Tuesday, 28 April 2009

H809: End of block 2

Well, everyone seems to have been busy with their second assignment so there's not been a massive amount of activity online for H809 the last couple of weeks. I did finally get around to reading the last few papers but have been pretty busy myself as I've been preparing for my upcoming probation report. And I'm probably going to be quite busy with this for a while, as it's essentially a test of whether I sound like I have a good enough grasp on what I want to do, why it's worth doing and how I'm going to do it, so I can prove I'm ready for my second year of PhD study. If it sounds straight forward, it's not as these are surprisingly difficult questions to answer but I'm sure that the whole process means I'm at least going to come up with a plan! But yes, I'm probably going to be a bit quiet over the next couple of weeks (at least until my report is due in on May 18th) though I will be keeping an eye on what's happening on the blogs at least.

Back to H809 though. In terms of the readings, Juliette has posted summaries and her own reflections for Weeks 8 and 9.Week 8 involved reading the Tolmie (2001) and Crook & Dymott (2005) papers to introduce students to different socio-cultural perspectives, while Week 9 looked at Activity theory (cultural-historical activity theory to be precise) and how it might be useful in practice via the Jonassen & Rohrer-Murphy (1999) paper. As part of the activities for week 8, students were asked to consider tools for social bookmarking. Some of the suggestions include:

Diigo (used to be Furl) which allows you to highlight web pages and use post-its
Delicious as it helps store relevant site links, including YouTube clips, and it allows you to tag and see other tags of urls into bundles. At the time of writing, there seems to be 90 delicious tags for H809...
Citeulike which comes across as more academic, though apparently didn't seem particulalry intuitive
Zotz for the Zotero plugin on Firefox, though the problem here is not knowing enough people who use it

With respect to the readings for Week 8, the issues that came up where the fact that maybe learning theories don't need to be mutually exclusive, that the word "context" doesn't always mean the same thing (does gender really count as context? c.f. Tolmie paper) and how the theory adopted by the researchers informs how the goals of the research are assessed. A link was posted to a paper available on ACM by Rousou and colleagues (1999) - you will need to be logged in to access it though - to illustrate how theoretically driven approaches have been used to analyse learning.

For Week 9, one of the key things identified concerning Activity Theory (AT) was how it emphasises that all meaningful activity is related to the environment in which it occurs. This entails the study of activity in authentic situations, rather than within a lab for example. However, this means there will probably be factors that will not be taken into account during the research process, as it is impossible to control for everything, so researchers need to be aware of this when interpreting the findings. Juliette also pointed out that while the approach outlined by Jonassen & Rohrer-Murphy to using AT to guide the design of learning environments might be quite useful, there might be problems applying to certain cases e.g. pure mathematics. Oh, and I really liked the findings the sentence that described AT as a "primarily descriptive tool rather than a prescriptive theory" (p. 68) because I think I said something along these lines in response to Juliette's posts and now I can back it up with a quote!

In terms of my own research, I can't say I found the last couple of weeks activities have been particularly inspiring. The main point I've taken from the readings and thinking about socio-cultural theories is the importance of context, and how you define it. The more I think about it, the stranger it seems to try and look at learning in isolation - so with respect to my own work, if I can't get access to "natural" settings where game play occurs, I would try and replicate those sort of conditions within a lab as much as possible. Plus, if I'm going to look at more than one player, it would be better to get them to play with (or against) friends or family members i.e. the people they would normally play with. Otherwise, I'm probably not going to be able to observe the sort of informal learning and engagement they would normally experience. I think the activity theory triangles help to visualise how the relationship between the subject and object is mediated by the tool(s) - and how one can affect the other and vice-versa. It's also useful for considering what constitutes context in terms of division of labour, community and rules. So, it might be helpful for thinking about what aspects to pay attention too. I'm not sure at this point if I'm going to be using AT for my own analysis but it's definitely helped me to consider the broader picture.


James Aczel said...

Hi Jo

A useful summary.

On the bookmark/reference management tools, I find myself alternating between Zotero (great reference detection and export), Evernote (user-friendly web clippings) and Google Bookmarks (simple links). Nothing seems quite right as an all-in-one, particularly in terms of a community to share with. And I might well call in again on Refworks if I can't get Zotero to do what I want.

On theory, yes Activity Theory seems to take us only so far in analysing the details of informal learning interactions in gameplay, and the other theoretical frameworks seem to be of even less value here... I have my own preferred framework, but other suggestions from the blogosphere would be welcome!

Jo Iacovides said...

Hi James

Thanks for adding your own thoughts on bookmarking tools - it does seem you have to use more than one tool for all the things you might want to do, and I think that considering the community you want to share with is probably a good way of deciding what to use when.

In terms of theory, I'm not sure I know what framework you prefer, unless maybe you mean the one you referred to in your paper with Pascale Hardy (the Conole et al, 20004 and Moore, 1994 combo)? I did have a look at the paper, and noticed the inclusion of "online game worlds" in the technologies being mapped - I guess it depends on how they are used but I think one of the differences between using games informally and formally is in terms of reflection (where its explicitly done formally) and probably in terms of autonomy (with less of it formally). Hmm, could be quite useful...

James Aczel said...

No, the framework in the Hardy paper is potentially useful, I think, for broad-brush categorisation of different characteristics of learning situations; but like other frameworks we've considered, it lacks detail on the individual's learning journey. There's no account of motivation or refinement of understanding over time.

I was thinking more of the Popperian approach using strategic theories and concerns. I think Jonathan San Diego's thesis provides a good example of what can be done with this form of analysis, allowing him to bring in insights from educational research, HCI research, and subject-specific learning research.

But I don't want to foist my preferences on you if there's something better out there!

Janshs said...

Hi Jo
not really to do with H809 directly but ..... do you know of a gaming idea related to simulated leadership situations?

Jo Iacovides said...

Hi Jan

Off the top of my head, I can't think of any specific examples though there has been some research interest in how games like World of Warcraft can foster leadership skills, expecially when players are involved in managing guilds, coordinating raids etc. For example check out Future-Making Serious Games . It might actually be worth searching the blog for "leadership" and seeing what comes up. Is that much help?