Thesis Defence. Antonella Esposito: The Transition “from student to researcher” in the Digital Age

Thesis defence by Antonella Esposito entlitled The integration of the uses of digital technology in adult persons in their training activities at the university, in Barcelona at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya. December 22, 2014.

Antonella Esposito: The Transition “from student to researcher” in the Digital Age: Exploring the affordances of emerging Learning Ecologies of PhD Researchers

PhD e-Researchers: individuals using social media to carry out activities such as preliminary exploring new topics, searching for updates research materials, disseminating early findings, experiencing networking in digital spaces, improving their own personal development, etc.

Background: web 2.0 and social media. Architectures of participation and user-generated-content, such as Wikipedia, and the opportunity for creating one’s own profile and constructing online networks, such as Facebook/Twitter and Academia.edu/Research Gate. There are also changes in research practices enabled by technologies, producing new facets and models of knowledge production and distribution, personal and emergent in the individual-led scholarly uses of social media. New PhD students rather consider themselves PhD researchers: are engaged in creative mixes of education, new methods to approximate research, create personal ecologies of learning, etc.

Digital scholars + digital natives + digital literacies.

Focus of the research is on self-organized activities undertaking in the digital environments by PhD students. The socio-cultural entanglements of PhD students using the digital tools in situated context and temporary phases. Goals:

  • Gain further underrating on student’s experience of e-learning in higher education.
  • Gain insights on emergent scholarly practices undertaking in the open Web by newer researchers.

Questions:

  • To what extent do the PhD students learn to become researchers using digital tools?
  • How can the trajectories carried out by PhD researchers be conceptualized?
  • What can the qualitative findings tell us about the chronotopes activated in PhD researchers’ practices and ecologies?
  • What are the tensions between institutional/old practices and new ones?

Methodology: questionnaires with data on tools adopted, actual digital practices and expectations; individual interviews; focus groups.

Data analysis: grounded theory logic of the ‘constant comparative method’. From an initial coding more ‘data-oriented’ toward a more ‘concept-oriented’ coding leading to identification of categories.

Findings:>/p>

A repertoire of social media uses for research purposes. Mostly general purpose tools and common tools, in addition to tools specically supporting scholarly tasks (institutional digital libraries, Google Scholar, etc.). Social media uses to both support and expand practices. The open web is seen as a ‘network amplifiers’ rather than enabling building network from scratch. Have some struggle in creating ‘critical mass’ of followers and some question the practical value of having a large network of contacts.

A framework to conceptualize the trajectories of PhD researcher. In digital engagement we do not find clear typologies. It is more about ‘creeping along’, about moving slowly and carefully in the digital: taming the tools, going digital, learning the digital, making sense of the open web. We find, though, polarization of attitudes that range from total technooptimism to almost non-usage.

The chronotypes in digital engagement. The PhD e-researchers’ experiences in the digital can be easily aligned to the ‘road chronotope’ (as in the road movies), where they keep on embracing opportunities that come along. Relevance of the encounters can determine adoption. Forms of resilience: staying afloat, pursuing convenience, embedding the digital, playing as a bricoleur.

The tensions: two generations. Irrelevance vs. relevance for research; pros and cons for the PhD researchers; tensions for digital learners and digital scholars.

The digital engagement is understood as the core process where the trajectories in the digital emerge, in en ecological interplay of multiple dimensions and shifting states of experience.

Discussion

In most places, PhD students are perceived as such, as students, and not as researchers. Thus, even if students are aware of the potentials of social media for research, they are reluctant to challenge the hierarchies of academia. On the other hand, when students are part of a research group and/or team, this can also act as an inhibitor to develop a (personal/individual) activity on social media related with their research.

In general, there is a major lack of awareness in academia, and even lack of knowledge and understanding on what is going on in social networks and its potential for learning and for doing research.

PS: congratulations, doctor Esposito!

Philipp Schmidt. Social Open Learning: Can Online Social Networks Transform Education?

Notes from the conference Social Open Learning: Can Online Social Networks Transform Education?, held at the MACBA Auditorium within the framework of the Debates on Education, initiative of the Jaume Bofill Foundation and the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, in Barcelona, Spain, 11 December 2014.

