s a nice feature . . . That was quite fun, turning the pages and seeing what information was there as a resource.’ (S9)Figure 6 Front cover of reference bookFigure 7 A page in the reference bookThe course structure was clear to the students after some initial confusion about thenavigation, which will be discussed in section on Usage Design. A concertedeffort was made to develop course content and resources that would be engaging and 137
  • 149. visual and not in the usual written format, in addition to written resources. It wasquite often the combination of different resources used to explain concepts andactivities that would allow for reflection and communication and enabled deepermeaning to be achieved. Tutor 4 valued this creative approach to e-learning on thisprogramme, rather than to use the university VLE Blackboard as approach: [The use of Blackboard] that’s counter to the dynamism and student autonomy that we value and has been very important, so I guess we have to be careful about what we mean by e-learning or using technology if we want to keep it educational, rather than just learning information. I mean, information exchange is different. (T4)He felt that it would be important to think about the resources and how to use thembefore the start of the course. A different learning experience would be created ifthey would be laid out and would be integrated in such a way what they would makepeople think, rather than just make them retrieve information. The need for cognitivetriggers was also highlighted by Shedroff (2009). An example of the course structureand type of resources are shown in Figure 8.This format of instructional design has been of great importance in the developmentof engaging courses. It was achieved through a negotiation process between learningtechnologists and tutors to find the best possible media and solutions to clarifysometimes difficult concepts.Figure 8 An example of an ABCD learning activity 138
  • 150. Journey towards autonomyFrom the start of the programme it was envisaged that the learners would move froma very structured learning environment that would be controlled by the tutor towardsan environment that would facilitate a higher level of self-direction in the students’learning approach. There were two clear transitional phases in learner self-direction:during the first phase the learners moved online and were expected to carry outactivities by themselves, in cooperation with others. The second phase began duringthe Action Research module, where learners were expected to make choices aboutresources.From a design point of view, there were problems with creating an environment inwhich students could move towards self-direction. The tutors came from a traditionalteaching environment and had different views on learning and education. Somewould create resources and expect students to work their way through them, whileothers created a choice of resources to force students into a higher level of self-direction. It was still the communication with the tutor and the direction that she orhe provided that ensured learners would feel comfortable in the transitional phases.In addition the students valued the level of personalisation created in the learningenvironment. PersonalisationThe most important resource to personalise students’ learning has been the reflectivejournal. Students valued the personal interaction with the tutor in the online journalas it provided them with the feedback to move forward on their learning journey.Students also valued the group interaction in, for instance, chat and on discussionboards. Other areas of personalisation that students valued were the choice they hadin the use of resources and in the use of communications tools, which was muchgreater than would have been the case in a classroom environment.At the start of the project it was envisaged that a much higher level of personalisationcould be achieved through the learning environment, but most of the students valuedthe structure of the environment and the direction the tutor provided. What they 139
  • 151. would have liked was to have a higher level of integration with their personalapplications, such as the social networking site Facebook. Prompts on Facebook todo some more learning on ABCD were seen as a good way of personalisation. Inaddition, students indicated they would have liked more of a “homepage” on theprogramme, as they would have on a social networking site, where they could holdtheir course-related bookmarks to share with other students, for example. The projectteam had made a start with a personalised environment that included a studenthomepage and social networking aspects, as an attempt had been made at the start ofthe programme to integrate the university’s adaptation of an educational e-portfoliotool based on ‘Elgg’ software. This was abandoned after several months because ofnavigation and technical problems. Dron and Anderson (2009) identified similarproblems with the software, but managed to adapt it to suit their institution’s needs.These problems will be discussed in section Access to linear versus spatial resourcesTutors and learners saw the learning environment as a spatial design, where learnerscould access a multitude of applications, tools and resources. Depending on the tutor,they would lead students through these in a very structured and linear fashion, or in amore loosely framed manner. Resources varied greatly and could be linear, such asbooks or other readings. Alternatively, there could be internet resources containinghyperlinks to other readings or multimedia resources: a plethora of linear andspatially organised information that would be used depending on learner and tutorpreference. All the links to do with resources and materials I found useful and interesting as well. I didn’t want to switch off. It kept me in there and made me see it through to the end. Like a challenge a lot of the links and the assignments as well that are set. They follow on from each other nicely and once you are on a roll it is like “yes, I’m enjoying this and I want to see it through to the end so I get the satisfaction from completing it.” It is a nice feeling when all those ticks come up. I know it sounds daft, but it does feel nice. (S8)Students were happy with the balance of the resources and all participants agreed thatinteraction and communication between participants discussing these resources havebeen crucial in the cognitive development of students and their engagement in thelearning experience. 140
  • 152. Interaction - Communication and DialogueThe project manager had previous experience of carrying out research anddevelopment in online learning in which it became apparent that communication in aVLE can be problematic. Discussion boards, for example, can be problematicbecause of a variety of reasons. One of these is the power-relations amongstparticipants in the forum, another one is that forums are sometimes used as“confessionals” and include long monologues, rather than a true dialogue (Kop &Woodward, 2006; Conrad, 2005; Gulati, 2006). These were some of the reasons thata multitude of communications tools were chosen in the design of the ABCDprogramme.The variety in communication available, ranging from individual email or journalinteraction, to group chat and discussion forums and wikis meant that learners andtutors had a choice in the tools used, which they used depending on their ownpreferences. They found this inspiring, as it was clear that each had her or his ownpreference, which often depended on the learning situation and task. As will bediscussed in the learner and tutor experience sections 4.3 and 4.4., learners and tutorsrequested a tool that would facilitate chat in synergy with other applications andactivities in the modules. A presence tool was developed which facilitated chatcommunication simultaneously with other resources and applications on the site,enabling students to communicate without clicking in and out and back in again. Itwas felt that this would help students as they would be able to see who was alreadypresent on the learning environment and chat with them over other applications assoon as they entered the environment. The design and development process entailedmoving from a resource-based environment with some communication towards anincreasingly communication-rich environment, where participants were clearlypresent. As was discussed in section, the level of interaction betweenonline participants can influence the level of social presence. This will be discussedfurther in chapter six, section Creating meaningful learning experiences. Intensity - PresenceThe main tools used to create a presence were video, chat and the reflective journalsin which very personal feedback was given to students by the tutors. The importance 141
  • 153. of these will be further discussed in sections 4.3.3. on communication and onpresence in the tutor experience. Social interaction was at the heart of creating thesense of presence, which confirms the ideas of Lombard and Ditton (1997) andAnderson (2008). In addition, an intensity of experience was created by combiningthese with other, often visual and interactive learning objects and resources. Shedroff(2009) and Lombard and Ditton (1997) also emphasised that intensity and vividnessof experience wll raise the level of presence and engagement. When asking LearningTechnologist 1 what she thought a quality learning environment should contain, shesaid: [F]or me [it means] an engaging interface, engaging content, so multimedia- rich, logical, intuitive to use, functional and interactive. Interactive between the students, between the students and the teacher . . . socially interactive, and then I think the whole experience of belonging. [as a student] I’ve done a profile, I’ve put my introduction up and I feel I’m belonging to this now . . . there’s a clear logic and I like to see the structure . . . I am constantly aware that things are moving and going on and I’m part of it. (LT1)In addition, the students clearly indicated that the balance of resources wasimportant. Using different senses by using a combination of video, audio, writtenwords, and puzzle activities had been helpful in their learning. Multi-sensory approachThe multi-sensory approach held the learners’ attention. Especially in the action-research module, which was often text-heavy, students valued the use of videos,cartoons, interactive learning objects and audio. All of the students were happy withthe balance of the resources. I am very much a hands-on and a visual person, so I like films and I like looking at people telling me how to do things and explaining stuff . . . I do think there has been a healthy balance; like I say with the chat rooms and the emails, different discussion boards. (L4) I prefer to use more videos because it is presented to me in as concise manner as possible, whereas when you link into a website there is a thesaurus of information that I can end up linking to and it can go on and on, but sometimes with a video it can be more to the point of what I need, without me clicking here and clicking there. (L8) You know the video clips? Well, I absolutely thought they were astounding, and some of the YouTube bits we had-brilliant. It really, really brought it to life 142
  • 154. . . . . For people who don’t want piles and piles of books, you can just go and look, or listen. (T2)This confirms Shedroff’s research on the need for multi-sensory components in thedesign in order to create an intense, engaging online experience (Shedroff, 2009).This will be further discussed in section Usage DesignAn important issue in how people experience a web-page, or online learning page, isthe technical design related to the navigation and accessibility. Much thought wentinto the navigation of the site by participants. As the original idea to use aninteractive book to lead learners through the resources had to be abandoned, theMoodle site was developed in a way that would provide a not too elaborate structure,so students would use their own choice of tools and resources to develop theirlearning. Most students initially had problems navigating the site and understandingits structure as an overwhelming amount of resources was available. But after initialproblems, all students were happy with the navigation.There was one major problem at the start of the programme related to usability,which was caused by the introduction of a piece of software and giving it the sameappearance as the Moodle site. To enhance the level of personalisation the universitye-portfolio software Oremi (derived from Elgg) was introduced, which destabilisedthe structure and caused major problems for learners and technical staff alike: Right from the beginning it was important for me to see how it looked . . . and then the whole experience of it, which. again, is not solely the appearance. It is tied into the functionality and I think we had big issues with using Oremi with the Moodle site . . . Two very conflicting pieces of software so to speak. They just didn’t work. The Moodle . . . had reached a certain level of usability and then Oremi, which is just kind of kicking off had still a lot of usability issues and merging the two together didn’t work. (LT1) When we tried to take Oremi into it to use the social network aspects of Oremi. That was a real disaster and we lost people in that first phase . . . Moodle had one kind of navigation which they got to grips with. Oremi has a completely different type of navigation which I think was very unclear and confusing and when we put those together they didn’t match together at all . . . it was nowhere near as far along the development as we had anticipated when we took it on board. (PM) 143
  • 155. Even though the features in Oremi that encouraged personalisation were seen to beuseful, it was abandoned as the technical problems and different navigation causedtoo much disruption of the learning process.As indicated in section, several students had technical problems, but thesewere mainly caused by lower-specification computers and lack of broadband access.A minimum specification of requirements to be able to fully appreciate the courseand its content was provided to students on commencement of the programme, butaccessibility remains an issue when adult students are using ICT. Learners will needto know when they start a learning programme what the minimum technicalspecification of their equipment should be for it to display the course materialsadequately and for learners to be able to access them in the mode that they weredesigned to function.4.2.4. Control – ConstraintsApart from technical constraints experienced by some of the learners, there were notmany other factors inhibiting design and development of the learning environment.Initially attempts were made to integrate the programme in the university systems,but this would have been difficult as lack of resources meant that technical supportwould not have been available. This forced the team to develop a unique courseenvironment supported by the Moodle community and housed on external servers.The only other institutional constraint was the pedagogical and quality framework.This was the same as any other university course and would also be a safeguard ofthe quality of the programme.The four real constraints on the programme were: 1. the time that the funding wasavailable, which was initially two years with an extension of 6 months to achieve thedevelopment and learning outcomes; 2. the level of competence of the technologists;3. the level of IT literacy of the tutors and students, and 4. the tools chosen for thedevelopment. The time constraints have meant that particular developments were notchosen, but alternatives sought that could be designed and developed on time. Someof the applications that the project team would have liked to use, such as Oremi, hadto be abandoned because of technological and navigation problems, while others,such as the reference book were adapted to uses that would fit within the time 144
  • 156. constraints. The tutors received one-to-one tuition in how to use the technologies andin what tools would enhance particular pedagogies or hinder them. Tutors mentionedhow much they learnt themselves in the process and how much more they reflectedon their teaching during the development process compared with preparation forface-to-face teaching. The Web 2.0 tools, including wikis, blogs and chat, were usedextensively, and did not cause problems to the design and development of the site.They were seen to be opportunities to enhance the learning process, rather than aconstraint.4.3. THE LEARNING EXPERIENCEDuring the research on the ABCD Project, a number of learner and tutor stories havebeen collected on their experiences with e-learning and e-teaching compared toclassroom based practice, and more traditional formal e-learning. To date the learnerexperience on e-learning has not been extensively researched (Sharpe et al, 2005;Conole et al, 2008) as much of the research has been carried out into theeffectiveness of formal online learning and learner attitudes towards it (Hara & Kling2000). Most research done to-date is course or programme focussed, looking at thebenefits and advantages of e-learning from the institution’s point of view andemphasises traditional undergraduate and postgraduate HE contexts rather than adultcontinuing education and widening participation. In addition, much of the research isabout the use of asynchronous computer mediated communications (Forsyth, 1998,Sharpe et al 2005) rather than more holistic research that would look at the wholestudent experience, and would emphasise the need for in depth qualitative research.JISC has over the past years carried out two research projects into the learningexperience (Mayes, 2006; Conole et al, 2006) and this research will add to theknowledge of how adult learners use and experience e-learning and technologywould be valuable for the development of tools, pedagogy and teaching practices inadult education. This will be further discussed in section ContextAs mentioned in section 4.1 on the background of the project, the students on theABCD Project started in a face-to-face environment, where they learnt how to useonline communication tools, such as discussion boards and chat, and Web 2.0 toolssuch as blogs, wikis, in addition to video editing and podcast production. The aim of 145
  • 157. the first module was for students to familiarize themselves with the tools, to get toknow the support staff in the future online modules, who were the learningtechnologists, and at the same time teachers on this module. One of the aims was forstudents to feel comfortable, and for a trust relationship to build up.All students had used the Internet before the course, mainly for email, to findinformation and to make purchases. 75% of students used the internet every daybefore the course started. Their main motivation to start the programme was to learnsomething new, and for 60% of the students, to use new technologies. Most studentsindicated they were confident in using the computer to find information, in usingemail (91%) and in using it as a word processor (66%). Confidence levels droppedconsiderably for producing blogs (33%), posting on and using discussion boards(25%), using wikis (16%) and for producing videos and podcasts (8%).The student profile showed that 66% were male, while 34% were female,contradicting the usual adult education profile, which is the reverse (Jenkins et al,2005). Students indicated that this profile was related to the course content. Twothirds of learners were between 35 and 40 years old, with a quarter between 50 and64, and 8% between 25 and 34 years old. Most learners were from socio-economically deprived areas of the UK and employed in SMEs and SocialEnterprises; sometimes as employees, but also as sole traders.4.3.2 Learning Preferences4.3.2.1. Face to face or online learning?Nearly all students indicated their preference for a blended approach; a combinationof classroom based and online learning. They would have liked a regular face-to-facesession, perhaps at the start of a new module, but then to continue online because ofits higher level of flexibility. Most students made a conscious decision for an onlinecourse, but still found it hard sometimes to study via the internet, especially withregard to the need for a certain level of self-direction and time management: Learning in the classroom, even if someone is waffling on, within a 5 minute window you have the chance to get feedback on what it is you are stuck with or need to be doing next. The thing about having to shelf stuff or waiting for a replay or a response or like me, in lots of instances forgetting to do anything 146
  • 158. and then not getting a response and then thinking a week later, “O my gosh, I should have asked about that”; that is a problem. (S4) On the other hand, it was the lack of time-restrictions and flexibility in learning that motivated most students to study online, as ‘you do it when you’ve got the time. You know that’s the big bonus isn’t it? Because you’re not stuck with “you’ve got to study at this time”. It’s when you’ve got the time to do it.’ (S6)The students enjoyed the face-to-face module, which was very hands-on andpractical – learning how to use the technologies – but found it harder to move to amore concept-based online module, where communication seemed more formal andparticipants more at a distance. Many responses indicated the importance of affectiveissues and a need for human contact in particular: It is getting back to this whole kind of human interaction because you know as much as you can talk to somebody online, you can’t really see their reaction not unless you are on one of these video ones. You can’t judge whether people are saying it to please you or because they are being called away to do something else and they just want to say I’ll give you a quick answer because we are doing other stuff. I think again it does go back to, to get the most out of people every so often you do really need to interact with them and treat them as people, not somebody in cyberspace at the end of a modem. (S4)One of the students preferred the online experience to the face-to-face experience, ashe felt more involved because of the higher level of interactivity. Tutor support required by the studentsIn the online environment tutors supported the students in a variety of ways: invideos to explain new concepts, on the discussion board to communicate regardingdifferent tasks, in weekly chat sessions where social relationships were fostered andsome concepts were explained. Tutors also provided individual feedback ascomments in the reflective diaries, and some tutors used podcasts and videocastswhen they found that students were “stuck” to give them a confidence boost. Itseemed that the combination of interactions in different formats supported thestudents well: My attitude is as well that if the technology is there and we have the option for videos . . . and podcasts or whatever, then I think we should be using as many different things as possible. I suppose if I were to compare it to the senses, your eyes, ears, your speech whatever, then we don’t rely on one. Or if we do rely on one we have to get that one so fine-tuned that we don’t miss out on the other 147
  • 159. stuff. . . .Yes, please and as many as you can and one of those things is bound to stick, or several are, or they will gel together to form a bigger picture because that is how we react as humans. (S4)The level of support required by students varied. Some didn’t make use of it at all,while others needed support frequently. All students knew where and how to getsupport; as they would usually make a remark in the reflective diary and a tutorwould respond to them. On technical matters they used the frequently askedquestions forum or emailed technical staff directly. Students missed the closenesswith the tutor who was present in the face-to-face environment. Student 8 felt that itwas difficult for tutors to support them without that emotional aspect that is presentin a face-to-face classroom, while others felt less connected with participants thanwould be the case in a traditional classroom: You get so used to being on the internet and not actually having a direct contact; it’s all very removed from people that, although you have a direct connection with people, I don’t really feel there’s a connection with anybody doing the course. (S9)Some forms of support were very successful. All students remarked on the usefulnessof feedback in the individual online reflective diaries, and how it increasedconfidence in their own ability: Oh, OK, perhaps I can do this”, whereas it was quite challenging and you don’t . . . you know, independently, you don’t know whether you’re making any sense or not. Then the tutor comes back and says: “Yes, you’ve got the point” and will give you another kind of perspective on it then. Then you feel like you’re taking a step forward. (S9)Two of the tutors used video to summarise feedback to all students at a particularlydifficult moment in the course, which was very much appreciated:I prefer more of the video and what I liked about Tutor 4’s was that he sat down togive about five or ten minutes debrief on how he felt from feedback. You know, thatsort of interactive sort of video, in the sense that he’d digested what we’d given asfeedback and what he’d digested and he spat out his sort of summary of it in a reallygood way. (S8)It was felt that the weekly chat sessions were also helpful in supporting students,often in combination with other tools, although one of the students who had technical 148
