Tuesday, June 3, 2014

From ethnography to new paradigms of learning

In some unexpected and beautiful way, I am living the dream. It's a bit difficult to start this blog because it means opening up myself in a way that I haven't done before. But, hey, I'm not going to "talk [myself] into failure before it even shows up." So here it is/I am:

I'm a doctoral student in Learning Technologies at the University of Minnesota researching a massive open online course Living the Dreams: Digital Investigation and Unfettered Minds. I'll share my research activities and any other musings related to my research on this blog.

This is going to be an ethnographic case study. I'll focus on the shared learning activity and try to make sense of it using the participatory learning framework (Davidson & Goldberg, 2009). (I'll talk more about online ethnography and the implications of a networked field on ethnographic research in future posts.)

I ask three (very) broad questions as a starting point:

1) What types of shared activities do learners engage in in an open online course? What is the nature of those activities?
2) In what ways does the architecture of the environment support or constrain shared learner experiences?
3) In what ways does the pedagogical framework (i.e., educational vision, instructional strategy, and instructional method) support or constrain shared learner experiences?

I've thought a great deal about the type of data I'd like to collect for this study and (with help from my advisor) decided on two major data collection methods:

- Unstructured participant observations
- Artifact and document analysis

I'm also planning to conduct interviews to better evaluate my observations.

No learning analytics, no big data, no surveys--at least for now. So, why ethnography at a time when big data is getting immensely popular?

In a recent interview Connie Yowell says:

In this time of big data, ethnography and qualitative work are needed to develop new paradigms. Traditional work in education and learning is not funding this kind of work. But we need to because otherwise we can’t understand how people are participating with these new tools and what the social practices are. That’s how we’ll develop new paradigms for learning. Right now, in the education and learning space, we sorely lack new paradigms. 

Open education has the potential to combine new and exciting paradigms of learning (open, personalized, distributed, connected, collaborative, collective) in an online platform and fundamentally change what we are used to seeing in traditional (text-based, confined, solitary, competitive) education. Can you imagine what education might look like when this happens? Ethnography--broadly speaking, the study of social groups or culture--is indeed needed to understand this complex social change, because, after all, learning is a social endeavor.

So why am I living the dream? Because at this moment I'm connecting with you online for something I'm passionate about, something I could never have imagined myself doing only three or four years ago. I'm fascinated by online learning--the tremendous potential it holds for education at all levels. Thank you for reading, and thank you for giving me an opportunity to connect with you.

Do you have any questions? Do you see any holes in my thinking? Do you just want to say hi? Please leave a comment and let me know.


 I was looking for an image about dreams and this one came up on a Google search. I quite like it!

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