To understand a phenomena and change a practice

Today’s main challenge in my research:

My research is a double sided coin. On the one side, there is “change, ” and on the other, there is “understand.” I wish to change practice, through a pedagogical design, to improve students opportunities to transform situated knowledge from a teachers education to school practice. At the same time, I’m trying to understand the very process of transformation of knowledge, to be able to generate design principles, which inform the design to support this process better.

Since we do not really have a complete understanding of how learning takes place ( hereby I mean transfer or transformation) creating solid designs that can be tested or provide a frame to understand learning seems almost impossible.  How can you design for transformation and at the same time design to investigate the very same phenomena to understand it more fully.

Kurt Lewin is often cited for saying:

“If you want truly to understand something, try to change it”

Cobb & Gravemeijer (2013) extends it by saying:

“if you want to change something, you have to understand it, and if you want to understand something, you have to change it”

I’m not sure that it is that easy applicable when it comes to designs for transformation.  Nevertheless, it provides a huge challenge for me to provide evidence on…

EARLI: On shifting positions in DBR

I’m happy to announce, that I will be going to Finland on the EARLI (European Association for Research on Learning and Instruction) conference this year with a contribution to a roundtable discussion.  My colleagues Lea Tilde Rosenlund, Charlotte Wolff and I had our proposal accepted with the following comments:

This makes for an interesting round-table, being conscious of the possible influences of shifting roles and perspectives are of the utmost importance in DBR – any type of research for that matter. I think the discussion at this round-table will be fruitful.

The question of the (shifting) role of the researcher in Design-Base Research is an important and understudied question. The proposed round table could provide a welcome contribution to the discussion. The round table format fits the described purpose very well.

The topic for our roundtable discussion is on the shifting positions of the researcher within Design-Based Research. You can see our proposal here: EARLI submission round table 2017

You can find out more about the EARLI conference here:

Hope to see you there

When students reflect on their own learning in practice

The first round of collecting data at the Teacher Education Programme is now over, and I’m starting to get into my data.
The data collection ended with presentations from the students, where they shared their reflections on, their experiments in practice and how had an effect on their learning.  The students had many interesting points, and it seems that the overall design did support them in transforming knowledge and ways of participation between education and school.
Since the first cycle of data collection is now completed, this blog post will focus on some of the first impressions I have regarding my data as a whole.  Even though I have not fully begun to analyze my data in depth, some indications slowly seem to show, by just looking at my observation log and the reflections provided by the students, through my interviews and their presentations. Mainly four topics have caught my interest at this point, namely:

  • Observation groups as a valuable design element
  • How experiments in practice prove helpful for transformation of knowledge
  • Students ability to reflect directly and indirectly on their learning
  • How different kinds of tasks and activities afford differently on students transformation of knowledge

The first topic is on the role of the observation groups as supporting structure for the visits in practice. The intention of the observations groups was, from the beginning, to give the teaching group feedback on their performance in the classroom. From my point of view as a researcher, they also had a role in supporting or challenging my views on the observed. As a way of distancing myself from the field (reducing bias), the observing group could provide valuable insights and arguments that could support or challenge my interpretations. However, the observing groups, as a concept, has proven to be much more than that. The students repeatedly expressed how valuable they thought the groups were both as a feedback mechanism and as a way of being inspired through the use of dialogue and reflecting on practice. At the same time the observing team felt that by observing fellow students, they learned much as well. The observations seemed to be a good foundation for their future planning as well being able to negotiate ideas, building on the other group’s teachings and getting an insight into the classroom culture and the prerequisites of the 5th-grade students.

However, the observing groups, as a concept, has proven to be much more than that. The students repeatedly expressed how valuable they thought the groups were both as a feedback “mechanism r structure” and as a way of being inspired through dialogue and reflection on practice. At the same time the observing team felt that by observing fellow students, they learned much as well. The observations seemed to be a good foundation for their future planning as well being able to negotiate ideas, building on the other group’s teachings and getting an insight into the classroom culture and the prerequisites of the 5th-grade students.