  • 160. problems had expected more help to solve them. Students did recognise that theproject was a research and development one, where tutors in the later modules havelearnt from the experiences of tutors in the earlier modules: In earlier modules we wouldn’t have seen so much of a video from Tutor 4 where he has taken the initiative and just gone for it himself. You wouldn’t have seen that in earlier modules. It’s refreshing as a student to see that, to feel that there’s no two tier system, to feel part of a circle. (S8) Engagement – student withdrawalFrom the moment the ABCD programme started it was clear that not all studentswould continue with the programme after the first module. This face to face moduleprovided learners with the practical skills to use Web 2.0 technologies andmultimedia editing tools and this was the module some of the students specificallycame to attend. The module was quite different from all other online ‘concepts-based’ modules that followed. The decision to continue or withdraw from theprogramme was taken by the students themselves. From the 47 students who did thefirst module, 17 continued on the second one, but 5 withdrew early on in the 2ndmodule, which left 12 students to continue after the 2nd module. From these students5 finished the full 120 credits, a HE Certificate equivalent to 2 years of part-timeundergraduate HE study at Level 1, which has made the withdrawal rate higher thanthe average distance education course (Woodley, 2004). However, the socio-economic background of the students on the ABCD Project was different from theaverage student taking a distance education course, which could have influencedtheir outcomes on the project. Most ABCD students were also the first in their familyto take part in Higher Education. This has made it important to find out what wouldengage and what would cause people to withdraw from the programme.What then did the students find most important factors in engaging them while theywere learning online? There were two important issues: the human engagement; thefeeling that people cared about them and about their learning that came aboutthrough the different forms of communication, but especially in the reflective diary,where tutors provided feedback; and in the chat, where a community was created andgroup dynamics fostered motivation for a higher level of engagement with thecourse. The social presence as defined by Lombard and Ditton (1997) was animportant factor in engagement. It was clear from observing the environment, that 149
  • 161. the higher the number of interactions in the diary between student and tutor, and thehigher the intensity of the interactions and the quality of tutor feedback, the higherthe motivation and engagement. This was the same in the chat; the sense of meetingup in the fourth module and enjoying each other’s company created a positiveatmosphere in which students engaged more with the course, in the sense that theylearnt from each other, tutors and learners alike: It’s crucial then to have that good feed-back from Tutors 3 and 4 and I know they put a lot of their extra-curricular time into making an effort to make sure we keep up top speed and it was encouraging. . . . Tutor 4 and 3 were the total flip-side of the coin, they were constantly encouraging and giving us feed-back regularly on our journals and taking the positive side. There was constructive criticism where necessary, but it was always in a positive light, which was part and parcel of the AR module to keep maintain some positivity anyway. (S8)The main reasons students gave for withdrawing from the ABCD programme werepersonal. The personal reasons given ranged from time-pressure because of work toemotional upheaval and distractions in their lives. Others mentioned a lack of self-organisation and discipline in their online learning and one student valued the course,but already had a Masters level qualification and thought this caused a lack ofmotivation in carrying out the tasks and work related to the course. Some studentswho left at the beginning of the second module mentioned their differentexpectations to what the second module actually turned out to be: not skills-basedteaching about technology, but concepts-based learning about critical thinking andinformation literacy. Learning strategiesThe students were asked if they had particular strategies for their learning, forinstance if they chose to interact and help other students, how they went about it, andif receiving the certificate was their main goal. Most of them seemed to work for thequalification, but there is evidence to show that they spent time encouraging otherstudents through communication in the chat, the discussion board and in the wikis. 150
  • 162. 4.3.3. Communication and dialogue4.3.3.1. Synchronous communicationThe synchronous communication on ABCD was mainly facilitated through theMoodle learning environment chat facility. Chat facilities have been used evenbefore VLEs emerged as online learning environments (Mason and Bacsich, 1998)and were not usually used in VLEs in traditional universities, but as indicated insection 2.5.1. could be considered as Web 2.0 tools while integrated with othercommunications tools in messenger services. All but one of the students liked thechat. One of the problems that people had with chat was its text-based mode, whichmeant that slow typists had problems following the conversation, as it would alreadyhave moved on to the next topic. This was especially seen as an issue at a time whenmore than four people attended the chat. People had mixed feelings about the valueof the chats. Nearly all appreciated them as they were seen as the closest peoplecould come online to the informal contact that people have in a classroom. They builtup friendships and created a sense of community and they seemed to enhance thesocial contacts and the group dynamics: I really used the chat, yes, I felt that was one of the best parts of [ABCD]. People like Tutor 4 seems a really nice bloke online . . . towards the end it felt like a group you know, a group of friends then, that’s what I got out of it. At the start you didn’t know what to say because you didn’t know anybody, but towards the end then the group grew sort of thing, we got used to each other’s ways . . . it was new to all of us and then we all grew together . . . it was a bit of fun as well towards the end. (S2)Several students, however indicated that the conversations remained at a shallow,superficial level and that chat was not really the tool to deepen their understanding ofthe topic at hand. Further, some tutors were clearly better than others at keeping thefocus on the course topic. On the other hand, people liked the ‘light-heartedness’: They were just that, just chat most of the time, with occasional input on the course itself. Again “chat room” should have been a clue that it was just to chat in, so it was just for meeting people . . . it seemed to me more at that sort of level than focussed on course work. (S10) There is this light-heartedness’ in the chat room which I agree with totally, it did help the flow of the conversation. (S8)The tool did work well for students to help each other out when problems arose. 151
  • 163. Different tutors used chat in different ways, gave it more or less emphasis, whichinfluenced the learning experience: Tutor 4 made sure he got the chats in. If I was to compare Tutor 4’s module with tutor 6’s, sadly the chats in the latter’s didn’t work well. . . .That first chat, it was good for me, because I could ask a lot of questions and he was giving me the answers pertaining to my business, but the second chat didn’t go ahead and then the interaction between tutor and students seemed to sort of fade away really on that module. (S8)Two people commented on the skills involved in “chatting” and how their childrenuse chat; the superficiality and complexity of it: I think online chat is a skill of its own and I watch my son – he used to do a lot of it. I would say “who are you talking to?” and he would be talking to about 5 or 6 different people on different chat rooms at the same time. I would never be able to keep up with that, but they can. I find it so superficial as well. They are chatting about nothing I think. (S5) A-synchronous communicationA number of a-synchronous communications tools were used that worked well fordifferent purposes. Discussion boardsThe discussion board is the communications tool that has traditionally been used inVirtual Learning Environments (Gulati, 2006; Weller, 2010; Mason, 2006). Thetutors on ABCD used them to ask conceptual questions after showing a video or aparticular activity or reading in the course resources. Students were expected tocontribute to the discussion, as they had to choose five of their postings, wiki orvideo contributions per module as part of their assessment. There was a mixedreaction by the students on their value to enhance the learning experience. Onestudent preferred them over wikis as it provided a personal space to give a point ofview. He also thought there was not enough discussion amongst all participants: I find them better than the wikis personally. . . . I like the layout of the discussion forums. . . . I found them useful as I felt I had a say, where I had my own little space, whereas in a wiki someone can sort of modify it and possibly change the content a bit of what you were trying to say. With the words you know, without the body language, it’s difficult to convey exactly what you are trying to say sometimes, unless you’re a master wordsmith. In the discussion forums I felt I had more of a voice. . . . I still felt with all the modules really 152
  • 164. that it was a case of “teacher says this”, “this is my opinion”, teacher replies to my opinion, and that’s that. Rather than the mixing bowl. (S8)This was confirmed by student 9 who found it very impersonal and not much like atrue discussion, even though tutors tried to facilitate a dialogue by participating in thediscussion. Student 7, however, moved from finding them sometimes useful in thefirst interview, to questioning the value receiving other students’ opinions in thesecond interview and also wondering about other students’ credibility as a source: Sometimes other people’s thoughts are just their thoughts and not my thoughts and I think, well I’d rather think about it myself really. If it was coming from somebody with some sort of credibility then you tend to take a little bit more notice of it, but if it is just another student, you think, well, you know … have they got the right angle here? They could be misleading even. (S7)He did value the time to reflect, while using discussion boards compared to onlinechats, which take place in real time and provide less scope for thinking. Thisambivalence felt about learning from other students while communicating withothers on the discussion board was also felt by others, but for different reasons. Onestudent mentioned the lengthy postings by another student and the time it would taketo read them. Another would see it as a distraction from the actual coursework on theone hand, as it required clicking and reading a lot of postings, while on the otherhand it stimulated reflection on one’s own point of view: The danger is I go clicking round what other people have posted and that then biases my answer. . . . So, it no longer becomes my work, or my input, but subconsciously … yes, it is good to have ideas of other people and I agree with that. It’s all about group work and learning from other people. . . . I know when I’ve accidentally clicked on something someone else has put on there it has actually given me a kick up the backside, or more importantly, it’s got me to appreciate other people’s view point, which is a lot what this course is about. S4)Some students value them as sites for constructing understanding: I made a posting and somebody else has used that to help their understanding. They make a posting and it is like a building block process back and forth to get to an ending where we understand more and we agree as a group on our particular topic/subject. (S8)Another student did not use them much at all and preferred to use the chat forcommunication. There were clearly mixed feelings on the usefulness of the 153
  • 165. discussion forums. There was one area where the discussion boards were seen to behelpful, which was at sorting out problems, technical and academic; either through alearning technologist, a tutor or another student. Reflective journalsThe Moodle blog facility was used as a reflective journal. The learner would writeabout his or her own learning. Tutors might sometimes ask students to carry outactivities and report on them in the journal and the tutor would use the commentfunction of the blog to provide feedback. If students had particular questions orproblems they would quite often ask them here, as it was a confidential, closedenvironment. Only the course tutor (and the researcher) had access to the diary apartfrom the student: The private journal, I can reflect on a lot of my progress through the course and this place, well, I can retreat, I can feel comfortable, safe. I know the tutors have access to that so I can be open and honest and I’m sure that some of the lecturers can vouch for the fact that I have been quite honest. (S8)All but one of the students liked to use the journal. It was a place for a personalinteraction between tutor and student. All students found them easy to use. Studentswere expected to use the reflection in the diary as part of the course, but were notassessed on the content of the journal. Students had different views on the need forreflection. The comments amongst the ten people interviewed ranged from findingreflection important and being happy to have a record of ‘his personal journey on thecourse’ (S2), ‘I’ve learnt more about how to reflect . . . thinking, putting time asideto think about things a bit more, not just on the ABCD, but generally as well’ (S8).Conversely, some students did not like the journal. Responses ranged from: ‘I am notvery good at reflection’ (S9); ‘it wasn’t a priority (S4), to ‘reflection is not a newconcept, it is something I do on a continual basis’ (S10), and ‘sometimes it wasdifficult to see the point of doing it. It was like talking to yourself then, which youdon’t usually do’ (S9).An important function of the journal was to provide personal feedback at anindividual level by tutors to the students. All students valued this. Students indicatedthat all resources and materials were on the learning environment and they neededthe tutors to clarify things sometimes, or to tell them they were on the “right track”. 154
  • 166. Student 9 said: ‘[The journal was] very important. Just encouragement… I mean themore that you feel your input is right, the better you feel inclined to crack on with it’(S9). And Student 8 commented: the action research course has been the best one so far… you can feel the passion that they [tutors] both have for their subject and the encouragement that they give you has been really amazing… the feedback reflects that it has been very positive and very upbeat and I just think that they like you to contribute and that they encourage you really. (S8)The fact that tutors also provided reflective feedback on the process of learning wasvery much appreciated by the students. An example is the following comment byTutor 4: I’m also convinced (I mean this supportively) that your lack of clarity is actually a good thing - action research is complex and messy and if you thought it was clear and unambiguous I would be questioning your grasp of it all! The important issue (easier said than done I know) is for you to try and tolerate the ambiguities – I’m convinced that doing so will actually help you begin to see your own understandings AND how they help you make your own choices about how to do action research and learn through and from doing it. One bit of advice I will offer - TRY TO LIMIT the reading - you won’t go far wrong if you concentrate on McNiffs work and see its strengths and weaknesses in your own terms. AND do please keep letting us know of your concerns. (T4, Module 4) Wikis and group workAll students indicated the importance of collaborating in a group and learning fromeach other. One of the tools used to facilitate group work were wikis. Students learnthow to use wikis in the first module. Students saw positive and negative points in theway wikis were used on the ABCD programme. At the end of the first module wikiswere used as online collaborative tools to produce a digital (video) narrative incollaboration with people from other geographical areas, all working at differenttimes of day, which turned out to be a difficult exercise. It seemed to have been toomuch too soon, as some students did not participate, which was problematic as it wasa group exercise, and also an assessment: When we did the digital narrative we were split into teams and a lot of people dropped out at that point leaving one of the team to do the whole thing… I am not really keen on the team environment because not everybody participates … it is very difficult to try to coordinate with other people … you have to wait for 155
  • 167. other people, if they are contributing to your module. Then you are very dependent on others. (S1) I don’t think we helped each other out and supported each other in the way we should have really… If you are there face-to-face, meeting up and getting on with a piece of work, so you do it, don’t you? (S7)One of the students thought that a different grouping of students, to include some oftheir face-to-face group, might have helped in their group work. Several otherstudents mentioned the need for face-to-face contact to make the groupwork workwell. Students had different ideas on what they learnt from participating in wikis.One student found it stimulating as it helped his thinking process: I do like the fact that with the wiki I get a little sort of light bulb that comes in from one of the other contributors that makes you think “ah, I didn’t consider that” but I’ll think about it again. Whether I add to the wiki myself depends but it certainly helps my thought process. (S8)Another student, who had major technical problems in accessing the online tools,said that he could not remember having learnt anything from them, although he didread them all. One of the wiki characteristics that people found difficult to cope withwas that it is a collaborative learning space; anybody was able to change anythingother people had written. This might have influenced the level of unease as itrequired a level of trust in the integrity of other learners: ‘I found the wikis a little bitnew to use at the start because you weren’t sure if you were writing over somebodyelse’s work’ (S2). And Student 8 and Student 9 said: it’s finding that balance between making sure that people know you’ve done some work and put some effort in but at the same time not trying to damage what other people have done, because you respect them as a student or as a tutor. (S8) Nobody wanted to kind of mess around with anybody else’s work. So it all tended to be again to end up as a sort of discussion that people put their entry on under the last one. Only a couple of times that I’ve really tried to edit what was already there. But that was specifically when I’d been teamed up with somebody and we had to collaborate and pull something together and it was well understood that we were contributing together. (S9)The problems identified by learners were similar to those highlighted by byMacDonald (2008), and Roberts and McInnerney (2007) as discussed in section 156
  • 168. such as an aversion towards group work, a lack of group-work skills, the“free-rider” amongst the group members, the leaving of group members, and theassessment of individuals within the groups. In addition, issues inherent to the wikitool were emphasized by the students, which were also highlighted in research byMartinez-Carrillo and Pentikousis (2008). One of the students for instance found itquite frustrating that students did not use wikis in the way they were intended andwrote an email to the tutors of that module to ask if they could try to intervene so thewiki would be used in its proper way: Hi Tutors 3 and 4, I have mentioned this in previous journal postings, both in this module and previous modules. Wikis, as you both know, and as us students HAVE been taught, is a collaborative piece of work, which should be one piece of work that builds as one piece as students contribute, rather than several separate additions by each student…I wish a wiki could be a proper wiki, and adhered to correctly, otherwise there is no point to it and it may as well be a normal forum “Question & Answer” entry in the Course Discussion Forum. (S8?)He asked for clarification on how to use it from then on, and the tutors respondedpositively, in that they set the ground rules on how to use wikis and monitored andcontributed to it themselves from then on, which was also asked for by anotherstudent. But one of the interesting issues here was that the complaining student alsowas the student who liked to be the first to write something down in the wiki: I put down stacks of information from my perspective. And when I looked back at the wiki several weeks later not much had changed. And in a way I felt a bit guilty because I was thinking, I want to sort of express and give my views as much as I can, I want to but at the same time if nobody is adding to it, am I restricting their sort of creativity? (S8)He clearly reflected not only on the subject content of the module, but also on thelearning process and what would influence it positively and negatively. He alsocommented on how he felt to be part of a “process” rather than a “course”. That hefelt valued, also by being involved in the iterative research process. This was a neweducational experience for him, as his initial formal education had not been apositive one. 157
  • 169. Pod-castsPodcasts and multimedia were used extensively on the ABCD project. Sometimesready-made YouTube videos were being used, at other times “talking head” videosof tutors were being produced to introduce themselves, to explain new concepts, butalso to speak to each other at difficult times in the course. Students also usedpodcasts to carry out tasks, introduce themselves and as assessments. The studentsreally liked the multi-sensory approach of using podcasts to explain difficultconcepts, but also to create a presence, to learn to know the tutor or other studentsbetter, which helped to relate to each other in a positive way. An informal approachwas appreciated most: ‘Yes, I think it is good. I like to watch the videos. I like thevideos the tutors do of themselves’ (S1). And Student 4 said: My attitude is as well that if the technology is there and we’ve got the option for videos . . . then I think we should be using as many different things as possible; I suppose if we do compare it to senses, your eyes, ears, your speech, we don’t rely on one. Or if we do we have to get that one so fine-tuned that we don’t miss out on the other stuff. (S4)Students liked to learn the skills to download podcasts and to produce them, inaddition to finding it engaging when readymade materials were being used: YouTube, MovieMaker, wikis really enhanced my learning I think; I found them pretty good . . . They are more relevant to what people do outside as well…more to everyday use because everybody uses YouTube and stuff like that. And I think that’s what the internet is all about. (S2)This was another student from a family with no tradition of Higher Education andwithout any experience of learning in an academic environment. The “visual” ratherthan the “read-write” resources helped him in his learning.Students noticed a distinct development in the use and production of videos duringthe programme. It was seen as a change for the better, more interactive than before: In Action Research I found that Tutor 4 and 3 made great use of the video and also the fact that, I don’t know whether it’s because it was further along in the project and they’d learnt from previous modules. I don’t know if they looked at the other videos that others did earlier on, and thought we could do that better, or whether they just injected their own enthusiasm, which is what I think happened, and their video presentations were fab. They were motivating, and encouraged you to be more positive about your approach as a student. It wasn’t like in-yer-face close up of one tutor’s head and them just monologuing to you. 158
  • 170. They were talking to each other, which was nice. It was like watching a soap opera. You could sort of empathise, and feel that you were part of it without being directly there, and take a lot out of it. So I liked that. (S8)In module 4 the tutors used videos at a time when students were having problemsgrasping the concepts and felt uncomfortable as the tutor, consciously, gave them ahigh number of readers from which to choose. It was at a transitional phase in whichstudents were asked to think and direct their learning more than they had before. Thestudents liked this: ‘what I liked about Tutor 4’s was that he sat down to give aboutfive or ten minutes debrief on how he felt from the feedback’ (S8).Some students indicated that they had had technical problems watching some of theYouTube videos, even though a minimum computer specification for taking part inthe course was indicated at the start of the course. This is clearly a problem whenusing high bandwidth-using multimedia. Web2.0 technologies in learningSome of the Web 2.0 technologies have already been highlighted as tools suitable forcommunication. The students emphasised how the new technologies used on thecourse have made an impression on them: I think it is fantastic. I think it is excellent, all the tools are there from what I can see and it will be something that we are actually going to try and model for our business. The way you could use and that sort of thing, the wikis and the blogs were good and you have the interactive videos and stuff and there is the lounge at the end. (S7) It was just very, very much fun. I don’t think I have ever enjoyed myself so much when it comes to learning something. (S3)And most liked the use of a combination of different tools, i.e. a multi-sensoryapproach, where video, sound, text and external resources are all used to create anengaging experience.4.3.4. Learning a social activity?The Web 2.0 tools made an impression as they facilitated an advanced form ofcommunication between students. It facilitated the development of social presence 159
