Theories and methods

I am in the hotseat this week - as part of the virtual seminar series as a precursor to the Networked Learning Conference. The focus of the debate is on theories and methodology in networked learning. To kick start the debate I have written a positional paper, the full paper is available on slideshare but I’ve copied most of it here.

Theory and methodology in Networked learning

Gráinne Conole, The Open University

Positional paper for the Networked Learning Hotseat debate, January 2010


This paper is intended as an initial position paper to spark debate for the networked learning hotseat scheduled for the week beginning 18th January 2010. Each section will focus on a specific theme around theory and methods in Networked Learning and will conclude with some questions for discussion. Given the changing nature and contested nature of this field of research the paper begins by providing a definition of some terms of the terms discussed.  This paper draws on a number of sources of data:

·      Outputs from a TLRP TEL workshop on interdisciplinarity on 14th November 2008. Participants were all researchers involved in the TLRP TEL research programme.

·      A cloudscape on interdisciplinarity

·      Relevant research literature

·      It also draws on a special interest group led by Martin Oliver in the early nougties on theory and learning technology, which resulted in the production of a special issue of JIME (

These will be combined with the outputs from the Networked Learning hotseat discussions to provide an update positional paper for discussion on the TLRP TEL programme website ( as part of a theme on interdisciplinarity in TEL research.


Research into the use of technology in an educational context had a long history with changing labels over the years, each indicating evolving trends in the field and emphasising different types of foci of inquiry. Commonly used terms include: educational technology, learning technology, e-learning, Computer Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL) and more recently Technology-enhanced Learning (TEL). Networked learning has a particular niche within this broader family, as Goodyear (Goodyear 2005) contends:

The terms e-learning, web based learning and online learning now have wide currency in education. I use the term networked learning to mean a distinctive version of these approaches. I define networked learning as:

    learning in which ICT is used to promote connections: between one learner and other learners; between learners and tutors; between a learning community and its learning resources (Goodyear, Banks, Hodgson & McConnell, 2004).

The specific focus of this paper is on theories and methodologies in networked learning. Many books have been written on research methods in Social Science. Cohen et al. is one of the standard texts for educational research (Cohen et al. 2007). The Research Methods Knowledge Base ( provides covers the entire research process including: formulating research questions; sampling; measurement; research design; data analysis; and, writing the research paper.  It also addresses the major theoretical and philosophical underpinnings of research including: the idea of validity in research; reliability of measures; and ethics. The ESRC National Centre for Research Methods ( provides a comprehensive site for collating research methods activities across the Social Sciences, along with the latest in innovations in research methods. Early work carried out by the centre included a review of research methods and generated a typology of research methods (Beissel-Durrant 2004) which illustrates the rich variety of research methods being used reflecting the breadth of different epistemological perspectives in the field.

Oliver et al. (M. Oliver et al. 2007) argue that there are a range of different epistemological positions adopted by researchers in the field and that these have profound implications for how the field will be researched. They argue that this is often explained in terms of the ‘paradigm debate’, and framed as a contrast between qualitative and quantitative methods; although go on to qualify that this is a rather crude distinction; i.e. qualitative data can be interpreted in a positivist way and quantitative data can be used to yield understandings beyond the specific numerical data. They argue that

‘we need to consider how different philosophical positions would interpret the kinds of data generated by particular empirical methods. ‘Methodology’ describes this relationship, and must be understood separately from ‘methods’, which are the techniques used to collect and analyse data (This will include things like interviews, questionnaires, observation etc.) Methodology determines whether the implementation of particular methods is successful or credible. Indeed, according to Agger, “methodologies can’t solve intellectual problems but are simply ways of making arguments for what we already know or suspect to be true” (Agger, 2004, p. 77).

To do this, methodology codifies beliefs about the world, reflecting ‘out there’ or ‘in here’ positions.

The view that knowledge is hard, objective and tangible will demand of researchers an observer role, together with an allegiance to methods of natural science; to see knowledge as personal, subjective and unique, however, imposes on researchers an involvement with their subjects and a rejection of the ways of the natural scientist. To subscribe to the former is to be positivist; to the latter, anti-positivist.

(Cohen, Manion and Morrison, 2000: 6)

Such commitments and interests arise from historical, cultural and political influences, which collectively shape traditions of research that provide the context for current work (e.g. Conole, 2003). These have profound implications for the topics that people study and the kinds of conclusions they are willing to draw.  (M. Oliver et al. 2007, p.9).

