Saturday, November 26, 2005

Master's Thesis Update

A couple of loyal readers occasionally ask me about the status of my thesis, and there's finally some news. The bad news was that none of the faculty wanted to touch my topic (how young people are -- and will be -- using the web to envision and pursue their future lifestyles, encompassing careers, post-secondary education, leisure, etc.) One prof agreed to supervise my thesis from afar if I'd consider changing the topic to something related to educational blogging. I'm not particularly interested in a general view of educational blogging in institutions -- that was more interesting to me two years ago and I'm not convinced that assigned "blogging" in schools will ever be valuable.

So I pitched her three ideas along similar lines, but with more personal interest for me -- a case-study on at least one elgg implementation (preferebly with a non-institutional focus), an investigation of community blogs used by citizens' groups for learning and organizing political action, and...drumroll please...the "winning" pitch:
"Using social software as a method of identifying and collaborating on learning goals. 43Things is the most obvious application of this idea, letting users define goals, many of which are goals requiring learning ('I want to learn PHP and CSS', 'learn to cook great vegetarian meals', 'learn to record music on my laptop', etc) and then connecting individuals to others who share that goal so they can collaborate on achieving the goal together -- sharing resources, expert recommendations, online tutorials, links and comments to support each other. I think it's a powerful model of self-directed, self-organizing collaborative learning. There's an ongoing discussion about how 43Things might be used to support online learning that gives a good overview of the challenges and opportunities."
Perhaps that doesn't sound so exciting to anyone else, but I'm seeing good potential here. I started by looking at some of the top 100 goals tagged with "learning", like "Learn to play guitar". Of the 2,000+ people who say they want to learn to play guitar, about 250 have written posts describing what (and often why) they want to learn, reflecting on the process and sharing helpful links. Of the 250 who have reported that they've already learned to play, 98% say it was worth doing and about 100 of them have written posts offering some combination of advice, support or suggested resources to the ones who want to learn.

So 43Things can be viewed as a place where hundreds (thousands?) of asynchronous learning discussions are taking place without any clasrooms, tuition, administration, courses or instructors. Learners are guided only by their personal interests and motivation, forming informal learning communities that emerge out of shared goals. It also seems to function like a learning referral service, accessible to anyone on the web -- search for "Learn Ruby on Rails" on google, and the 43Things goal page comes up as the second result. Anyone can read the advice, follow links to resources, and "join" by adding the goal to their own list and contributing. It's not a tutorial or advanced developer's group, but seems to be a decent place to start the process of learning.

As far as methodology goes, I'm going to focus on content analysis. The artifacts of learning (and teaching, in the broadest sense) are just sitting there in public waiting to be mined, and I'm already seeing patterns in the ways people are using the site to learn. It shouldn't be difficult to place the investigation within a framework of constructivist learning (or even emerging connectivism). My first task is to review related literature, which I'm finding more challenging than I had hoped. Any advice for articles, papers and resources would be much appreciated -- please send me any suggestions related to informal learning communities, asynchronous learning discussion, and self-organizing groups online.

Unfortunately, this shift in focus means I'll be neglecting lifestylism for a while -- I suppose it was not meant to be as a thesis topic. That said, it will still form the philosophical underpinning of the web app I'm developing with a friend. More on that later.

6 comments:

evan said...

too bad... I just sent a friend / collegue your way to the lifestylism site. She's interested in how adults use technology to find careers, fulfill their life, all that good stuff. You may still here from her... I'll toss her to this site as well...

Jeremy said...

Hi Evan -- I'd be curious to hear how your PhD research is going -- still in progress?

Lifestylism would have been a more interesting topic overall, but this one is ok too. Feel free to have her contact me if she wants to.

evan said...

The PhD definitely on the go. I take my general comprehensive exams this winter quarter. My topic is now focusing on how adults informally (or incidentaly) learn technology.

Fortunately, things are all around better on the home front as well, which makes everything easier.

Unfortunately, sometimes you just get to the point that it makes more sense to do something that gets you through rather than do something you really want to do. I know several PhD students who end up doing that route...

Jeremy said...

Glad to hear it, Evan -- sounds like pretty much good news all around.

Has your blog.IT site outlived its usefulness? I had been neglecting this site, but thought it might be a spot to organize my research going forward.

evan said...

It had outlived its usefullness, but I'm been thinking about it again more and more lately. Introducing my friend to blogging has kind of given me the itch again. I'll give another week or two. With the holiday break coming up, it may be a good time to think about it again....

Jeremy said...

That would be cool to see blog.it pop up again. Only if it's fun or has some value for you, of course.