  • 171. which was seen to be important, as was also highlighted in section byLombard and Ditton (1997) and Dron and Anderson (2007). All students valued thecontact with other students because humans are social beings: As human beings we are designed to interact and to meet up with one another and as much as I value the online stuff, we need to remember the human element as well . . . Now whether that’s a social thing, or a social thing linked to an activity so it gives it a purpose I don’t know, but personally I would hate to be doing everything distance . . . I think that is very important part, even [if] you just sit down over a cup of coffee and say “my gosh, I found this really difficult” and someone else would say “yes, whatever”. The human element is important. (S4)They valued social contact for support and felt the ABCD group was supportive,tutors and students alike. Student 8 found that ‘it’s the team spirit, again there is nohierarchy there and we are able to collaborate together as students and tutors andlearn from each other. I feel almost like friends with some of them now’ (S8), whileStudent 2 felt ‘lucky because I work with one of the other students . . . That was a bighelp, I’ve got to say. I might have found it hard if I was on my own but I was luckythat I worked with student 6 and so we bounced off each other’ (S2).The students could also see how communication with other students would enhancetheir thinking process and their learning and valued the social interaction on thecourse for this purpose. It would provide new ideas and made them reflect on theirown and others’ points of view: If I was ever stuck on anything, I’d bring it up in the chat and then not just the tutors but the other students then would throw in ideas and help me to come up with my own. . . . Sometimes you’d go off in one direction and then they’d come up with something and then you’d think differently about it and look at another avenue. (S6) When you do actually think about something you have your own views on it but it is always good to have somebody to chat to and discuss your views. By discussing your views you could come up with something completely different. You could be biased in the way you are thinking but by talking to somebody else it may prove to you that you are biased. (S5) 160
  • 172. 4.3.5. Thinking ProcessesStudents had different ideas about their own thinking. Some said it was an individualprocess, some that it was a social one, but most students agreed that they first lookedfor information, discussed it with others, i.e. with the tutor or learners, sometimeslook on the discussion board or wiki to see what others had said about a subject, andthat they would then process it in an individual way, relating it to what they alreadyknew: I think best when I am prompted by questions that will guide me perhaps at the start of the path I need to go down. I realise that I do need to be challenged in stuff and it is quite surprising what comes out after that. I need that initial challenge. (S4) Thinking is a solitary thing in the end. I think you do need to read, you do need to discuss, you do need to get other people’s points of view on things, but I think thinking ultimately is a solitary process and once I have got the information from wherever the source is, and I get it from all sources like most people these days then I have to use my logical thought processes to come to a conclusion which I’m happy with and which will determine my actions, so I think the actual thinking bit of it is best done on my own but that is after a lot of thought and discussion and I do like talking my things through and once I have come to a conclusion I do like to go through that with people maybe to reinforce my conclusion so I’m happy with it. (S7) For me action research, has given me insight into how we perceive things and how by completing action research, you can make changes and increase knowledge just by collaborating with others. Working as a team can bring out so many different views and skills, it just seems stupid not to question your colleagues. The old saying is right, two heads are better than one. (S6, reflective diary) Critical ThinkingThe programme contained a module on critical thinking and special remarks weremade about how it had helped students to see which biases they have and whatprejudices they might hold. Students remarked on the need for critical thinking andinformation literacy in the Internet age, which was also emphasised by Downes(2009b) and Partnership for 21st Century Skills (2009) and will be discussed furtherin section Student 3 commented that ‘this module it is all “thinking” andtrying to think outside the box and trying to break down the barriers in which wehave been taught to think’ (S3). Student 4 added: 161
  • 173. Challenging me in lots of ways really; challenging not just having to analyse stuff and go through stuff but also very challenging to realise just how biased I have been in my thinking in the past and how I have taken things at face value and this whole thing of having to take in other people’s points of view . . . challenging in that respect; but then that’s got to be a positive thing. Hopefully it will help me to have those skills for other stuff. (S4) When I started going through the reference book it really opened my eyes as to how much more there is to critical thinking and how much more broad-minded one needs to be. It is so easy to make a snap judgement so it was very useful for me to really broaden my understanding of it. (S8) I think a lot of people don’t critically think, quite honest with you. I think a lot of people on the course here didn’t see the value in critical thinking. They read something in the paper, hear it on the news and they believe it, you know. They very rarely think deep about it. It is something over years of experience . . . . It is just over time I’m thinking I’m not really believing half of this now and bit by bit you start questioning, and bit by bit you hone your techniques mainly through talking to other people and living life, I suppose. (S7) Aids to thinking process - Linear/Spatial - Written/VisualNine out of ten students preferred the online ABCD environment over course books,although they did like a backup to show where to find all resources and how to usethem as there was some confusion over that now and again. In addition studentsasked for an “idiot’s guide” to guide them through the resources: I would prefer the ABCD learning environment because I am one of these digital make of guys who has 5 screens open at once doing 5 different things, so it is a lot easier for me to kind of flip between and stop if I want to concentrate on ABCD for a second and do something else, I am able to do that quickly and then flip back. I find it much easier than having 5 or 6 books on the table. (S2)Another student liked it because it made him think differently: Take a different way of looking at things, more laterally at things, rather than in a course book; it can be training your thoughts in vogue in some way. I found this environment much easier to think laterally and other people thinking laterally and just throwing things in the pot. (S8)One student preferred the book for two reasons. The first was so he could positionhimself wherever he wanted, rather than in front of a computer screen, and thesecond was so he could use his own imagination. Nine out of ten students liked thecombination of different resources to learn from: In addition to the written word, 162
  • 174. spoken words and videos were used in podcasts; images were used to clarify issues,and bespoke activities were developed specifically to create understanding of certainconcepts. The students appreciated the variety. This questions the propositions madeby Greenfield (2006) as highlighted in section 2.2.3. that a linear learningpresentation of learning materials, for instance by using books and lectures, might bemore appropriate for learning than a spatial one. It confirms Gulati’s findings (2006)in that a linear approach to learning will not necessarily be best for alllearners. Meaning makingThis variety of tools, activites, videos and communication helped the students makemeaning. In the videos new concepts were explained, which were analysed anddiscussed on the discussion board. The chat room, discussion forum and wikiscreated opportunities for students to generate new ideas around the course content bybouncing thoughts off against one another, while the focussed feedback on activitesin the reflective journals meant that students made meaning at an individual level: Tutor 4, my brain feels like the M25 [ring road around London] at rush hour- this is brilliant! So many thoughts and adrenaline flowing – woo hoo! (S8)An example of a series of communications, tutor feedback, student writing and moretutor feedback in the reflective journal, illustrates the process of communication andfeedback between tutor and learner in the journal, and that of meaning-making by thestudent: Hi Student 2, 12/06/08. Epistemology , it is a BIG word but its not only about facts – its about what is to count as a fact – and how can we identify and understand different types of facts. Instead of facts I’ll use the word knowledge. What counts as knowledge? Can I know my opinion is right and someone else’s wrong OR would I be more correct to say that I BELIEVE my opinion is right? (Knowledge is different to belief and epistemology helps us understand these types of differences)...I completely agree with your MPs example and it’s really heartening to read your points about pupils reading and simple ideas (colour book marks) being effective. Perhaps there is something here also about your earlier points – sometimes simple things (like language issues) are so obvious they become sort of camouflaged and hidden?? Then action research (or maybe just some critical reflection) makes the hidden become explicit and recognised?? Keep up the stirling work, (T4, module 4) 163
  • 175. Section 6 Choose one of 3 images Ok I’ll like to choose image B) to depict my evolving understanding of AR . Why?..., well for a few reasons , One of my hobbies is to draw and so that helps me relate to a picture , but like AR making a drawing is combination of methods and is always on going …You have to do a bit of research on what you would like to draw, make sure you have all the right equipment . Then when you start to draw , like with Action Research is on going , you’ll keep coming back to the drawing , to add new things , or take away parts of the drawing that don’t quite work , even when you’ve finished the drawing , you’ll be analysing the drawing and thinking of ways you can make or improve on the drawing next time , Like with AR, you can invite people/groups to look at your work, and give them insight on what they think , and offer feedback and advise . Like with AR everyone sees a image differently , one person masterpiece is another person mess, so a bit like with AR , sometimes there’s no clearly defined correct answer (S2, reflective journal) 19-06-08 Hey Student 2, THIS IS BRILLIANT!! The academic in me is screaming that this is wonderful evidence of John Herons extended epistemology - in street language that means you’ve understood and explained illustratively - metaphorically - this tells me more than mere words will that you understand key aspects of action research. ABSOLUTELY ...... GREAT. You have made my day. Thanks for this - much appreciated. (T4, module 4)4.3.6. Affective IssuesOne of the threads running through the findings so far is the need for socialinteraction, for human contact and of the importance of affective issues in studentlearning. Remarks are made about the difference to their study the warmth and caringattitude of the course development team has made, expressed metaphorically bystudent 8: ‘I feel as though I’m sitting around a night time camp fire and the lecturerwith a guitar playing this song, telling stories; we all feed off each other and it’s veryinteresting here’ (S8).Participants talked about a feeling of trust and feeling safe: There was a sort of comfortable feeling and not as if people felt threatened by the others in the group. Yes, when I arrived in the chat room everybody said hello which was nice, and at the end everybody would say goodbye. It was very friendly and I felt safe in that environment because of the fact that it was arranged.(S8)But not all students felt comfortable; some students described feeling distanced fromthe other students and the tutor because of the online environment and the chatsessions helped to build relationships: 164
  • 176. You get to understand, through the chat that you have, what sort of people they are. So yes, you build up a relationship with them online. I mean, it’s not as difficult as meeting them now. (S1)4.3.7. Control and Constraints4.3.7.1. Learner autonomyStudents had different opinions about the level of control by the tutor on theirlearning. Most of them agreed with the need for clear instructions at the outset of thelearning, but after that they had different ideas on how much guidance they wouldlike from the tutor. Some liked clear tasks to help them deliver the right answers,others liked a mixed approach in which there was some guidance, but not ‘spoon-feeding’ the students. Whilst I think it is wonderful to encourage people to think for themselves and to find their way around, people in a learning situation do expect to be initially led, but then also expect to be given the respect that they can work things out for themselves. (S4)Only one student had a preference for finding things out for himself. Some studentsliked to be led by clearly formulated instructions, while others preferred to havecontrol over their learning themselves in addition to support by the tutor but felt thechoice was there in ABCD to design your own learning and participate incommunication, or just to access resources; I think you can choose the balance from what you want really. You are in control of using them really... I read the stuff, didn’t do so much of the chat I suppose, did discussions but I think it is a balance you can set for your self, isn’t it? At that level I think it is quite a good thing really. You engage with your pc surely it is like talking to other people about things; it gives that possibility but if you just want to read the materials and back it up yourself somewhere else you can do that as well. It leaves a balance in your control which is a good thing. (S7)As indicated in section by Bouchard (2009) organising and sequencing workis normally carried out by a tutor in a face-to-face environment. Online this needs tobe taken care of by students themselves, which was not always easy: The only difference from the first one [the face-to-face module] that I actually turned up for classes and put 2 hours a week of my time . . . to actually concentrate on doing it . . . .The other course [online] I wasn’t putting a set 165
  • 177. time or period for it and I wasn’t disciplined for it… it was a matter of allocating my time and organising myself. (S7)Several students indicated that there is an interplay between these factors ofdiscipline and organisation, with motivational factors as the need to go online or tosort out technical problems, ensuring they would not fall behind too much. Copingwith this self-organisation was important and the lack thereof was one of the reasonsthat some students gave up on the course in the end. Solutions that were suggestedwere, for instance, regular contact by the tutor outside the ABCD environment. Onestudent suggested sending an email regularly, to give a little motivational push, whileanother thought it would be good to personalise ABCD so it would fit in with othercomputer applications, such as Facebook: You actually combine the task within life, so people they are online; they are doing their Facebook kind of thing . . . , but in amongst that every so often instead of getting these crazy pop up ads or that flash rubbish, what comes up instead is a reminder of hey this looks fun, this is part of ABCD, spend five minutes doing this. (S8)Of course to realise that contacting tutors and support team is a good thing to do,rather than a bad thing is an important step and several students said that they shouldhave contacted tutors and support staff earlier: The problem has been me trying to be superman and not relaying back to the tutors how much I am struggling with different things and not getting on with stuff, but the options are there; the option is there for me to email, the option to add different things. (S4)The interaction with the tutor and his or her feedback were important motivationaland confidence-building factors: I know that tutors’ feedback helped a great deal. Even in so much that it gave me the confidence of my own ability then. That I thought “Oh, OK, perhaps I can do this” whereas it was quite challenging and you don’t . . . you know independently, you don’t know if you’re making any sort of sense or not. Then the tutor comes back and says “Yes, you’ve got the point” and will give you another kind of perspective on it then. Then you feel like you’ve taken a step forward. (S9)The reflective journals were the best place to provide feedback, and to showappreciation for each other; they showed that the students were benefiting from the 166
  • 178. strong tutor presence and were building up their understanding of the material and subject area: Just wanted to say, journal, that it is great that Tutor 4’s feedback to the students is so comprehensive so far - the fact that I can not only read and absorb what other students interpretations are, but read Tutor 4’s extensive follow-ups too, helps me understand the subject so much more richly. Thanks Tutor 4! (S8, reflective diary) Putting things down in a diary, can also help to clarify things and get you motivated. (S4, reflective diary) Hi Both, Thanks again for the feedback. I am happy with the subject matter for the project now - I really thought that I needed to change the world with my assignment when in fact need to start the ripple effect! Im doing quite a bit of reflective thinking at the moment so the assignment is purely thought. Id like to say that I really enjoyed this module, your openness and positive support. Thanks/Diolch! (S1, reflective diary) However, sometimes working without tutor guidance can be a good motivator as well, as one of the student said, who only found the tutor guidance after replying to a discussion forum post. The “matches and mismatches” between tutor guidance and student autonomy are clearly important, as discussed by Grow (1991) and represented in table 5 in section Most students felt ambivalence about the level of self-direction that they were comfortable with. This includes thoughts about the usefulness of other students’ work for their own learning I’d like to see it going towards more collaboration – no that’s the wrong word – more interactivity between the students themselves rather than there having to be a tutor present. I do like it when the tutor says “Blah, blah, blah read, digest, give an answer back and that’s why I like the discussion forums, where you have a voice... Maybe I should open up a bit more and make more effort to engage with other students…I prefer to master it myself. There’s a sense of self-fulfilment and achievement when I do it that way. I feel a bit guilty if I don’t read the other people’s work first, because I know I’ll feel guilty, as if I’ve cheated in a way. In a way I feel good about the fact that when I do read other people’s work, it doesn’t, and it isn’t enough to make me want to change my work then. So then I feel even better that I’ve done a good job in the first place. I’ve done my readings, I’ve thought about it, before putting my answers in. (S8)There seems to be a fine balance between supporting and letting go. The tutor’spresence had supported students to move on from a stage where they were struggling: 167
  • 179. I am struggling a bit with this module as i am reading too many different articles and neither are giving me a better understanding of visualising action research. Although we have done a lot of thinking outside the box, i am beginning to feel like i am looking into this too hard and that is why i am struggling. So i am going to forget about it until Sunday. (S6, reflective journal)Later students moved to a level of understanding and feeling good about themselves,and being able to move on. At that stage the tutor posted a video podcast in which hediscussed his own reflections and problems with the module and it helped students towork their way through a hard part of the course and to become a more confident andmotivated learner, able to make their own decisions and to take control of their ownlearning while personalising their learning as Student 8 shows here: It was difficult to know which entries to choose to read in the links provided after McNiff‘s, as there were so many different reports and readings to choose from… I am using McNiff as the trunk of my current learning ‘tree’ and have read through the subsequent links too, in order to gain additional knowledge on the same subject, as they seem to form the same conclusions (I can learn little ‘extras’ from each one). (S8) Students were expected to and could make their own choices of course materials and resources to the courses. Student 9 for instance, showed her independence by setting up her own containing her choice of 140 links related to the course that she would like to share with others on her personal page on the learning environment. Others did not venture outside the readers that the tutor provided in some modules and saw problems with looking for materials for themselves because of time pressure, as it is easy to be laid-back and do a quick search, rather than to really look for quality resources: I think it is easy for a student to fall back into lazy ways and just stick to Google, type the word, click enter and just see what goes on there, rather than making a more concerted effort to go into the scholarly articles, into different search engines which give more reliable and accurate results really. (S8) Issues of learner autonomy and the ‘matches and mismatches’ between guidance by tutors and level of autonomy required by students will be further discussed and related to the literature in section as these findings highlight the complexity of learner autonomy and the interaction between tutor and learner. 168
  • 180. Students emphasised the need for the resources to be presented in a “digestible” way,small bites at a time, but related to communication with people, and as personalisedas possible. As highlighted in point 6 of the literature conclusion in section 2.4. thetechnology is now available to personalise people’s learning. The challenge is howinstitutions might cope with the transition to facilitate this. PersonalisationStudents liked the personalisation of the learning experience, but had very differentideas on what their ideal personalisation would look like. Their ideas ranged fromusing a handheld device attached to their computer, using a pad where they couldwrite on the desktop and save their ideas, a little like ‘stickies’ on an AppleMaccomputer, to including learning materials on YouTube. Some students liked theprogramme to be more integrated with real life, where they would get alerts to dosome course work as soon as they were using another application: If there was any way of mimicking or presenting learning or study in a kind of social software setting . . . like people on FaceBook . . . so you are encouraged to do that between people on the course, whether they are in your learning group or whether they are perhaps in another group . . . so you are interacting, socially interacting via Web 2.0 technology but you actually combine the tasks within life. (S4) It’s the motivation and sitting down, trying to get rid of distractions, which can be difficult, so if there is any way of…if I were to log on to ABCD…there’s a way of ABCD communicating to me? If I could set up something in ABCD to say “give me little alerts by email” or give me a little email to say “Student 8, get on with your work”. (S8)Student 9 saw personalisation more in the sense of creating a Personal LearningEnvironment. She would have liked students to have a homepage where they had alltheir applications and resources, and where other students were able to access them: I think in some ways I found it rather impersonal . . . One thing I vaguely thought was whether people could have more of a home page. You know like we’ve got a profile, which is just a photograph and a bit of text, whether that could be made a bit more personalised, a bit like Facebook, because it’s a bit more personal. . . . Like I say, to have your own homepage so it’s more personalised, then you could put your own links in and not feeling that you were ramming them down people’s throats Because if you do put it into a discussion forum, and you email it to everybody, whether they want it or not, 169
  • 181. they are getting them . . . and now you are building up your own learning library. (S9) TechnologySeveral students had technological problems during the two-year programme,ranging from the broadband connection not working, to extremely slow downloadsof videos, which would influence the learning experience. Lack of support for Macusers was also brought up: I wasn’t really as clear as all that about how to access the wiki and how they worked, and as I say the other issue I had was sometimes difficult getting into them. So if it took more than five minutes to get something open, I’d lose interest and move on to something else. . . . that also makes you more isolated. Other people, for example, have told me that the videos on the AR module meant they felt ‘really connected’ with the course. So, if you can’t do that, than you miss out on important motivational parts of it. (S10) There’ve been so many occasions when I’ve had so many problems with broadband over the last couple of months that I’d have about 6 or 7 tabs open on my browser and I can pick and choose . . . and then if the internet connection went down I’d have to start from scratch then each time. (S8)The Project Manager however, emphasised that the level of technology required forthe programme was made clear to students at the start of the programme and it hasonly been partly possible to alleviate learner’s technical problems if through changedcircumstances learners only had access to equipment that was not adequate for thetechnical demands of the course.4.4. THE TUTOR EXPERIENCEThe tutor experience in the online environment is quite different from one in atraditional classroom. Communication between tutor and learners, teaching andlearning strategies, the learning environment, the assessment and levels of autonomyof the learners have all been highlighted as having been profoundly different in thepast (Gulati, 2006). It was an enriching experience for all four tutors interviewed;they all learned from the experience: It really frightened me when I first became involved, because it was my very first experience as an e-learning tutor. But those feelings, once I got into it, they 170
