Research Development Project

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Personal Goals Statement

This statement was written to fulfill admission requirements. It is an essay describing the processes that culminates in application to the EPET program and the goals I intended to pursue upon acceptance. Essentially, this is what brought me here.

The Beginning – Initial Statement

Observations of technology use in classrooms along with recent conversations and discussions within the last week have incited a desire to pursue ways to bring needed support to classroom teachers within the TPACK Framework. Teachers inherently employ technologies comfortable to them to aid in their instruction. Students are encouraged by teachers connected to the 21st century who employ tools that they believe are making their education better. A significant number of teachers in our schools today have been unable to successfully employ relevant technologies that meets both their instructional needs as well as their students’ learning needs.

I aim to explore the affordances and constraints of online collaborative environments and the impact on student learning and achievement with the intent to develop instructional models and pedagogical practice toward this end that can be delivered to districts as professional development. My initial research will seek to quantify and measure how student learning increases through the intentional employment of online collaborative tools in the social studies classroom. I also intend to explore the contextual elements that may or may not result in the successful use of collaborative technologies such as the role of the teacher, available technology hardware, direct computer-based instruction in early grades.

Polished Research Interests

My research interests focus on the affordances and constraints associated with online collaborative environments and their impact on student learning and achievement. Of particular importance to me is how online collaborative tools may be used to meet both teachers’ instructional needs and students’ learning needs, and the contextual factors such as teacher comfort-level with technology that may moderate these effects. At present, I aim to examine these issues within the junior high level, and ideally within the social studies classroom.

The Bridge

Since the beginning of my first semester when I drafted my initial research statement, I was drawing heavily upon what I had discussed in my personal goals statement. I wanted to reference my drive to make technology integration for teachers a priority. It still is, as active teachers deserve support and direction to believe that change can be difficult but manageable and necessary. However, first steps require a research base consisting of the work of others as well as my own research upon which to draw that blueprint.

Online collaborative environments are the true interest. I have created a model that functions within my classroom as our collective collaborative workspace. I believe this to model several elements of learning to which classrooms aspire. As students are engaged in tasks that are allowing them to build understanding about their world, even within context of a certain content base, discussion, interaction, and collaboration are critical elements to making that understanding stick. This also shapes their future learning processes in ways that allow them to feel more comfortable engaging in conversations regarding learning and knowledge construction. The current issue is proving that online collaborative environments, or collaborative environments in general, provide greater opportunities for success and achievement. How can an online collaborative classroom be measured? Where is the best place to start? These questions lay the foundation of a research degree.

Experts to Take Me There

Howard Rheingold, University of California, Berkeley

Anytime I think about researching the role of technology in education, my thoughts continue to bounce back to Rheingold. His research has been in communications in this new era of social connections. However, he has asserted the importance of social studies to teach media literacy as a means to increase and “round out” civic literacy. In my work as a classroom teacher, I strive to provide the media literacy needs of my students within the U.S. History curriculum. Online collaborative environments allow students to become members of the participatory media and learn first-hand what it means to be more than a media consumer in the Information Age.

Janet MacDonald, Open University in Scotland

I recently came across her publication from nearly 10 years ago, now, titled “Assessing online collaborative learning: process and product”. Given my immediate research interests, this seemed to be a great start. I’d like to see where her research can take me and perhaps to contact her regarding the methods used in her qualitative study. Her work models the value in assessments within these online environments and what they can be used to promote or inhibit in collaborative work.

Francesa Pozzi, Institute for Learning Technologies

Her work is related to that of MacDonald in that her publications have attempted to find ways to systematically assess and analyze learning in computer-based collaborative environments. Publications include research on the effectiveness of cooperative and collaborative structures in online environments, and qualitative measures of online collaborative classrooms in post-secondary settings. Moreover, Pozzi has used her assessments within the online collaborative environment to compare online to face-to-face settings.

Agenda – Next Steps…

Read. Simply put, my first steps are to immerse myself in the antecedent work of designing collaborative environments, both online and face-to-face (and the combinations of the two), successful and unsuccessful. I feel that research on the design elements will allow for a greater understanding of the processes of assessment that should take place. Previous studies that identify methods of assessment analysis and comparative studies will then be even more useful as I seek to find an appropriate measure of online and hybrid collaborative settings (it does not appear much work has been done in this area). This will insure that I am effectively building upon research base guiding this field.

It should follow that, as a teacher in a technology-rich classroom, I intend on applying what I have read regarding the design of an online collaborative environment. The goal would be to use my own work in the classroom as a research opportunity and serve as an inaugural publication.

From there, It serves my interests well to look to pursue that goal of identifying an effective evaluation of online collaborative environments. What kind of classroom is able to achieve that, sustain it, and provide a base for replication? How will we know?

Looking further ahead into next summer, it would seem appropriate to begin collecting data toward the aforementioned research goals. I would hope to be able to employ my own craft and classroom to achieve this. Perhaps I might look how I could design a descriptive study during this school year for deployment for the following academic year (year two).