Therefore methods are the techniques used to collect and analyse data, whereas methodology align with different epistemological beliefs and views of the world.

The term theory is contested and is used in a variety of different ways; here are some definitions that are the closest to how it is used in a networked learning research context:

·        Theory, in the scientific sense of the word, is an analytic structure designed to explain a set of empirical observations. A scientific theory does two things: 1. it identifies this set of distinct observations as a class of phenomena, and 2. makes assertions about the underlying reality that brings about or affects this class. In the scientific or empirical tradition, the term “theory” is reserved for ideas which meet baseline requirements about the kinds of empirical observations made, the methods of classification used, and the consistency of the theory in its application among members of the class to which it pertains. These requirements vary across different scientific fields of knowledge, but in general theories are expected to be functional and parsimonious: i.e. a theory should be the simplest possible tool that can be used to effectively address the given class of phenomena. (

·        A set of statements or principles devised to explain a group of facts or phenomena, especially one that has been repeatedly tested or is widely accepted and can be used to make predictions about natural phenomena. (

The relationship between theory and empirical data can be defined as follows:

Social research is theoretical, meaning that much of it is concerned with developing, exploring or testing the theories or ideas that social researchers have about how the world operates. But it is also empirical, meaning that it is based on observations and measurements of reality — on what we perceive of the world around us. You can even think of most research as a blending of these two terms — a comparison of our theories about how the world operates with our observations of its operation. (

Networked learning researchers’ birth disciplines

Researchers at the TEL interdisciplinary workshop sited a broad range of ‘birth disciplines’, including: Computer science, Plant science, Botany, Veterinary science, Ethnology cultural studies, Psychology, HCI, Philosophy, Fine art, Moral philosophy, Electronic engineering, Chemistry, History of art, AI, Geology, HPS, International development education, Linguistics and AI, Philosophy, Sociology, Maths and Physics. Authors involved in the ‘Contemporary perspectives in e-learning research’ book (G. Conole & M. Oliver 2007) also came from a diverse discipline background: Physical Sciences, Social Sciences, Critical Theory, Education, Psychology, Computer Science, Philosophy and Management Studies.  

Clearly such diversity brings with it strengths; different theoretical perspectives and methodologies; different interests in terms of the focus of inquiry and research questions, but it also results in tensions - differences in definitions and understandings and even fundamentally opposed epistemological beliefs.  Discussing the emergence of learning technology as a research field, Conole and Oliver (G. Conole & M. Oliver 2002) note:

Learning technology is an inherently multidisciplinary field, and stakeholders include of researchers from different fields (educational research, cognitive psychology, instructional design, computer science, etc) as well as teaching subject-experts who engage with it as ‘end users’ or ‘consumers’. This multi-disciplinarity is a common feature of emergent research areas and, in one sense, is a strength. However, if we are to capitalise on this richness of expertise, it is necessary to work towards a clear theoretical underpinning that allows these diverse cultures to engage with and develop the use of learning technology.

A recent cloud in cloudworks considers these benefits and tensions in more detail ( Here is a summary of some of the main arguments made to date:

·        Some researchers recognise the underlying influence their ‘birth discipline’ has on their research approach. However others argued that their perspectives around e-learning have been shaped far more by the experiences they have had working in the area than by prior studies in an unrelated discipline many years ago.

·        The transition to an educational perspective for researchers originally fro a Science background is very hard indeed, requiring a complete rethinking of underlying epistemological beliefs. However having an understanding of both Science and Social Science perspectives is incredibly useful. Similarly transitional processes are evident from those coming into the research from managerial or business backgrounds.

·        Many researchers are drawn into research into the use of technologies in an educational context from a practical perspective, i.e. what can these technologies offer? What are the issues? This pragmatic stance is coupled with a desire to understand and describe emergent theoretical perspectives.

·        Irrespective of the theoretical and methodological lenses used to study technological phenomena, the contextual and in particular the human dimension is key

o   Whether you call it Hermeneutics (Theology) or multiple perspectives (Systems) doesn’t matter - both recognise the situated and contingent nature of anything involving people. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to make sense of TEL solely using the ’scientific’ paradigm.

·        A number of points were made extrapolating key themes emerging from research and practice. I) The focus needs to be on how technologies can enhance the learning experience, and that it is important to remember that good teaching and learning is possible without any technology.  2) The teacher’s role is crucial, technology wont make a bad teacher good, 3) There is no one size fits all solution. 4) Failure is useful, we can (and should) learn from it.