  • 182. dissipated and now, genuinely on reflection, I think it’s one of the greatest experiences that I’ve had. (T2) I wasn’t sure what I anticipated at the outset, but whatever it was, I gained more than I thought. (T4) Well, it’s funny, and because I co-tutored, I think it makes it quite different. The whole notion of co-teaching with someone, because I never felt in control, ever, which was one of the main difficulties in the beginning . . . It was a major challenge for me in the beginning and I felt uncomfortable for a few days . . . I had to sit on it and not get in a tizz . . . It was good for me, to actually grapple with that. (T3)4.4.1. ContextThe background of the tutors on the course was varied, ranging from being subjectspecialists to learning technologists. Their background in using ICT for teaching andlearning was also diverse: some tutors had used a Virtual Learning Environment suchas Blackboard, but most had no experience at all in using technology for teaching, letalone Web 2.0 technologies. This led to a number of challenges while developing theprogramme.It is generally agreed that the tutor in an online environment has a variety of roles tofill encompassing pedagogical, social, managerial and technical skills (Bonk &Cunningham, 1998; Salmon, 2004; Berge, 1995; Gerrard, 2002). Although some ofthe skills required are the same as in a traditional classroom, online teaching differsin many respects as McPherson and Nunes point out:  ‘it places greater emphasis on written skills;  produces a more formal tone; does not follow a linear conversation but instead promotes multiple conversations;  does not confine teaching to specific times;  places greater emphasis on student-student learning; requires teachers to develop new ways of encouraging participation;  requires teachers to assess the worth of online contributions. ‘ McPherson and Nunes (2004, p. 1)As there was such a disparate level of knowledge and skills in relation to technology,tutors were given individual tuition to ensure their “up-skilling” and understanding ofdifferent processes taking place during the online course as opposed to a face-to-facelearning environment. All tutors agreed that there were particular skills they had 171
  • 183. identified as necessary to be able to facilitate and teach in an online environment,including basic ICT skills, an understanding of online pedagogy, and anunderstanding of how to facilitate online synchronous and asynchronouscommunication effectively.The experience in the hosting institution of teaching while using technology was inthe main restricted to using VLEs in a blended and distance education mode. Afterevaluating the teaching and learning experience with VLEs in an earlier programme,it was clear that, compared with a face-to-face learning environment, the teachingwas not of the same quality because of major problems and issues withcommunication. The tutors used a variety of strategies for communication duringtheir teaching in that particular programme: most chose asynchronous discussionboard, announcements and email. All tutors on that programme, that was precedingABCD, emphasised their frustration with the rigidity of the university VLE,Blackboard, at times as it did not allow them to see who was online and who was not,for instance, in addition to issues with communication. This was one of the reasonsto instigate the ABCD research (Kop & Woodward, 2006).4.4.2. Teaching Preferences. Face-to-face or online learning?Most tutors indicated that the ideal situation would be a combination of face-to-faceand online learning as they each have their positive and negative sides. Clearlypositive in the face-to-face environment was the advantage of being able to “read”the group, while online it is much harder. In addition, the possibility to see bodylanguage and facial expressions helped to see students’ progress in understandingand making of meaning, although one of the tutors thought this might have beenunhelpful as ‘you make assumptions about people very early on in a face-to-facesituation’ (T2) and these might be wrong. In a face-to-face environment it is alsopossible to provide instantaneous feedback, which is not possible in an onlineenvironment: if you are all collaborating in a group, it is much more immediate and you have to be aware of other things; the dynamics of the group with body language and who is taking part and who is not, with a group of student working together. (T1) 172
  • 184. I think that’s what makes it really time consuming for tutors online, because you kind of can’t read them as a group. When you walk into a classroom, you can pick up really quickly who will go off and do their own reading and who will be hanging on your every word, but online you can’t . . . You just lose all these signals so it’s very tutor intensive to work out where each student is; you can’t treat them as a group. (PM)The advantages of the online environment were seen to be a much deeperengagement in conceptual thinking with individual students through very focussedfeedback in the reflective diaries, as a-synchronicity afforded a higher level ofreflection: I’ve never been in a teaching environment where I had the time to spend so much time reflecting or responding to people’s thoughts, or things like that, as you did in the journal, which was really, really good. You got much more of an insight into individuals in some ways . . . I know some of those people better, much, much better than if it had been a class. (T3)Similar thoughts were voiced about the chat: The things we said in chats, I wouldn’t say on a one to one. It does give you some leeway to say things you wouldn’t say in a face-to-face environment. And, that was surprising for me, because I’ve never communicated in this way before, but I really, really liked it. It gave you an insight into other people that you don’t get in a classroom, and so you were able to encourage, or direct their learning to suit them as individuals a lot more. (T3)The tutor highlighted the high level of creativity and opportunities for students toexpress themselves in different ways than in a face-to-face environment. It was seento offer much richer resources than a face-to-face environment: I think the ABCD environment is much broader, and it enables students to respond much more creatively, I think than text-based materials, there are some really solid examples of that . . . . I think it gives people alternative means of expression, particularly video and auditory and more creative ways of expressing themselves. (T4)However, tutors have less control over how students use the resources offered, whichtakes time to get used to, especially as the curriculum is designed by the tutors, butthey have to sit back and see how learners will use resources and learn from them: This is so distinctly different to the face-to-face sessions that I am used to; it’s quite odd seeing the curriculum and sitting back waiting for the participants to experience their own learning environment. I have found myself jumping 173
  • 185. around the topic, which I would not do in a traditional learning environment – the curriculum would be delivered. (T2)4.4.3. PedagogyThe whole teaching experience was seen to be quite different from a face-to-faceexperience and it was quite a learning curve for tutors to see how best to support thelearners. They expressed some insecurity in the methods used and the best way to goabout their teaching. But they all seemed to find the tools that suited them best,sometimes by listening to the students: I enjoyed the chat last night, but I think I must try to keep out of it more. I’m getting into it and tried to help them focus at times. But should I do that? (T2, reflective diary) It was fun, lots of laughter along with very serious constructive module development – AND the technological aspects – all very new and interesting. I did/do feel part of something creative and truly educational. (T4, reflective diary) I was trying to do it not exactly in the same way, because you can’t and I think that when there is a debate saying “you can’t take traditional methods and put them” online, but I tend to think that those traditional methods are not traditional methods I would have used. (T1) When they said that they really liked the podcasts, and all that, well, we posted more! And when for instance someone said how much they’d learnt, crowed how much they’d learnt from one of the webcasts, you know, I was round looking for other YouTube things on the same sort of things then, so the feedback from the students was vital and if I was to do it again, then I’d build on that. (T3)The tutors were all of the opinion that the variety of methods of communication andcollaboration tools in addition to the learning objects and resources were vital forstudent support and development. Especially the reflective journal, chat anddiscussion board were praised for their usefulness in engaging the students: ‘Justbeing able to give them feedback I think, from their entries into the forums, or thepersonal journals particularly, as that got right to the heart of it’ (T4).The need to create a presence was felt, for an environment where tutors and learnerswould be clearly visible – or perhaps a better word would be clearly noticeable – was 174
  • 186. seen as vital to facilitate engagement as it provided motivation to learn. Thisconfirms the issues of social and teacher presence raised by Anderson (2008a) andLombard & Ditton (1997) in section Enhancement of presence wasachieved through podcasts, chat and high quality feedback. The tutors knew they had to have a strong presence and then my strategy was to show them all the different options of how you can have a strong presence, like you can have a strong presence when you use video, when you use the feedback and in doing that it definitely motivated the students. (LT1) I used the video-clip to say, look this is difficult, but there is a lot of evidence that you are contributing and we’re working through this constructively and that’s what we should expect. It’s just my opinion this, but I do think that doing these videos, in that way was more reassuring to people than simply emailing them and saying “you’re getting on fine”. I think the video added some weight to those messages. (T4)It was important to create a ‘community’: Ideally you would create some kind of community of learners really and I think we have got to that with a little core group now, that there is that sense of community, but it’s slowly, it takes a really long time to build up because if you don’t see people then you don’t have that physical rapport. It’s quite hard to create it completely online. (PM) It kind of gives the material a new meaning, a new kind of level, like you can go in and have all these nice videos and the audio files, but just reading that chat, or the discussion forums, you can see that it just brings it up a level. But for that to work, it is half way between the traditional classroom and the traditional online setting. It takes the traditional online one step further. (LT1)Tutor 4 thought that some of the students were not closely enough involved at times.He felt he should have done more to help and engage some of the students more, butwasn’t quite sure how to do that. Tutor 3 realised that it enhanced the learningexperience if she were to be more personal with the students: They would say something about stuff that was going on with them. One little throwaway line and I chanced it, because I wasn’t sure if that was the done thing to follow it up and say “Oh and how’s such-and-such a situation going? And I found that was really great, because then I got a response and I found that being personal was all right…so my teaching style was different in that I was able to be quite personal with people in my responses to them. (T3)Something else tutors had to learn, was to stand back; to not provide feedbackstraightaway, to give learners space and time to reflect before providing guidance. 175
  • 187. This was also emphasised by Anderson (2008a), who highlighted that if tutors do notdominate the interaction too much, students might participate more and show agreater commitment. I need to visit private journals more often, appraise them & respond quicker. Yet also, is it a “cop out” that I suspect that allowing for reflection is a very useful strategy – that sometimes quick responses might somehow impede student reflection and decision making. (T4, journal) I was silent for quite a while and then someone said “What do you think, Tutor 1?” and wanted me to guide them in the answers which was one thing I was determined not to do, because it is not for me to tell them how to think for themselves and to broaden their views…my views don’t count, not in that context. (T1)At other times tutors were really exhilarated that their approach worked. This wasespecially the case in the Action Research module, where students had to movethrough a transitional phase of confusion and reflection and learning, and where theycame out of the process as more autonomous learners: I did feel for them, for a couple of weeks when they were confused, uncomfortable…Because we were pushing some of their personal buttons. Because in Action Research it is about letting go of control. So again it is reflecting on the actual process of Action Research, which is wonderful...It was really, really good . . . in AR you have to go through that phase of floundering and confusion and chaos and they went through that in their learning and I thought we might lose some of them, but they stuck with it. (T3)She thought that the use of videos and other visuals had been vitally important in thisprocess. The importance of reflectionReflection has played an important part in the course. Students and tutors bothreflected regularly on the course work and concepts. Tutors thought about studentreflection: I saw that as absolutely vital in the whole thing. It is central to Action Research, but I pushed it as part of their learning as well as learning about something, for them to reflect on themselves (T3) Certainly the elements and topics that I covered [reflection, innovation, enterprise] really made people think. You know “What am I like?” and “How 176
  • 188. do people perceive me?” and “What is my learning style?” . . . . ”How do I learn?” and “How do I learn best?” (T2) I’d like to think it [reflection] was important for them. Some of the work that some of them have produced is really good, so I think that they’ve learnt something very useful to them, practical, and based on real solid knowledge. (T4)Tutor 3 reflects in her diary on the honesty in the reflection process and a particularlyfunny Freudian slip by one of the students: some interesting things - especially the gender thing!! the Freudian slip of "bloke" in Student 2’s entry - "So sometimes it is hard for me to reflect as part of my brain will try and bloke it out " is funny. Such brilliant honest inputs though. (T3)She also discussed her own reflections, in which she tried to be as honest as possible.She valued the process, which they would normally not use while teaching, as itmade them more aware of the teaching process. Tutor 4 also emphasised the need to“practice as you preach.” Boud and Walker (2002) highlight the possible challengesif reflection is used in educational practice as the reflection process can easily becompromised by assessment procedures, or can be difficult for teachers as they haveto have a clear understanding of their own limitations and need to signpost toprofessionals if reflections highlight issues which might be too personal issues.Reflection can also be used inappropriately to enforce power relations in teachingand learning settings. On the ABCD project refection was only part of the assessmentin the sense that students were supposed to reflect, but their reflections were notgraded. Tutors did not highlight any issues of problematic disclosure andobservations did not show problematic power relations in relation to reflection.In fact, reflection showed to be an important part of the AR course and tutor 4highlighted that if you expect the students to reflect, you will have to engage in ityourself as well. From the tutor reflective diaries it is clear that they have taken theprocess seriously and not only reflected on student learning, but also on their ownlearning and their and each others teaching. It seems that a lot more tutor reflectiontook place than in a face-to-face environment; as Tutor 4 analysed it throughprinciples by Heron (on presentational, propositional, and practical issues) and 177
  • 189. Carper (Personal issues, aesthetics, and ethics). His feedback has been integratedthroughout the section on tutor experience. Some tutor reflections: Worry that my chat and feedback is not academic - is this OK? Should I sound more authoritative? i decide no on balance - my role is tutor, supporter, encourager - there to offer ideas and encouragement and prompt them and question them. (T3, reflective diary) Co teaching has NOT JUST worked well - IT HAS BEEN INSTRUMENTAL in planning and delivering the whole module - absolutely in keeping with the social learning and collaboration that AR is all about. BUT ALSO TOO - it might have been an interpersonal disaster for us - so the most interesting thing for me here is HOW and WHY did we work so well as a team? … I feel like a student too - ME TOO - AND THATS partly WHY ITS WORKED SO WELL – IN [I] THINK WEVE [WE’VE] ROLE MODELLED TEAM WORK/COLLABORATION AND CRITICAL REFLECTION/FEEDBACK. (T4 commenting on T3’s reflective diary) FeedbackAll tutors provided regular feedback to students, either in the chat, usually in a light-hearted way, on the discussion board which usually related to conceptual issuesrelated to course content, and most explicitly in the reflective diaries, where one-to-one feedback and communication was possible. The level and quality of the feedbackhas been different for different tutors, which did influence student learning I showedin the section on learner experience. Learning Technologist 2 expresses the differentapproach by different tutors in providing feedback. about the Action Research course, they seem to be very involved and very active, but apparently the tutors on that course have been very active in encouraging them and giving feedback, whereas, I don’t know if you saw on Tutor 6’s course, in the past three weeks, a lot of the activity has sort of died down. I’m not sure what the reason is for that, …I think that tutor 6 has just taken the approach that he’s stepped back a little bit and is letting them work at their own pace, and do their own thing. A lot of the activity has died down though, so maybe they do need the encouragement and support and being told what to do. (LT2)Feedback has not only come from the tutors. Students also fed back to tutors, andlearning technologists have also provided feedback to tutors, which they foundchallenging and helpful to their own thinking and learning process. Students have exercised my thinking & rethinking & Learning Technologist 1 has really challenged me via her email questions – but the ‘best’ for me 178
  • 190. remains face-to-face dialogue, especially as a triad – that’s when my conceptualising is tested most and best. (T4, diary)What then were important issues in providing feedback in an online multi sensoryand “multi tool” environment? The most important issue seems to be to use a multi-pronged approach: using different media, using different tools, and having a goodbalance between affirmation and challenging the students, which was alsoemphasised by MacDonald (2008): What was most useful, I think, and that took me a while to suss it out, and it was very useful to give people feedback, because you just had to use the discussion forum, or the private journal, and you could see what everybody had done, and so it was quite simple to give everybody the right feedback. (T4) I’m learning how to mix affirmation (and support) with more challenging prompts and it seems to be ‘working’ in terms of student contributions. (T4, diary) [On the importance of questions in feedback:] Questions - not just about curiosity - but for me in learning and teaching are about helping others to clarify - I always appreciate awkward, challenging questions - they help me clarify my thinking and enable me to develop my ability to communicate my thoughts, feelings, ideas etc. even though sometimes difficult - floundering, unsure, inarticulate - even indignant at being questioned - always - on reflection know that good questions are vital to learning - ones you ask yourself as well. Am so interested and even a little excited by this “learning” - the students and mine. (T3, reflective diary) When you give feedback to people, there’s always a bit of positive, room for development . . . . And I hope that when I gave feedback that it posed other questions then. Not “You stop here”, but “Have you thought about this?”. I try to be proactive almost. I used the reflective diaries to really encourage students. (T2)The feedback the tutors gave was very much dependent on what the learners broughtup in the diaries, so it was crucial that they felt happy to disclose their needs andinsecurities I am very encouraged – the honesty of feedback is heartening and I get a strong sense of the students trying to be as constructive as possible – I don’t sense any blaming or opting out – it’s week 3 and we are “immersed in the messiness”. (T4, reflective diary) 179
  • 191. Our feedback was based on and dependent on what they wrote in the first place. Sometimes I would go to the journals and I’d respond to a learner for example, and I’d be waiting for them to pull something out, and they didn’t. . . . it’s so frustrating because they’d touched on something interesting, and I’d responded. (T3)Student feedback in the diaries has also been vital in decisions by tutors on whichtools to use at particular stages of the programme. Students were tempted to providefeedback using particular technologies by particular tutor choices. In the ActionResearch module for instance, at a moment when students indicated they werefloundering a bit in the diaries, the tutor produced and presented a confidence-building video, to which students responded with videos of their own, showing theirincrease in confidence: So, instead of just typing who I am, Student 8 does a little video while he’s driving along about who I am and then Student 6 thinks “Well, he’s done that. I can do that! And so she does it. You think once you get a sort of critical point, where suddenly, everything they’ve got, their confidence level rises and they think “Well actually, why type, because I can do a video and I know how to do it and I know how to upload it, and so they will start to do it. And this video was really appropriate because they were talking about visualisation of things. Tutor 1 highlighted that. He said: “Well an image tells a thousand words, and a video tells so much more. (PM) EngagementDifferent issues have been important in engaging the students. The main aspects havebeen the quality of the communication and this has been different for different tutors: I think Tutor 4 just really communicates with them. Real interaction and getting in there. And he is down to earth. I think there are all different levels there, but he’s reaching to all of them’ (Discussion between PM and LT1).The Project Manager and Learning Technologist refer here to the feedback providedby tutor 4, which raised the level of cognitive, social and teacher presence asdiscussed in section by Anderson (2008a). The materials have beenimportant in some modules and Tutor 2 highlighted that the level of choice is themost engaging and empowering part of the programme: I think it is totally enhanced, because of the choice . . . .They can choose which one they like . . . which you don’t usually have. You come to a class and you’re in it! . . . if you have choice, again it’s about empowerment and taking hold of that learning. (T2) 180
  • 192. The Project Manager followed all learners, who started the online part of the course,and she noticed that people either loved it and really got engaged in the programme,or did not and eventually withdrew from the programme. Learning Technologist 1felt the issue of belonging was important to engagement as she described herexperience with an online course. Group workWorking in groups has been challenging on the programme. Making students worktogether online is logistically problematic: it inhibits flexibility as learners have towait for other students, who might have a completely different time-schedule andplanning of their course work. This confirms the findings by Roberts andMcInnerney (2007), which highlighted several challenges for group work in onlinelearning. Tutor 1 was very keen to work in groups and had distinct ideas on how todo this derived from his work in Teaching English as a Foreign Language: You have to find out where they are and use that as a basis and get them to do the work, and be there as a resource and a guide. One thing that I tried and that kind of worked, was a type of good pyramid type of discussion where someone thinks on their own, and then with a partner and you try to build up, not a consensus, but a view and a discussion from the whole class...Then we discuss together to see what each group can learn from everybody else, and as a collective discuss the things we need to do. (Tutor 1)It did work, but it became clear that quite a high level of trust and confidence wererequired to fully engage in an online collaboration, in addition to knowledge of groupdynamics. For collaboration to work, it needs building up over time, and it needs tobe visible and remain so for all to see: It was a shame that that didn’t happen in the discussion forum when someone said “I’m having a bit of a problem with my research proposal topic”, then other people could have fed into it. We tried to encourage that more, and it happened once or twice, but it didn’t really. I think it could have eventually, it would come over a long time of engaging with a group. (T3) In a classroom…you are watching the group dynamics; . . . at what instant you can make some prompts, whereas it’s not the same way online, because you don’t necessarily know what the group dynamics are. At least online you can see if anyone has done something, but there is a bit more amenity in the classroom. (T1) 181