The second topic relates to how the practice experiments proved useful for the students to transform knowledge between contexts of education and school. By now my data indicates some different interesting findings, but one special point of interest for me is, to which extent the students themselves manage to connect the two contexts, the requirement characteristics of them and how much the design needs to afford this process. How much support do the students need? Do we have to design for these connections or do the students grasp these opportunities themselves?  Transfer mechanisms, boundary crossing, sense-making and patterns of participation become relevant topics for me here.

The third topic is tricky. It relates to my analysis of my interviews with the students. The challenge is that the students not necessarily can explain or even are aware of what they know or how they have transformed their knowledge from one setting to the next. This is a hard and a very complicated affair to investigate and requires me to dig deep into my data and draw lines between the students learning trajectories, how they planned their experiments, how the acted and reacted on practice and how the articulate while in situ and afterward reflect. Nevertheless, the student’s abilities to reflect on their learning must be a specific interest if I am to counter the critique of transfer research first put out by Jean Lave in the late eighties and afterward emphasized by others. I here think on the critique that research within the field only recognize transfer that occurs within what we can measure between the given learning situation and the transfer situation. So seeing what the students do not necessarily see or can reflect upon is also a focus for my research. And that might prove hard to do.

The last topic seems easier to get on with since it’s more fit for an analytical approach. Through my observations, it became very clear to me how tasks and activities supported students in different ways and that the students reacted differently on taking up the opportunities presented through the tasks and activities.  Roughly three main categories of activities approached. The first relating to the domain or subject matter of the course, where students engaged in reflections and discussions on a meta-level and were much based on theoretical concepts. Here the students needed to be very aware of, how the content could relate to practice. The teacher very explicitly had to point most students in the direction on how the theory could be applied to teaching students at school and how the theory would relate to this practice.
The second type of tasks and activities could be characterized as simulations. Often the teacher would start out with the phrase: “If we now try to act as if we would be at a real school” or “now we play that I’m the teacher and you are the students of a fifth-grade class.” These type of activities already have an expanded framework where the fifth-grade classroom as a concept is providing the setting for the activity. Throughout these activities, the students were more aware of the end goal of teaching, and the tasks and activities seemed to scaffold and support the student’s transformation knowledge from educational toward practical grounded.
The third type of tasks and activities are directly applicable and not necessarily (as the two previous) dependent on a specific subject. These activities were generic in the sense that they could be applied under many different circumstances. Eg. Throwing a beanbag and rhyming on the letter “B” or reading out loud from a textbook at the beginning of a lesson.

No doubt that transformation of knowledge depends on the student’s ability to learn in a given situation. But throughout the first iteration of the design, it became apparent to me, that the design both had to be for learning (as both acquisition and participation) and transformation.
How the design supports the student to notice and take up opportunities to learn, seem to rely on both the affordances of the tasks and activities within the design as well as support structures that prepare them to meet the prerequisites of future (teaching and learning) situations. But conclusions on these parts are yet to come 🙂




Books, Instagram and writing my first research article

The weekly digest

It has been a fantastic week on many aspects of the project.
For the first time this semester, I got to the studying part of the project. It is quite a great feeling to have surpassed most of the obligations that I need to fulfil around the project that is teaching, so I can begin focusing on my data, thesis, and the forthcoming writing on my first research article.

The article has the working title of “Participatory Skills for Learning in a Networked World”. It is to be a contribution to a special issue, where the Danish research team of the project work with the Dutch team from Open University, that we visited earlier this fall. See a blog post on that here

The editors are Nina Bonderup Dohn (my supervisor) and Maarten de Laat, and the plan is to publish it around a year from now.
I will keep you in the loop about the progress.

For the occasion, I got a copy of a newly published book by De Laat and another good colleague, Thomas Ryberg, who is also part of the FKK-Research Group. I’m very thrilled about the book and will just share some thoughts on it here:


The book takes a qualified venture through three main implications on Networked Learning. First of all a political perspective, then a learner’s perspective on the boundaries between e.g. work and school and what designs can be and cannot and lastly a view on implication for researching in Networked Learning. All three topics are weaved and relate to each other, giving a feeling of strong co-relation among the chapters and that all three perspectives an equally important to address.