The nature of theory

In the introduction to a special issue of JIME, Oliver provides an overview of the position of theories in the emergent field of learning technologies in 2002 (M. Oliver 2002):

I was struck by the diversity of theories that people were drawing upon, and the very different ways in which they were using them. For some, a theory was a touchstone, a guiding set of principles, the foundation on which their work built. For others, theories were tools, and the important thing was having the right one for the job. What, I wondered, was the right way to use theory here? Should we believe in them, live them, and risk being dogmatic — or should we be pluralistic, tied to none, and risk being superficial?

The papers included in this issue are as varied and eclectic as the group that contributed them. Approaches vary considerably — from theory as tool, to theory as principle; from theory building, to theory using; from disciplines as diverse as film studies, psychology, sociology and education. So too do the topics — software tools, logic learning, metadata, multimedia; an array of mainstream issues, and other gems besides. To me, it is this diversity that makes this such an interesting area. It is constantly challenging; always impossible to tell quite what perspective might be brought to bear on your problem next.

Masterman and Manton considered the role of theory with respect to elearning (Masterman & Manton 2009 and see also posing the following questions:

·      What is the value of theory to teachers?

·      What do we mean by theory?

·      How has theory has been embedded into three areas?

They drew on Lawes work (Lawes, 2004), in particular the notion that theory gives a framework of understanding that ultimately improves the quality of practice and leads to the transformation of subjective experience. They argued that theory could provide a glue between technology and practice. They then went to make a distinction between theories, models and frameworks:

·      Theories provide a means of understanding and predicting something (Cook 2002). In the original article Cook expands this ‘A theory or model can be used as a means for understanding and predicting some aspect of an educational situation. Theories are not the same as models. A theory can posses an explanatory power and can consist of a set of

…general assumptions and laws … that are not themselves intended to be directly (in)validated (for that, the theory must engender a model). Theories are foundational elements of paradigms, along with shared problems and methods (Kuhn, 1962)
(Baker, 2000). ‘

·      Model are abstract representations that helps us understand something we can’t see or experience directly (Conole, Oliver et al., 2007)), models include things like Kolb’s leaning cycle,

·      A framework is a  structure and vocabulary that supports the explication of concepts and issues (G. Conole & M. Oliver 2002), such as Laurillard’s Conversational Framework (Laurillard 2002).

They argue that theory is a cornerstone of professional practice… and an antidote to technological determinism. However, teachers generally do not consciously espouse formal theories and are driven by prior experience and reflective practice.

Conole and Oliver (G. Conole & M. Oliver 2002) in discussing the range of resources that can be used by practitioners to support decision making, identify five types: tools, good practice, models, frameworks and templates/wizards. They define models as

‘representations, usually of systems. These are frequently visual representations, although formal models are more likely to be syntactic (or derived from an underlying syntactic representation), often being defined mathematically. Models may be tools, in that they can be used to carry out analyses or may permit certain assumptions to be expressed. Equally, however, they may be the object (i.e. purpose) of an activity, in that it may be necessary to construct a model of a system in order to develop an explicit understanding of how it works.’

And they go on to argue that there is a spectrum from templates/wizards through to frameworks:

Aids to decision-making range from highly restrictive ‘templates’ or ‘wizards’, which provide high levels of support and step-by-step guidance but little possibility of user-adaptation, through to ‘theoretical frameworks’, which provide a context and scope for the work but leave the user to devise their own strategy for implementation.

Theoretical perspectives dominant discourses

This section tries to articulate some of the main theoretical perspectives that are evident in networked learning research. It is not intended to be comprehensive; rather it aims to act as a starting point for discussion. At the TLRP TEL interdisciplinary workshop the following range of theoretical perspectives were listed: Social constructivism, Actor Network Theory, Constructivism, Critical theory, Action research, Communities of practice – researchers and practitioners, STS, Scientific enquiry, Conversational framework, Philosophy of technology, Anthropological views on tools artefacts and technology, Activity theory. However there was also a suggestion that we need to move beyond existing theories and that in time new interdisciplinary theories might emerge from TEL work.