  • 193. 4.4.4. Communication and dialogueThe Project Manager highlighted how fast online learning is changing. Shequestioned the rationale behind the tools being used in a traditional VLE as new onesare emerging that might be better at facilitating communication. Major changes weremade in comparison to earlier online courses in the department: Moodle, Blackboard and WebCt, they are all very much 1990’s tools and everything has been added on to them and they don’t make the most of the strengths of the Web 2.0 technology, because they haven’t been designed with those in mind . . . to try to create an environment where content can sit parallel to the communication tool, rather than underneath or on top, that’s our aim to create that. (PM)In her view communication is at the heart of the learning experience and it isparamount to ensure the facilitation of it in such a way that a seamless moving backand forth between resources, applications and people is created. This confirmsAnderson’s ideas of online interaction (Anderson, 2008b), who defined four forms ofinteraction: between learner and content, tutor and learners, learners and learners andlearners and their networks (this in addition to content-content, and tutor-tutorinteraction, which are not as relevant in this research) and will be further discussed insections and tutors were quite happy with the scope of different tools for communication. Thereflective journal was favourite for providing students with personal feedback, thediscussion board was used to discuss conceptual issues with the group. The chat wasmostly used for group forming, building of community and social interaction, whilethe wiki was used for the facilitation of group work. The videos and sound files wereseen to work well to explain difficult concepts, but also to create some presence, asemotional and bodily expressions are possible, so it expresses more than text coulddo: ‘I was quite happy about the level and depth of communication with each of thestudents, and I think in a sense the wikis and forums helped them interrelate to oneanother’ (T4).The project team spent quite some time working on the creation of a comfortableplace, where people would feel relaxed and trusted as advocated in, wherethey would get a sense of who the other students and the tutors on the course were,and where each person would be ‘present’: 182
  • 194. The ABCD Project is the social object that connects participants-discussing, posting, chatting in bite size bits, little or no reliance on books . . . collaboration, cooperation, sharing ideas, reflecting, connections, everyone participates, the learner is the teacher is the learner. (T2, reflective diary)Communications tools were seen as the most important tools to create this sense of“presence” and “place”. Students regarded themselves as being more “present” thanjust by posting in the discussion board, which would be the main choice ofcommunications tool in the traditional VLE. The Project Manager was initially quiteconcerned when a learner would not communicate for a week, but by looking at theMoodle “back-office” course statistics, it was possible to see that learners spent along time accessing different resources. It seems that people need this “lurking” time,when they do not speak to others, but when they are, as the Project Manager called it,“being passively active” in addition to spending time communicating with others.This shows a synergy with the research by Gulati (2006) who highlighted the need instudents for time to digest information, while she also found that this was mostprofound in learners with a high level of learner autonomy.Tutor 2 was quite surprised by the breadth of the programme. From thecommunications she could see what amount of time people spent online and at whattime of day or night. It was truly 24/ PresenceThe development of presence has been important throughout the programme and itseemed to materialize the further the programme progressed: You have the sense that there’s the presence of a tutor who’s guiding you as opposed to teaching you. Tutor 4 is really visible in that course, and you feel, even if you don’t know him, you know his personality is coming out…I think that makes an enormous difference. If we get this ‘presence tool’ to develop, that could have a huge impact on e-learning…If you are to compare the earlier ones [modules] with Tutor 4…it was the humour we were going to pull out, and he knew [it] going into it, and he’s doing it. (LT1)As highlighted in section by Anderson (2008a) and Lombard and Ditton(1997) a sense of social and tutor presence can enhance the learner engagement. Inparticular the chat has been seen as a powerful tool to create presence, and severalpeople had ideas on how to develop its use to make it more flexible: 183
  • 195. I think it needs to be freed up a bit…it’s a great tool, but it would be so much better if for example, rather than the tutors having to go into the news forum and say OK would everyone be available at 8 o’clock on Wednesday and then someone came back and said “No, I can’t do it”; that whole pre-booking thing. The tool needs to be freed up in that just to say the tutor is online and there’s three students there, so they could chat and speak; it’s more flexible. (LT1) I would have liked the chat to have been continuous, so that would have motivated some people I think, particularly people with difficulties accessing the technologies, if you had this 24hr chat going on. I think that would have been very helpful. (T2)A new tool has been developed to accommodate these ideas, which will be discussedin the section on design that follows. In addition to communications tools, such aschat and discussion forums, informal videos and feedback were also seen to beimportant tools in developing the sense of presence: Well the …form of videos in which Tutor 4 and 3 were discussing, joking, laughing, gave a very strong presence of the tutors of the module. I know we’ve used videos previously, but a lot of them were formal interviews, views of different people in different companies, but the actual informal setting…the two of them discussing and teasing out, I think gave a good tutor presence and again in the feedback as well, right through all the different sections, the tutors were there and were around so the students always felt that there was someone around to look at it in the near future. (LT1)Learning Technologist 2 added that videos make it possible to see people’sexpressions and it also gets across affective aspects of a personality. He advocatesthe use of sound files, rather than the sole use of text in the learning environment, asit is more personal and helps to foster a sense of presence. Using videos you can see the people and the people respond to it much better than just plain text. In video you can get across humour and stuff like that, which you can’t in text really, or if you try, can be taken the wrong way. May be a video chat would have been good. It’s just the whole presence thing. Being able to see people online would improve it…or just to be able to hear people and to speak naturally as opposed to typing, as when you type you don’t type how you speak; you type very short and concise and it’s maybe harder to get your point across. (LT2)The concept of presence in relation to online learning will be further discussed insection 184
  • 196. Synchronous online communicationIn all modules chat was used as the main tool to facilitate synchronouscommunication. Tutors were surprised by how powerful the chat tool can be: There is one thing that I am struggling to put into words, and that’s the ‘chat room’ thing. That was amazing. I did three of them and they were absolutely amazing. And I am not sure why, but they are incredible. Very powerful arenas, you know. But it’s difficult to put to words how they’re valuable, or how they contribute to learning even . . . .It’s main function was to get people to engage socially, really, virtually socially. But experiencing that . . . I mean, I typed the words into the board and I was crying laughing. And if you’d said, ‘Oh you’ll be laughing doing that’ I’d have said ‘Don’t be ridiculous’. There’s something about it that’s really . . . Well, you’ve got to experience it I suppose. (T4) I have not had so much fun in learning for many years... Tonight, I felt liberated as a tutor, I was using my usual speech, decidedly no academic language - not relevant. So, what does this mean? Have I been missing a whole lot of fun from my teaching (this is highly probable from my frown lines) or have I just been constrained by my traditional teaching and learning environment? (T2, reflective diary) The chats are great - its funny how connected and close I feel to people through communicating in this way - I feel lucky to be able to type so fast. Getting the balance between encouraging shy students and responding quickly to the fast ones is tricky - but thats the same in a classroom anyway. (T3, reflective diary)The tutors felt isolated at the early stages of the course in an online teachingenvironment and Tutor 2 looks forward to her first chat: My first chat is planned for 28th – I’m looking forward to this. I think I will feel part of a learning community, because I feel rather isolated now. This is so distinctly different to the face-to-face sessions that I am used to. (T2, diary)Despite this positive attitude, it has not been easy to use the tool. Tutor 1, forinstance, was confused by the several different talks that were running in the samechat room simultaneously. I found it really very difficult to watch what was going on, because I wasn’t trying to control it, but I needed to be able to make sure where the flow was going so I could prompt with questions and make sure some people weren’t getting left out . . . It was quite difficult to make sure you were prompting somebody, as they got somebody to ask me a question about something on the module in the middle of the discussion about something else . . . and I thought . . . . “Do I respond to that question and break the flow, or do I ignore it? (T1) 185
  • 197. And Tutor 2 indicated the need to stand back as a tutor and let the students use thetool for chatting ‘almost like the coffee-break’ (T2). It was an important tool tofacilitate socialising: Positive was that it was so creative that it allowed people to get to know me. I dunno, it was a bit of real-time get-together that we didn’t have, having no face-to-face. (T2) They were very useful, really useful. But more for the motive of the social aspect. Yes, it would be an interesting bit of research to try to see if there’s a relationships between people engaging in those chat activities and their willingness to ask each other, and us, questions. (T4) In terms of the social, it really seemed to gel and worked really well, so it is a good way of getting people to meet, because some have never met. (LT1)However, Tutor 4 would have liked the students to use chat more as he saw it as agood way to learn from each other because ‘I think they are great resources for eachother’ (T4).The chats were good for social interaction, and for students to encourage each other,and for pastoral support. They were less successful when it came to academicdevelopment. Tutors felt that it was hard to discuss concepts at a deeper level: A lot of encouragement went on there. People were very nice and supportive and kind to each other…even if they were grappling with some sort of concept, you know, there was the banter. Which was good. The negative side is that there weren’t any big discussions about any particular subject matter…you know, someone would make a flippant comment, and off it would go again. But I thought it was extremely useful. (T3) I don’t know quite what I expected from the chats, but whatever it was, it wasn’t what happened…The fact that quite random thoughts would come in from somewhere, and I couldn’t work out how that thought had come in. Obviously there was some thought process going on. The fact was that even that was really quite disorganised and that some quite liked it. (T1)It seemed to be the place to develop new ideas by bouncing them off each other: Yes, point things out to people, and to give ideas, and share ideas. It’s not the place to describe in depth any particular aspect, but it’s those sparky little things. Little comments to encourage, little comments that trigger things off. (T3) 186
  • 198. Several tutors commented on the group dynamics and how it changed over the courseof the programme. People became more active as time went on, depending on theirinterests and the questions they needed answering, which made them more visibleand other students would react to that, which the tutors thought was valuable: The group dynamics . . . yes, it did change as we had more and more chats. Certain individuals became much, much more, active and confident in them, and then the other members of the group were able to see these people much, much more. They became much more visible. They disclosed part of themselves and then the others took an interest in each other. That could be encouraged more, I think, because I thought it served a valuable purpose for them to feel that their peers were valuing them and encouraging them. I think it meant a lot to them. (T3) They changed all the time . . . the dynamics were shifting a lot all of the time, so it was continually evolving . . . there was some distinct pairing. There were couples who either worked together or who linked up and helped one another more than everyone else. There were those sorts of dynamics. But generally I think the dynamics kept evolving as the course went along and new questions came to people. (T4)Several of the tutors mentioned how the informality of the chats helped lessconfident participants: I could see how one or two of the less confident people, when Tutor 4 or I made some silly comment, they would come in much, much more . . . For example, a person who was not engaging so well with the text, but doing very well with images from YouTube, we could say “Why don’t you think about it like a film?” . . .Whereas he’d thought, up to then, that he had to do it all in a particular way. (T3)Tutor 2 thought that in general it was a good tool as people used it for mentoring oneanother and to build confidence, and to help people develop and become more self-confident, particularly for quiet learners in a classroom. But she found the influenceof one of the students not particularly good for the group dynamics: The leader I felt was often so overpowering that he threatened other people, and I would have pulled that if I had been in a face-to-face environment; there’d have been a tutorial . . . But he was absent a great deal of the time because of problems with technology . . . I think that was quite detrimental that someone should be so in awe and monopolise so much of the tutor time. (T2)The chats seem to have been important in raising the social presence of participantsand also in raising the confidence of learners. As indicated by Bouchard (2009a) 187
  • 199. issues of confidence are important in the levels of self-direction of students whileusing semi-autonomous learning systems.The chats were demanding of the tutor because of the pace, while at the same time agood grasp of the subject matter was required, as Learning Technologist 1 discussedwith Tutor 1 after one of his sessions: It was really hard work to . . . maintain the chat but he said after a while it just flowed; so he said he was kind of exhausted afterwards. If you are playing such an active pivotal role as Tutor 1 was playing, it would be very energy sapping. You have to kind of know and be one step ahead, and I know you have to be one step ahead in the traditional classroom, but because of the pace of the chat . . . . I suppose is a little bit more. (LT1) A-synchronous communicationIn addition to synchronous communication, tutors used asynchronous communicationwith mixed success as will become clear in this section. There is a variety ofasynchronous tools, of which discussion boards have traditionally been used most. Discussion boardsTutor 2 found the discussion board not as good a communications tool as the chat asit lacks spontaneity: Written communication is hard. It is hard because, even though I’m contradicting myself from the online chats, you know, it’s written, it’s there for ever’, isn’t it, but because you’re posting I think personally more thought would go into it. Which isn’t always what’s required. It’s not as spontaneous as the real-time, and I think some of the real learning, some of the real ideas come from that spontaneity and I don’t think you get that in that environment. (T2)She also highlighted the literacy required to use the tool: It showed up weaknesses in certain learners, that they didn’t proof-read any of their work. . . . Because it is a discussion board, it really shows up your weaknesses. Well, in class when you’re speaking, if you can’t spell something, it doesn’t matter, does it? But gosh, does it matter in this environment! (T2)Tutor 3 also indicated that it was not as spontaneous a tool as the chat. The learnersused it to answer questions posed by the tutor, but didn’t communicate with eachother about course work. Learning Technologist 2 was also disappointed with its use: 188
  • 200. On some courses perhaps a little less activity than I expected, because most people just write one post, and don’t reply to other people’s. They write what they have to, and then that’s it, whereas I expected there to be more . . . like a proper discussion, whereas it hasn’t really been that way. (LT2)The discussion board activities were related to tasks given by tutors and the ProjectManager also thought the discussion boards were not a good medium forcommunication as a continuous stream of monologues rather than a dialogue tookplace. She discussed the literature on monitoring discussion boards which says thatby using the ‘5-stage Gilly Salmon model’ (which entails a welcoming stage, aninduction stage, a teaching stage, a knowledge construction stage, and a developmentstage; Salmon, 2004) for instance the communication can be good, but the practiceon the ABCD project showed that dialogue at a deep level did not happen. Tutor 4,however, did not think that was the case, as he noted that the sharing in the forumswas of much higher quality than he had envisaged. Learning Technologist 1 thoughtthat the strength of the discussion board was that it allowed for reflection beforewriting, as opposed to the chat where you have “to think on the spot”. Reflective journalsThe reflective journal consisted of the Moodle blog, where the student was theblogger and the tutor provided feedback on the learning and comments by using the“comments” feature. Initially the journals were meant to be solely journals for thestudents, but in the second module they were changed to also be used as a mediumfor responding to tasks that had been set by the tutor. Initially the Project Managerwas doubtful whether this would work as it might compromise the reflection elementthat was valuable to the student learning, but the journal turned out to be one of themost successful tools for personalised student support. The use of the reflectivejournals was highlighted as very positive by all tutors. The blogs used in this wayoffered possibilities for meta-cognition. They also supported the closed one-to-oneinteraction between tutor and learner, which allowed for pastoral as well as academicsupport The journal was the one that I put the most time into and where I was putting in most of the issues . . . the discussion boards were where they stated what they know, what they understood . . . the journals have a lot of scope to talk about other things, you know, personal things. (T4) 189
  • 201. About student entries in the journal] Some of them are breathtaking. They are insightful . . . It really was, and they’d only been learning this stuff for a few weeks. (T4)The tutors used the diaries to push student thinking further and to encourage less-confident and less able students: I hope that when I gave my feedback that it posed other questions then. Not “you stop here”, but “ Have you thought about this?”. I try to be provocative almost. I used the reflective diaries to really encourage students, those that I thought were less able. (T2)They found it a pleasant medium to work in, as it allowed for their own reflectionbefore responding and giving feedback rather than to speak to someone face-to-face. We provided a lot of support through the journals, and as I said, we could reflect on what they had written, so the feedback that we gave was very thoughtful, I think, and very positive and encouraging. (T3)According to Learning Technologist 1, the journals emerged as the powerful toolthey became through the high level and quality of feedback that was given by Tutors3 and 4. Compared to their usage in earlier modules, where they were “something thestudents had to do”, and they went through the motions of doing it, their usefulnessreached a higher level in the Action Research module. Wikis and group workThe tool identified at the start of the project as best suited to facilitate group work,and the communication in groups, was the wiki. In section the problemssurrounding the facilitation of group work on the project were already highlighted bythe students, which confirms the findings of MacDonald (2008) and of Roberts &McInnerney (2007). One of the main problematic issues identified when carrying ourgroup work was that learners had to participate to ensure that the group work hadpositive, or any, outcomes at all. Learning Technologist 1 highlighted, for instance,that group work took away some of the learner’s choice and self-direction. On theother hand, there were some tools, of which the wiki is one, where the tool itselflacks control, which had implications for the way it was being used in an effectiveway. The Project Manager discussed the frustrations of one of the students regardinghow the tool had been used, which made her think about these issues more and 190
  • 202. concluded that there is no control in wikis; not by the tutor nor by the students, whichis frightening if you are not used to using them: It is quite a scary tool, I think, the wiki, isn’t it? Because again, it is completely control-less. Whereas discussion boards are popular in institutional e-learning, because they are so controlled: you can see who has posted and you can respond to the person . . . It’s an institutional-friendly tool. Whereas a wiki is just “free for all”. (PM)Two issues were most important in sparking controversy and problems in the use ofthe wiki, which were the option to change what other people had written down, andthe different use that students made of the tool. The Project Manager and LearningTechnologist 1 mentioned how one of the students would create a large post at thestart, which inhibited the others to contribute and add to the created document asmost had already been said from the start: It’s knowing which activity will work in a wiki and lots of time they’ve been asked to do things where there’s a really finite piece of information and when somebody puts that in, it’s like, “well, what am I going to say now”, and then there is the tension between who said what and how they will know what I did; all those kind of issues. (PM)The Project Manager even wondered if the wiki lends itself to a structuredinstitutional course at all, where activity is graded. She mused whether it would notbe a better tool to use in learning in the workplace, where people would use it tocarry out authentic tasks. She was not alone in thinking that wikis did not work thatwell. Tutor 4 found it hard to motivate people to use the wikis, while Tutor 2 said: When it came to them actually using them, there wasn’t that much fun. The majority of the people didn’t actually use them to collaborate to do the end product, so whether they understood them or not, they didn’t find it easy to do the group work that way. (T2)Tutors noticed that the communication happened in a discussion board style, postingand responding to a post, rather than engaging with and changing what others hadwritten. Tutor 1 found it important to offer the students a space to work together andhe thought the wiki would be suitable for the activity, but it didn’t quite work in theway he would have liked. The tutors found that wikis require quite a different way ofworking than other tools. They agreed that it helped when they participated in thewiki themselves and showed the students that it would be acceptable to makechanges to each other’s work. Tutors were not always sure themselves how to use 191
  • 203. them and set boundaries on what was possible and what was not. It was seen asinteresting and helpful when one of the students described his displeasure with its useand set out how they should be used in an email to the tutors, but the ProjectManager also thought that, in hindsight, the tutors might have needed more trainingand knowledge on how best to use the tool. PodcastsAll staff liked the use of video podcasts as it provided the expressions that are alsoavailable in a face-to-face communication, such as gestures and eye-contact. Tutorsliked to use them to explain difficult concepts, but in particular to allay fears andinsecurities that would appear at certain times in the course. In particular during theAction Research module, where at a transitional phase in the level of self-directiontutors noticed in the reflective journal that students felt uncomfortable with the levelof choices they had to make and the level of reflection that was expected, Tutor 4 putout a video to reassure them, in which he discussed that all these insecurities, all that‘messiness’ is part of the Action Research process and that he felt they werecontributing positively to the course. He reflected on his own doubts and insecuritiesregarding using technology. It could be argued that he raised the level of tutor andcognitive presence as described by Anderson (2008a) through the podcast. The resultwas that several students gained in confidence and produced videos that they put upon the site. It seemed to help the students to grow and move through this difficultphase.Tutor comments included how the video casts supported a multi-sensory approach,as was also advocated by Shedroff (2009), and how they allowed for relaxingmoments in the course work, which also contributed to the learning experience: Everybody likes a bit of a video clip, don’t they? It’s so easy, you know, I go home and flop down in front of the TV and that’s what it’s like, but it was taking in knowledge. I just thought it was relaxing, fun, and it’s not all about words, is it? Thought-provoking! (T2)An example of developing a video communication was mentioned by Tutor 3: We used a few podcasts and webcams . . . ,and I think the students liked that, which we didn’t anticipate at the beginning. Then they sent podcasts back to us, which was really nice as we got more of a picture of them. (T3) 192
