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And so it begins … November 28, 2010

Posted by IaninSheffield in research, TELIC, Tools.
Tags: , , , , , ,

Well to be fair it’s actually been going on for a while now. What?! Ah, sorry, I’m referring to my dissertation/extended professional project (EPP) for my Masters. (haven’t yet decided on which is likely to be the best route for my final study … but it’s getting closer!)

I actually began laying the foundations way back at the start of this year, the spark having been ignited by a single tweet, which all developed into a pilot study. Momentum began to gather as the final year of the course started, although the summer break provided some opportunities to get down to the requisite desk research which, despite setting off in what’s transpired to be an unproductive direction in one sense, nevertheless proved quite compelling. Having settled on a grounded theory approach and with the data gathering process in full swing, I’ve been casting around for some mechanism for recording ongoing thoughts, resources and references which may prove pertinent, developing lines of enquiry, whilst assembling and cross-referencing them all in a meaningful way. Previously I’ve simply started with a Word document, produced the chapter titles and added notes to each section as I went along, refining them as the study progressed. For this study however and having elected to attempt grounded theory which utilises “simultaneous data collection and analysis, the constant comparative method used at every stage of analysis, ongoing theory development, constructing codes and categories from data rather than from preconceived hypotheses, memoing to refine and elaborate categories and their relationships’” (Babchuk, 2009), I clearly needed a more supportive and informative system.

Outline view

Compendium outline view

Having considered and discarded the usual mind/concept mapping suspects which were just too limiting, a web search threw up “Compendium” from the Open University which appeared to tick many boxes. Having already downloaded it (no, this one’s not in the ‘Cloud’), this week I installed it, checked a couple of their tutorials and commenced the process of transferring what I’ve already produced into its database. When I say database, that’s the architecture which underpins it, but the user front end is purely

graphical and simple to navigate.

The basic building blocks are ‘nodes’ – think bubbles on a concept map. There are different types of node enabling you to express different ideas: questions, answers, lists, notes, references etc., all of which support the discursive, reflective process through which your study develops.

Map view

Compendium map view

As one would expect, nodes can be linked; they can also be tagged enabling powerful search and filtering as the complexity of the map develops. To ensure the view doesn’t become too cluttered, each ‘map’ node opens a new window so topics can be provided with more space in which to develop lines of thinking. Bringing in the resources (links, quotes, research papers, images) couldn’t be easier – just drag and drop. I’ve been really impressed with what I’ve done so far, even though it’s early stages, but I think there are two areas where Compendium will really help me:

  1. Gathering together the snippets of ideas I have along the way, discarding others which don’t bear fruit and making the formal process of writing the dissertation that much moe efficient.
  2. Perhaps more importantly, tracking the ongoing development of theory using memos about the data and how they are gathered, informing adaptations to the process to better refine the theory. Tagging, sorting, and filtering will be cricual here and I’m hoping the features Compendium will enable these processes to take place more effectively. All the while emerging findings will be linked in with the rest of the project.

Maps can be exported in xml, web (html) and jpeg formats, although I’m not up to the task of creating a dynamic link between my local maps and the web-based version, so to show any updates, I have to re-export them manually each time.  However I do like that the links and pop-ups are all live, providing a degree of interactivity for the viewer.  The option for viewers to provide feedback or ask questions would be useful, but I guess that could be achieved if the maps are hosted in an amenable location.

Oh and did I mention it’s free! [This software is freely distributed in accordance with the GNU Lesser General Public (LGPL) license, version 3 or later as published by the Free Software Foundation.]

Babchuk, W.A., Grounded Theory 101: Strategies for Research and Practice. In Proceedings of the 28th Annual Midwest Research-to-Practice Conference in Adult, Continuing, and Community Education. Chicago: Northeastern Illinois University. Available at: http://www.neiu.edu/~hrd/mwr2p09/Papers/Babchuk01.pdf [Accessed November 27, 2010].

Creatively with Creately November 21, 2009

Posted by IaninSheffield in TELIC, Tools.
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In my previous post, I bemoaned the fact that I didn’t quite have the time to create an online, ‘live’ version of My Person Learning Ecosystem . . . well it surely it ought to be ‘live.!’  that would also mean I could keep it up to date, add new nodes to the network, or delete any that become redundant.  It should be a living entity which evolves with time.

I couldn’t quite find the application I wanted – it had to be online, enable the drawing of concept maps, allow the use of images as nodes, provide access for others to view (and maybe interact).  I’ve used SpicyNodes in the past (Flash-driven, highly interactive, but doesn’t support use of user-generated images) and Mindomo (very supportive, interactive, but again limited choice of node types).  I was keen to ty to show the distinction between the different streams into which I tap – some are uni-directional, some are unconnected multi-streams and some are interconnected networks.  There’s also MindMeister, DropMind and doubtless lots of others, but I have little experience with any of them.  In the end I turned to an online drawing application – Creately which seemd to provide the closest fit to what I wanted to do.

As a drawing package, it contained exactly the features I needed to create a concept map, most particularly drawing active ‘connectors’ to form relationships in the diagram and enable them to be dragged around but still remain linked.  I could also incorporate the images I wanted to use by simple upload.  Although I didn’t use one, there are plenty of standard templates to start your diagram off – fishbone diagrams, SWOT analysis, organisational charts, venn diagrams, network diagrams and many more.

My Learning Ecosystem

My Learning Ecosystem

Though not needed on this occasion, it is possible for several people to work on the same diagram by providing email contact details of collaborators.  There’s also the facility to add comments and therefore track collaborators’ thoughts as the diagram develops.

The finished product can be exported as an image, PDF or even as xml (didn’t try that), but the output can also be online –  URL to both image and the active diagram are provided.  there’s also an embed code generated, but I’ve not had much luck getting this to work in either WordPress or PBWorks (possibly because of the javascript?)  One other minor irritation was that ‘snap to grid’ is enabled and just a little coarse for my liking – couldn’t find out how to turn it off.

So Creately is a tool to which I’ll doubtless return.  Wonder what my Ecosystem will look like this time next year?