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Wordle as an analytic tool? June 5, 2011

Posted by IaninSheffield in Musings, research, TELIC.
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Spent the last couple of weeks reflecting on the results of my research into how pupils perceive learning. Having elected to use a social constructivist grounded theory methodology (no wait, stay with me) it was important to ensure the voices of the participants (students with the cameras) carried through into the emerging theory and final report. One of the ways I hoped to do this was through the use of in vivo codes (Charmaz 2006:55) applied during the process of coding interviews.

In a previous post, I mentioned how Linoit helped me sort, classify, begin to draw out concepts and build a theory from these and other codes. Now I wanted to explore in more detail what different aspects of the theory meant and what implications it had. I thought an old friend might be able to help here, so the in vivo codes were pasted into Wordle to produce the following cloud:

Wordle: in vivo codes

If you know Wordle, you’ll be aware that the larger the phrases, the more regularly they occurred in the original text. It’s interesting to see what the participants ‘saw’ in the images they took of learning. Rather than describing the act of learning, they tend to associate it with specific activities like writing, remembering or revising. Many of the most prominent activities associated with learning appear to be lower-order activities, as described in the cognitive domain of Bloom’s Taxonomy (1956) or at the unistructural (multistructural at best) level on the SOLO taxonomy (Biggs & Collis, 1982). Should we be worried about that? Are our students predominantly engaged in lower-order activities? Or is it that higher-order activities are hard to capture through the lens of the camera, so we had no images to prompt comment?

I’m also less than comfortable with the prominence of writing, making notes and revising. Is that how they predominantly see their learning? Is writing notes in order to revise for an exam all that matters to students? Or am I allowing my views about learning prejudice my interpretation?

What else does the Wordle suggest? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

Biggs, J.B. & Collis, K.F., 1982. Evaluating the Quality of Learning: Structure of the Observed Learning Outcome Taxonomy, Academic Press Inc.
Bloom, B.S., 1956. Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, Handbook 1: Cognitive Domain 2nd ed., Addison Wesley Publishing Company.
Charmaz, K., 2006. Constructing Grounded Theory: A Practical Guide through Qualitative Analysis 1st ed., Sage Publications Ltd.

Levelling up? …. perhaps not. March 12, 2011

Posted by IaninSheffield in research, TELIC.
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I’m at the point in the research for my dissertation where I’m starting to raise some of the initial codes from pupil feedback to conceptual codes. These initial codes are ‘in vivo’ codes i.e. they are not my interepetations of situations or comments that participants made, they arose from the comments themselves.  My next task is to try to ascribe meaning to what these codes are telling me.  One way to do that is to create lots of sticky notes, pop them on a wall and begin to juggle them around into different configurations until conceptual categories begin to emerge.  Actually since this is a study following a social constructivist grounded theory approach, it might be more appropriate to say that I’m working with those codes to help them tell their story and that of those who produced them.

click on the image to visit the full version

I thought using LinoIt might provide a more efficient way of storing my changing thoughts, adding to them and allow categorising in different ways. (They also might be less likely to get blown off the wall when I open a window!)  Not surprisingly, there’s also a LinoIt app which allows me to download my walls onto my iPod Touch and view and think about them whilst I’m out and about.

Well what have I come up with so far?  My first impressions are that pupils don’t seem to think about learning consciously; there’s little evidence of metacognition. When charged to do so through these interviews, using photographs as stimulus material, they tend to associate learning with other activities i.e. it happens as a result of doing something else … reading, making notes, listening, discussing etc. They also feel they are engaged in those processes whilst involved in a range of tasks which can be practical, physical, interactive etc.  There’s also some recognition of activities which support the learning process and somehow supplement the primary activity.