Social Open Learning: Can Online Social Networks Transform Education?
Philipp Schmidt, Director’s Fellow at the MIT Media Lab

The Internet changed how talent is distributed. And talent is distributed equally, but opportunity is not.

If we take 1088AD as the foundation of the University — the year of the foundation of the University of Bologna —, it is a huge achievement that it has lasted that long, but it also means that there are many tensions piled up along time, as its model has remained mainly unchanged. And engagement seems to be at its lowest levels when we measure lectures, accoding to Roz Picard’s work. When facing the future of education, we should certainly challenge the concept of the lecture.

How do we learn? How do we create an engaging learning experience?

4 Ps of Creative Learning:

  • Projects. Does not necessarily mean “building” something, but the idea of setting up a project with goals, processes, tasks, milestones, etc.
  • Peers. Sharing, collaboration, support.
  • Passion/Purpose. Connection with your personal interests, so you’re engaged by the idea. Attach people to the things they are already interested.
  • Play. Taking risks, experimenting, not being afraid to fail.

What about open social learning? We have to acknowledge that most of the “advancements” and “innovations” in education have limited themselves to replicate the actual educational model. Are open social learning communities the future of education?

Open:

  • Contribute over consume.
  • Peer to per over top down.
  • Discover over deliver.

The future of education is not technology. The opportunity of internet is not connecting computers but people. It’s the community what matters.

Success criteria of the MIT Media Lab:

  • Uniqueness. If someone is already doing it, we do not do it too.
  • Impact. It has to change people’s lives.
  • Magic. It puts a smile on your face.

The Learning Creative Learning began as a course and ended up as a community. The course itself enabled community building through individual, decentralized participation. A report on the experience can be accessed at Learning Creative Learning:
How we tinkered with MOOCs
, by Philipp Schmidt, Mitchel Resnick, and Natalie Rusk.

Organization of an Edcamp in the line of barcamps or unconferences, but online, using Unhangouts. Unhangouts leverages on Google Hangouts, enabling splitting in several “rooms”.

Most of the times, the online experience ended up in several offline meetings, so it’s good to combine both ways of communicating and organizing. On the other hand, the experience proved to be highly engaging, as people would be much more prone to participate.

It’s all about networks and communities.

Discussion. Chairs: Valtencir Mendes

Q: how can you explain why the US is so advanced in learning and, on the contrary, it performs so poor in PISA tests? Schmidt: we should be careful about taking PISA as the measure for everything. That said, there’s a huge problem of underinvestment in public schools and universities, thus the bad scores.

Ismael Peña-López: when we talk about MOOCs, and most especially cMOOCs, we usually find that participants have to be proficient in technology, have to know how to learn, and have to have some knowledge on the discipline that is being learnt. The intersection of these three conditions usually leaves out most of the people. How do you fight this? Schmidt: there does not seem to be a single solution to scaling cMOOCs, and maybe one of the solutions is to take some compromises while keeping the philosophy of the cMOOC. For instance, use some common technologies even if they are not the best ones or the preferred by the leaders. Stick to few tools, good (somewhat centralized, planned) moderation, etc.

Q: how this specific example influenced schools? Schmidt: Learning Creative Learning courses was a course for teachers. That was a way to infiltrate schools from the backdoor. Same, for instance, with Scratch, which is used widely and carries embedded most of the philosophy of the MIT Media Lab.

Q: people usually neither like nor know how to work in groups or collaboratively. If groups work it usually is because there is a strong leader. How do you do that (leading or setting up a leader). Schmidt: we know some of the reasons why groups do not work. But the solution may not be that there needs to be a leader, but leadership. And this leadership can take different forms. Facilitation, the group fabric, etc. can be ways to approach the point of leadership.

Valtencir Mendes: how can we assess and certify what is being learnt this way? Are open badges a solution? Schmidt: certification is very important, as most of the people that approach these initiatives already have a degree. How do we reach people that are looking for a certification and would never participate in such initiatives unless they issue certificates? Communities are extremely good at figuring out who is good at what, who you go to ask a question, etc. Portfolios, portfolios of the projects they have done and the network of people you’ve been working with. Last, the monopoly of certification may have been a good idea in the past, but it may already not be a good idea any more, and it would be better many more ways to get/issue a certificate.

