INF537: Critical Reflection

Golden Snitch
An extract from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

I feel the phrase “I open at the close” is incredibly pertinent to my two year journey through this Masters of Education (Knowledge Networks and Digital Innovation) – I feel humbled by the scale of work still ahead of me but prepared for the challenge.

Three themes have defined my study during INF537 (my last unit of this degree):

The Three Digitals

  • Digital literacy
  • Digital scholarship
  • Digital citizenship

I have grown my understanding of each of these areas and how they interrelate. Dave Cormier’s blog on teaching digital literacy really opened up the path forward for me and solidified my thoughts on my own digital literacy teaching.

Digital scholarship and digital citizenship became intertwined in my thinking for assignment 2 (probably to the detriment of my focus on digital scholarship). I started to reflect on the social benefits and costs of being digitally connected. This degree has shown the wonderful benefits of being a connected learner but this easy interconnection has increased the workload on educators and other workers as there is an expectation of immediate response. As a digital citizen I will have to find the balance between time when I am online and when I am disconnected both for my own wellbeing and to set an example to others.

Open versus closed

People sitting in the park
Photo by Leah Kelley from Pexels

Thinking about open source versus closed source began with my reflection on Siemens’ argument that networks are confined by the systems in which they are situated. My initial thinking was that, if this confinement is the case, why would you choose an artificially confined system such as a proprietary system? I explored this idea in this post about open source versus closed sourcee commercial software. I determined that, like in the park pictured above, that setting clear bounds for a system is important to create clear expectations and responsibilities. This bounded system is what the digital commons relies upon, as without limits, a community can become so diffuse that it becomes impossible to manage.

Application of ideas

Photo by Christina Morillo from Pexels

When I have been most frustrated in this unit and degree, it has been when I have read articles where scholars discuss technological change and adoption as if it were a foregone conclusion. I have to check myself when I get in to this mode as I have worked implementing ICT projects and therefore come at a problem from a practical perspective that is not always compatible with pushing the boundaries of possibility. Just as I have to learn to appreciate a scholarly approach, I believe it should be incumbent on scholars to expand their digital literacy to understand the challenges of organisational ICT, allowing them to envisage how to bridge the path between their vision and implementation, this will ensure research has the best chance of making a practical difference.

Conclusion

This degree has provided the framework for where I want to position myself in the world – as a connected learner who continues to expand their digital literacy to grow as a digital citizen and scholar. The INF537 research project on my community of practice has been a great way to conclude my studies as throughout this course, this community of practice has been my main outlet for experimenting with the concepts I have learned. The community has developed and grown along the way (you can view the change in the 7 related blog posts) but there is still a lot of opportunities for myself and my community to grow. As my degree draws to a close, I am open to the opportunities.

 

INF537: My approach to the research project

I have not previously done any formal research and although the research project within INF537 is a short project both in word count and time, it posed a significant challenge to me. This post breaks down the steps I took to grasping some of the intricacies of research.

Step 1: Identifying a research paradigm

Having to identify what I believe about the “way the world works” was quite a confronting first step but I quickly realised how fundamental it is to research. I tend to find videos are the way I learn best and the following video really helped me to better understand paradigms:

The approach that I related to and applied well to education research was post-positivism. As I was taking a quantitative approach to research, this strongly linked my work to a paradigm that advocates that we can understand how causes influence effects.

Step 2: Research questions

Once I had wrapped my head around paradigms, the next obstacle I found was identifying the differences between research aims, objectives and questions. The following video helped me a great deal:

I developed the following for my research:

  • Research Aim:
    • To help me improve my virtual Community of Practice  (vCoP)
  • Research Objective:
    • Identify issues that are preventing my vCoP from growing
  • Research Question:
    • Is it possible to assess the health of a public service virtual community of practice using basic participant analytics?
  • Investigative Questions:
    • Are the Wenger and Nielson’s models helpful in assessing the health of vCoP participation levels?
    • Do the standard measures of social media engagement enrich our understanding of the health of a vCoP’s engagement levels?
    • How do the statistics compare with the self-evaluation of the vCoP’s health

Step 3: Research Method

Selecting the research method for the project was one of the more simple parts of the project (although still not easy). I had heard of many of the research approaches before survey, interviewing, observation. The short time frame for the project means that ethics approval for research is not possible and therefore there were limited to research methods that did not involve interaction with subjects.

After reviewing the research methods, my ah-ha moment came when I read the following quote from Bryman’s (2016)

the idea of the survey is so closely connected in most people’s minds with questionnaires and structured interviewing that the more generic term cross-sectional design is preferable… While the research methods associated with surveys are certainly frequently employed within the context of cross-sectional research, so too are many other research methods, including structured observation, content analysis, official statistics, and diaries

I had previously thought that survey design just referred to questionnaires and so this definition opened up lots of possibilities for me and led to me using a cross-sectional research design in my project.

Conclusion

Although I was rather nervous about conducting a research project, I was surprised by how valuable it was taking time to build an understanding of the terms involved, not just for the project but also my approach to other parts of education life in general.

Reference

Bryman, A. (2016). Social research methods (Fifth edition.). Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press.

Revisiting: How many people does it take to make a community of practice?

Last month I blogged about how I felt that I am often just a curator for a group of people rather than being in a community of practice. Having trialed a few different approaches I have seen an uptick in participation in the contributions to the community I manage.

INF532 has encouraged me to think about different ways that I might engage people to help develop a work-based learning network. A few techniques I have trialled:

  • changed up the tone of my posts focusing more on a narrative-based approach
  • tried to relate my posts to universal issues people face (not just work issues)
  • directly asked people if they can write about a topic
  • written posts of varying length
  • used a variety of mediums to engage people
  • Asked questions rather than just writing solutions

I am starting to get a lot more participation recently (4-5 responding people versus the normal 0-1). This is a positive improvement on people telling me that they “enjoy reading my posts”.

I have enjoyed trialing a variety of different approaches and although I am yet to get anywhere near the critical mass to call it a community of practice it is certainly evolving past simple curation.

The next step will be to try and move to more multi-media content such as microcontent, videos and potentially podcasts but this will require an investment from my work in the tools required. This could be a stumbling block as I wait for approvals but if I can implement these tools then potentially others can use them to create content as well.

How many people does it take to make a community of practice?

Image comparing crowd size at Trump inaguration and Obama inaguration

What is the critical mass for a community of practice? That is the question that struck me when I read Not everything that connects is a network (Hearn and Mendizabal, 2001).

I try to foster a community of practice at work in an area that is important but not core business. The result is a lot of people being involved in the group but not many participating.

Hearn and Mendizabal argue that “networks are indigenous to any situation or environment; they exist before an initiative comes along and will exist after an initiative has closed down” and that:

networks are not panaceas and are not suitable in all situations. The suitability of a network strategy needs to be interrogated carefully before investments are made, particularly as a network could prove more expensive than an alternative strategy.

I find this an interesting perspective and I am possibly in more of a curation role than one of being in a community of practice. Having read Popova’s article on the role of curation, I know that this is an important role as well.

Over time I will attempt different strategies to try and gain critical mass in and reach a fully fledged community of practice.