  • 204. Web 2.0 technologies in learningSeveral members of staff mentioned that it was the combination of tools thatenhanced the learning experience, which was in line with the findings of Macdonald(2006). Issues discussed in chat, wikis and discussion boards, were reflected on inthe diaries, which had repercussions on other communications in the discussionboard. Compared to the possibilities in a traditional online environment that onlyuses discussion boards and email communication, there were many moreopportunities to interact and reflect. There are numerous examples of the learningenvironment that show this multi-facetted approach of communication, and thedifferent tools feeding off each other, through reflection by themselves, on a one-to-one basis between learner and tutor, in a one-to-many mode on the discussion boards,in a many-to-many format using chat and wikis, and in a multi-sensory approachusing sound and video. Learning a social activity?Several tutors, Project Manager and Learning Technologists remarked that student-to-student interaction was less common than they had expected at the outset of theproject. That was why ‘the lounge’ was introduced to provide an area where a socialpresence could be fostered, and students could meet each other informally, but it wasnot used extensively. In addition, the university’s adoption of ‘Elgg’, an educationale-portfolio and social networking tool at the time, was also introduced, but wasproblematic because of technical issues. The tutors saw the ‘chat’ as the mostsuccessful tool in developing a community, a space where informal social activitycould take place, ranging from enquiring about personal matters to banter andhumour: Something I learned towards the end . . . I think the tutor should stand back and that’s what I genuinely did . . . If you asked me for a written evaluation, that’s what I would have said, that should be their time for chatting. It’s almost like the coffee-break or going to the pub afterwards. (T2) I do think that the synchronous tools build up a sense of community, much more than a-synchronous. And video I think is really engaging for people so that you can make a connection with somebody if you see them regularly. (PM) 193
  • 205. 4.4.5. Affective IssueTutors also emphasised the importance of affective issues in the online learningprocess on ABCD: They disclosed part of themselves and then the others responded; such a nice bunch of people who encouraged each other and took an interest in each other . . . .I think that served a valuable purpose for them to feel that their peers were valuing them and encouraging them. I think it meant a lot to them. (T3)The use of videos has been very important in supporting affective issues in themodule to provide a sense of who the participants were and thus raising the level ofsocial presence as defined by Lombard and Ditton (1997): I felt very familiar with the students, as I would expect on a course. You know, you get to know your students . . . you get used to how they respond, and perhaps you can reflect on it more than you could in face-to-face, because in face-to-face the moment is gone. The moment’s gone and it is down to social psychology then, your first impressions on seeing somebody. Whereas in this environment you’d reflect on what was written down, how they write, and you’d pick out who was reflective, because of the way things were written. (T2)They were also used to get across feelings and emotions: Forms of videos was Tutors 3 and 4 discussing, joking, laughing, gave a strong presence of the tutor in the module…the tutors were there and were around. (LT1) Using video, you can see the people and the people respond to it much better than just plain text. In video you can even get across humour and stuff like that, which you can’t in text really, or if you try can be taken the wrong way. (LT2)Video also helped learners to move through transitional phases as discussed in thesection on podcasts. In addition to chat, the use of videos was very good to transmitemotions because of its informality. The level of emotional closeness that could beachieved surprised most members of staff. I am convinced in my stomach and my bones, that there’s real merit and value in them and the merit and value in them is not tied to the course material content or the learning outcomes or objectives or knowledge in that sense. But there is much more about how these people get along, share, suggest, question, and laugh together and I think those factors or elements contribute to an educational milieu, rather than courses being an accumulation of facts and knowledge. And I think that really surprised and shocked me because if I hadn’t done it, I would have been really doubtful that it could be done, because 194
  • 206. it’s online and I’ve never met these people. I never met them and if one walked outside I wouldn’t recognise them and yet, I was laughing with them. It’s amazing, isn’t it? (T4)The use of chat was also valued highly to enhance affective connections betweenparticipants, as shown in the following example during the Action Research module,in which the acronym LOL (‘laugh out loud’) caused some confusion: Yes, because when they said LOL, at first I thought it meant “Lots Of Love” and that made a lot of them laugh. Then as soon as I discovered what it meant, it’s true, I was just laughing out loud lots and lots at those things and I presume, from what they said, all the learners were as well. I used to really look forward to them, and once, we did, we spent two solid hours chatting. (T3)Tutors 3 and 4 also used other media in their course to facilitate that feeling ofcloseness, sometimes directly responding to issues that had been discussed or said inone of the chats: We used things like metaphors a lot and also images, in ours, well, it’s such a wonderful environment to be able to do that, because you can’t just open a book, but you can post a poem or a song or a painting or something and that can spark all sorts of discussions and learning and enable people to grasp various concepts and things. (T3)They did exactly that. Figure 9 was posted by Tutor 4 the morning after a chatsession on visualisation to express his feelings about the chat.Figure 9 4.4.5. Visualisation of a chat sessionThe need to be open and honest as a teacher as a way to get a better connection withthe learners was emphasised by Tutor 4. He referred to a South African author, Beryl 195
  • 207. Hooks, who makes the case for “practicing what you preach” in reflection, and heemphasised that it doesn’t work to ask your students to open up while you sit on thesidelines and facilitate the process: ‘That doesn’t work, you know. So there are thosesorts of qualities really that I think are worthy’ (T4.) Tutor 3 was surprised at thedepth students reached during their module, the cognitive presence as highlighted byAnderson (2008a): Some of the concepts that we were trying to get across in Action Research are, I hope, very deep anyway. I’m not sure how you get those sorts of things across in a classroom environment…but I felt quite deep personal and deep conceptual things were touched on, which surprised me in that sort of environment. (T3)She conveyed the feeling of “being in this together” that also came across in some ofthe chat discussions from the students, which helped in creating a sense of closenessand trust that made the sharing of personal issues possible, even more than in a face-to-face learning environment according to Tutor 3: I, as an individual, certainly grappled with some stuff, some deep personal things, and some conceptual stuff, which I found really, really exciting, and very challenging at moments…But, I wouldn’t have done that in the classroom, I’m sure.(T3)I was present at a discussion between the Project Manager and LearningTechnologist 1 during the Action Research module in which they talked about thedynamics between the two tutors in that module. According to them, Tutor 3 was theone to always ask questions, while Tutor 4 was always at the centre of activity withintensive and extensive feedback. They noticed that he started to sign his feedbackwith his first name initially, but about halfway through the module his name becameshortened, which showed a familiarity and a sense of feeling comfortable. The verypersonal feedback, that reached to quite a deep level contributed to this sense ofsocial and cognitive presence, and the building of relationships: ‘I can cite evidenceof mutual respect, sensitivity, challenge & honesty (I think). (T4, reflective diary)4.4.6. Higher Order ThinkingIt was interesting to see the thinking processes taking place in different modules,with different tutors who used different resources. From my observations of theactivity on the learning environment it was clear that the combination of learningresources and communication between participants made for a variety in levels ofthinking. On two modules tutors developed the materials, which were posted on the 196
  • 208. site, but from then on their teaching approach was to stand back, which meant thelearners had to find their own way through the resources with an occasional chat anddiscussion, but these were not used much and tutor activity was low. On two othermodules the tutor activity and presence was high after the materials had been put inthe learning environment, and this made for a different level of engagement andthinking. Another striking aspect in the depth of conceptual thinking, was the focusand the quality of the tutor feedback. One of these modules showed clear examplesof higher order thinking, while on another the depth of thinking was much lower, butthere was a much lower level of focus in feedback and student support. Table 3shows a matrix to express the relation between tutor support, focus and feedback andthe level of thinking. Low level of focus (of High level of focus (of support and feedback) support and feedback)Low level of support Lowest Order Thinking Medium Level Thinkingand feedbackHigh level of support Medium Level Thinking Highest Order Thinkingand feedbackTable 3 4.4.6. Relation between Higher Order Thinking and tutor level of supportHigher order thinking was facilitated through engaging activities , such as‘visualising action research’ where images and podcasts hightened the “intensity” ,as was also expressed by Shedroff (2009), and through interactive resources.Moreover, the tutors all thought that especially feedback, the asking of pointedquestions and the challenging of beliefs, were the key to a higher level of thinking inthe students. Tutors found it hard to facilitate this by using technology. Usingdifferent tools for different approaches worked best, but especially the reflectivejournals were used effectively to ask students personalised questions to make themthink. Another example of where this worked well was on the critical thinking coursewhere for instance videos were used expressing views that were quite commonamongst the population, which set the scene for discussions and chats. When laterresearch reports were presented that showed the untruth of the depicted views, thelevel of learning and thinking went up considerably, as not only were the producersof these videos, who were national broadcasters, exposed and shown to lack inintegrity, but learners were also confronted with their own prejudices, which was 197
  • 209. hard, as some had been campaining for issues that were shown to be based onuntruth. They took apart the arguments they didn’t agree with, but they didn’t look at their own prejudices…the one that was against their own view point, they did find that they did struggle with it…I had to prompt them in the end.(T1)The tutors felt that there was a right balance to strike between reacting immediatelyto queries and questions and answers to activities from students, and waiting withresponding to allow the student to reflect and think for themselves. Two tutorsnoticed that by waiting for students to reflect on something without tutor interventionwould on several occasions mean that they would find the answer by themselves. I need to visit private journals more often, appraise them & respond quicker. Yet also, is it a ‘cop out’ as I have noticed that allowing time for reflection is a very useful strategy – that sometimes quick responses migh impede student reflection and decision making.’ (T4, reflective diary) They wanted me to guide them in the answers which was one thing I was determined not to do, because it’s not for me to tell them how to think. I was trying to encourage them to think for themselves and to broaden their views.’ (T1)To get the best result interesting strategies were being used. As tutor 3 and 4 wereco-teaching, they divided the roles between one being the encourager and positivesupporter, while the other would be critical and questioning. It shows the potentialadvantages of having two tutors in one module: As Tutor 4 was such an encouraging and positive tutor, and my tendency is to be more questioning and critical and prodding, we played good cop, bad cop sometimes . . . I wanted them to like me . . . I wasn’t challenging enough…that’s a way I could have helped them more. (T3)The use of small tasks, as opposed to giving large amounts of reading helped toengage students. Although, providing a lot of choice would also stimulate learningand meaning making, as was advocated by Owen et al (2006) in section 2.3.6., whenthey discussed the concept of the “crit” in which providing many resources todevelop ideas are seen to stimulate the creative process, as long as it wasaccompanied with enough student support and well-focussed feedback. Tutor 4indicated that the use of ‘other than text-based- materials’ made a distinct differenceto student learning as some of the students used the images to conceptualise some ofthe course content, which he would not have been able to do in a text-based 198
  • 210. environment. Tutor 4 went even as far as saying that for non-traditional students thetext-based and class-room based approach might not have been as successful. Hethought the ABCD environment provided more scope for creativity and expression. I think the ABCD environment is much broader, and it enables students to respond much more creatively, I think, than more traditional text-based materials. There are some really solid examples of that. I’m just thinking of a guy called xxx, one of the students, who was very visual. His work is about visualising games and things like that. But I could tell from the imagery that he used that he had conceptualised some of the things that I was after. And he’d done that in his own way, quite creatively. And I’m pretty sure that if we’d been using more traditional text-based approaches he would have struggled much more. So, I think it’s broader. It gives people an alternative means of expression, particularly video and auditory and more creative ways of expressing themselves. So that was a real positive I think. (T4)Tutor 3 felt that students would not go as deep into issues as she would have liked.She referred to the discussion board, where she would have liked a ‘back-and-fro’discussion about issues, to reach a higher level in thinking, but quite often it wouldnot go futher than a question and answer session that could have gone a level deeper.One of the reasons for this could be time pressures, or it could be inherent in the toolas several tutors and one of the learning technologists made remarks on the highlevel of reading and writing that was expected in the course: not only did studentshave to read course texts and resources, but also the chats, wikis and discussionforums. Altogether a lot more than would be required in a face to face environment,where the spoken word is more important: You would have to do a lot of reading there as well in the discussion forum. Yes, because if you want to post and ten people have already posted, you need to at least scan through theirs in order to know that you are not duplicating what they have already said.(LT1)Similarly, while discussing the assignment, tutor 3 felt that even though she nearly“begged” them to contact her if they needed clarification or advice, they would notdo this enough and the outcomes in terms of quality and depth were less good thanthey could have been if they would have communicated more. Tutor 4, who taughton the same module, felt that students sometimes were a little too distant, althoughhe did think the level of depth of communication was high enough. 199
  • 211. 4.4.7. What fostered learner engagement?There was a correlation between engagement, emotionally and conceptually, andeagerness to learn; to construct knowledge and to think at a higher level. The tutorsthought there were several important factors that contributed to engagement. A senseof presence of tutors and learners was seen to be important. These would be social,tutor and cognitive presence as discussed in by Anderson (2008a). Tutorsachieved this by using course videos, by providing feedback in the diaries, andespecially by using the online chat. The combination of the different communicationstools with multi-sensory and highly interactive resources raised the level ofengagement as expressed in Table 4. This also confirms the research by Shedroff(2009) on interactivity and a multi-sensory approach to create meaningful onlineexperiences. This will be further discussed in Text based resources Multi-sensory interactive resourcesLow level of Low level of engagement Medium level of engagementpresenceHigh level of Medium level of High level of engagementpresence engagementTable 4 4.4.6. Relation between level of presence and engagement of learnersTutor 3 indicated the importance of interaction to achieve a high level ofemgagement: Am impressed with how much Tutor 4 is responding to the students and impressed with the level of engagement by the students - I sense that it is gaining momentum - I am visualising the slow start - the chaos - and next a sort of settling down - and then some surges of learning and reflection - with some chaos thrown in - then back to a settled pattern and some head down work and more reflection, ending on a real high note with achievements and learning. Anyway - this is how I am seeing it at the moment - who knows how it will be. (T3)Also, halfway through the course Tutor 2 decided to cut out a lot of the text andinformation as she felt a multi-sensory approach would be more engaging: In the beginning . . . there was masses of materials . . . I realised that I was just imposing my theoretical view on people, and with access to all these tools, people could choose the bits that they wanted . . . we had to change what I had prepared . . . I do believe in a multi-sensory approach to learning and I think 200
  • 212. ICT offers that. You know, how exciting – well there’s a lot of written stuff there, but soundfiles; . . . they could have sent in their views as an attachment. (T2)And Tutor 4 described how the building of a presence contributed to a supportiveeducational milieu: There’s much more about how these people get along, share, suggest, question, and laugh together and I think those factors or elements contribute to an educational milieu, rather than courses being an accumulation of facts and knowledge. (T4) Different tutors, different teaching strategiesDifferent tutors had different strategies of communicating with learners, andengaging them. From my observations of the learning environment it was evidentthat the tutors who achieved the highest degree of presence in combination withinteractive resources achieved the highest level of engagement. Progressive increase in quality of interaction during the programmeAnother issue that became apparent during the course of the programme, was that thetutors increased their engagement with the students and that the resources becamemore and more interactive. It seems that there was a positive development in theprogramme. Clearly the project team, project manager and learning technologists,who worked with the tutors to develop the materials, could show and knew fromexperience what “would work” and what would not and implement accordingly. Themodule that was most successful in engaging the learners through the quality of theinteraction was the final one. It is difficult to establish if the positive outcomes ofthat module were the result of a development in knowledge of the developers or ofthe enthusiasm of the two tutors. Another aspect that might have have influenced thatparticular module was that there were two tutors. They both remarked on how theinterplay between the two of them made for a more engaging learning experience.They also mentioned that their combined work with the learning technologist hadbeen important in developing themselves conceptually, which led to better resources,feedback and student engagement.4.4.8. Control – ConstraintsIn each learning environment one can identify issues of power and control thatinfluence the learning and teaching experience. These can be related to power and 201
  • 213. control by the institution, the teaching staff, or learners amongst themselves orindividually. In addition, there can be a number of constraints imposed on thelearning process. In an online learning environment, the most obvious ones, as wasthe case in this research, are technical and institutional. Balance between control by the tutor and autonomy of the learnerIn semi-autonomous learning systems, which the ABCD programme and itsenvironment were, it is clear that the level of control imposed by tutors, institution,and learners influences the educational process, as also highlighted by Bouchard,2009a). One of the aims of the ABCD project was to create a learning environmentwhere students would be given the opportunity to move from a tutor-controlled face-to-face learning situation in Module 1 to a high level of self-direction in theirlearning in the final project, in which the expectation was that they should carry outan action research project in their workplace with only online supervision from thetutor. The tutor and project team were to support the transition from “hand-holding”to independence. There is a path to autonomy that they have to go through like a journey . . . a tutor . . . who treated them as though they were autonomous learners would not have worked early on because they wouldn’t have been able to respond to it. They need to go through and get confidence, and so the tutor needs to be very sensitive I suppose to the level that they are at as individuals. (PM)The programme was designed with a move to self-direction in mind, and the tutorswho taught on the programme from the beginning were aware of this and ensuredadequate student support. In addition a high level of choice was built in theprogramme, including choosing resources, choosing the communications tools bestsuited to the individual’s preference, the choice between a variety of media to carryout activities, tasks and assignments, the choice to work independently or in groupsor in collaboration with others, the choice of asking for limited or extensivefeedback. The tutors thought this choice would enhance the learning experience as itwould allow for a high level of personalisation and it would be empowering. It alsomade the teaching environment more flexible than to rely solely on books. They could choose what bit they wanted. With a course book you know it is there and you have to complete it. For example, with the wiki you could just do as much as you wanted or as little. You could add a sentence, or you could do, like some students, three or four sides of A4. So choice is there. With a course book it is more defined what the outcome is going to be, whereas the 202
  • 214. empowerment is far greater, and you think there’s more choice for learners and I think that’s how people will enjoy learning. (T2) The ABCD environment has got a lot more scope, because there is all sorts of different learning there, whereas in a book it relies entirely on the text and turning the pages. But in the ABCD you can have that, there’s plenty of scope to actually put a lot of text there . . . but there’s also more . . . that people can explore, because we posted pictures, for example, and then we could change the pictures . . . We could put cartoons and then change the cartoons, and we decided to put a little diagram in here. So it’s more flexible in terms of the tutor and the learner I think. (T3)Students were also invited to find their own resources online, which could be postedin the central course area to share links, or on a personal or social bookmarking site.Student preference was for their personal site, rather than the course site.Of course students have to be ready to cope with a high level of choice. Clearly, thistype of teaching means that students have to carry out a number of tasks that wouldbe dealt with by the teacher in the classroom and by the institution, such as findingand choosing resources, providing a class and a time-table so it is apparent when toarrive and what activity to engage with. Tutor 2 thought that initially the studentsseemed to be overwhelmed by the experience and that ‘they had to go away and do alot of the work on their own if they were going to be successful.’There is a fine balance to strike for tutors and project staff between providing supportand pulling back: I feel I want to make sure that they are ok and if they are not what the problem is. I am aware that the worst thing would be to be firing of emails every five minutes. I only email them if they haven’t been on for a week . . . that side of the online has been quite testing for me, not knowing “are they doing it?” or “are they not doing it?” and it is quite interesting if you look at that someone has been online recently, say within the last few hours, and I’ll go into their profile and check and see where their log is, and very often they haven’t posted anything, but they might have spent an hour to two hours just going around it. (PM)All tutors expressed unease with losing control themselves. This ranged from thefeeling to have to pull back in the chat room and not to give feedback too soon in thereflective diary, to the experience of Tutor 3, who felt distinctly uncomfortable at thestart of the module with her level of control over the operation and at the level ofself-direction that the students should have. She saw it as taking risks to let them goon the Internet by themselves for instance: 203