Q: how do you work with soft skills, how do you introduce open social learning in the corporate world to learn these skills? Schmidt: some things are very difficult to teach, but are easy to learn. Many of these soft skills are easy to learn if you create the appropriate context, even if they would be very difficult to teach. But it still is a very hard to solve problem.

Q: can these initiatives work in crosscultural contexts? Schmidt: this is a very complex question. For instance, authority if very related with culture: how do you manage authority in a crosscultural setting? Or, for instance, addressing elder people is differently regarded depending on the culture. So, there are no systems to support crosscultural learning and thus we have to see it case by case.

Josep Maria Mominó: are we now witnessing the end of the hype of technology in education? did we have too much expectations and we now see the impact is poor? Or what will come in the future? Can we really trust the initiative of teachers? Will that suffice? Schmidt: we usually have to wait a whole generation to see impacts in society, and this generation is just now coming of age. On the other hand, we should be expecting not a technology driven change, but a socially driven one. And this may already be happening.

Thesis Defence. Xavier Mas: the integration of the uses of digital technology in adult learning

Thesis defence by Xavier Mas entitled The integration of the uses of digital technology in adult persons in their training activities at the university, in Barcelona at the Universitat de Barcelona. November 24, 2014.

Xavier Mas: The integration of the uses of digital technology in adult persons in their training activities at the university

Having the word, in the digital age is having the technology. Technology is part of literacy.

Goals:

  • Improve the knowledge on the relationship between the use of technology and everyday life, especially learning.
  • Patterns in the use of digital technologies for learning.
  • New questions in the field.

The theoretical framework comes both from the “pre-Net” learning theories to renew education (Freire, Freinet, Vygotsky, Illich) and “Net-aware” theories based on constructivism and connectivism, the flipped classroom, augmented learning, the PLE, etc.

Digital competence goes way beyond a simple matter of literacy, but it does embed other skills that belong to superior stages.

Methodology: two independent research paths, qualitative and quantitative. Guided open interviews with experts + survey to students (2010).

Results

Experts from the interview:

  • Preponderance of the professional sphere in their digital universe.
  • Relevance of the social dimension in managing knowledge (connectivism)
  • Strong relationship between digital universe and digital competence.
  • Awareness of being building a PLE.
  • Awareness of a sense of being on a PLN.
  • Quest for ubiquity.

Results from survey

  • Two different clusters among the respondants.
  • Universal: basic uses such as search for information, accessing digital content, use of social networking sites, etc.
  • Minority use: complex uses such as publish on a blog, online gaming, mobile devices, etc.

Complex uses are normally accompanied with more participation online and a more creative participation.

Utility of uses of digital technology for learning:

  • Access to information: browsable, multimedia and shareable.
  • Social and collaborative component: communication, sharing, collaboration.
  • Ubiquity: mobility, in the cloud. And not ubiquity as being connected anywhere, but a transformation of the dimensions of time and space.

Socio-demografic factors are not determinants on the differences found in the surveys. I.e. just some slight biases related to age, but very very small. The only slightly more relevant difference is when students come from IT engineering.

Conclusions

  • What defienes advanced digital competence and the main learning metatrends are present in the personal behaviour of the participants, but not in a generalized way and, especially, not guaranteed.
  • The perception of the value of technology for learning is acknowledged, especially in the spheres of the social component and ubiquity.
  • Need to identify the profiles in the use of technology and the factors that determine it.
  • Need to deepen the penetration of the learning metatrends of informalization that empower the student, and of dis-location in the situations and contexts of informal learning.

Discussion

There are many contributions made by some pre-Net authors (Freinet, Freire, Illich) that resonate a lot with what is happening today with education and ICTs, especially social networking sites. Some theoretical proposals by these authors can today be put into practice thanks to ICTs in education.

It is interesting to stress the fact that many practices that happen inside traditional online LMS are not exactly the same practices that students will perform outside of the LMS, in their daily lives. Thus, we have to be cautious in saying that practices happening within the LMS can be compared with what happens outside. Most likely, they will not be comparable. Most LMS digital practices are so much driven, happen so much inside a walled garden that they are all but “natural”, not spontaneous at all.

