Educational Science Update (II 26.9.16): Project Planning for PhD Project – Part II

RecentIMG_20120728_122438ly I wrote about my search for a useful project-planning software to structure my PhD-Project into milestones, tasks, timeframes and so on …

My first choice to test was smartsheet (http://www.smartsheet.com: see post). I liked the usability very much and smartsheet offers a lot of very helpful tools to manage a “single project” too (as project tools often focus on collaborative work and managing business projects etc.).

BUT: The customer “service” or “support” was lousy :-/ … first of all answers awoke the impression to come out of a “answer-toolkit”, they ignored given information in further mails and most suggestions were mere links to the website – information I am really able to find myself without contacting a support/service …

Second problem: After the trial period I nevertheless decided I would like to buy respectively rent the software even being disappointed that the company was not able to connect my request that scientific work I want to do is non-profit with their own offers/criteria for non-profit-“organizations”. As I do not have a credit card and do not want to use Paypal I asked for an invoice or a bankaccount to transfer the fee. First I was assured I can get an invoice. Later they told me, for a single licence they can not invoice … without creditcard or PayPal I cannot use the software …

Resümee: Especially when “renting” a software and using software as a service I expect to receive a service that earns to be called service ;-) … so “smartsheet” felt out of my options.

Next step was to ask my university if there is a reduced or free version of Microsoft project but there isn’t. Right now I am in contact with “Wrike” (http://www.wrike.com)  and not only do they have a very informative website with plenty information, forum, faq, tutorials etc., but also, even  before having tested the software itself,  I receive a perfect, prompt, friendly and individual support to fulfil my needs. I will update this post as soon as I have been able to work with the software itself.

UPDATE 18.09.2016: Writing the above post I shared it (and the first one on my project-planning) with Smartsheet. Some days later I received a mail from the management, telling me they wanted to look into the discussion of the mails to improve their service. And they offered me a free student version, even if my university does not seem to have a contract with them. Meanwhile I am already testing Wrike and it is a great software. By now I am not yet sure if it is not even “too good” :-) for my project, as it offers a huge resource of tools for teamwork and collaboration, which I probably will not really need. On the other hand, for an external PhD they may become great and helpful. What I miss up to now is a field that shows me in percentage the progress of project-milestones, tasks etc. – but I am still exploring the tool and will participate in a free workshop next week.

So at the moment both, Smartsheet and Wrike are still considered to accompany my planning during the next 2 up to 3 years. I will post on news :-) - and I would love to get to know your experiences on it!

UPDATE 26.09.2016

After “playing” with both, Wrike and Smartsheets, I decided that for my Project I will go on working with smartsheet. Regarding the tool itself, both are great but smartsheet focusses on Sheets, similar to Excell, which are easily customizable and they meet my way of working better than Wrike that focusses on cardviews and has (at least in the Student Version) no customizable Sheet. And – that was the most important reason – it is (my Impression) really “too good”, respectvely too complex for working “just” on an individual Project. For Projects with Teams working collaborately I would really recommend it, it has great and very easy to use Features for working together.

From the very beginning of my “test-Trial” I loved to work with smartsheets but as I wrote above was disappointed about the Service. Here I have to make a correction: I send links to my two Posts to Smartsheet as a Feedback and very soon I got an answer from the Management who wanted to know more about what went wrong. They appologized and offered me a free Student Version (nevertheless the Fernuniversität does not have any contract with them) which includes everything I need to do a really good and structured projectplaning within the time I will need for such a project. Fazit: Everyone deserves a second chance and I thank smartsheed for the free version and will go on telling you about working with it.

 

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Educational Science PhD Project: Theoretical/conceptual/empirical – “Two souls are dwelling in my breast”

IMG_20120728_122438

First Draft of my ideas on a phd project (drawn 2013 during my MA studies )

During the last two weeks I did a lot of planning and reading in regard to my PhD-Project. This included testing a software for project-management (smartsheet) as meanwhile I know my learning/working patterns and a structured plan (even if it has to be changed several times and is enhancing and changing permanently during a long-time-project) always helped to discover strength and weaknesses in drafts and ideas on a long-term project.

Splitting my proposal therefor into milestones (1) and into a 2, max. 3 year-timeframe awoke doubts about the intended use of my methodological design I described in my proposal up to now. I  am still committed to the Mixed Methods Design and the Project Plan itself, as a whole. But I think the project would benefit from splitting it into the PhD project (theoretical/analytical/conceptual) and a post-doctoral phase of conceptualization/implementation/evaluation and papers on those.

I could imagine two differente scenario:

The research questions would remain the same:

  • How can changes in learning processes in higher education, caused through the impact of digitalization and network and global online learning-communities, be described in a way that justifies to enlarge the Piagetian stages so as to define a fifth stage of development –  individually (ontogenesis) as well as social-cultural (phylogenesis respectively sociogenesis)
  • To which of Piaget’s cognitive Stages of Development could recent approaches of MOOCs be assigned to? And how would a model or approach have to be conceptualized to outrun recent models or approaches of MOOCs to enable students to reach this newly defined fifth stage?

Either:

the criteria would be defined and described basing on a “mere” fusion and (hypothetical) enhancement of existing (interdisciplinary) theories – Focus on Piaget, enlarged through Bateson, Systemtheories, Theories on Communication and Change, (educational-)sociology, -psychology, anthropology, linguistic … leading to a model similarly structured as one I described in my M.A. Thesis (2) –

or:

as above, and then conceptualizing a competence-grid (similar/enhancing the one of my M.A. (3)) and giving concrete and detailed examples for digital tools and didactial (mathetical?) scenario to enable and foster enhancement competence through a consequent use of metacommunication on different levels and blueprints.

–> both meaning that the described Mixed Method Design would be the methodological frame of post-doctoral work and papers (review on existing data, own data through interviews and questionaires, conceptualizatin, implementation and evaluation of a GOAL on Enhancement Competence to combine with MOOCs of different universities from different learning-cultures) – basing on the criteria defined in the PhD Thesis.