  • 215. You know when you go through any course you develop your relationship with your learners. . . . not in the beginning, I don’t think; I don’t think I’d have felt comfortable with it, and wanted a more controlled environment and wanted to know they were looking at relevant websites. But as I’ve just said, I wanted less and less of my own materials in the end. Yes, I did take that risk in the end. (T3)As she was co-teaching and Tutor 4 was the main tutor who was in charge, she feltshe had to conform to his teaching strategies. In addition, she felt that while teachingonline the tutor has no control over the learners or what activity they will participatein. The whole notion of co-teaching with someone, because I never felt in control, ever, which was one of the main difficulties for me in the beginning. That was my main, big, learning thing. I had to really look into myself and think “O my god, I’m not in control here”, because I was handing things to LT1, I was bouncing things with T4, and sometimes he would go off and make a decision, and sometimes I would and it would be my choice. And then the learners, well, you can’t force them to come up with the discussion or post a wiki or write in their journal. So I felt it was all out of my control. It was a major challenge for me in the beginning and I felt very uncomfortable for a few days about it all. I had to sit on it and not get in a tizz, you know. But it was good. It was good for me to actually grapple with that one. (T3)This was also seen to be a problem for Tutor 2 initially. She felt she had to wait withthe curriculum to see if the learners would come and participate. She was excitedwhen the learners eventually did turn up and participated. There is an equilibrium forteaching staff between supporting and letting go, which confirms Grow’s (1991)ideas on “matches and mis-matches” between learner choice and tutor control whichwill be further discussed in section Tutor 3 and Tutor 4 felt they were challenged and lost control to LearningTechnologist 1 to a certain extent. Initially that felt uncomfortable, but after a whilethey all valued the experience as LT1 was very knowledgeable about instructionaldesign and knew how to transform their ideas into resources and even helped theirconceptual thinking with her questions for clarification. As highlighted by Siemens(2008b) and Caplan and Graham (2008), something tutors will have to come to termswith is that their teaching materials are developed in a team, or at least with someonewho understands the technical implications of disseminating course content onlineand creating activities with it. 204
  • 216. Another issue that the tutors thought was significant, was what tools, activities andteaching strategies built student confidence. Two tools stood out as best designed tobuild confidence and in motivating students. They were the “chat tool” and thereflective diaries. Tutor 2 asked for the use of chat to be extended, and to be madeavailable continuously, 24/7, to provide informal support. I think if that chat had been allowed to go on, quite often the quieter learners are most reflective and under-confident and U think that tool would have really help some people develop. That confidence would have come over then to other elements of the course. (T2)All tutors indicated that the chat was a very helpful tool to build up group dynamicsand for a supportive community to develop, where people trust each other andprovide encouragement.The journal also helped in this respect as students were expected to reflect on theirlearning and their progress, and tutors were to provide encouraging feedback on this.My observations of the environment show that the positive feedback in the diariesdeveloped learner confidence. While comparing two different courses, LearningTechnologist 1 also emphasised that the level and quality of feedback is an importantfactor in students determining whether to stay on the course or to withdraw. Tutorsalso reflected on the learning and the learning activities they included on the learningenvironment. Tutor 2 reflected on the differences between intrinsically andextrinsically motivated students in one of the activities, where some learners quicklymade their way through a maze and achieved an outcome of sorts, while others had aslower approach, intrinsically motivated, Which is much like my approach to ABCD. I wander around different paths, I’m curious, I see, I search, I make mistakes, I take time and I seem to enjoy this a lot more than reading a piece of text. As Student 1 explains, it is about the experience. (T2)Most tutors tried to create experiences as described above for the learners, who wereinvited to immerse themselves into the activity and the project itself. Feedback fromnearly all of the students, who followed the project until the end, shows that they feltthe project to be more than a course, which made them more motivated to opt for thelearning experience, rather than to look for a quick educational fix. 205
  • 217. The Project Manager describes the process of tutors’ loss of control and thefrustration involved in the following terms: it is that whole thing of losing control and relinquishing control, because in the classroom you are very aware of who is doing what and if somebody is not doing something you can tell that they are not doing it because they don’t understand, or are, but they are not doing it because it is boring, or because they don’t feel very well. But online you have no way of knowing any of that. They are just not doing it because they have decided that they need a break and they are going to do it all in one go in a couple of weeks time and I find that quite frustrating and want to sort of get hold of them and say “you haven’t been on for five days this week”, and say “what’s going on?” or something, but I feel if you do that too much, you will alienate them and also part of the thing is to relinquish control. (PM)There were two distinct transitional phases in moving to a higher level of self-direction by the learners, and the first one in particular showed that learners are not“just ready” to learn independently. It seemed that they needed extra support beforethey were able to move on and learn at the next level of self-direction.In detail, the two phases were:1. The move away from the face-to-face module to the online module. The firstmodule’s assignment was online and students were expected to work online withpeople they had never met on producing a digital video using the tools they hadlearnt to use in the first module. This turned out to be much more problematic thanthe course team had anticipated. It appeared that there were too many unknownfactors: unknown people to work with, carrying out a task that people were unsureabout, using tools that were new in an environment that was new as well. It was hardfor the project staff, as they wanted the assignment to succeed for the learners to beable to move to the next stage, the online part of the programme: It got to me in terms of, it’s not our job to spoon-feed them. I really felt that they all took this on board and they all knew what was involved…we all worked, and if you sign yourself up to anything, your are expected to put an effort in…some of them were active, but they were only active up to a certain point. You are active, encouraging, encouraging, encouraging, but you get to a certain point that you go: “right, I’m taking control, you do that, you do that and you do that” and nobody seemed to take it further. (LT1) 206
  • 218. In that final bit where we piled on being creative and making something with the tools they had been given and collaborating using the online tools and collaborating with people you didn’t know, it was just one thing too many and I think people lost confidence because there was a bit of a hiccup in getting the communication to work; they just lost interest. (PM) I think it [working independently] would have been quite difficult at this stage as this was the first time they were doing something like this, it would have been quite difficult for them, considering the time constraints, and the issues with collaboration, for them to decide what they were going to talk about, and then talk about it. (T1)The course was run a second time, and at that time, the learners were asked to carryout most of the project in the face-to-face classroom, with people they knew. Thatworked better, and all students enjoyed the assignment. When we did it in Xxxx, it was all classroom based and there was PM and LT1 during most of them and I was one of them trying to guide them and when we were working not online, but in the classroom, we got ‘hand-ins’ [participation] from all of the groups. We expected them to all work by themselves, but then we found they didn’t. (LT2)When the students moved on to the fully online module, the tutor was aware ofpotential problems and led them slowly to the next stage. I thought it was important to choose activities that they feel comfortable with at the beginning, to start with, and so they were not just thrown into it. I was aware they had had quite a lot of hand-holding at the face-to-face and had been guided through the first sections and then they were being dropped in to the environment and if they were left to swim on their own, some of them might have a problem. (T1)Tutor 2 also thought the level of choice in the online learning environment was veryhigh, compared to the face-to-face course. Perhaps people need to be directed because again, it is so diverse. “Where do I go now?” and there’s so much choice. You’ve got choice of “Where do I go?” and “When do I go there? How do I approach it?” that sometimes perhaps people were overwhelmed by this new learning experience and so many different aspects to the course . . . perhaps there ought to be more direction. (T2)The Project Manager described her observations of the progression of learners tobecome more autonomous: 207
  • 219. At the beginning they were not autonomous at all and that was why we had problems. They wanted to be told and taken along and stuff and I think they are gradually becoming more comfortable with becoming independent and making their own decisions, and they are getting used to the idea that they are not being pointed at things but it is up to them to go to the book and pull out reading and stuff. (PM)2. The second transitional phase was during the Action Research module, where thelevel of choice for the learners was increased exponentially. They did not only makechoices about the communications methods or the resources used, they wereexpected to make decisions on the choice of readers on a subject they did not yetknow anything about. It was clear from the journals that students felt uncomfortableabout this. Tutors realised this and responded by providing more direction andsupport through very personal videos and individual, positive and supportivefeedback. Tutor 3 highlighted that making the learners feel that they were in controlwas an appropriate thing to do, as it reflects the Action Research process. She alsomentioned the use of alternative media other than text was important for the learnersto be able to pass successfully through that stage. In Action Research you have to go through that phase of floundering and confusion and chaos and they went through that in their learning as well. I did wonder if we would lose some, but they stuck with it and I think posting different things, other than text was key in that. (T3)And Tutor 4 thought that the key was to use the appropriate technology to ensure thatwhat is a diverse group of learners are supported well. It comes back to using the technology so that it respects individual differences and autonomy, rather than using the technology to say “This is how it’s done” or “This is the bench mark you have to attain”. I think, therein that a standardised approach, that’s Blackboard again, isn’t it really. That would be the watchword for me. Those watchwords of “using the technology that allows difference” and “difference of expression and autonomy”. (T4)Learner autonomy has been shown to be an important issue in the research andlearner self-direction will be further discussed in section technologies allow for personalisation of the learning experience and forproviding information in a variety of formats that allows learners, who have a variety 208
  • 220. of learning preferences, to access it in the format that is best for them. She doesemphasise that current VLEs still do not allow for this approach much. Institutionsstill want to control each aspect of the learning that takes place in their formallearning environment. PersonalisationThe Project Manager highlighted that it would be good if institutions would facilitatea more flexible learning environment, in which students could link their informallearning needs to the formal ones: There needs to be a certain freedom . . . In terms of actually personalising it to the extent that they can throw in their own . . . whatever tools they want and stuff. Personally I think that is really good, but at the moment the VLEs don’t allow them to do it…so ideally what you want is the space where students can…add their own tools to that space . . . but the institution doesn’t have control over adding extra things . . . but at the moment you can’t do that, so the students can’t add Google to their Blackboard or something. (PM)Tutor 1, however, states that a Personal Learning Environment is no longer personalif the institution is hosting it and is part of the development of it. The colonisation of the personal learning environment by the institution I think is not a good thing. But I can see that in the university we provide lecture theatres, seminar rooms and teaching rooms for the formal teaching, but the university also always has bars and cafes and benches and areas of grass where students can do their informal learning and the library is a bit hybrid and you can do both. (T1)Some of the tutors were of the opinion that within the ABCD project a lot ofpersonalisation was possible and actually took place. The Project Manager and Tutor2, for instance, emphasised that the only aspect that was arranged by the institutionwas the date that the learners started on a new topic. Otherwise it was very learner-centred. Learners could read what they wanted, choose to write or not to write, toparticipate in discussion, turn up or not turn up. According to her the only otherlimitation was the number of words, or the equivalent in images or video, thestudents had to write to pass the module in line with university quality standards.Tutor 3 emphasised that ABCD offered a lot of scope to communicate on anindividual level or a group level using a variety of media. She said: 209
  • 221. I’d say that is one of the strengths and things that I’ve gained from this, is seeing how individuals learn so differently. More so than I would have in the classroom, I think. It’s enabled me to really see that clearly. (T3)Tutor 4 stated it was paramount to ‘use the technology that allows difference anddifference of expression and autonomy’ (T4).He also emphasised that personalisation should not be seen as individualisation, butas a facilitation of the process of development in learner autonomy in a socialcontext: I think that Freire was right in “Education for Liberation”. It frees people, and it emancipates people, and I think those are wonderful values. But I think if we concentrate on individuals, in isolation particularly, we would be less educative ultimately and that really we have to remember the social dimension in that domain. (T4)Learning Technologist 1 believes that Web 2.0 technologies have shown to besuitable to fit into a loose structure like that, where there is personalisation at anindividual level, but where the communications tools can also create a social fabric;where learners feel comfortable allow let their voice be heard, and where knowledgeexchange can take place and learning development develop. Her only criticism wasthat the Moodle VLE is still very structured and structuring, but she acknowledgedthat it would be hard to let go of all structure completely. Technological constraintsThe tutors were enthusiastic about the technologies and were eager to try outanything the technologists offered them. There were no negative remarks about thetechnologies, even though tutors became aware of particular problems that studentshad. They made allowances and relied on the technologists to solve the problems.Sometimes they thought technological problems helped their teaching as it meantthey had to teach in particular ways, as was the case with Tutor 1 who was excludedfrom the chat on the first two sessions, and when he managed to log in afterwardsthought it had helped as he would have been too much influencing the learningprocess, without giving students the time to reflect, react and participate in activities.The Project Manager and the Learning Technologists, who also taught on the firstface-to-face module, dealt with most technological queries and problems in the other 210
  • 222. modules. They could not solve them all, e.g. they were not able to help Student 10,who used a dial-up internet connection when his personal circumstances changed,which was inadequate for downloading videos. The only other problem that affectedall participants of the learning environment was the introduction of the university’sadaptation of Elgg, but this was a design incompatibility issue and will be discussedin the design section, MOST SIGNIFICANT FINDINGSSeveral issues have come to the fore through the research that warrant particularattention.The communications tools used on the ABCD Project have been important inenhancing the student learning experience. The use of a combination of Web 2.0tools, in particular chat, informal and formal podcasts, the use of blogs as reflectivediaries, have been important in creating a presence of participants that helped to turnthe VLE into a place where people felt comfortable and where a sense of trust wasfostered. In combination with engaging activities it facilitated the development ofaffective relationships that were important in student motivation.Student motivation and engagement were also increased by the change from usingmainly text-based materials, as would be customary in a traditional course at thislevel, to combining these with visual, auditory and more creative activities, includingmetaphors and poetry.Two events were critical during the programme. The first was the assignment on theface-to-face module. This was the transition to the online environment, where thelearners had to communicate online with learners from other centres for the firsttime, and work with a wiki to produce a group digital narrative. This proved to beproblematic as students clearly were not ready to communicate independently withunknown people over the internet using unfamiliar tools. A later cohort was giventhe same task in a familiar face-to-face group of people and they had no problemsmoving on. For the first cohort this was one unsettling step too far. The secondcritical moment was in the Action Research module, another transitional moment,where a conscious decision had been made to make the tutors stand back more than 211
  • 223. in previous modules, and let the students, make more decisions about coursematerials and expect the students to be more self-directed in their learning. This wasa difficult moment, but with extensive feedback from the tutor, the students grew andemerged from the experience with enhanced independence.The balance of control between the learner, the tutor and the institution has changedover the course of the programme. Initially the tutor, and to a certain extent theinstitution, controlled and supported the students’ learning. The emphasis on studentself-direction became greater the further the students went into the programme astutors empowered the students to carry out more tasks themselves. These tasks, suchas choosing information and resources, might in a face-to-face environment havebeen carried out by the tutor. The significant issue in this was that it was theprovision of a higher level of support and encouragement by the tutor that lead to thestudents feeling comfortable and confident in becoming more self-directed in theirlearning.This development was especially encouraged by the personalisation of the learningthrough high quality individual feedback in the journal, in addition to very personalvideos by tutors and learners, and the social interaction in weekly chats. Theseresulted in a successful student transition from dependence on the tutor to autonomy.The best strategy in reaching a level of “Higher Order Thinking” has been the directpersonal and high quality feedback by the tutor in combination with a high level ofreflection by the students.The tutors felt they were much more reflective themselves on the learning processand on their own individual teaching than they would have been in a face-to-faceenvironment. They also felt that they had a better understanding of the studentlearning needs than in a face-to-face environment because of the use of the onlinejournals, which fostered a high level of personalisation of support and feedbackThe participants in the research all emphasised the need for a well-designed learningenvironment and learning resources in order to create a valuable learning experience.They expressed the need for an easy, intuitive and accessible navigation with a 212
  • 224. particular focus on cognitive and information design. The Web 2.0 tools were seen tobe an important component in the development by all but one of the participants. 213
  • 225. CHAPTER 5: FINDINGS OF THE ONLINE NETWORKPROJECT5.1 BACKGROUND PROJECTAs discussed in Chapter 3, it was seen to be desirable to carry out research on onlinenetworks in addition to research on the online ABCD project in order to investigateall aspects of the research questions. If the balance of control between learner, tutorand institution changes, and the learner moves onto the World Wide Web with agreater emphasis on self-direction in his learning, it would be important to explorewhat actually happens when people learn on online networks. We define onlinenetworks in this chapter as the scale-free open online Web-based networks (Barabasi,2003) that were discussed in section 2.2.2.In particular the implications for the reliability and validity of knowledge generatedon online networks would be relevant, as knowledge is investigated outside thecontrol of the critical tutor and the institution, and is instead developed on the part ofthe learner by accessing information and connecting with people on online networks.Siemens (2006) and Downes (2006) advocate connected learning outside the sphereof educational institutions and a small research project was undertaken to explorethese issues.5.1.1. Research settingThe setting of the research consisted of three online networks. A worldwide openonline network of people interested in learning technology; a network of researchersin ICT; and a network of librarians interested in blogging. These networks werechosen as the researcher has a distinct affinity and interest in the three networks.Also, the members of these networks were likely to have a professional interest inparticipating in the research project as its research questions were very close to thenetworks’ discussion topics. Participants on these networks might be bloggingthemselves, or it could be expected that they would be prepared to comment on blogposts or participate in wikis, for instance. As explained in section 3.5.2. theresearcher immersed herself in one open online Web-based network, that of 214
  • 226. “learning technologists” and also surveyed a network of learning technologists,library bloggers and ICT researchers. The survey of the learning technology networkwas distributed through a blog post that was picked up by one of the main “hubs” onthe network, while the other two networks were sent an invite to participate via a“listserv” emailing system.5.2. FINDINGS5.2.1. Accessing information and validating informationAs mentioned in the last section, I spent nine months as a participant observer on the“learning technology” network. At the beginning of my participation I had neverused a blog, nor written a post or commented on blogs by others. I started bloggingin November 2006, which was several years after the early adopters of learningtechnology started their blogs, but not long after blogging software was created thatallowed non-technical people to produce a blog fairly easily. I intended to write apost once a week, to find out who were the main bloggers in the area of learningtechnology, and to leave relevant comments on these people’s blogs as often as timewould allow to try to become a node on the network. I also installed RSS software onmy computers to ensure the ease of access to blogs and websites that I thought wererelevant. At the same time I started a social bookmarking site containing links torelevant resources.Writing and maintaining a blog is time-consuming. At the start it was interesting towrite a post every week, but it quickly became apparent that it would take too muchof the time allocated to the research and that it would be impossible to keep up withwriting and posting on my blog every week. After three months I decided to limit mypostings to two per month. I received 9 comments to my postings over that period,which I felt was extremely low as I also commented and posted on other blogs atleast twice a month during that period. Writing and posting required considerablereflection and thought on the issues to write and comment about. It also requiredquite some time in reading, following and digesting other people’s blogs tounderstand what topics were at that time discussed in the blogosphere and to be ableto participate fully in the enterprise. To become enculturated in an online network,and to move from the periphery to the centre of a network is therefore not easy. 215