I wonder to what extent this is indicative of the way we do things in school. We may say we’re going to learn about the different styles of WWI poets for example and then go on to undertake a sequence of activities which will allow our students to do just that.  But maybe we then get so involved in comparing and contrasting, and all the other elements of language and literature, that the act of learning is forgotten; consigned to the ‘Learning to learn’ lessons they had two years ago in Y7.  So when the students are asked to describe the learning they see going on in photographs, they simply see the activities they associate with learning.  There’s no idea what was going on whilst they were ‘discussing’ that resulted in some change or other … or perhaps I simply haven’t dug that deep in the interviews as yet?

The next step for me is to produce a similar pinboard with the codes *I* produced from the interviews, rather than the in vivo codes of the participants. Will I see similar patterns? Am I seeing these things because of my preconceptions?  My grounded theory approach will require me to take these initial concepts back to the data and explore the degree of fit, bearing in mind those concerns. I’ll also be comparing the two sets of codes and whether the conceptual codes apply equally across them all – these are elements of the constant comparative process.  My next interviews will be focused on testing these emergent ideas, exploring their boundaries and seeing whether what hasn’t been said is simply because I haven’t asked the right questions, we don’t have the images to hang explanations on or that my notions of what is missing simply shouldn’t be there anyway.

And so it begins … November 28, 2010

Posted by IaninSheffield in research, TELIC, Tools.
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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].

Choices, choices . . . June 4, 2010

Posted by IaninSheffield in Management, TELIC, Tools.
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To close the report for the current Masters module on which I’m studying, I’ve been asked to reflect on the tools I chose to use to support my studies and to deliver the report.  The course itself explores new technologies in learning, so it’s entirely appropriate to make use of them in our own learning.

One aspect of my role in school is to support, advise and guide colleagues in their use of ICT.  In order to do that, I feel it behoves me to have experience of some of the tools I might recommend or suggest.  Not just experience from having read about a tool, but experience from involvement in an authentic situation.  So whenever the circumstances arise which provide the opportunity to explore a new tool, I strive to take advantage.

This case study then has made use of different tools, partially as an exploration on my part, but also to consider an alternative way of presenting a report; one which embeds the tools appropriate to the different tasks undertaken, without having to convert the knowledge that they produced into more traditional forms.

The basic ‘holder’ then for this report was the wiki you see here.  There are many features of a wiki which made it suitable for this task:

  • the ability to revise and redraft whilst others can see that development (or even contribute to that process) through the page history
  • the opportunity to reflect on additions and amendments through the ‘comments’ feature, and for others to join those deliberations
  • the flexibility of the structure. Being non-linear, it makes adding extra sections much easier, it allows others to navigate through it in ways which suit their preferences (assuming navigational tools are sympathetically included), an initial skeleton is can be set up during planning but can easily be amended should the need arise
  • linking to content in other locations is straightforward
  • it’s online which means that it can be exposed to a wider audience, thereby promoting comment during the development of the content – a formative feedback process, rather than solely summative.
  • any rich media which are generated during the study (e.g. audio from recorded interviews) can be incorporated directly into the report.

Not all these affordances were exploited on this occasion, but by choosing the wiki format, the opportunity to benefit from them should the need have arisen was not lost.

I chose to make use of my personal blog as a place to reflect, simply because it enjoys a wider audience than that which this wiki does.  This meant that my musings would be exposed to, and invite comment from people other than those on TELIC and as a consequence perhaps introduce different perspectives.

There were also posts on my blog which I made prior to deciding on the focus of this study which were of significance in laying the foundations for the whole study.

Help-U-Plan Gantt chart maker

Help-U-Plan Gantt chart maker

When it came to planning the project, I have been casting around for some while for a suitable Gantt chart maker – it’s a tool I want to introduce into our wider project planning in school.  I settled on the one you see here, having explored alternatives which offered more features, greater functionality, interactivity and collaborativity (a real word?!)  The choice in the end came down to cost – this one was free and could do much of what I needed, though was far from intuitive nor flexible in use.  Did a Gantt chart help with the project planning?  Well yes, though this was a small-scale pilot study.  I can see however that with larger projects which include other people in key roles, having the opportunity to work together within the planning environment could be quite important.

