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 🙂




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:https://iktogtransferieud.wordpress.com/  (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: https://mariis.net/. 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.

Confrence on Practice-based research methods

On the 19th – 22th of september I’m traveling to the Netherlands together with the rest of the research group.

We are going to meet with colleagues from the Open University to discuss our research. On the 20th september the university facilitates a conference. The title of the conference is “Practice-based research methods”, and the different contributions will look at practice-based research methods from different perspectives. The main perspectives will be:

  • Situated knowledge, practice and networks
  • Practice-based research and valorisation
  • Networked learning
  • Significance of context
  • Designing practice-based research

The program can be found here

Concepts of transfer and transformation in designing for situated knowledge across contexts
In this session, I and my PhD Fellow Lea will introduce ”the transfer dilemma” and present a theoretical overview of transfer and transformation of knowledge in education as it can be seen over the last century including alternative perspectives and critical voices in the theoretical landscape of transfer in education. We will draw upon these views on transfer and transformation of situated knowledge to introduce our own  research and present our own empirical projects on designing for teaching and learning across contexts supported by digital technologies.

The twitter # for the conference is: #OU_OW.

Conducting the Literature Review

One of the first steps to take in the progress of my ph.d. project is to get an overview over what has been published on the topic of my study by accredited scholars and researchers. It’s not an easy task because it involves a great number of decisions and considerations.

First of all I’ll have to consider which review methods my field of study actually has a tradition of conducting. For that I’ve tried to get a grasp of some basic literature, that could guide my choices. So I found an article by Grant & Booth (2009), that gives my a starting point.

In their article aims to provide descriptive insight into the most common types of reviews. In the article Grant & Booth claim that

…the diversity of terminology used means that the full potential of these review types may be lost amongst a confusion of indistinct and misapplied terms.

The method used in the article is SALSA a simple analytical framework—Search, AppraisaL,Synthesis and Analysis, through which the locate 14 different review types.

Although the domain of the article is  ealth information and health care I believe the article can be used generically across domains. A Quick overview over the 14different review types are shortly shown here:

  • Critical review
  • Literature review
  • Mapping review/systematic map
  • Meta-analysis
  • Mixed studies review/ mixed method review
  • Overview
  • Qualitative systematic review/ qualitative evidence synthesis
  • Rapid review
  • Scoping review
  • State-of-the-art review
  • Systematic review
  • Systematic search and review
  • Systematized review
  • Umbrella review

To go into each of the review types here would be to demanding and for that i encourage you to read the article yourself.

For my project it seems that the “Literature review” might be the right way.
Grant and Booth point out that weaknesses of this method is

Literature reviews lack an explicit intent to maximize scope or analyse data collected. Any conclusions they may reach are therefore open to bias from the potential to omit, perhaps inadvertently, significant sections of the literature or by not questioning the validity of statements made. Additionally, authors may only select literature that supports their world view, lending undue credence to a preferred hypothesis. 

So it seem that I will have to cope with this weekness somehow.

Luckily I’m not alone in the progress. But that is another topic for another post.


Grant, M. J., & Booth, A. (2009). A typology of reviews: an analysis of 14 review types and associated methodologies: A typology of reviews, Maria J. Grant & Andrew Booth. Health Information & Libraries Journal, 26(2), 91–108. http://doi.org/10.1111/j.1471-1842.2009.00848.x