The concept of life-width learning — in addition to life-long learning — was introduced to stress the notion that what happens in the Net, all the digital practices affect not only a specific activity — i.e. learning — but the whole of one’s life. And this is a crucial statement, especially when we consider the increasing shift from formal education to informal learning.

We are witnessing an epistemological change where knowledge will never more be a static thing, but a dynamic one. Thus why connectivism — with its critiques — is a most valuable metaphor and/or theory. The pattern of lineal learning applies no more: now knowledge and learning is not linear, but liquid.

Many of the approaches based on “generations” (generation X, Y or whatever) may not be really accurate. Maybe it is not a matter of being a generation or another one, but being on a given stage of the life-cycle, which pushes people to certain users depending on their needs — and not as much as depending on their birth date.

PS: congratulations, doctor Mas!

How to incorporate mobile devices in learning in Catalonia?

Notes from the Perspectives on International Education Seminar: Mobile Learning, organized by the Fundació Jaume Bofill and held in Barcelona, Spain, on September 23rd, 2014. More notes on this event: moblearnfjb.

How to incorporate mobile devices in learning in Catalonia?
Chair: Valtencir Mendes, Fundació Jaume Bofill

Mobile learning: an approximation from the Catalan context
Mercè Gisbert, Universitat Rovira i Virgili

+70% of households in Catalonia have a computer with Internet access at home, almost all of them with broadband connectivity.
Mobile phone ownership is almost 100% of the population.

So, we can state that, in most cases, connection to the Internet and mobile connection to the Internet is “not an issue” — there are exceptions, of course, especially when it comes to the quality of mobile connectivity.

Thus, there’s a real opportunity to use mobile phones for both accessing information and communicating in matters related with education and learning.

If physical spaces define or determine learning, can we rethink our learning spaces to adapt them to new ways of learning enhanced by mobile technologies?

On the other hand, new generations do use technology pervasively. But, do digital learners (digital natives, etc.) exist as such? Are they digitally skilled? Is the same thing being digitally literate and being digitally skilled? New generations are sure digitally literate, but being skilled requires specific training that most did not have (yet).

Mobile learning necessarily leads us to the debate of open content and open learning.

We need new rules of the game: online reputation, bullying, violence, sexting, lack of privacy, etc.

Education in the 21st century
David Atchoarena, ICT in Education, UNESCO

Today’s learners live in a knowledge-based and globally interconnected society, largely driven by digital technologies. To acquire 21st century skills, students should be empowered especially as self-directed learners.

There are unique benefits of mobile technologies for learning:

  • Facilitate personalized learning: active learning; use of ICT to socialize and informally learn; life-long learning.
  • Provide immediate feedback and assessment: more feedback; formative assessment; valuable information to parents and teachers; provide (technology enhanced) guidance to learners in unprecedented ways.
  • Enable anytime, anywhere learning: new times and places where learning had been inappropriate or impossible; constant access to information and communications; hybrid models.
  • Situated learning: most meaningful learning usually happens outside the classroom; geo-tagging, image recognition; bring real experiences into the classroom; connect teaching with one’s own lives.

What to do?

  • Create or update policies related to mobile learning. And not only mobile specifically, but ICT-enhanced learning in general.
  • Train teachers to advance learning through mobile technologies.
  • Provide support and training to teachers through mobile technologies.
  • Create suitable content.
  • Ensure gender equality for “mobile students”: men and women feel different about technology, and this can cause differences in adoption.
  • Guarantee connectivity.
  • Strategies to provide equal access for all.
  • Promote the safe, responsible and healthy use of mobile technologies.
  • Raise awareness of mobile learning through advocacy, leadership and dialogue.

Discussion

Joaquín Gairín: There is quite a broad agreement on mobile learning, learning and ICTs, etc. The problem is that we do not do anything about that because there are many reluctances and resistances against change. Unless we identify and address these reluctances, there will not be any advancement on mobile learning.

Nati Cabrera: most of these resistances have been identified, including their source. One of the main reasons for not advancing is that there is not a state deal to design and coordinate long-term educational strategies.