Eventually, I would like this work to serve as the means to the end of providing a model or blueprint for successful technology integration for classrooms, schools, and districts K-12. Our society is facing several issues that are drawing attention. These include the environment, the economy and financial status of the nation, military involvement overseas, and the educational needs of our children. Foremost among these is education. I project that as we move forward out of this economic slump, unprecedented quantities of funding will be pumped into our archaic educational system to renovate learning and investing in our future through education, especially as states compete for federal compensation. Technology will be an essential aspect of this reform and renovation, and I aim to be a player in meeting the pedagogical needs of schools and districts in the hopes of directing their paths toward effective, essential, sustainable, and lasting learning for their students.

Annotated Bibliography

Assessing Online Collaborative Learning: Process and Product
Macdonald, J. (2003). Assessing online collaborative learning: process and product. Computers & Education, 40(4), 377-391. doi: 10.1016/S0360-1315(02)00168-9.

Macdonald expresses the need for providing specific assessments in order to increase participation and interaction in online collaborative learning. In order to design and sustain an online collaborative effort, many skills must be developed. Among the essentials are the increasing mutual trust, team working and negotiation, group decision-making and task management. This descriptive study demonstrates the purpose and function of assessment in collaborative work and how assessments can generate increased participation and involvement.

In the greater context of educational technology and the use of online collaborative tools, Macdonald provides no more than the fact that processes behind making online collaborative learning work are complex. Assessment can help improve participation and interaction, especially when tasks are linked to assessment. However, the product need not be assessed (process is more important) but if it is, this may require additional skills such as peer review. There are items of contention within this work. Primarily, the study emphasized that collaboration was relegated to something that needed to be assessed in order for it to be of value. Indirectly, MacDonald identified that collaboration is reliant upon a cooperative structure or some measure to maintain motivation to complete group tasks.

 

A general framework for tracking and analysing learning processes in computer-supported collaborative learning environments
Pozzi, F., Manca, S., Persico, D., & Sarti, L. (2007). A general framework for tracking and analysing learning processes in computer-supported collaborative learning environments. Innovations in Education and Teaching International44(2), 169-179. doi: 10.1080/14703290701240929.

Pozzi expands upon dimensions of collaborative learning, defined earlier by Henri (1992) and Garrison (2003). These dimensions provide areas within which objective evaluation of the process can occur. The product of the collaborative task, however exceptional it may be, is not a useful artifact for measuring collaborative achievement. After all, it is in the process, not the product that we’re interested.

Pozzi also articulates the need to maintain the learning environment while the learning tasks are being executed. She identifies three main goals of the tracking and analyzing of learning processes: evaluate the quality of the design, monitor students’ performance, and to assess the individual learning processes and carry out evaluation of performances. What came out of this article that was of particular interest was the element of assessment and evaluation for the monitoring of learning. This process was designed to make their system better, not to prove that collaborative environments were better than face-to-face.

 

A content analysis method to measure critical thinking in face-to-face and computer supported group learning
Newman, D. (1995). A content analysis to measure critical thinking in face-to-face and computer supported group learning. Interpersonal Computing and Technology3(2), 56–77. Retrieved from http://eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/recordDetail?accno=EJ513734.

The authors begin by asking “How can we evaluate Computer Supported Cooperative Work, in particular, that kind of work we call learning?” In this study, Newman et al sought to evaluate the critical thinking that occurred in computer supported cooperative work and to compare the results with face-to-face conferencing to determine the value of the computer mediated communication. In order to do this the authors set out to define how to measure deep critical thinking, a necessary feature of a successful collaborative environment and found content analysis to be the “key… to the essence of the educational value of any activity”. They turned to cognitive and social psychology for the basis of their research goals and identified with the constructivist theory of learning. Their content analysis was based on the objective identification of several paired indicators of deep versus surface processing. These pairs were coded from transcripted communication from both settings and quantified for comparison. The findings revealed that more new ideas emerged in face-to-face seminars, and more ideas in the computer mediated conferences were important, justified or linked together.

This study allows for an example of a qualitative study employing quantitative measures to increase generalizability. The authors followed precedent by employing the work done by Henri (1991) and Garrison (1992) in defining dimensions and indicators for collaborative work. Content analysis may be the most effective method I’ve seen, despite of the subjectivity in having students filling in questionnaires and the scoring being done by the evaluators (rather than at least being re-scored by an independent scorer). I would like to see a similar study done in given the advances in technology since 1995. Fifteen years has seen great growth in online collaborative environments, and I wonder if the constraints that existed would account for greater growth in critical thinking.

