Archive for category Articles
Ferguson, R. (2012). Learning analytics: drivers, developments and challenges. International Journal of Technology Enhanced Learning (IJTEL), 4(5/6), 304-317.
This is an updated and peer-reviewed version of my earlier technical report, The State Of Learning Analytics in 2012: A Review and Future Challenges.
The latest version is available on request via Open Research Online (ORO) – click the link to ‘request a copy from the OU author’.
Learning analytics is a significant area of technology-enhanced learning that has emerged during the last decade. This review of the field begins with an examination of the technological, educational and political factors that have driven the development of analytics in educational settings. It goes on to chart the emergence of learning analytics, including their origins in the 20th century, the development of data-driven analytics, the rise of learning-focused perspectives and the influence of national economic concerns. It next focuses on the relationships between learning analytics, educational data mining and academic analytics. Finally, it examines developing areas of learning analytics research, and identifies a series of future challenges.
I have a new article out in the Journal of Gaming and Virtual Worlds.
Death of an avatar: Implications of presence for learners and educators in virtual worlds is an ethnography that draws upon work I have carried out over several years in both Second Life and Teen Second Life.
The paper includes several first-person vignettes setting out some of my most memorable experiences of death and mourning in virtual worlds. They include this one from September 2007, the event which inspired this research.
It’s late on a warm summer’s evening. I am sitting in a Japanese-style summerhouse with a group of friends and colleagues, mourning the unexpected death of a member of staff. ‘She was like a mother to us’, reads an artwork created by a group of teenagers earlier in the day. For a while, no one speaks or moves. I stare out to sea, where the moon is rising, casting an eerie glow over the trees nearby – but my thoughts are elsewhere. My neighbour, dressed in black, hands me a lighted candle; soon each of the group has one, and we begin talking softly of our memories and our feelings. The mood of the discussion becomes intense and dark; a couple of the teenagers and I opt out and head for the beach, where we sit long into the night beside a campfire discussing religion, reincarnation and personal beliefs.
Ferguson, Rebecca (2012). Death of an avatar: implications of presence for learners and educators in virtual worlds. Journal of Gaming & Virtual Worlds, 4(2), 137-152.
Virtual worlds such as Second Life® offer learners and educators environments in which they can engage in activities that would be too difficult, dangerous or impossible in the physical world. Increasingly, these settings provide learners with a sense of presence – an impression that their mediated presence is not mediated. Presence includes realistic representations, sophisticated social interaction and immersive experiences. What are the implications for learners when death is introduced into an immersive, but apparently safe and protected, educational environment? To answer this question, this article draws on a virtual ethnographic study carried out over four years in Second Life and Teen Second Life. It finds that there are different types of death within Second Life, some permanent and some transient, some wholly virtual, others reflecting a situation in the physical world. Analysis of the theme of death in different settings and subject categories shows that learners and educators make use of some of these types of death to help with exploration of subjects as diverse as Roman history, military training and classic literature. In order to make use of these types of death, educators vary levels of realism, immersion and social interaction, thus altering the levels of presence available within an environment. Other types of Second Life death are not typically explored in educational settings but nevertheless raise a series of legal, social and ethical issues that will need to be addressed by future curricula.
Gillen, J., Ferguson, R., Peachey, A., & Twining, P. (2012). Distributed cognition in a virtual world. Language and Education, 26(2), 151-167.
Over a 13-month period, the Schome Park Programme operated the first ‘closed’ (i.e. protected) Teen Second Life project in Europe. The project organised diverse educational events that centred on use of a virtual world and an associated asynchronous forum and wiki. Students and staff together exploited the affordances of the environment to develop skills and enhance community spirit. One popular activity, initiated by students, involved sailing boats around the project’s virtual island, a technically challenging task for beginners. This paper studies the records of one of these sailing regattas. Organising and implementing this event involved considerable technical and interactional challenges. We analyse the following: How do people work together, including through the use of (virtual) artefacts, to solve problems? What particular qualities of the literacy practices surrounding the regatta appear to us to involve learning? Simultaneously, we contribute to the development of methodologies for studying learning in virtual worlds by employing a virtual literacy ethnography. Findings include a diversity of creative approaches that are used when solving problems, the significance of adult behaviour in authentically modelling learning and the value of humour in fostering a learning community. The notion of distributed cognition has implications for characterising learning and analytical approaches to analysis.
I developed the paper, ‘A sea of colour: using virtual worlds to inspire and empower young learners’, that I presented in Gothenburg at Internet Research 11.0 , and in October 2011 it was published.
Ferguson, Rebecca (2011). Meaningful learning and creativity in virtual worlds. Thinking Skills and Creativity, 6(3), pp. 169–178.
Virtual worlds open new possibilities for learners, prompting a reconsideration of how learning takes place, and setting education in a context of playfulness, delight and creativity. They provide environments in which it is not only possible but also necessary to generate and try out ideas. They therefore offer opportunities to explore new possibilities related to teaching and learning about creativity and to challenge assumptions about the creative capabilities of young learners. The research reported here focuses on a group of teenaged learners who worked together online in the virtual world of Second Life®, as well as using other online tools. It applies thematic analysis to a 120-post forum discussion carried out over two weeks, in which 19 learners and educators debated how to develop their virtual island, and sets this discussion in the context of ongoing interaction within this group. Their focus widened from building plans to cover the creation and maintenance of a community, creatively synthesising considerations relating to environment, ethics, governance, aesthetics and purpose. The teenagers’ creativity when dealing with this authentic problem extended well beyond the elements identified by England’s National Curriculum, and was supported by staff’s active and supportive engagement in the debate.
