Archive for category Methods
At the beginning of April, I took the Eurostar to Belgium and then travelled on to Maastricht to attend the Networked Learning conference at the School of Management. The conference included at a drinks reception at the nearby government building, where the Treaty of Maastricht was signed 20 years ago, leading to the introduction of the euro a decade later.
I presented a methodological paper on visual analysis, drawing on work in my doctoral thesis.
Ferguson, R. ‘Use of Visual Analysis to Investigate Networked Learning in Online Forums’. In: Hodgson, V., Jones, C., de Laat, M., McConnell, D., Ryberg, T. & Sloep, P., eds. Eighth International Conference on Networked Learning, 2012 Maastricht, The Netherlands (2-4 April 2012).
Asynchronous online forums such as FirstClass are frequently used in many educational settings to link networks of learners. They offer opportunities for knowledge-building dialogue and for the exchange of learning resources, but many students struggle to make effective use of them. Researchers have therefore been concerned to investigate how learners successfully build knowledge together in online forums and which skills and literacies are likely to help users to learn in these environments. To date, much of this research has focused on the textual elements of online forum dialogue. This paper acknowledges the importance of studying these textual elements, but presents visual analysis as a complementary tool that can significantly extend understanding of activity in these forums.
Asynchronous dialogue, like written text, is typically both verbal and visual, with much of its meaning carried by a range of visual features, including layout and typographical elements. These aspects of forum data require analysis of the composition of the dialogue alongside its content. In the case of such composite texts, with meanings realised through different semiotic codes, visual and verbal elements interact and should be analysed as an integrated whole. This semiotic approach draws attention to the syntax of images as a source of meaning and to the structuring principles that enable viewers to make sense of the layout of text and images. These principles include salience, frames, vectors and reading paths.
This paper demonstrates ways in which analysis that makes use of these structuring principles can increase understanding of online exchanges between learners. It takes as an exemplar a series of forum postings that were shared in the formal setting of an online course at the UK’s Open University. It shows that the construction of knowledge in an online forum is heavily reliant on visual elements of the online interaction, and that a focus on words alone does not make it clear either how this construction takes place or why it fails to take place on some occasions. Visual analysis shows that groups of learners use affordances of forum software to increase the salience of some elements of the dialogue and to increase the coherence of their discussion.
Together with Denise Whitelock, Dorothy Faulkner and Kieron Sheehy, I successfully bid for money from the university’s Children’s and Young People Network to carry out research into children’s informal learning with technologies and so, in May 2010 I was in school collecting data in focus groups (see picture of some of the pictorial data).
Research Plan in brief
The proposed research will ask ‘How do young learners make use of the collaborative tools available online to support informal learning?’ The aims of the research will be to identify tools used by Year Six children (aged 10-11) to support their learning outside school; to examine the ways in which they learn of, about and with these tools; and to investigate the constraints and affordances of these tools for learners in this age group. These findings will then be used to identify ways in which these, or similar tools, can be used to support children’s learning in formal settings.
I had a great time at the CAL conference in Dublin.
My first attempt at liveblogging – including taking pictures with my laptop’s inbuilt webcam.
We took a couple of posters along. The first on our joint research into blogging (download by clicking this link Blogging poster pdf) and the second on my research into online communities (download by clicking this link CAL communities poster pdf)
Both my masters research and my PhD research required the use of epistolary interviews: asynchronous, one-to-one interviews that are mediated by technology.
Epistolary interviewing offers several advantages. The method allows both interviewer and respondent to select suitable interview times, provides time to consider questions and responses and eliminates the need for transcription. It has the potential to produce rich data because it produces thoughtful exchanges in which both interviewer and respondent have opportunities to consider, clarify and expand their meaning.
The epistolary nature of such interviews means that, as in a sequence of written letters, a relationship between the correspondents can be established and developed over time. The method also allows a researcher to conduct several interviews simultaneously, so data from one interview can be tested in or used to develop other interviews.