A Gantt chart provides the function to plan out a schedule for the resources in a project, but doesn’t allow for too much digging into the issues, especially where people are concerned.  The Big Picture was much more suited to that:

The Big Picture

Project Planning with The Big Picture

The intention here is to examine the series of ongoing projects you might be undertaking at a given time and how they might be influencing one another.  It’s also much more amenable to breaking down a project into a set of issues to address and how they might be interlinked with one another. It’s also a collaborative environment and so is ideally placed to function in a team environment.

Project Closure Report

Project Closure Report using Word

When the time came to write a project closure report, I turned to that the tried and trusted MS Word.  This choice was influenced by the audience to which the report was targeted – colleagues in school.  The majority are still more comfortable reading from the printed word and this format would enable them to do just that should they so choose. It has features which support the drafting of such a document and is relatively easy to distribute.

Study reports invariably close with a bibliography.

Zotero for Bibliography

Zotero for Bibliography

For a while now my weapon of choice for recording references has been Zotero.  Since it went online, it became a whole lot better.  I like it’s integration with my browser (FireFox) and that if the online location of a particular resource (book, academic paper, journal, website, video)  has been incorporated into one of Zotero’s translator module, information can be pulled directly into the right fields needed for correct citation . . . all with one click.  By creating an online account, each reference you create in your own bibliographic library is synchronized online.  By using the tags feature, all references relevant to this module can then be surfaced through a filter to generate a list of all the references.  Although Zotero can generate a Harvard (or many other) listing which can be pasted into a traditional report, I elected to stick with the online version which doesn’t have traditional layout, but does have all the necessary information, together with the bonus of active links direct to the resource, assuming it is on the web.

Does my case study report fit the normal conventions for submissions of this type? Probably not. But by being given the freedom to make a submission using the tools of my choice, I’ve certainly chosen to explore other options and consequently learned more in the process.  Perhaps there’s something for us to learn in schools; when are we going to start insisting that the tail of examination procedures and processes shouldn’t be wagging the dog that’s pupil learning?

What does learning look like . . . more thoughts March 21, 2010

Posted by IaninSheffield in research, TELIC.
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I’d like to thank Ed for starting a wonderful exchange on Twitter last night (night for me that is) by asking ‘what does learning look like?’ You’ll spot from my previous post that I’m chasing answers to the same question. It has to be said, there was a dearth of responses, but thanks to Dughall and David for adding to the debate and forcing me to address epistemological issues a little more carefully.
[Wonder why so few people responded? Maybe it’s because it’s such a tough question . . . and certainly not one which 140 characters allows sufficient response perhaps.]


From ob1left on Flickr

David suggested that learning is empowered, enriched, entertained, enlightened. I can see where that’s coming from, but for me those adjectives are more to do with describing how pupils might feel after a good learning experience . . . but maybe using after-effects or consequences might be one way in which pupils describe their learning. In another alliterative response, Dughall saw learning as arising from collaborating, communicating and connecting; a social constructivist viewpoint and one I find attractive – well I would, given what prompted this post! But I also lean (at least by a few degrees) towards cognitivism and that learning is about making meaning from information and situations. Communication with others can be trivial and meaningless unless our thought processes are stimulated and challenged and we try to make sense of what’s being communicated and what we’re communicating.

So how exactly do we capture these things? Given the nature of our data collection tool – the digital camera – I suppose we’re going to need to be looking to capture activities with which learning is associated – collaboration, discussion, reflection, negotiation, investigation. Once again though, I have to remind my self that all of this is what I think. Much as I might regret it and despite appearances to the contrary, I’m no longer a teenager and definitely see the world through older eyes which need optical augmentation (yes, I mean specs!). I just can’t wait to see what learning looks like through our students’ much younger eyes.