Cultural Historical Activity Theory

Socio-cultural perspectives are a predominate discourse in the field. In particular, Cultural Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) (see the following edited collections (Engeström et al. 1999) (Cole et al. 1997)(Daniels et al. 2007) has been used extensively in Networked Learning particularly as a descriptive lense. A key idea in CHAT is the notion of mediation by artifacts (Kuutti, 1991), which are broadly defined ‘to include instruments, signs, language, and machines’ (Nardi, 1995). In my own work I have drawn on this extensively in terms of exploration of the range of mediating artefacts that can be used to support the learning design process (Conole,  2008).  Engestrom’s so-called ‘triangle’ representation (Engestrom 2001) has been used extensively to described particular instances of networked learning interventions, as it helps consider a focus on subject-object with associated outcome supported through mediating tools in the context of a wider community context and associated rules and divisions of labour (Joyes 2008) (Waycott et al. 2005) (Karasavvidis 2008).

Communities of Practice

Wenger’s notion of Communities of Practice (Wenger 1998) has been picked up and used extensively in the field of Networked Learning;(G. Cousin & Deepwell 2005)(Guldberg & Pilkington 2006) (Breuleux et al. 1998)in some cases in appropriately. It’s appeal is probably a combination of the fact that it is relatively easy concept to grasp and that it offered a means of explaining some of the more social-situated interactions arising in networked learning.

Actor Network Theory

Actor Nework Theory considers both people and technologies as Actants in a connected network and in particular that it is the relationship between these actants that is important. Although called a theory it doesn’t explain a phenomenon but focuses more on why a network takes the form that it does. It is much more interested in exploring how actor-networks get formed, hold themselves together, or fall apart.  It was developed by Callon (Callon 1999) and Latour (Latour 2005) and also builds on the thinkings of Foucault (Fox 2000)

Cybernetics and systems thinking

Cybernetics and systems thinking provide a means of understanding complex systems(Capra 1996) (Gharajedaghi 1999) and have been applied to a limited extend in a networked learning context. Liber for example draws on the work of Illich and Beer as a means of describing in modern learning environments and systems (Liber 2004). Related work which also apply systems thinking include the work of Friesen, Stankov et al. and Cantoni et al. (Friesen 2004) (Stankov et al. n.d.)(Cantoni et al. 2004).

Methodological approaches

As the NCRM’s typology of research methods demonstrates there are a wide range of research methods in use across the social sciences (Beissel-Durrant 2004). This section foregrounds some of the key methodological approaches which have been predominant in networked learning. The choice of methodology tends to reflect both the individual’s epistemological stance and their focus of inquiry. Oliver et al. argue that

‘The kinds of data are available to e-learning researchers may suggest particular kinds of interpretation. (M. Oliver et al. 2007)

This hints at the suggestion there is a complex inter-relationship between research in the field and the affordances of the technologies themselves. 

It is not possible to provide a comprehensive review of all the different methodological approaches used in networking learning. Methodologies are predominantly interpretive in nature; although experimental approaches are still used extensively in North America. In terms of methods a range are evident – interviews, focus groups, observation, surveys, student journals, video and audio diaries, document analysis, and web tracking. In-depth case studies are popular, as are large-scale surveys. The use of web tracking as a means of data collection is still in its infancy but is a growing area of research. 

Content analysis

Early research in the field was dominated by analysis of asynchronous discussion forums. Coding schemes such as those developed by Henri, Garrison et al. and Gunawadena et al. were used extensively. Henri (1991) identified following five dimensions, which can be used to evaluate CMC: participative, social, interactive, cognitive and metacognitive (Henri 1992). Garrison et al. (2000) developed a ‘community of learning’ model which assumes that learning occurs through the interaction of three core components: cognitive presence, teaching presence, and social presence (Garrison et al. 2000). Gunawadena et al. divided content into the types of cognitive activities the participant engaged with (questioning, clarifying, negotiating, synthesising, etc), the types of arguments they put forward, the resources used and any evidence of changes in understanding (Gunawardena et al. 1997). There was a naïve assumption that focusing on the content in the treaded messages was enough to capture the whole event. Whereas in reality the level of detail/object of focus will naturally have a significant impact on results and it was soon realised that taking account of the broader context within which discussion forums were taken place was important. Jones for example reports students simulating collaboration online whilst co-present and seated around four computers (C. Jones 1999). A number of approaches have been used to take account of the broader perspective. For example, De Laat et al. use a multi-method approach using social network analysis with content analysis and critical event recall (De Laat et al. 2007). Social network analysis is used to visualise the social structures and dynamics of the course, content analysis is used to identify the learning and teaching processes and critical event recall is used to elicit teachers’ experiences and perceptions.