 

The alternative would be, to cut back the theoretical part and to limit it in regard to interdiciplinary  theories and approaches. It would be possible but at the moment it makes me feel uncomfortable …

I would be happy to receive feedback on the idea of a “mere” theoretical/analytical/conceptual PhD – did someone do it in educational science?

(1)

smartsheet3

 

 

 

 

 

 

(2)

Learning_Contexts

 

 

 

 

(3)

competencegridec

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Educational Science Project-Planning for PhD-Project

smartsheet4Herewith I officially declare a “mini-sabatical” as over and will restart to work on my project and plans for my dissertation/phd. Some time “off” from writing and reading was important and helpful to regain power and motivation. Especially the latter is back after a really inspiring conference in July and an invitation to submit an extended version of my conference-paper for publication in an international journal.

I decided that waiting for the decision who will supervise the Phd before continuing writing does not make sense. Even though it is a little difficult to find a reading/writing-flow while “fearing” that each supervisor will have another focus or different feedbacks and critics that have to be implemented. On the other hand I really have a “Burning Passion” for my project and the idea was “born” long ago and has continually grown and enhanced during my studies and research. Therefore it is unlikely that I will decide for a supervision that would demand a totally different focus and therefore I can just as well use the time I have at the moment to work intensively on the recent idea of the project.

To do so I am looking for a project-planning-software – not just a “to do list” but something more complex that is able to picture all steps and tasks and milestones of my recent time-frame of 2 to max. 3 years. Yesterday I found “smartsheets” (http://www.smartsheetcom) and “played” with the free version which seems to be quite complex but nevertheless very usable and combinable with for example Microsoft outlook. An alternative to such a software (which is not free after 30 days – then it would be about 10 Euro per month) would be to combine OneNote/Excel/Outlook which I already owe and with which I am already familiar.

Here are some screenshots from smartsheet (results of my playing yesterday ;-)). I would be happy to receive your feedback on how you structure such a complex project of more than one year. I for my part will use the next month for intense reading, contacts to possible supervisors and necessary changes/additions to my proposal. And I will restart to regulary post on the state of the current work!

smartsheet3 smartsheet2 smartsheet1

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Educational Science My Paper Presentation 5th international LTEC Conference July, 2016 in Hagen

Here are the slides and the video of my paper presentation “From MOOC to GOAL” July, 2016 in Hagen, Germany.

Slides: LTEC 2016 From MOOC to GOAL (pdf, download)

Audio-Version(for subtitels choose cc)

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Educational Science Upgrading Piaget’s Model of learning stages – PhD Project

core2zero

 

And here a more detailed short version of my proposal – I’ll be thankful for feedback and further inspirations!

1.     Introduction

Learning, Knowledge and Competence are key-words that can be found by some means or other in discourses on education all over the world and of all times and cultures. They are often described using images like stages or levels, to depict differences, changes and enhancement. But the understanding of underlying definitions constantly changes, and differs, depending on scientific, political, individual and social-cultural contexts, experiences and objectives. Due to a raising digitalization and globalization, especially in academic online-courses, heterogeneity in learning-scenarios also raises and changes which implies changed learning-processes and changed learning cultures. Being able to cope with different understandings/definitions of what learning and knowledge is, will become one of the most crucial issues educational practice and theory will have to face.

2.     Theoretical frame

Jean Piaget described four development stages, his book »Equilibration of Cognitive Structures« was published in 1975; Gregory Bateson published his theory of learning as an essay in 1968, the first paper dealt with the learning levels zero to II, the section on Learning III was added in 1971 (Bateson, 1972, p. 279). Both scientists are known for their broad and multifaceted interdisciplinary research. Both did research on human development and learning processes during almost the same time, and gave important distinctions to recent educational discourses, but up to now they have not been brought together to discuss or develop new ideas or changes towards recent learning-processes. Even though their research took place long before innovations in the context of digitalization and technology started to influence educational theories, discourses and institutions, they nevertheless are suitable and worthwhile being »re-thought«, and fused, and used to enhance and elaborate new theories or approaches like Connectivism and MOOCs.  The embedding and fusion of already existing approaches, tools, theories, and methods enables to take use of the advantages, to compensate weaknesses, and to counteract criticisms to individual theories by incorporating arguments and other aspects of balance, and thus to arrive at an emergence.

While Piaget concluded the fourth stage (formal operations) to be the final stage of cognitive development, reasoning that further intellectual development in adults would be restricted to an accumulation of knowledge (which remains a mere quantitative difference and therefore would not fulfil his claim that between stages there has to be a qualitative difference), this thesis aims to find and describe a next – fifth – stage of digital networked operations as well for individual learning as for social cultural learning. It therefore will find and describe qualitative differences in learning processes in regard to Piaget’s fourth stage of formal operation.

The focus therefor will not be on Piaget’s research on the cognitive development of children but on the more holistic level of his research on Structuralism and Genetic Epistemology to describe the fifth stage as well for individual learning as for social cultural learning. The latter will be approached through an analysis of academic institutions of different nations/cultures and their different adaption of the described new learning culture through network, online-learning, the use of OER, and changed roles and altered definitions of learning, knowledge and objectives in academic courses (see section 6 method).

A theoretical frame for such an approach has to be interdisciplinary and to go beyond mere educational theories and models. This needs and implies an elaborated reading, review and critical consideration of the state of art, especially regarding discourses and reception of Jean Piaget’s theories and findings and Gregory Bateson’s  Learning levels over the years up to today, but also regarding interdisciplinary and systemic discourses and findings on learning and development  and processes of communication and of change (disruptive/sustaining innovations); as well as on the influence, potential and barriers in the context of digitalization and technology (eLearning, learning online, Connectivism, MOOCs …), and – crucial – a changed view on and understanding of heterogeneity (which means learning groups being heterogeneous in much more aspects than measurable and consciously evident criteria like for instance gender, age or social ranks).

3.     Background and praxis-context

A rising amount of universities tries to meet the challenges that digitalization and technology bring about. Approaches to deal with these challenges differ and range between a mere inclusion of elements of eLearning into traditional concepts of teaching, and to open up for new innovative concepts and models of approaching learning and teaching. Universities all over the world start to open their courses in regard to an internationalization of content and participants/students. This leads to a rising and changed heterogeneity of learning-communities and therefore to a rise of contexts in regard to understandings, definitions, and expectations about learning and knowledge due to highly different experiences and social-cultural patterns.