The book draws on a variety of theories from both cognitive and socio -cultural perspectives. Bakhtin’s concept of chronotype (configurations of time and space ) is used to analyse online learners movements, and Socio-material theories underpin how artefacts are used to develop students digital literacies, How tasks and activities are not always aligning and how students engage in sense-making activities are also topics that are addressed

The topics are highly relevant for my research, and it is great to read something that sets own thoughts into perspective. I can highly recommend the book, to anyone interested in Networked Learning.

Instagram – another layer of empirical data


As you might notice, I have attached an Instagram widget to my site. I’ve decided to use Instagram as a tool for freezing specific moments from my trips into the field. I think Instagram is useful for several reasons.

First of all, it allows me to provide my images with hashtags, making them easy to find through keywords like #analysis; #literature or #boundary, etc. These tags will give me a chance to better remember and provide images around specific topics for my analysis.
Furthermore, it allows me to write down immediate thoughts on the particular situation, further providing relevant details to my observation log that supports the need for thick descriptions.
Thirdly its just looks nice and even though not many others use Instagram as a visual layer to their research, I can use it to promote my project even further when networking with colleagues around the world. Not all pictures are strictly for data usage, and I also use it for more casual updates not suited for a blog post. In time, I hope, it will provide some fruitful layers to my project.

Feel free to dig in and follow my @Designs4learning account.






ICT, transfer, and boundary crossing in VET


My good friend, Marianne Riis aka Mariis Mills, posted a kind notice and wrap-up of my project on her blog. Returning the favour, I’d like to bring her research to your attention as well.
I will get back on that in just a second.

First of all, I’ve linked to her blog in the side panel and I encourage you all to pay her blog a visit.
As you will also read on her blog our story goes way back, to when I was a masters student at The University of Aalborg. During my study and ever since Marianne has both been an inspiration and always kindly shared her thoughts and findings.  She quite literally opened a new world to me, through Second Life, as a part of her course on Virtual Worlds and my great interest in the concepts of Didactic Design, Learning Designs, learning and technology, and my appreciation for blogging is in many ways related to her.

mariisHere you see and old screenshot from Second Life, just before Mariis Mills gives a talk on potentials in Second Life

At the time Marianne is working on a research project closely related to the same area as me. Her project is about: ICT, transfer, and boundary crossing in VET and she, along with her colleagues, have been sharing their finding over on this blog:  (in Danish- but hey Google Translate often does the trick good enough for you to get the point, why not give it a try?). I’ve bee following the blog and you will find many interesting resources there.

Given the above-described, you might not find it odd, when I say that I’m quite excited to hear, that Mariss recently took up her English blog: The blog was started in 2008, where she began her PhD project: Identity, Embodiment and Collaboration in 3D Virtual Worlds –  Problem-Oriented Project Pedagogy Perspective.  Besides following her thoughts and findings for the last eight years you will find her blog to be a treasure chamber for people interested in “learning and technology”.

Get over there! 🙂

Reflections from the field

I have now been following students and teachers from the Teacher Education Programme for three months and I am now beginning to see some contours of my forthcoming analysis. I still have a few weeks left of the first iteration so nothing can be concluded yet, but I thought I might share some of my thoughts here.

Huge amount of data

First of all, I am as most other Design-Based Researchers will recognise “drowning” in data. Sound recordings, video recordings from the camera and video glasses, observations logs,  photos, drawings, study objects are all piling up, at I barely get to systemize them before going on the next field trip.

As a researcher in an anthropological and ethnographic field, I’m obliged to create “thick descriptions” of my experiences.
What are my anticipations before entering the field, what do I see, how is my positioning in the social construct, how are the relations amongst the participant evolving over time, what activities do we undergo and what are my in situ reflections. Just naming a few.

