Road to research

A couple of days ago, I re-enrolled into the Master of Learning Sciences and Technology program I first started back in 2009. And afterwards, I started freaking out. Just a little. Reasons being:

  1. It’s been 3 years since I was last enrolled in this program. Whilst it was undoubtedly a valuable and intellectually stimulating experience, I also recall a lot of stressing out about uni work on the weekends and in the evenings after work.
  2. A helluva lot has happened in these intervening 3 years. Not least of which is that I now have a kid who I adore spending my weekends and evenings with.
  3. Somehow, I let Prof Michael J Jacobson talk me into staying in the research stream. And research stream = 12,000 word dissertation. And yes. That’s a big part of why I’m freaking out.

I’m not even quite sure how this happened. I went into enrolment resolved to change from Research to the Professional stream. Although I’d previously harboured ambitions to do research in a past life, the thought of undertaking a PhD now makes me slightly ill. But instead of saying that out loud to the Prof., I found myself looking interested when he said the amount of work involved in the dissertation would be about the same as the Professional stream project  (really?!), and empathising when he told me how disappointed one of his former (Professional stream) students was when told he couldn’t easily gain entry to a PhD because he hadn’t done any previous research (wouldn’t have happened if he’d done the Research stream..). Then, all of a sudden I was talking research topics.

Here are some of the ideas we discussed:

  • Productive failure – this refers to a finding by Manu Kapur: students given complex, ill defined problems without any prior instruction, whilst not able to correctly solve the problem, later demonstrated better understanding of the concept than students receiving direct instruction (worked example, practice, feedback).  They attribute this to the fact that students in the ‘productive failure’ condition generated a lot more ideas about the problem when trying to solve it, thus gaining a greater understanding of its structure and ability to apply their knowledge to other problem contexts. Whilst this is a very interesting learning phenomenon with big implications for learning design, I’m actually interested in exploring how it might relate to innovation. There’s commonly a link made between organisational innovation and failure (or experience gained from failure) – and I think Kapur’s research goes some way to explain why. I’ve always thought that if I were to do research, I’d want to apply it in a context I know. So the idea of taking an idea that has previously been researched within a school context, and exploring if and how it generalises to an organisational environment could be interesting.
  • Technology facilitated collaborative learning – this is an area I’ve always been interested in, and there’s a lot of scope for a lot of interesting work here. It’s just a matter of narrowing it down.
  • Design of learning environments for the future – this is the title of a book that Prof Jacobson and Dr Peter Reimann edited which incorporates lots of interesting topics (incl. using visual representations in learning, virtual worlds, collaborative teams, personal learning communities…)

So I don’t know…but I might just be starting to get over my freak out and getting a little bit excited about this research gig after all.

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