Recent discourses on MOOCs, becoming a disruptive or sustaining concept for universities, and on Connectivism, bringing about a change of paradigm or being a new learning theory, are proofs for an increasing consciousness of the need for new concepts in the context of a new learning culture. But up to now most of them focus predominantly on »inputs« (knowledge) and »outputs« (competences) and tend to neglect or ignore the importance of »throughputs« (processes: interactions, interrelations, communication).

The search for solutions often remains in relatively narrow frameworks of national education systems, are connected with the illusion to be able to control and measure learning through a mere didactic redesign of learning-offers and learning platforms, and lack to rethink underlying understandings and definitions of learning and knowledge and learning-objectives. Heterogeneity is regarded as something that has to (and can be) changed into homogeneous learning-groups instead of recognizing it as potential and even basis for each process of enhancement (learning).

So above all, changed learning-processes in a changed culture of learning require an awareness of the implications of such different understandings and a rethinking of terminology and communication on all levels of learning-processes. Approaches and concepts will have to imply »tools« that enable and foster meta-communication about different definitions and expectation on learning and knowledge, and to integrate these processes of meta-communication before, beside, and after dealing with whatsoever course-contents and into the whole process of conceptualizing, designing, and evaluating learning environments. Therefore, a new learning culture brings along the necessity of a changed culture of research and evaluation and a rethinking of criteria of learning objectives and goals as well.

These changes of the process of learning are recently little noticed and rarely researched and empirically substantiated. This PhD thesis aims to analyze these changed learning processes and to clearly distinguish them from former definitions. It will therefore enlarge and enhance former research[1] through a fusion of interdisciplinary theoretical findings, and through empirical justifiable criteria and their implementation in educational praxis settings (academic online courses).

4.     Research questions

  • How can changes in learning processes in higher education, caused through the impact of digitalization and network and global online learning-communities, be described in a way that justifies to enlarge the Piagetian stages so as to define a fifth stage of development –  individually (ontogenesis) as well as social-cultural (phylogenesis respectively sociogenesis)
  • To which of Piaget’s cognitive Stages of Development could recent approaches of MOOCs be assigned to? And how would a model or approach have to be conceptualized to outrun recent models or approaches of MOOCs to enable students to reach this newly defined fifth stage?

5.     Research objective

  • Developing (enlarging[2]) a model of interdisciplinary theories, approaches and findings to describe and define criteria that allow and enable to distinguish the fifth stage from the fourth in regard to individual as well as socio-cultural (here through institutional) learning

6.     Method

While the preceding research (M.A., B.A. and conference-papers) has been predominately theoretical (literature work) and conceptual work, the PhD Thesis will enlarge these through empirical data, using a mixed methods design.

Up to now there are several ideas on designs that could be realized either separately or in combination.

  • Collecting data through a review of data and studies on the recent use and integration of networking-tools, models and forms of online-learning, digitalization and role-allocations in universities of different learning cultures
  • Combining these with data from own interviews and questionnaires with universities (students and teaching staff) situated in different learning-cultures[3]
  • Receiving data from different forms of evaluation[4] of a MOOC (respectively GOAL) fostering Enhancement-Competence[5] through the adoption of a competence grid[6].

7.     Timeline

The research for this doctoral thesis is expected to take two up to three years as follows:

The first year: First Step (recently in work): Elaborated and intensive review on the state of the art regarding discourses on Piaget’s Theories as well as interdisciplinary discourses and on studies and data on the inclusion of different elements of digitalization and online-learning at universities of different nations (learning-cultures). Alongside and second step:  Enhancement and further development of a model fusing the interdisciplinary theories, approaches and findings into a model/definition/description of criteria of a fifth stage of development (networked and digital operations)

During the second and if necessary third year:

Basing on the theoretical frame developed in the first year

as a third step a conceptual design for

  • a questionnaire on the state of networking, digitalization, use of online-learning, implementation of OER, and allocation of roles (students/teachers)
  • a guideline for interviews (and participatory observation?)
  • a GOAL fostering enhancement-competence

 

will be worked out and as a fourth step implemented and evaluated in praxis-context (see4) to justify and finally define the stage of networked digital operation.

[1] B.A. Thesis (Structural-genetic conditions for digital literacy [in German]) and the M.A. Thesis (Globally Networked Learning Processes in Higher Education: Rethinking and Fusing Terminology and Theories in the Context of Digitalization and Technology [in English]) and three papers published in the context of the M.A. Theses and presented at the LTEC Conferences 2014 (Chile), 2015 (Slovenia) and 2016 (Germany)

[2] A first approach of such a model/table was developed in the M.A. Thesis

[3] A network with researchers from different countries/continents exists through the participation in LTEC conferences in 2014, 2015 and 2016

[4] Combining this GOAL with recent courses from the different universities (using one sample participating both and another one participating only in the traditional course) will enable formative and summative evaluation of the differences within the learning-processes.

[5] Defined as Meta-Competence in the M.A Thesis and a paper-presentation (2016)

[6] Conceptualized and presented in the M.A. Thesis and a paper-presentation (2016)

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Educational Science LTEC Conference 2016

My new paper is now available as print- and e-book and will be presented during the LTEC Conference in Hagen from 25th to 28th of July:

Siemsen 2016 LTEC

 

LTEC 2016

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Educational Science PHD Project / Doctoral Thesis

I am looking for an (internal or external) supervisor who would like to “supervise” a motivated and well prepared, autonomously and independently working doctoral-student (me ;-)).