Reading through a lot of DBR literature and research using this methodology I find the lack of these descriptions problematic. Problematic because the focus is much more on hard evidence and results, than actually taking the aim of the methodology seriously enough, that is the developmental and anthropological parts, as well as taking the complexity of social situations serious.  Countering that tendency of cause takes up much time. But I think that the research, the findings and the sharing of my research will benefit from it.


The Learning Design

The overall learning design has shown to have both some beneficial elements and some elements that need further improvement.

First, I can already now conclude that the students in broad terms see the possibility to visit and revisit practice as part of their teacher’s education programme as a strengthening of their professional acting and noticing in different ways.
As the students revisit them I can observe differences in how they plan, implement and reflect on their learning designs. I need to invest this much further, but it seems quite clear, that students actively transfer and transform knowledge and experiences from different situations in practice when planning for their next visit. Knowing the students, the learning environment and the social dynamics (although it’s very briefly) that is constituted in the class is of high value for the students when preparing their next visit, or (in a Bransford & Schwarts, 1999 term) when they prepare for future learning situations.

Secondly, it is also clear to me, that students, when transforming knowledge, across contexts, draw on many different domains. Previous experiences from practice, friends who are already teachers, online communities, learning resource, other students (through observation), other courses, again just naming a few.

To use Marton’s “Double Transfer Paradigm”:

“This seems like a more complete model of transfer, because it considers both the “transfer in” that helps people to learn and the “transfer out” that helps them apply that learning. Were we to widen the scope of the concept of transfer, such an effect could be called transfer: One learns something in some situations, and the one becomes better at learning something else in other situations.” (Marton, 2006)

In addition to Wagner’s “Transfer In Pieces” approach:

“Transfer is revealed not as rooted in the acquisition of increasingly abstract mental representations, but through the incremental refinement of knowledge resources that account for—rather than overlook—contextual variation.” (Wagner, 2006)

You could say that students “transfer in” from a complex of various situations, experiences or contexts, that combined (both consciously explicit and implicit tacit) construct their thinking, noticing and sense-making. This will maybe become my biggest challenge in the project. How do I identify, from where student draw the knowledge and the different dynamics of transformation, when they, themselves, are not able to explain it?

Thirdly, and last, for now, it has shown off great value to work with observation groups* in the design.  Although it was needed to refine the design of the group (aims of observation, getting them more actively involved and supporting them through a designed artefact) the students are very positive about the concept and have outlined different potentials:

  • By observing others, the students are inspired to design their own lessons. By looking at fellow students they get ideas, tools and inspiration.
  • The observation group is valuable because the provide feedback and reflections, that the teaching students are not able to notice in action. These reflections relate to the student’s performance, classroom management, ability to build relations with students, communicative skills etc.
  • The opportunity to observe pedagogical practice is valuable from a theoretical point of view. Learning to observe classroom dynamics through their first-hand experiences adds a valuable perspective to their education and processing theoretical concepts. Being able to relate to real examples makes it easier to comprehend and discuss theory.

We do as if we are at schools!

I already encountered this term used on several occasions during the first session. Both the students and the teacher were quite aware of the simulation of practice, as a part of the educational setting. Very often the students and the teacher referred to, how the theoretical knowledge could be applied in school settings. As the teacher put it: “Here we often do, as if we are at a real school”.

Throughout my classroom observations at the Teachers College and following the lessons I’ve come to reflect upon the different activities the students participate in. The teacher is not only very aware of the simulation of practice in schools, she is also very aware of repeatedly referring to the pupils and the school the students are visiting, trying to make the students take the setting and the students into account when engaging in her planned activities. Furthermore, she plans a variety of activities, that I, for now mainly put into three categories regarding transformation and transfer :

  1. Activities that help students construct concepts. These activities mainly focus on academic knowledge about a topic and provide students with kinds of knowledge, that is not directly applicable to practice, but needs to be transformed in the sense of becoming part of the student professional identity. These activities rely very much on meta-reflections and knowledge valuable for theory and discussions withing the educational setting around the subject. An example here would be discussing potentials of multimodal representations in communication.
  2. Activities that act as an inspiration can be applied in practice. These activities need to be redesigned to be used and draw on general concepts that can support different kinds of teaching methods and learning approaches. The students need awareness on how to resituate and apply the activities in schools. An example here could be  “a reading theatre”, where pupils read a story out loud by playing different roles.
  3. Activities that are directly usable in practice. These activities are not tied to a specific theme but can be directly used as independent activities in class. An example of this kind of activity could be “hangman”.