 

Face-to-face versus threaded discussions: The role of time and higher-order thinking
Meyer, K. A. (2003). Face-to-face versus threaded discussions: The role of time and higher-order thinking. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks7(3), 55–65. Retrieved fromhttp://itecideas.pbworks.com/f/v7n3_meyer.pdf

Meyer and her associates set out to determine the difference between discussions face-to-face versus online threaded discussions. Meyer pursued two research questions: (1) what are the differences between face-to-face versus online discussions and which setting might be better for which learning objective? (2) what evidence exists that higher-level thinking occurs in online discussions? The focus of the evaluation was on the higher order thinking that existed in each. Students reported that using threaded online (and therefore asynchronous) discussions “increased the amount of time they spent on class objectives and that they appreciated the extra time for reflection on course issues.” Meyer intended to this study to explore the impact that time had on the quality, value, and substance of discussions due to the 50 minute (class period) limit placed in face-to-face settings.

The findings are not exactly ground-breaking, as Meyer humbly mentions, and she also states that this may not be very transferable due to its “ethnographic” sample. However, the results of the comparison between the two types identify four themes that may serve my research interests: time expanded in online discussions, experience of time (speed of face-to-face versus slow in online), quality of the discussion, and the needs of the student (gestures, emotional expression). Additionally, there were many comments regarding the faculty expertise that played a role in the facilitation of each. Overall, Meyer identified that online discussions exhibited a great deal of higher order thinking, perhaps as a product of time. This relationship deserves more research.

 

Evaluating an Online Learning Environment
Stacey, E., & Rice, M. (2002). Evaluating an online learning environment. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology18(3), 323-340.

Stacy set out to investigate the effectiveness of the computer conferencing approach and “the ways in which the learning processes and learning outcomes of the students studying the described units were affected by the use of computer conferencing”. This work is tied to social constructivist theory, through which the “collaborative group develops a consensus of knowledge through communicating different perspectives, receiving feedback from other students and teachers, and discussing ideas, until a final negotiation of understanding is reached”. Stacy identifies very generally that the students were positively affected by the use of computer conferencing and that the tasks designed for online discussion produced conversations with a cognitive focus.

The study was poorly described and not enough information was provided to really grasp the why this study took place, how it developed, or how outcomes were products of procedures. The conclusions were a far cry from meeting the hypothesized results in substance and analysis. There was one conclusive aspect worth noting from this study. Stacy emphasizes in several locations within the report the role of the teacher in facilitating and developing discussions and tasks. The teacher must structure and maintain a secure interactive environment which may be intense at first, but available throughout.

 

A Development Research Agenda For Online Collaborative Learning
Reeves, T. C., Herrington, J., & Oliver, R. (2004). A development research agenda for online collaborative learning. Educational Technology Research and Development52(4), 53-65. doi: 10.1007/BF02504718.

The authors demand a pedagogical shift in the use of technology in higher education (and elsewhere). Universities have invested “tremendous” amounts of money into the creation and development of online instruction, but the majority of this use is the transposing of traditional instruction onto online environments without any change in pedagogy. This is a product of many reasons, that among these are constraints of time. However, the major cause is the lack of impetus for this change to occur. Research in the design of online environments is limited, but more limited still is the application of existing research to the design of “today’s” (2004) online collaborative environments. Therefore, no one knows how.

As a solution, the authors promote the use of “development research”, an iterative process of “successive approximation” or “evolutionary prototyping” (p. 59). Using this research method, the authors claim that the application of research to instructional design problems are inherent and self-evident. Thus there is no need for generalizability, data analysis, or other strikes against typical educational research. Reeves also challenges graduate students in educational technology to pursue this research style to make a difference in the way technology is used in classrooms.

This article has been the most rewarding to read and the most influential in my Research Development goals. It is challenging to not be able to set agenda items due to a clouded future, but this article affirmed why I am in this program and allowed for a path of pursuit that is trustworthy and clear.

 

Designing Electronic Collaborative Learning Environments
Kirschner, P., Strijbos, J., Kreijns, K., & Beers, P. J. (2004). Designing Electronic Collaborative Learning Environments. Educational Technology Research and Development52(3), 47-66. Springer. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/30220390.

 

An Interactive Online Course: A Collaborative Design Model
Moallem, M. (2003). An Interactive Online Course: A Collaborative Design Model. Educational Technology Research and Development51(4), 85-103. Springer. Retrieved fromhttp://www.jstor.org/stable/30221186.

 

Content Analysis of Online Discussion Forums: A Comparative Analysis of Protocols
Marra, R. M., Moore, J. L., & Klimczak, A. K. (2004). Content Analysis of Online Discussion Forums: A Comparative Analysis of Protocols. Educational Technology Research and Development,52(2), 23-40. Springer. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/30221194.

 

Using Participatory Media and Public Voice to Encourage Civic Engagement
Rheingold, H. (2007). Using Participatory Media and Public Voice to Encourage Civic Engagement.The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning, 97-118. Retrieved from http://www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/abs/10.1162/dmal.9780262524827.097.

View my online Research Development Project Library, consisting of additional publications and studies not listed above.

 

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