For a first proposal see below, a network of international contacts and a plethora of groundwork exists and I am open for enlargement or modifications. You can find additional information also here: http://www.slideshare.net/SabineSiemsen1 und hier https://www.fernuni-hagen.de/videostreaming/…/20160217.shtml

PhDAbstract

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Educational Science Part V: M.A. Thesis Globally Networked Learning-Processes in Higher Education – Interim Conclusion

M.A. Thesis: Globally Networked Learning-Processes in Higher Education

Rethinking and Fusing Terminology and Theories in the Context of Digitalization and Technology

StructureMindMap

 

Keywords:

Learning-Process, Knowledge-Generation, New Learning-Culture, Competence, Heterogeneity, Online- and E-Learning, academic learning, Knowledge-Society, Digitalization, Network

 Part I (Abstract and Introduction)

Part II (Learning, Knowledge, and Competence: Terminology shapes thinking)

Part III  ( Revisiting Learning Theories from a New Learning Culture’s Perspective

Part IV: Discussing a New Learning Culture in the Context of Digitalization and Technology

 

5          Interim-Conclusion

“Our survival depends upon a radical transformation of the dominant patterns of thinking in the West” (Bowers, Jucker, Ishizawa Oba, & Rengifo, 2011, pp. Pos. 261)

The considerations leading to a »terminology of a new learning culture« (depicted in figure 1), show the relationship and interdependency of the terms Learning, Knowledge and Competence. They depend on underlying definitions and patterns of thinking. These have to become conscious to enable all participants in global learning to networked learning processes, and a permanent regeneration of knowledge.

Transferred to the context of GOAL as learning landscape for enhancement competence, developed through learning level III, and taking into account the change of roles (each participants teaches and learns; students as well as, professors, designers any everybody else being part of the system), learning III implies to change the punctuation and sequences of learning processes. This is what would happen, as soon as meta-communication would be used as tool, enabling such learning processes. Traditional (online-) courses follow a scheme of conception (technological and didactical design), implementation (learning and teaching content, exams), and formative and assumptive evaluation. The consequent implementation of meta-communication would change punctuation and sequences, as it already would have to take place in forefront of each segments. Before designing a course, designers and teacher would meta-communicate on expectations, contexts and preconditions (own and others; respectively of all involved participants). Before starting a course and dealing with content, learners would have (a coached and assisted) meta-communication about learning-contexts, experiences, expectations, which in turn will be basis for further evaluations. This way the participants are enabled to re-think patterns and reframe context-markers. A formative and assumptive evaluation will have to concentrate on interactions, patterns of communication, relations instead of focusing individual »success« or traditional outcomes. Like this, all processes of interaction would be changed in regard to punctuation and sequences, and so become a landscape for learning on the level III and for enhancement-competence.

Enhancement-Competence as discussed and defined above is a key competence to learning and development – individual as well as social-cultural – that enables, or at least makes it easier, to gain other more specific competences. Because it makes different dimensions of learning-processes conscious, and – in heterogeneous learning-environments as GOAL – enables participants to recognize their own and others (often unconscious) patterns. Which in turn makes it possible to find »common interests« by resetting context markers to a common and shared initial-point for the course.

The »question of competence« is a question that can only be answered considering very carefully contexts and objective targets of learning scenarios it shall be applied to. This requires a holistic and transcending view on the question of competence and a solution therefore cannot be found in specific competences and skills. “Contexts are configurations of relations and interactions, basing on communication”, and to change a context means to re-create it, to change points of views, and sometimes to leave a specific context, in which a specific behavior originated, by stepping back, in order to be able to see the meta-context and to reinterpret a situation. “And this enables to re-organize a whole system of communication and interaction” (translated from (Reinmann & Sesink, 2011, pp. 118f)

Taking the impact of terminology in account, below table 1 sets the above described and discusses terms and definitions in relationship, combining Bateson’s learning levels (column one) with examples for respective kinds/definitions of knowledge (column two), individual and socio-cultural competences (column three and four), and describes which kind of communication would be adequate (column five), which technological dimension this could be related to (column six), and which objectives underlie (conscious or unconscious; open or hidden) the respective learning-settings or institutions or theories using those.

Chapter six and seven then take a further step from theory to praxis. They discuss the recent situation and perception of online courses within the field of academic learning (chapter six), and analyze the above aspects and interrelationships of a new learning culture in regard to methods and tools for objectives, evaluations and research in the context of academic online courses (chapter 7)

 

 

Table 1: Learning Levels within Contexts (Source: Authors’ own compilation)

Learning_Contexts

 

 

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Educational Science Part IV: Discussing a New Learning Culture in the Context of Digitalization and Technology

M.A. Thesis: Globally Networked Learning-Processes in Higher Education

Rethinking and Fusing Terminology and Theories in the Context of Digitalization and Technology

StructureMindMap

 

Keywords:

Learning-Process, Knowledge-Generation, New Learning-Culture, Competence, Heterogeneity, Online- and E-Learning, academic learning, Knowledge-Society, Digitalization, Network

 

Part I (Abstract and Introduction)

Part II (Learning, Knowledge, and Competence: Terminology shapes thinking)

Part III  ( Revisiting Learning Theories from a New Learning Culture’s Perspective)

 

 

Part IV: Discussing a New Learning Culture in the Context of Digitalization and Technology

4.1             Distance Education: From »Drill and Practice« to OER and MOOCs. 38

4.2             From E-Learning to Learning Online. 42

4.3             From MOOCs to GOAL. 45

4.4             Competent for or Through GOAL?. 49

4       Discussing a New Learning Culture in the Context of Digitalization and Technology

“So, what makes a digitally literate person? Is it more than someone, who can learn, unlearn, and re-learn, as well as adapt, with ease, to a number of 21st Century tool options?”[1]

During the last years innovations in the field of eLearning have been numerous, manifold, and are raising increasingly.  They meanwhile exceed former behavioristic learning scenarios and settings by far.  But a danger still remaining is, to produce another premise, on which many settings in the area of eLearning and learning environments in the cloud rely:  That the efficiency of courses, methods and learning scenarios can be boosted (solely) through a didactic designed implementation of new technology and tools.

The above mentioned impacts on learning, like the call for lifelong learning and fast-paced changes and innovations in technology, as well in institutional as in workplace settings, are only one of many reasons for a growing heterogeneity. Caused by altered and flexible roles, and a global and open access to many courses, not only the group of learners became more heterogeneous but also the group of those taking the most influencing part in the internet (which in turn became the most important and most recently asked source for information) by producing and sharing information. This resulted in new or enlarged competencies, like being able to critically judge information, and in the need to get along with big data. And it subsequently also widens heterogeneity by widening the digital divide.