Although the above is just a brief description, that deserves much a much more detailed explanation, it gives a rough picture of the way students a scaffolded to think and implement practice into their education. I will return to this typology of activities since they will be a part of my analysis on designing for transformation.

100 min. is a long time!

As the last point of this post, I want to mention an issue that came to me as a surprise.
The students in my project find that planning and teaching for 100 min. is a long time.  They argue, that more professional experience is needed to teach for such a long period of time. We, therefore, reduced the timescale to approximately 60 min. I was quite surprised that this would become an issue since the students were grouped and could split up the time between them and thereby reduce the load. But the students felt it hard to produce learning designs that meet their own quality demands if they had to prepare longer periods.  Also, one student argued:

“Since we are experimenting with fragments of what we learn in our own classes, it is hard to create a design, where activities are coherent and not just loose pearls on a string. If we want the pupils to get the point and learn, what we want them to, it’s better to have shorter sessions. Less is more, so to speak”.

The student has a point, I think, and furthermore brings up the issue, that other students address as well, namely that the experiments are short and limited to a specific topic over a short period of time. It hereby does not resemble what the students are doing, when they are attending their mandatory practice periods. It is some ting else.

At the same time, the students find that working in groups around planning and teaching prove very difficult. They cannot point at specific reasons other than organisational circumstances. But I think there is more here to investigate from an anthropologist perspective that I will not get further into here.

Never the less the students have proven to manage fine with the  60 min. of teaching time and it has shown sufficient enough to base both findings and reflections on.. for both the students and me.

* When the student goes into practice they are grouped into two. One group is teaching (e.g. Group 1), and the another group (e.g. Group 2)is observing the teaching group. Afterwards, during a reflections session and my interviews with the teaching group, the observing group provides feedback and reflections due to their observations.


Bransford, J. D., & Schwartz, D. L. (1999). Rethinking transfer: A simple proposal with multiple implications. Review of Research in Education, 24, 61–100.
Marton, F. (2006). Sameness and differences in transfer. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 15(4), 499–535.
Wagner, J. F. (2006). Transfer in Pieces. Cognition and Instruction, 24(1), 1–71.

Concepts of transfer and transformation in designing for situated knowledge across contexts

Part of my research project is diving into the domain theories and literature of transfer and transformation of learning. To counter this demand my PhD. fellow Lea Tilde Rosenlund and I worked together and conducted a literature review inspired by a systematic approach. The review is in its first iteration and further reviews will be needed as my project moves on to ensure that I can present a state-of-the-art review on this part of my theory.

Lea and I worked with a set of research questions and framed the review as a small project within the DBR approach.
We worked with the following questions:

1. How is the concepts of transfer and transformation, related to education identified within the research literature?

2. Which central positions and discussions related to transfer and transformation can be identified?

3. What differences highlighted between the two concepts?

The results of the literature review are yet to come in an article which we hope will both come in an English and in a Danish version.
For now, we have created a conceptual map (a mindmap) showing the different theoretical positions and their interrelations and tried to construct some categories (very much inspired på Tuomi-Gröhn & Engeström, 2003). The map can be found here as a PDF

Lea and I have been presenting our findings on different occasions and you can find the slides used here. As an important note, we like to add, that it’s is not timelines we construct by putting in dates. This is just to clarify the starting point of the theoretical concept. Se the slides here:

Finally I here post a preliminary list of literature which we have selected as key findings a part of our review. We mainly base these on the number of citations and how they are refered to in the field of transfer research.