I am currently involved in a number of research projects. Three major ones include a SSHRC Standard Research grant entitled Investigating Research Apprenticeship in Online Graduate Education; this is being developed within a CFI infrastructure New Opportunities Fund Award, Bringing Research Apprenticeship Online: Reconceptualizing Graduate Distance Education. Finally, I am a collaborator on an Initiative for the New Economy SSHRC collaborative grant: Beyond Best Practice: Research-based innovation in learning and knowledge work.
- SSHRC: Investigating Research Apprenticeship in Online Graduate Education
Research apprenticeship is an important element of graduate education. This research investigates the apprenticeship experiences and educational outcomes of students taking Master’s and Doctoral degrees in Education primarily through online, part time programs. This research aims to provide a detailed understanding of the important cognitive and social issues that face distance education students in acquiring a research apprenticeship and how technology may be used most effectively to support identified needs. Distance Education programs are increasingly being offered as alternate ways of gaining graduate degrees in a variety of disciplines (Bartolic-Zlomistic & Bates, 2000; Bates, 1995). While these programs may make further education available to people who might not otherwise have access to post-secondary education (Hiltz, Benbunan-Fich, Coppola, Rotter & Turoff, 2000; Rovai, 2001; Turoff, 1999), there is a need to understand how online contexts can support the research enculturation of distance and part time students who do not have the kind of research enculturation typically experienced and enjoyed by on-campus students. Other online supports may need to be extended to provide outside course contact with the broader research community within the institution. On the other hand, an online environment specifically designed to be supportive and encourage thoughtful reflectivity (Hiltz, 1998; Hiltz & Wellman, 1997; Wegerif, 1998) may offer particular advantages for developing the deep understanding and community connections necessary for an effective online graduate program. Thus, the purpose of this research program is to understand which elements in an online environment best support students’ efforts to enter the academic community and which elements are lacking.This knowledge becomes critically important as graduate distance and online learning programs proliferate and as established research communities work in ever more distributed ways. In an NSERC report entitled Expanding the National Research Base (2002) the Task Force on Virtual Universities and Online Learning in Canada, led by Tom Carey, identified online research training as critical for national objectives as well as improved scholarship. Identified in recommendations to improve online research training from this report was the necessity for “experimental support mechanisms to help part time and distance students become fully engaged members in their research communities” (p 24). The research being carried out in this project, and the infrastructure being developed in the related CFI project described below are aimed at addressing this need.
- CFI Description : Bringing Research Apprenticeship Online: Reconceptualizing Graduate Distance Education
The infrastructure developments in this award will support the research described in the SSHRC grant on Research Apprenticeship. The infrastructure consists of computer server, video, and multimedia communication technologies to enable the development of a suite of research and communication tools for the investigation and support of both the primary user group (that of graduate students studying at a distance) as well as other, secondary users such as geographically distributed research groups, or in other faculties and disciplines offering online graduate programs where research training is needed, such as Nursing. The research and development activity of the project will yield the communication and research tools, the online interface as well as data on patterns of use and learning that could form the basis for any online graduate program which has a research focus. In this way, the research will provide the missing piece of the online learning puzzle beyond issues of course delivery, and that is the integration of a robust environment for research apprenticeship. The focus on entering the research community makes this project unique because most distance learning research is typically oriented towards course delivery issues. The need to understand how online contexts can support learning beyond coursework becomes critically important as graduate distance and online learning programs proliferate and as established research communities work in ever more distributed ways.
- I am a collaborator on an INE Collaborative SSHRC: Beyond Best Practice: Research-based innovation in learning and knowledge work, Project director; Marlene Scardamalia.I am conducting and contributing to a number of subprojects reportable for this grant, two of which are described here.The Technology Infusion project provides extended support to faculty and instructors to develop and contribute examples of research-informed learning objects (detailed lesson plans with supporting digital materials) used to teach pre-service candidates during their pre-service program as well as those that could be used in elementary and secondary classrooms. The resulting materials are uploaded to a shared SQL database. Refinements include facilities for commentary and questions to be appended to any element of the multimedia curriculum documents; automatic notification to authors of user questions; author administrative access for revision and update of entries; and a moderated Knowledge Forum environment connected to the SQL database to provide ongoing support for professional development activities.
These professional development activities involve working with faculty within cohorts based on subject area of teaching in the preservice program–they have a common interest in the content and it creates a natural focus for ongoing collaboration. In series of small sessions, with clear online follow up activities, different examples from the shared repository are used to illustrate how technology can be used to support a wide variety of learning outcomes, and faculty are invited to discuss, critique and collaboratively design new modules, and to try out existing examples in their own classrooms. This work has also been supported by funds from OKNL (the Ontario Knowledge Network for Learning).