As described and discussed in chapter three, learning networks are complex systems of interrelationships, and not just conglomerates of learners, teachers, and technological tools that can be regarded or analyzed as independent parts or ends of a relationship. The following sections will link the aspects discussed in chapters two and three with impacts through developments in digitalization and technology.

 4.1             Distance Education: From »Drill and Practice« to OER and MOOCs

Langer (2013), professor and educational manager, cites in his inaugural speech a weblog- article by Donald Clark[2], according to whom only 10 technological innovations caused  more pedagogic changes in 10 years than ever took place during the last 1000 years. He listed asynchronous learning, hyperlinks, search and rescue, crowd sourced knowledge, network, blogging, microlearning, games, tools and open source.  Some of them seem not really to fit to be attributed to technology and into a time frame of 10 years, as for example approaches of learning through play, search and rescue, cooperative learning and the impact of being networked with peers, can be found within the whole era of reform pedagogy which began approximately at the end of the 19th century (Eichelberger, n.d.).

Mentioning the ideas of reform pedagogy above, leads to another correlation with today’s learning in the clouds. What makes reform pedagogy different from previous theories is that it is child-oriented and allows children to play an active role instead of “being educated”. What can be translated into a wider context as learner-oriented.  A similar shift can be stated regarding the leap from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0, centering the user, and turning users into producers (or at least to give them the chance to become active). Usability becomes a keyword.

Both approaches challenge authorities and call the role of experts into question. Both call for a change of established roles. However, premises about the process of learning remained more or less unquestioned. But the most significant change and challenge is not the shift from teacher-orientation to learner-orientation, but a shift in the way to define learning-processes including the enlargement of possible sets of contexts; due to the fact that learning communities in both, informal and formal settings, became more and more heterogeneous in many aspects.

Technology can be regarded as context or within its context. Reducing to the first bears the danger to lead to an error that is analyzed in detail in section 7.2: to produce problems through »solutions«. The latter offers an enormous potential to implement innovations that go beyond first-order changes[3] (compare Reinmann & Sesink, 2011, p. 126).

Therefore this thesis does not focus on specific tools or technology itself, but on their context, on the »idea behind them« (OER, ORR[4], networks, enhanced reflection, potential to activate learning-processes).

Nevertheless, changes provoked through the potentials of the internet, and even more through that what can be summarized as Web 2.0 technologies, social media and »Openness« (OER, Open Courses, Open Licensing, Creative Commons and others more) have altered roles, requirements to and definitions of teaching and learning, in formal and informal contexts, fundamentally.

Taylor (Ruesch & Bateson, 1995 cited from Tony Bates[5]) has proposed five generations of distance education …

  • correspondence education;
  • integrated use of multiple, one-way media such as print, broadcasting or recorded media such as video-cassettes;
  • two-way, synchronous tele-learning using audio or video-conferencing;
  • flexible learning based on asynchronous online learning combined with online interactive multimedia;
  • intelligent flexible learning, which adds a high degree of automation and student control to asynchronous online learning and interactive multimedia.

… on which Bates commented that “Taylor’s fifth generation is still experimental, based on a heavy automation of learning” (Bates, 2008), and applies mainly to his own institution (University of Southern Queensland). A more plausible fifth generation would be distance education based on the use of Web 2.0 tools that “allow learners to control access to learning, through social software, virtual worlds and multimedia tools such as YouTube” (ibid).

A today’s definition would probably add »access to open educational resources« onto this listing.

OER still remain in great parts local, respectively national, projects. For example the Austrian initiative “Become Digital” (Akin-Hecke & Röthler, 2015) supports “the way into a networked society” and recently published an ebook as a guideline for “all people just doing their first steps into an ‘online-world’”. It is written and published due to an open and collaborative process and published under the creative-commons-license CC BY SA (which is the furthest-reaching cc-license), which means you are free to share (copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format) and to adapt (remix, transform, and build upon the material for any purpose, even commercially) under the terms you give credit by providing a link to the license, you indicate the changes made (Wikipedia-Principle), and you distribute under the same license[6].

But consequently following the ideas both of the books-content (“a guideline for all people”), as well as of the creative-commons-license going as far as allowing to transform and build upon texts, it would be just consequent to do the next step by making this addressing not only Austrians (or German speaking people) but globally. And – as the previous argumentations have shown – this cannot be done by just translating it into as much languages as possible as a mere translation never leads to transporting meaning. There has to be reflection on the contexts before, on the different meanings languages, respectively their underlying social-cultural premises, bring with them.

So in the forefront of any translation the subliminal contexts of the terminology used in the original text have to be reflected (and so brought into consciousness). There would have to be (meta) communication between the authors of the original text and the translators and this would automatically lead to not only an adequate accessibility of the text for people reading it in an other than the original language, but also to a revision of the original text, because meta-communication – as shown in Figure 3 – is a process that leads to the consequent and permanent regeneration of knowledge. These reflections acknowledge and make clear the importance of the above shift in E-Learning through digitalization, as it enables to revise and expand commonly created – respectively generated – knowledge.

To use tools, technology and media to improve learning in the sense of »Knowledge-Management«, to assimilate information, to practice rules/vocabulary etc. comes up to Bateson’s Level II of learning processes, often described as »to learn to learn«. This carries the danger to lead into the trap, Bateson described as at first sight giving the impression to be successful (because taking in account only a specific narrow context); but as a matter of fact being a step back to Learning Zero, which means to (re)act without the possibility of corrections even through try and error.

Technology and media cannot be reasonably implemented into structures without an understanding of which kind of structural changes are necessary. Only a thoroughly reflection of this question (meta-communication on meta-contexts) will offer the frame for an adequate use of media/technology.

An open mind towards and a reflected and sensible use of technology and digital tools would not endanger neither the existence of institutions per se, nor the jobs of teachers or professors, but set them free of time-consuming routine-work and for learning and living new roles like described in section 2.1. The latter can even improve technology by using it as tool to enlarge the possibilities to connect, to enhance communication, to fulfil personal needs, and to facilitate learning in heterogeneous groups in different ways; by example by translating content[7] (no need for language competence), by globally connecting people in Chats, Virtual Classrooms, Skype, and therefore reducing the dangers that communication without seeing and/or hearing each other brings along.