Mercè Gisbert: we should not forget that learning —not teaching— is a collective responsibility, and not only the school’s. Unless we become aware of that, there is no way that we can change the whole framework.

Jordi Musons: we have to move out of our comfort zones, and help others to.

Pilar Soro: we need to add other “technologies” in the classroom, like arts, or corporal expression. It is the mix of different technologies that will make a change.

Ismael Peña-López: we keep on talking about mobile learning when we are meaning mobile teaching, or mobile-enabled education system. We should definitely move from an education system towards an learning platform, and, thus, from mobile teaching to ubiquitous learning. It is then that we will find out that the problem is not (or the main problem is not) technology, or even skills, but the system itself. E.g. the problem with mobile assessment, or flexibility, is not whether Moodle renders well on a mobile phone, but whether and how the facilitator will be there for the learning during a Saturday evening.

Miquel Àngel Prats: it is not about mobiles, but about resistance to change. And we have to be aware that it is not only about teachers, but also about the boards of directors of the schools and families. We have to put ourselves in the shoes of others, to be empathetic and understand how other actors feel about these changes. On the other hand, we need evidence of successful cases that can be used as examples to follow.

Evaristo González: we have to be patient and help others in their transition into new practices. And practice is the word. We have to speak from practice, from experience. And one has to be bold and daring.

Antoni M. Romero: this is an old story, the story of the computer in the classroom, digital whiteboards, etc. We have to go beyond that, beyond a specific technology. We have to go beyond technology. We have to face global change. And face it by piloting, assessing and scaling.

Eduard Vallory: it’s systemic change or nothing. If we do not change the whole system, it will be impossible to replace just a piece of it. And part of this system relates to non-cognitive skills, which now come to the front row in importance.

Jordi Vivancos: we have been dealing with learning about technology (e.g. learning to code), or learning from technology (e.g. digital handbooks), but the challenge is on learning with technology. And the context is the change in the concept of information and knowledge: what is now information and what is now knowledge, what are their natures. And the thing is that information now is abundant and ubiquitous. Thus, we need to reflect on the notion of information and knowledge before we go on talking about education.

Mercè Gisbert: we should leverage the potential of ICTs in education to provide data and evidence themselves on their own performance. Learning analytics, as a concept, is an interesting one to explore.

EAIE2014 (VIII). A MOOC Revolution? Strategic Considerations and Lessons Learned

Notes from the 26th Annual EAIE Conference, held in Prague, Czech Republic, on 16-19 September 2014. More notes on this event: eaie2014.

A MOOC Revolution? Strategic Considerations and Lessons Learned

Chair: Anni Soborg, University of Copenhagen, Denmark

Amy Woodgate, University of Edinburgh, UK

6 courses (wave 1) + 8 courses (wave 2) + more (circa 30 a year). Broad subject areas. Fully online, free to take, OER licensed with CC.

MOOCs implicitly aimed at capacity building for the faculty, to know what it’s out there, to exchange knowledge, to see “what is out there”.

Achievements:

  • Small amount of direct income to reinvest into MOOC development.
  • Capacity building on online learning
  • Knowledge exchange
  • development of new online delivery methods
  • Research outputs; strengthened the University’s development areas.
  • Lots of fun.

Goals:

  • Get to new audiences.
  • Respond to an external need.
  • Widen participation.
  • Showcasing Edinburgh’s strengths.
  • Pedagogical innovation.

Usage of the MOOC:

  • Research.
  • Capacity.
  • Materials.

What have we learned

  • MOOCs themselves have no business models: you have to attach one to them, if you want to.
  • Best things are built and grown together.
  • Academic staff need multi-dimensional support.
  • Digital literacies should never be assumed.
  • The power of fun should never be underestimated.

Trine Sand, University of Copenhagen, Denmark

Why join a MOOC platform?

  • Better education.
  • Sharing knowledge.
  • International recruitment.
  • Continuing education.
  • Platform to highlight UCPH research.

How to get started? Have a keen ambassador to lead the project.