  • 227. Although people on the network were friendly when I communicated with them, itwas not easy to entice people into communication with me. I analysed other learningtechnology blogs to establish the level of communication and comments. The degreeof communication and dialogue is not always that extensive. I analysed three blogs(Virtual Canuck, eLearningSpace and Half an Hour), which are written by experts inonline learning, to see how high the number of comments and the quality of thecomments would be. I define an expert on the network as someone who is animportant node, someone who creates, researches, discusses and disseminatesinformation about learning technology. I was surprised to find that the level ofcommenting and communication was not notably higher than on my blog. Theyranged from no comments at all to a posting, to some congratulatory comments aboutthe posting, to some posts that were followed by an extensive discussion (such as thatwould have made people think and learn.This final category of blog posts was interesting as not only were people engaged bythe subject that they discussed to such an extent that they wrote a comment, andsometimes a comment to a comment, but the discussion was followed by anexponentially growing crowd as link-blogging took place and mention was made ofthe discussion on other blogs. In addition, academic papers and posts by members ofthe network were included in posts and discussions through hyperlinks, videos, audioand/or slideshows, which facilitated an interest and subject based accumulation ofpapers and opinions that made people reflect and think. Downes (2009a) andSiemens (2008b) refer to this form of learning as “Connectivism” .However it should be emphasised that this type of discussion did not take place veryoften. Lankshear and Knobel (2006) and Shirky (2008) refer to the differentparticipation rates between bloggers and the power-relations that cause these. Thiswill be further discussed in section the network of bloggers is not quite the network of non-hierarchicalconnections that “connectivism” enthusiasts such as Downes (2007b) and Siemens(2006) might like us to believe. The central nodes on networks might perceive thatthey create many connections to people, but it seems likely that for most other 216
  • 228. participants the links to information and resources are similar to the ones that informal education would be provided by the library, albeit at a greater scale.This is the effect shown in the link above, which was also my personal experience asparticipant in the ‘blogosphere’. For instance, compared to several library searchesfor papers available in paper-based and online journals in learning technology carriedout by librarians for me, the online network yielded a much higher level ofinformation from international academics. In addition, a discussion of pertinentpapers sometimes takes place amongst members of the network, which moves theacademic debate forward.Although, it became quickly apparent who the main nodes on the network were, aspeople referred to them on a regular basis, and their posts could have a hugefollowing; they can be compared to “superhubs” as described by Bouchard (2010) insection 2.2.2. It is relatively easy to find out how to contact these people and torespond to what they blog about. The problem is, however, the lack of volume inhigh quality comments that would tempt people into a process of deep thinking.When looking at why the participants of the surveys chose to use the networks, theanswers were varied. The results are displayed in Chart 1. Highest scores were formaking new friends and to learn new skills, while learning something new about thetopic, knowing “what is going on” and communicating with people with the sameinterests was also an important reason to participate. Other reasons given forparticipating in the networks were related to sharing of knowledge and learning newskills and about the topic of interest on the network, while keeping up to date withnew developments and applications, was also mentioned. This points to the use of thenetwork for ‘networking’, and to a certain extent to learning. 217
  • 229. Chart 1 5.2.1. Main reasons for using the networkTo find out about the behaviour of research participants on the network a questionwas asked about their actions online, when someone on the network was telling orshowing something interesting. The most popular responses were to tell someoneelse, which could be someone else on the network but who was not necessarily amember, perhaps by using Twitter or link-blog, a way to pass on bookmarked siteson one’s own blog. People also indicated that they were likely to pass the link on tosomeone else and that they would think about the information obtained, so the socialaffordances of Web 2.0 as highlighted in section were important here. Inaddition, people would file it away for future reference, investigate it themselves andassess its usefulness, or blog about it and comment on the posting. People alsomentioned trying out and experimenting with the disseminated application. Thiswould indicate an active form of learning, where a certain level of analysis andsynthesis of the information takes place, where the information would be re-purposed(Downes, 2009a) in the form of blog posts and comments.All participants indicated that their presence on the network made them moreknowledgeable, and most activities helped. There was a different emphasis on which 218
  • 230. activity made them more knowledgeable on the different networks. Participating innetwork discussion was seen as most important by the learning technologists, whilethe ICT researchers found it most important to formulate and post comments onsomeone else’s blog. The library bloggers placed most emphasis on reading thepapers others have linked to their blogs and wikis. Some other responses were:discussions and objects posted in Second Life, observation and exposure to variousnew ideas, posting my questions on the network and getting the opinion of others,testing ideas against one’s own experience and thinking about ideas. The connectionwith others in combination to information was seen to be important by participants intheir learning as is also seen to be important in networked learning by Downes(2009a), Siemens (2006) Goodyear (2009) and Jones and Dirckinck-Holmfeld(2009). Chart 2 provides an impression of the data.When asking what the most effective way of learning was for participants, themajority answered ‘to discuss the learning materials with an expert and fellowlearners’ and ‘to learn independently’. Some of the other responses suggested that itwould be a combination of strategies depending on the context, e.g. listening to anexpert for some orientational scaffolding and then learning independently. OthersChart 2 5.2.1. Participants becoming more knowledgeable on the network 219
  • 231. would learn while writing about new ideas, or by asking questions and discussing theresponses. Interesting was that only 4.62% of respondents (3 participants) valued ‘aninstructor giving clear instructions so I know what task to carry out’. It seemed thatthe participants were functioning at a high level of self-direction.Participants were then asked how they think best, using the following categories: Doyou have to be on your own without distractions? Would it be talking andcommunicating with people? Is it while you are reading? Is it while watching avideo? Is it while writing? Is it when an expert asks questions? Is it when you receivefeedback from a knowledgeable person? These categories were ranked equally highin the responses, apart from ‘Is it while you are reading?’, which was consideredslightly less important. Apart from these categories, quite a few other issues wereseen to be significant. Many were related to having time to reflect. It was interestingthat this time was usually also related to relaxation, e.g. thinking while daydreaming,while walking in nature, before falling asleep and at the time of waking up, and whiledriving long distances. Other responses were: when someone asks a good question, itdoesn’t have to be an expert; during creating, producing and observing processes;while visualizing the relatedness of concepts. It seemed that the circumstances thatmake people think were varied and very much dependent on the context in whichthey occurred.5.2.2. Analysis of the online networksAn analysis of the networks has been carried out. This study only formed a smallpilot research project to provide background information on implications of studentstaking more control over their own learning and move outside the realm of theirformal learning onto the internet and therefore, the depth of analysis is limited.There are a number of quantitative software tools available now to analyse onlinenetworks. They can show up who the nodes on the network are. Moreover, they canshow which people link most often with other networks. In this study thesequantitative software tools have not been used, as they will not provide any in-depthdata on how people perceived these connections to be present on their network. Inparticular, the depth of information and the quality of information are aspects that 220
  • 232. would be most important to provide a backdrop against which to judge if learnerswho venture online have problems to validate information through these networks.My own observation and analysis was used, in addition to results of the onlinesurvey, which included open qualitative questions and more closed qualitativequestions. For instance, I asked participants on the network who they perceived to bemost important nodes, how many of these “experts” were available on the network,whom they felt would form bridges with other networks, what their contribution tothe network might be, and how many ‘connectors’ to other networks there were. Inaddition I asked questions related to how knowledgeable they thought the expertswere, and if in their opinion what these experts had to say contained a higher level oftruth than what others said.Figure 10 5.2.2.Visualisation of network development (Krebs and Holley, ND)I have included a visualisation by Krebs and Holley (ND) on how networks evolve asfigure 10. My observations and analysis of the “learning technology” network, thelargest network studied, confirmed their visualization to be similar to the way thelearning technology network evolved. 221
  • 233. There are some important nodes on the network, which aggregate, produce, discussand distribute information and who seem to be at the heart of the network activity.These bloggers, quite often academics or researchers, have gained in trust andprominence and have a distinctive following. Their sites also contribute to theconstruction of knowledge as new concepts, research and developments are broughtto the fore. These are discussed and developed, transformed into research ideas andthen investigated. One example of a “central node on the network”, or a “hub” isStephen Downes and his blog OlDaily. He uses the blog and a daily newsletter todisseminate information from around the world that he has aggregated using hisgRSShopper software. He discusses articles, software or other media with peoplewho comment or email him. In addition, he used the huge following to his Oldailynewsletter to create a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), which he presentedtogether with George Siemens, who is another important node on the network. Thecourse attracted 2200 informal learners who learned about and discussedConnectivism (Siemens & Downes, 2008), which is, according to Downes andSiemens, a learning theory that takes account of the rapidly developing learningtechnology field.They tried out the gRSShopper software to create a personalised learningenvironment for participants on the course, which included a course blog, a coursewiki, a link to a Moodle VLE with discussion forums, presentations using Elluminatesoftware from thinkers in the field of learning technology. In addition, people couldfind links to papers relevant to the topic together with their suggestions on a coursestructure. The direct discussion by prominent people in the field of learningtechnology with each other and with participant was stimulating the debate onparticular topics. This is an example of how Rennie and Mason (2004) would likehigher education to change, they advocated a form of teaching in which we enablelearning, rather than that it is delivered and directed. This will be further discussed insection 6.2.3.In addition to these prominent nodes, there are a number of other participants on thenetwork, who might at one moment be consumers of information, but become activein the dialogue and contribute to the development of new ideas and possibly newknowledge if the topic interests them enough or if they are knowledgeable about it. 222
  • 234. One of these people, Michael Wesch (2010), a cultural anthropologist, explored theimpact of new media on society and culture and immersed himself and his studentsin the YouTube community, and was participating in activities. His group’s videoson Web 2.0 technologies were not only entertaining, but also introduced a way ofusing videos to explain difficult concepts that were widely discussed, used and hadtheir style imitated by learning technologists. His way of using technology inteaching and learning was also discussed extensively.On all three networks, participants said that there were in excess of nine experts onthe network, and also in excess of nine “connectors” to other networks. The“connectors’ brought, in equal part, new knowledge, connections and innovation tothe network, in addition to making participants think. One participant indicated that‘they provide interesting resources and links to additional materials I would not havefound elsewhere’ (participant on the learning technology network).5.2.3. Knowledge on online networksThe people behind the main nodes on the learning technology network believed thatknowledge is created on networks and made a case for the creation of knowledge ononline networks through their Connectivism theory. From my observations andanalysis of online networks, I believe they are correct. It was also illustrated by theexample of the Stephen Downes node as described in section 5.2.2 . People on onlinenetworks do not only access information produced by others, but do also contributeto knowledge development through their discussions and activities on the networks,which sometimes results in research projects and collaboration in research projects.This confirms Sfard’s (1998) argument on the importance of both participation andacquisition in learning as discussed in section in the survey confirmed that they thought some people on the networkwere more knowledgeable than others. When asked how they judged if someone wasknowledgeable, they found it most important that these people ‘talk about the workof others that I know is interesting’, closely followed by ‘other people on the networkdiscuss what they say’, ‘many people include links to their sites in their blogs’, ‘I likewhat they say’, and ‘they refer to books and sites that I have read’ (see chart 3). Inaddition they commented: their work has intellectual integrity; people are inherently 223
  • 235. knowledgeable, so everyone has some type of knowledge; their analysis resonateswith my experience; they can find quickly references to people or readings thatmatter; they speak from years of personal experience; they provide me with deepquestions and new ideas that prompt my own thinking and questioning; they sharecommon interests; the discussion is furthered by their participation; they areexperienced and respected in their own field; I meet them at conferences; interestingideas, practical and theoretical.504540 Many people include links to their sites in their blogs35 Other people on the network discuss what they say They always include links to reputable authors in30 their work I like what they say25 They refer to books on sites that I have read20 They talk about the work of others that I know is interesting On numerous occasions they have shown that they15 know a lot Other people on the network discuss what they say10 5 0 % s s s % r % % be nt nt nt y l LT T e e e ta m r IC nd nd nd ra To nu b po po po Li l ta es es es To r r r o. o. o. N N NChart 3 5.2.3. What makes online experts knowledgeable?It was interesting to see that participants’ emphases on different networks wasdifferent. On the learning technology network the emphasis was on how experts’knowledge related to that of participants, e.g., ‘They talk about work by others that Iknow is interesting’, while librarians find it more important that ‘they refer to booksor sites that I have read’. ICT researchers found that ‘including links to reputableauthors in their work’ was the most significant in making someone knowledgeable.When asked the question: ‘What makes you think they are right, or what they say ismore true than what others say?’, the most popular answer amongst the learningtechnologists and ICT researchers was ‘others refer to them a lot’, while librarybloggers found it most important that ‘they cite reputable/quality research. As shown 224
  • 236. in chart 4, not all participants found it important that people are recognized andtrusted by others or that they use reputable research. 10.77% answered ‘I just know’and 21.54% ticked ‘everybody likes them’. What makes you think what they say is more true than what others say? 40 35 I just know 30 Everybody likes them In the past they have said things I like 25 They always use links or book references to back up what they say 20 Others regularly confirm what they say 15 Others refer to them a lot They cite reputable/quality research 10 Other 5 0 % ts ts ts % % % r be n n n ry l T LT de de de ta um IC ra To on on on ln b Li sp sp sp ta re re re To o. o. o. N N NChart 4 5.2.3. Level of truth in what experts disseminateThis seems to suggest that even people using the internet a lot can show a lack ofcritical awareness sometimes in establishing the truth value of online posts.However, it should be mentioned that it was possible for respondents to tick multipleanswers, and the other answer usually ticked was an answer that included someconfirmation of a more critical awareness. Other answers provided in the qualitativeanswer box were: ‘Trust is established in many ways’; ‘triangulation’; ‘I have metthem and found their prior work to be sound through my own investigation’; ‘theiranalysis resonates with my experience or the experience of my students morefrequently than others’ analysis’; ‘I shy away from those who oppose every opinionother than their own, but those who are willing to collaborate and discuss areattractive’; ‘there are some who I don’t trust and by definition there must be somewho are more trustworthy’; ‘through an accumulation of postings they earn mytrust’; ‘what they say makes sense to me’; ‘they are respected scholars’; ‘it isn’t anissue of more true – rather that their work shows intellectual scope’. Belonging andreputation on online networks will be further discussed in section 225
  • 237. 5.3. MOST SIGNIFICANT FINDINGSIt was clear from the survey that people visit and participate in online networks fordifferent reasons, but all these reasons involve communication and discussion withpeers and experts, in addition to learning new skills and finding information. Themajor findings of the research were related to these issues.People find that they become more knowledgeable and that they learn byspending time on the network.People’s behaviour on the network suggests that the most effective learningstrategies were to discuss, share and comment on materials and issues with peers andexperts, in addition to reflection quite often while in a relaxation environment.People valued online experts, or central nodes on the network, as aggregators anddisseminators of (digital) information, and as creators of knowledge. Mostrespondents to the survey indicated that they were critical of ‘nodes’ before trustingthem to be reliable sources of information. The reputation to provide validinformation was important before ‘nodes’ were accepted as ‘human filters’ ofinformation.Participants look for triangulation and traditional academic peer- reviewing processesbefore accepting information. In addition to central ‘nodes’ on the network, peopleaccess resources produced by “nodes” that forms a connection with other networksas these provide new knowledge, connections, innovation and they make peoplethink.It is time-consuming to be a blogger and to fully participate on the network.Observations on the learning technology network showed that most participants onthat network seem to be followers of blogs and discussions and do not often engagein an extensive discussion. Only when an issue really touches them do they getinvolved in the discussion. 226
  • 238. It seems that the information that is disseminated over networks is tested forreliability and validity by participants through verification with other participants.Respondents appear to be very capable self-directed learners and personalise theirlearning through making connections with resources they would receive or aggregatefrom others on the network. 227
  • 239. CHAPTER 6: DISCUSSION6.1. THE INTERNET AND WEB2.0 TECHNOLOGIESBoth the literature review and the findings of this thesis indicate that shifts are takingplace in the way people use the Internet and that these changes are affecting adulteducation. The considerable growth in Internet use and the growth in Internet accessand broadband use have made it clear that the Web can no longer be ignored as aneducational tool. There are three other major issues, which are of importance to the“internet revolution”: 1. The high level of information available to anyone withaccess to the Internet. 2. The availability of new tools to aggregate and process thisinformation together with the possibility of combining the processing of thisinformation with extensive options for communication with people. Werecommunication, collaboration and social interaction made possible in the Web 1.0era, they are at the heart of Web 2.0 technologies. 3. Another important change thatthe proliferation of broadband has facilitated is the use of images, sound, text andvideo as easily usable tools, which means that anyone interested in publishing theircreations, in a variety of formats, can do so and communicate about these withothers.This chapter will discuss these issues by connecting research findings in relation tothe literature on issues ranging from the design of learning experiences and howthese could make the most of the affordances of new technologies. In addition, thechapter will examine how people think and process information and aim to develop atheory of networked learning.6.1.1. Processing of informationAs indicated in 2.2.3., there is an immense wealth of information available on theinternet and, as suggested by Bauerlein (2008), Greenfield (2004; 2006) andArmstrong (2004), this could affect the way we think. They are concerned that thishigh level of information and our unchanged attention-span will mean a lower levelof depth of thought than was achieved using printed media, as there is really lesstime available to process the information. In addition a research report by CIBER 228
  • 240. (2008) suggested that people’s information-seeking behaviour is changing: they wantinstantaneous access and use commercial search engines. They skim online pages,jumping from hyperlink to hyperlink, and thus do not reach a high level of criticalthinking. Bass (2004) and Owen (2006), however, argue that electronic environmentsencourage people to access diverse sources, sometimes unexpected and possibly highquality, which could encourage people to make connections between these resources,a potentially creative and critical process that enriches thinking.The students on the ABCD project indicated that they did like to access a variety ofsources to gain information and to discuss the information with others – peers andtutors alike. They considered, though, that after this access and discussion, thinkingitself is an individual process that requires reflection on all that has been found andsaid in order to understand it. They liked a combination of ways to find information,but most found it daunting when they were expected to find too much informationthemselves and to make too many decisions on what to read. They liked the tutor’sinput and also went through a process of becoming increasingly autonomous in theirinformation behaviour as the course went on. Students took part in a module oncritical thinking which taught them a considerable amount about their own way ofthinking, their beliefs and prejudices, and surprised them as it clarified that they werenot as critical in accessing and assessing information as they had thought they were.They acknowledged that without the course they would have missed incorporatingthat reflective process into their analysis and ways of understanding.The research on online networks showed that the “networks of interest” areimportant places to gain information. Relevant information is not only available butalso validated to a certain extent by experts on the network, who function as ‘humanfilters’, as they also have an information filtering role that helps others on thenetwork to find and validate information. In addition, “linking” nodes are important.They are people who are on several networks at the same time and link networks byfeeding new information from one to the other, which adds different dimensions totopics discussed and written about. IT driven filtering systems, such as RSS feeds,were also considered to be important in dealing with vast quantities of information.The research showed that people develop personal strategies to cope with the highvolume of information. It is clear that more advanced competencies in information 229
  • 241. literacy and critical thinking are important in an unmediated learning environment.Learners on the ABCD project agreed and indicated that they had never thoughtabout their level of critical analysis. It is doubtful if people outside a formal learningsetting will hone these skills to the same extent as people within, which highlightsone of the challenges of learning outside formal educational institutions. There is arole for “central nodes” on networks, namely to act as “critical friends” as they arethe ones entrusted with the role of providers and disseminators of “valid knowledge”,similar to educators in formal institutions. However, participating on networks isinformal and there rests no obligation with anyone to feel a responsibility towardsvalidating knowledge, or helping people in their journey of epistemic growth.6.1.2. Affordances of the new technologiesThe new interactive media and tools that have emerged on the Internet over the pastfive years all have some characteristics in common: they are easy to use (bar somestarting-up problems), have a social dimension and can be shared. Moreover, theyhave made it possible to incorporate visual elements in presentation andcommunication to supplement the written word.Furthermore, the rapid expansion of broadband at home and the way applications cannow be combined has instigated a move in computer use from office applications inbusiness in the late 80s to ap