A science of education, respectively each science focusing on knowledge and human development, should become precursor in putting Learning III into practice: Through developing systemic approaches, not causally determined ones; through an implementation of interdisciplinary findings and theories. This would place a change of paradigm for global learning into focus, instead of isolated problems of didactic or »traditional« learning outcomes. Technology and Digitalization can enrich these approaches, if they are used in regard and relation to contexts, and with a consciousness about the impact of terminology. The following section will focus on the latter, and base its reflection and discussion on the terms E-Learning and Online-Learning (a change, provoked through digitalization and technology) upon different dimensions of what can be called »Learning«.

 

4.2             From E-Learning to Learning Online

“Ecology is an environment that fosters and supports the creation of communities. […] learning ecology is an environment that is consistent with – and not antagonistic to – how learners learn.”(Ehlers, 2013, p. 2)

Ehlers (2013, p. 2) use of the metaphor of ecology is a perfect »missing link« between Gregory Bateson’s understanding of the process of learning, and recent discourses on the question how the process of learning changes due to technology and digitalisation.

As discussed above, »Learning« isn’t a clear cut process and the question of ‘how to learn in the digital age’ can clearly not be answered by finding a recipe or magic bullet that then can cure all problems, and answer all questions. But one can start with differentiating between two large dimensions of learning:

  • Learning as a process that enables to remind and to reproduce given con-tent, like for instance vocabulary or mathematical formula (Bateson’s Learning Levels Zero, I and some of them overlapping into Level II), and
  • learning as a process that enables constant enhancement by reflecting and roughly generalized »rethinking content«, whereas defining »content« as term that can include texts as well as any other explanations about »how things work« (Bateson’s Learning Level III overlapping with some of Level II).

In-between and overlapping those two dimensions stands a definition of learning as »understanding«. In-between, because understanding can have the meaning of ‘just’ understanding how to correctly use formula or grammar, but it can also mark the beginning of  reflecting rules and explanations, and starting to think about other ways that might be easier, better, or more adequate. Which – taking place in a heterogeneous learning-community – will (or at least has the potential to) lead to including and reflecting more and more different contexts and to become aware of one’s own as well as of other’s context-markers; which is, what was described above as a Learning Process of Bateson’s Level III.

Cutting across the above described dimensions stands the terminology of E-Learning or Online-Learning. Literally taken, the term E-Learning does just describe the fact that a learning-process includes the use of electronic tool. It ranges from using learning-programs which can as well be offline (CDs, DVDs) as online. Online-learning implies the use of the internet. But both do not give any description of the learning-process and interactions that take place (or do not), and that constitute the process of enhancement and dealing with content. But the common use of the terms, and the arrangement of the word-combinations »E-Learning« and »Online-Learning« implies that these are specific kinds of learning-processes that differ in fundamental aspects of the process of learning – and not only in aspect to technological tools included into the process. Up to now there is no study or evaluation that would show such a correlation. Therefore the subsequent parts of this thesis will prefer the use of a slightly altered term, by changing the word order to »learning online«. On the one hand this little change in terminology makes clear that it is about learning-processes (that may differ fundamentally as described in section 3.1) that take place online; and not about a new kind of learning-process. And on the other hand it is a portent of the idea that transferring the different kinds of learning-processes into the environment of a virtual global network could offer a potential for those that is not found in traditional »nonline« environments.

Chapter six will focus on (new) learning-processes taking place within a »Learning-Landscape Global Online-University«. Here further dimensions of learning-processes come together:

  • Academic Learning which usually is understood as formal learning that bases on at least a rough common level of basic knowledge that (should) enable(s) a deeper and more sophisticated way to deepen theoretical (and more and more also) practical knowledge within a specific study-field;
  • Learning Online as a process that is especially demanding, both in regard to
    • being able to self-control and self-motivate learning-processes

as well as to

  • a certain level of »media-competence«.

Connectivism as „A Learning Theory for the Digital Age“(Siemens, 2005) therefore developed the concept of MOOCs – a model to generate knowledge in and through network.  The following section will argue – similar to the hypothesis that the competence »to learn to learn« is not sufficient to come up to the affordances of a new learning culture – that MOOCs, at least in the recent form of various and up to totally different didactical designs and conceptions – are rather an impulse for than a result of changes, necessary to become adequate learning environments for a new learning culture.

 

 

4.3             From MOOCs to GOAL

Since MOOCs emerged from the OER movement in 2008 they became more and more popular, not only in academic discourses between learning theoreticians, but meanwhile also to general public, and especially to providers of learning environments and learning settings in the cloud. The New York Times proclaimed the year 2012 as The Year of the MOOC (Pappano, 2012). McAuley, Stewart and Siemens (2010, p. 5) described MOOCs as

“an online phenomenon gathering momentum over the past two years or so [… integrating] the connectivity of social networking, the facilitation of an acknowledged expert in a field of study, and a collection of freely accessible online resources [… that] builds on the active engagement of several hundred to several thousand ‘students’ who self-organize their participation according to learning goals, prior knowledge and skills, and common interests.”

The above description contains many aspects of what was described in chapter two as being crucial factors for a new learning culture that enables to generate knowledge through Learning III (see section 3.1). What is lacking, is an explanation of how to use the named pieces of the puzzle (OER, digital tools, social networks, new roles, altered learning-processes), to enable learners to become self-organized, to adjust their individual (conscious) and social-cultural (often unconscious) learning goals and prior »knowledge«, respectively experiences, with those of the others (other learners, providers, teachers; possibly or probably being different). But as discussed above, a »common interest« cannot be just implied, but has to be worked out through meta-communication, before dealing with whatsoever course-content.

