i3 conference at RGU in Aberdeen Dr Andrew Whitworth presented a paper coauthored with Dr Lee Webster on Distance learning and the experience of variation: How authority can cross geographical divisions on asynchronous discussion boards
The research problem was on how informed learning develops information practices, and specifically on how a particular learning environments can enable variation.
They studied how 20 small groups who had to coordinate activity across geographical space carried out a task. They were therfore looking at ability to navigate the information landscapes and how they made deicsions and used technology etc. to construct the context.
Dialogue was seen by Whitworth as critical as enabling students to experience variation in learning: Whitworth referred to Christine Bruce's work, in particular the 6 frames (relational model) of teaching information literacy (which I would add also draws on Marton et al.'s variation theory) and the concept of alterity (awareness and experience of the "other" which can expand understanding/learning).
The context was a postgrad course in educational technology (taught both on campus and online, as one cohort), and part of that was enabling students to make critical judgements about learning environments and technological enhancements. The shared informational spaces provide a boundary zone where the distance learners and oncampus learners can engage. Whitworth talked about the characteristics of the two sets of students (e.g. most oncampus from outside the UK, with English as a 2nd language, most distance learners from the UK).
The focus of this presentation was "The museum activity" (which is preceeded by other activities). Oncampus students visit the National Football Museum. Distance learners design their own field trips to other museums. Then have to work in groups to produce a proposal about something which will improve the 2 museum experiences (I think).
In terms of observations: (1) Students were probing for information about the context (including seeking the opinion about those who have visited in person) (2) Students were offering images, links, their own observations/ experience. (3) There is evidence that they are checking and validating each other's information, and interacting with each others' ideas so that they are "learning to make judgements together" (4) There were strains and tensions, but an example was given of a careful interchange when one student felt he/she had been patronising (5) They created their own lexicon within their dialogues.
Further issues concerned e.g. the role of power (role of tutor and self-constraint) and the nature of the parameters of the activity and how they constrain information practices.
BTW I accidently deleted a chunk of text part way through doing this post, so there may be gaps I couldn't fill in from memory ;-)
Photo by Sheila Webber: Aberdeen University Library, on Tuesday.