Finally, my masters research out as a journal article :-)
Ferguson, R. (2010). Peer interaction: the experience of distance students at university level. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 26(6), pp. 574–584.
Learning is increasingly seen as a transformative process which takes place in a social setting (Mezirow 2000). This active view of learning focuses on how people learn together in different groups, including communities of inquiry, communities of interest, and communities of practice (Wenger 1998; Lipman 2003; Jones & Preece 2006). Socio-cultural researchers have demonstrated that thinking and learning together are related processes shaped by culture and context (Wells & Claxton 2002; Mercer 2004; Mercer & Littleton 2007). From this perspective, interaction, in the sense of a ‘sustained two-way communication among two or more persons for purposes of explaining and challenging perspectives’, is inextricably linked with learning; ‘without critical interaction there is no way to facilitate critical learning’ (Garrison 1993, pp. 14 and 16)
The first publication resulting from my thesis appeared in Digital Culture and Education.
Ferguson, Rebecca; Whitelock, Denise and Littleton, Karen (2010). Improvable objects and attached dialogue: new literacy practices employed by learners to build knowledge together in asynchronous settings. Digital Culture & Education, 2(1), pp. 103–123.
Asynchronous online dialogue offers advantages to learners, but has appeared to involve only limited use of new literacy practices. To investigate this, a multimodal approach was applied to asynchronous dialogue. The study analysed the online discussions of small groups of university students as they developed collaboratively authored documents. Sociocultural discourse analysis of the dialogue was combined with visual analysis of its structural elements. The groups were found to employ new literacies that supported the joint construction of knowledge. The documents on which they worked together functioned as ‘improvable objects’ and the development of these was associated with engagement in ‘attached dialogue’. By investigating a wider range of conference dialogue than has previously been explored, it was found that engaging in attached dialogue associated with collaborative authorship of improvable objects prompts groups of online learners to share knowledge, challenge ideas, justify opinions, evaluate evidence and consider options.
Gillen, Julia; Twining, Peter; Ferguson, Rebecca; Butters, Oliver; Clough, Gill; Gaved, Mark; Peachey, Anna; Seamans, Dan and Sheehy, Kieron (2009). A learning community for teens on a virtual island – The Schome Park Teen Second Life Pilot project. eLearning Papers, 2009(15), http://www.elearningpapers.eu.
Virtual 3D worlds such as Second Life and online gaming environments are attracting educationalists’ interest. This paper reports upon the first European Teen Second Life educational project for 13-17 year olds: the Schome Park NAGTY (National Association for Gifted and Talented Youth) Pilot. This project aimed to collect evidence about fresh approaches to education beyond the existing curricula of formal schooling through exploring the educational potentials and pitfalls of Second Life. Diverse quantitative and qualitative data sources are drawn upon to investigate issues relating to engagement, development of domain-specific and knowledge age skills as well as challenges for educators.
Engagement data showed that only approximately one quarter of students accounted for almost all time spent in Schome Park. Frequency was associated with high levels of use of the wiki and forum. Evidence from self-reports and documentation on the wiki demonstrated very high levels of Second Life skills.
Knowledge age skills were assessed within a framework with four levels for four dimensions. In respect of Communication, all students who engaged achieved the first level and a substantial minority initiated and moderated discussions and/or organised events. In respect of Teamwork, tensions were evident early on; however, a substantial number demonstrated their abilities to operate at the highest level being actively involved in solving governance problems. With support students moved from hierarchical approaches to the formation of governance groups, each with department officers, thus furnishing evidence of distributed Leadership at level one. Evidence from a rich and diverse programme of events illustrates an atmosphere which fostered Creativity, permitting explorations, collaborations and the encouragement to risk mistakes.
Our experience suggests the importance of understanding the role of teachers in this kind of innovative environment, not as the possessors of relevant knowledge but as facilitators and promoters of a cooperative ethos. We conclude that, despite multiple challenges, there is evidence to support dramatic new possibilities for pedagogic redesigns. Students who engaged with the virtual island, the wiki and the forum demonstrated higher levels of the knowledge age skills of communication, leadership, teamwork and creativity.
First published article :-)
Sheehy, K.; Ferguson, R. and Clough, G. (2008). Learning in the Panopticon: ethical and social issues in building a virtual educational environment. International Journal of Social Science. Special Edition: Virtual Reality in Distance Education, 2(2), pp. 25–32.
This paper examines ethical and social issues which have proved important when initiating and creating educational spaces within a virtual environment. It focuses on one project, identifying the key decisions made, the barriers to new practice encountered and the impact these had on the project. It demonstrates the importance of the ‘backstage’ ethical and social issues involved in the creation of a virtual education community and offers conclusions, and questions, which will inform future research and practice in this area. These ethical issues are considered using Knobel’s framework of front-end, in-process and back-end concerns, and include establishing social practices for the islands, allocating access rights, considering personal safety and supporting researchers appropriately within this context