Buss words like knowledge society or network society and their impact on and challenge to anyone producing and offering educational courses and conceptualizing learning-settings, illustrate the importance of these changes to the whole educational system and to all sciences being engaged with learning and knowledge. Different approaches, not all of them new, already try to meet and master these transformations, through different didactical changes in the way learning is fostered, and knowledge defined. The method of learning by teaching (compare Martin & Kelchner, 1998 and Chinese University of Hong Kong – Department of Physics, 2009), or the concept of the flipped or inverted classroom (compare EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative, 2012), or research-based learning are examples for such approaches.

While these can be adapted from traditional institutions (universities) to (try to) adapt to (their definition of) a new learning culture, the example of MOOCs presents an approach that could have the potential to become a disruptive innovation. It is self-evident that questioning premises and rethinking learning – which is what MOOCs have in common – provokes fear and offense, and meets with criticism in traditional settings and long-established institutions.[8]   Its success will depend mainly on the question if MOOCs will be able to resist becoming just a new name for a concept that will be nothing else than a technological description of a variation in eLearning/Online-Learning (described above as being a rather technological addition to various processes of learning), and to succeed in becoming a really innovative approach for Learning Online as Global-Online-Academic-Learning (GOAL) with all its potentials regarding heterogeneity, a changed learning-culture, and the need for critical and conscious rethinking and generating knowledge through enhancement-competence.

A commonly used point of criticism to the hitherto existing MOOCs is the immense rate of »drop outs« and the small rate (in comparison with the number of participants and the claim of being a massive course) of participants who complete the course. But acting on the assumption of a new learning culture, as described above, GOAL must consequently bring about a questioning of traditional definitions of educational objectives and learning outcomes. Success can no longer be reduced to »finishing« a course within a fixed time by passing through a determined content. GOAL reaching its objectives won’t end with a group of learners having gained or reached the same knowledge. It will have been successful when new knowledge has been collectively generated, when each participant has enhanced his individual knowledge and shared it within the community. Heterogeneity of a learning community implies different criteria for success. Success is when knowledge has been shared and created and premises have become conscious and were changed, when one succeeded in »learning how one has learned to learn« (Learning III). The point in time and correlation to specific modules will be as heterogeneous as the learning community is.

Another highly controversial issue that affirms the above statement »terminology shapes thinking« is about the form and shape of MOOCs, expressed through prefixes or alteration of the acronym.  Proponents of xMOOCs and cMOOCs both claim having found the one and only MOOC-Modell, the former often accused not to be something new at all and just traversing conventional or even outmoded concepts into the clouds to save money; the latter accused to lack in didactics, to be chaotic, unstructured, and therefore overwhelming students, instead of being conducive to learning processes. Others get down to the conclusion that open online courses should not focus on being »massive«, and instead try to become »personalized«. POOCs instead of MOOCs. They state that the great potential of digitalization remains unused, as long as everyone is expected to learn the same thing in a uniform manner, while having totally different preconditions and ambitions (Dräger, 2013). Even though this conclusion meets the arguments about a new learning culture presented in this thesis, massive does not inevitably exclude personalization, just as cooperative learning does not exclude individual learning.

To judge or evaluate MOOCs in regard to the question, if they are »something really new« or just »old wine in new skins« is therefore pointless, as there is neither the MOOC, nor does a Label like c or m or POOC instead of MOOC guarantee to find the same or even similar didactics and methods within the course.  On the other hand it is quite easy to answer the question: What hinders an open online course to provide GOAL that meets the requirements of the above described learning culture and the level of Learning III, and therefore would be »something really new«[9]:

As worked out before, the main focus of a new learning culture, in which heterogeneity is regarded to be source and potential to generate new knowledge, lays on a comprehension of learning as a process that enables to become aware of previous premises, and to create cooperatively new context markers as a basis for learning and generating new knowledge in networks. As this implies that traditional roles seem to merge, everyone in a learning setting can be regarded as a learner, as a part of the learning community. This has to be of greatest importance for the design of learning settings, and it consequently eliminates at this point all courses, which just transfer traditional lectures from the auditorium of brick and mortal universities into the cloud. For the same reasons, courses that separate the (learning) participants from the (teaching/performing) lecturers, and exclude a communication between those from the very beginning, can evidently not lead to this enhanced comprehension of learning and creating knowledge.

Another fact that was accentuated above is the dynamic of learning and knowledge creation, the definition as something that never ends, and that needs and constitutes at once permanent change, and a permanent discussion, reflection, and calling premises into question. A course that takes this demand seriously cannot »close its doors« after a limited time, and cut of the conversations, the newly and commonly created knowledge, and the environment where it took place, and where networks arose. It must enable to develop a life of its own, that is not bound to and dependent on the initiator or institute that offered the course. This is possible and was demonstrated in one of the first MOOCs in 2008, the CCK08 about which McAuley, Stewart and Siemens (McAuley et al., 2010, p. 5) wrote:

“We found quickly that the course took a life of its own as participants created Second Life meeting areas, Google groups to discuss certain topic areas, study groups for people in similar locations, Facebook groups, and so on. Additionally, the course syllabus was translated into at least five different languages as participants from dozens of countries around the world joined.”

 

4.4             Competent for or Through GOAL?

Participation in a MOOC is emergent, fragmented, diffuse, and diverse. It can be frustrating. It’s not unlike life.(McAuley et al., 2010, p. 5)

Talking of MOOCs as a recent example, leading over to a more holistic approach of GOAL, makes clear, that the above quotation could apply to participation in GOAL as well. Many recent discourses on MOOCs try first of all to find reasons why participants are dropping out. Especially when talking about cMOOCs, a common criticism is that participants have to face an overload of information, get lost within the multiplicity of learning-environments, respectively social networks, and therefore cannot concentrate on contents or just are not able to define those clearly enough.

Analyzing discourses on this topic, these challenges (or possible barriers) usually lead to talking about media-competence. German (speaking) discourses use to base or build on Baacke’s (1973) four dimensions of media competence that are media critique, media knowledge, media use and media production. While the dimensions of media knowledge, media use and media production fit into the above (section 4.2) described dimensions of rote learning/ learning I/learning II, whereas media critique could reach the level of learning III. Analyzing the above described problems when trying to participate in a MOOC (or GOAL) has to take a closer look particularly on the dimension of media critique, as the ability to choose information, and to choose which channels of social network platforms can be helpful and personally fitting, a critical reflection is crucial.