  • Steering committee: faculty-based decision-making.
  • Coursera unit: platform and production experts, pilot project and assessment of the pilot project.
  • University Education Services: political context and overall UCPH strategies.

A MOOC is a perfect tool for going international.

Profile: 268,868 learners; 40% full time employed; 60% with BA or MA degree; North America, Europe, Asia and Africa.

MOOCs have the potential to facilitate changes, to reflect on what we are doing.

Rahul Choudaha, World Education Services, USA

Cautions on predictions and choices. What will happen with MOOCs? Embrace or avoid?

Georgia Tech, Udacity and AT&T issued an Online Master of Science in Computer Science that blended a degree with a MOOC. It was the regular degree, online, and at 10% its cost.

Strategy renders choices about what not to do as important as choices about what to do.

Discussion

Q: evolution or revolution? Woodgate: more an evolution than a revolution [IMHO she’s talking about xMOOCs and definitely not about cMOOCs.

Q: what is the cost of the MOOC? Sand: it has a cost, but it is an investment, not an expenditure. But yes, a good amount of money is involved, especially if you take into account the cost of the lots of time that people put into the course.

Q: how do you manage admissions? Woodgate: we distinguished students from learners. Learners just freely access (and follow) the MOOC for the sake of it. If you want credit, and you will pursue assessment, then you’re a student, and you will have to go through the usual admissions process. Sand: both models, MOOC and regular degrees, are not mixed. They both have their own processes, channels, platforms, etc.

Q: how do you know the person that took the test is the one that they say they are? Woodgate: the certificate at the end is just a statement of a completion of a course, not a “real” certificate. We sacrificed the obtention of a “real” certificate in benefit of other aspects: easing access, promoting engagement and exchange, etc.

26th Annual EAIE Conference (2014)

EAIE2014 (VII). Returns on higher education and labour market linkages: latest OECD findings

Notes from the 26th Annual EAIE Conference, held in Prague, Czech Republic, on 16-19 September 2014. More notes on this event: eaie2014.

Returns on higher education and labour market linkages: latest OECD findings

Chair: Anna Glass, OECD, France

Adam Krcal, Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports of the Czech Republic, Czech Republic

Why a need for developing a quality framework?

  • Massive expansion of higher education.
  • Greater diversity in terms of study programmes.
  • Broader spread of institutions’ social missions.
  • Different types of provision to meet the needs of new student populations: distant learning programmes, changing labour patterns, re-skilling needs…
  • Decentralization process in Higher Education: greater and broader autonomy.
  • Chang in internal structure of Higher Education systems: more diversified, bigger institutions, budget constraints.

What is "quality" in higher education? How can we monitor it? How can we assure it?

Three main purposes of a quality framework: acountability, transparency and improvement.

Patricia Mangeol, OECD/IMHE, France

There is an increase of students in Higher Education in the OECD, which also implies upward or downward social mobility in relationship with their parents —usually upward mobility is greater than downward mobility, though the latter is existent all across the OECD.

People coming out of higher education have more/better skills in terms of literacy than those with lower levels of education. But the performance in different education levels varies quite a lot across the OECD. E.g. in the US the gap between the top and the bottom is huge. On the other hand, the top level of performance is different between countries. E.g. in Japan +30% of their higher education graduates score highest in literacy, while in Spain only less of 10% do.

Individuals with Higher Education are more employed and earn more —of course, as an aggregate.

More education is related with stating being in good health, having a say in government, volunteering at least once a month, or reporting that one can trust others. Education has strong social returns.

Is the investment in education worth? Yes, but the return of the investment —as measured in net present value— varies between the private and the public net returns. Normally, private returns are higher than public returns. But, in any case, both public and private returns are positive and generally not small.

What happened with the crisis?

In general, it impacted negatively (with more unemployment) the lowest levels of education, not that much in secondary educatino and very very much less for highly educated people.

The crisis did not only impact people putting them out of their jobs, but also the public expenditure on education. In general, though, most countries kept on spending (as a % of the GDP) on education institutions despite the fall of GDP [comment: this indicator is misleading, as some countries did cut on education expenditure, but as their GDPs dropped, the ratio still looks as they did increase the expenditure on education].

26th Annual EAIE Conference (2014)