Advanced research design is a compulsory module offered to Masters in Education (MEd) in Information Communication Technology (ICT) students embarking on a minor dissertation. The Centre for Educational Technology (CET) at the University of Cape Town offers the course in blended (hybrid) mode for students in their ICTs in Education stream. The hybrid module involves pre-course work, a 6 day face-to-face block component where students develop and get feedback on an initial research design, followed by post-course proposal development with lecturers and peer feedback. We used Vula (based on Sakai 2.9) as the central means of online engagement and interaction.
Advanced Research Design reflects both innovative pedagogical and technological strategies. Pedagogically we endeavoured to “de-mystify” the process of research design and engage students’ interest by creating the metaphor of “telling a story about a puzzle that you intend to solve”. The storyline enable students to develop a concise jargon-free way to describe the components of their proposed research. The metaphor was implicit across all the online and face-to-face tasks, sessions and activities in the course. We used the “research as a complex puzzle” on paper as handouts as a conceptual link to the activities online.
Technologically we used the Lesson Builder to structure an electronic course organizer that followed the same 11 steps and linked internally to electronic presentations by lecturers and guest presenters who came to tell their “research stories”; Opencast recordings of all the input sessions; online readings; summaries of class activities and key questions as well as artefacts (e.g. photos of group activities, diagrams on the Panaboard). External links included those to Google Docs which contained our typed lecture notes on which students were invited to comment; URLs of specific research design websites, various research tools and University Ethics protocols and Facebook. Each element was developed as the course progressed to avoid overwhelming students with a complex site and many readings and literally “build the puzzle” as we went along.
Overall we endeavoured to model face-to-face teaching with online activities in an authentic manner that optimized the affordance of the various technologies with the task at hand.
The course is based on authentic task design. Whilst the thesis itself is an authentic activity which draws on a contextualized real-world problem based in a student’s own context, the challenge for us has been to stimulate students to realise that their research problems are open to multiple interpretations, and that there are a variety of theoretical and practical perspectives that they can take on their research.
In aiming to develop a series of tasks that were integrated and related to the final course output of a research proposal students begun grappling with a research problem during their pre-course activities. This formed the basis for their research as story narrative which they progressed each night during the contact week based on the pieces of the puzzle which were covered in class that day. At the start of each day students’ worked in groups to get feedback on their research story as it evolved. Before the course started we set up a random system of rotating groups which enabled students’ to obtain peer feedback from a different set of colleagues each day. This enabled students to integrate the course content into their own research design, and work towards the presentation of their proposed project to the whole group towards the end of the week.
Our use of Vula is enabled by our colleagues in the Centre for Educational Technology as we have been able to participate in the initial roll out of Lecture recording (Opencast/ Matterhorn) and are one of the early users of the Lesson Builder tool in Vula at UCT. We have also obtained an OpenUCT grant to develop the content for the 2013 course so it can be available as an open education resource. This is still in progress and we aim to publish this on UCTs open content directory by end May 2013.