Pietrass (2007, p. 4) concludes that “Media critique is a competence which is not based on communication, such as producing and handling. Instead, it is what media competence allows man to be: a critical actor in regard to media communication.”(Pietrass, 2007, p. 4) Following consequently the central theme of this thesis, namely that learning, (generating) knowledge and competence is a spiral process within a system where each change in one component leads to changing the other components, shows that this conclusion leads into a trap of linear thinking. As competences presupposes learning, and as reaching new learning levels results from including other contexts, and (meta)communication being the »tool« that enables setting new context markers, a competence that “allows man to be a critical actor in regard to media communication” (Pietrass, 2007, p. 4) cannot “not base on communication”. Being a critical actor therefore has to include being critical aware of own and other’s premises on knowledge and learning. This has to base on communication in order to lead to “media communication” that comes up to the expectations described.

This reveals another aspect of high relevance in regard to the interplay of (meta) communication and the importance of the dimension of media critique within a model of media competence: That of changed roles (see Chapter 3.1). If (meta) communication is described as the tool, enabling learners to critically reflect on underlying premises, on different understandings of what learning, teaching and knowledge is; one of the most important tasks teachers have to accomplish is, to help and enable learners to such kind of communication (competence for global online-courses) in the forefront of trying to »teach« specific howsoever »competence-based« course-content (competence in global online-courses).

A shift to competence-based learning in higher education, especially for GOAL, has to consider not only which competences learners should be enabled to gain through the course, but also if there are competences that would be needed to participate in a course taking place in a virtual learning environment, being open to learners that are heterogeneous in various aspects and levels, and  offering a maximum range of flexibility and freedom of learning (which is just the other side of challenging with a maximum need of not only self-organization, but also self-motivation, and orientation in different communities and platforms, and a capability to critically deal with an overflow of information). Looking for solutions, a first step might be to enlarge the question from dimensions of media competence to the question which competences would be needed or helpful to overcome first barriers when stepping into a new dimension or category of learning.

A closer look to the introductory quotation from another point of view can be helpful. As GOAL aim to be learning landscapes for enhancement-competence, they are per se “emergent, fragmented, diffuse, and diverse” (McAuley et al., 2010, p. 5). And this is exactly what makes them to perfect learning environments for learning processes of Bateson’s Level III, as each of the mentioned aspects offers enlarged contexts, and the potential to rethink and reframe learning, and to set new context markers.

The initial question »competent for or through GOAL« turned out to be a question that cannot be clearly answered. Competence is a spiral process without a clear cut beginning and end, and is cannot be condition neither to enter learning, nor to a fixed result of a learning process. Only through fusing it with definitions of learning and knowledge it can become a helpful term to analyze GOAL.

[1] http://connectlearningtoday.com/eff13-rethinking-how-we-learn/

 

[2] http://donaldclarkplanb.blogspot.de/2011/12/more-pedagogic-change-in-last-10-years.html – and an example for the need (and already existing praxis) to include “non-traditional-scientific” discourses as mentioned in the introduction of this theses.

[3] First order changes deal with changes of the intern state of a system – the concept is explained in section 6.1

[4] Open Research Resources (see section 7.3)

[5] http://www.tonybates.ca/2008/07/07/what-is-distance-education/

[6] https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/

[7] Which requires reflections through meta-communication about social-cultural meanings of terminology in the forefront of mere translation.

[8] Section 6.1 will deepen these aspect.

[9] Section 6.4 will provide some criteria to analyze courses in regard to such barriers.

 

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Educational Science New Year, New Challenges, New Chances, New Plans :-)

J. Malek  / pixelio.de

J. Malek / pixelio.de

A happy, and curious, and enhancing, and exciting 2016 to all of you! I hope it will bring – beside many other things – the opportunity to meet many of you in person again, somewhere around the world, to exchange questions and ideas and maybe even some solutions on learning processes in global online academic learning. I look so much forward to it.

Personally this year brings two crucial challenges and changes and chances for me: End of march I will leave the distance university in Hagen – something that I thought would not happen before having finished my doctoral thesis, maybe even not then. Well, “real life” is what happens while you are constructing plans :-); new professorships can bring about strange stuff policy and arguments … but  I am optimistic and curious about new opportunities, and ways, and doors that open when others close.

My doctoral thesis or PhD will become first priority this year, as in Germany there are (amongst others…) some strange politic and rules for people working at universities before having finished their thesis. You have only six years, after this six years no university is allowed to give a time-limited work-contract (and others do barely exist…) before your PhD or Doctoral Thesis is finished. And as I started to work at the distance university directly after having had my B.A. and – during my M.A. –  had two hard years which were almost lost for scientific work due to a threatening and exhausting stalking problem, now there remain only maximum narrow two years at German Universities before having my Dr. or PhD.

On the other hand I recognize more and more that – in the context of my research interests (changed learning processes in the context of academic learning and digitalization and heterogeneity) – the really exciting and fascinating and interdisciplinary research does not yet really take place in Hagen and – with some exceptions – not even in Germany. Too many fights between institutions, politic, disciplines are more about terminology than about the processes behind those, and hinder research to become really global and interdisziplinary. So maybe this is just the right time to become free(er) in research and work to be able to look beyond one’s own nose :-) and to go beyond narrow boarders and restrictions.

My year ended with a heavy influenza but as soon as I am recovered again and able to concentrate and read and write I will be busy with following up my plans. First there is lot of literature, in paper and of course online, to catch up with the state of art of my theme. I love to bring loose ends together, to find connections and fuse ideas and theories and models to arrive at emergence. This kind of research will probably be the main work of the next months.

Before I write about this process I will finish the publication of my Master-Thesis here on my Weblog. Going along with this work I will try to submit some papers and articles for journals as for example the next LTEC/KMO in Hagen. I really, really hope to able to participate and help regardless of not being employee of the distance university at this time. Other conferences abroad would be great and important too, but this will depend on my future professional perspectives and means.

No matter what happens I will go on  learning, doing research and following up my plans and ideas. I am happy and proud that so many of you have been and will go on to be part of this process!

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