Ethnography has been used extensively to study networking learning phenomenon (Hodgson & Watland 2004) (Rice-Lively 1994).  The approach is qualitative based on ‘systematic description of human behaviour and organisational culture based on first-hand observation’ (Howard 2002).

Case studies

Rich, situated case studies are a very popular and common form of studying networked learning. A case study is an in-depth investigation/study of a single individual, group, incident, or community (Yin 2009). The nature and scope of the cases can vary significantly and the approach often overlaps with other methodological approaches (such as action research, evaluation and ethnography). Critics of the case study approach argue that the findings are not generalisable or transferable. Proponents argue that the case-based approach enables the researcher to gather a rich, contextual understanding of a situation in context,

Action research

As might be expected given the educational nature of networked learning as a research field, action research is often used as a methodological approach, particularly by practitioners who are trialling out the use of technologies in their classroom and want a framework within which to study the interventions.


The importance of evaluation has grown in recent years; as new learning technologies emerge there is a need to evaluate how these are used to support an increasingly diverse student population. The relationship between evaluation and research more generally remains contested. Both processes may use the same methods and study the same things. However, one way to distinguish them is to consider how findings are used. If they are interpreted by an immediate, local audience and used to support decision making, the study was probably an evaluation; if findings are interpreted in terms of theories and are presented as a contribution to knowledge, it was probably research. Oliver et al. contend that pproaches in evaluation range from positivist approaches focussed upon objective data collection (typically using quantitative methods) to interpretivist ones more rooted in constructivism (typically using qualitative methodologies) (Martin Oliver et al. 2007).

So which methodology should be used when, are some methodologies better than others? Oliver considers how five different methodological approaches (action research, behaviourist, activity theory-based, and a perspective based on power) are used to tackle the same research problem. This provides a nice illustration of how different theoretical perspectives would explain this situation differently, and how each can contribute to our understanding of this field.

The following are some extracts from Cloudworks on different methodological approaches or factors that influence different individuals’ approaches:

·      I’m becoming particularly enamoured ATM with Content Analysis (Krippendorff) it fits in well with my overall Systems perspective and seems to me to be a useful tool in evaluating TEL as it focuses on communication acts and meaning - which seems to me to be central to any TEL ‘pedagogy’.  I’m also interested in the work done on Andragogy - the transformative nature of adult learning and wonder whether some of us shouldn’t be moving away from pedagogical theories of TEL based on the developmental psychology of children when we want to apply them to adult learners … (Diana Brewster)

·      On a wider pedagogical level I do lean towards group based activities and situated learning, as so much of my working life has been spent creating, devising and refining ideas in goal oriented teams (Sacha van Straten)

·      The methodologies I use span a wide range of disciplines, and combine quantitative and qualitative research techniques, taking multiple perspectives at different levels of analysis (micro, meso, macro). (Steven Verjans)

Research questions and grand challenges in the field

Conole and Oliver articulate a set of research questions grouped according to whether the focus predominantly on technological, pedagogical or organisational issues. Despite the fact that these questions were generated in 2007 and were referring to e-learning they provide a useful starting point for discussion what the equivalent set is today for networked learning research. The full set of questions is available on the full paper.

At the TLRP TEL workshop the following areas of focus were listed: Cognitive education, Creating research communities, Epistemology, Case-based learning, Human computer interaction, Fieldwork across disciplines, Artificial intelligence, People/communities, Educational research, Fluid learning objects, Personal development, Fostering self-sustaining communities, Human learning and judgment, Creative development, Field work across disciplines, Making a sustainable permanent difference change.

At a TLRP TEL seminar ( Diana Laurillard mapped the current dimensions and players in the field of technology enhanced learning, in the UK and in the wider EU, building on the findings being generated by the principal research funding bodies. She looked at how the TEL-funded development proposals can be located within this developing research space, and will consider the following questions:


    * In which directions are they moving the field forward?

    * How do they relate to other funded research in the field?

    * How will they build on current issues and findings?


The seminar also considered the mechanisms and technologies available for supporting the cumulation of knowledge from researchers and from practitioners as action researchers in the field.

The challenges of interdisciplinary research in networked learning  and strategies for fostering interdisciplinarity

Networked Learning by nature is an interdisciplinary area; drawing on a wide range of disciplines, theoretical perspectives and methodological approaches. Is there anything distinctive about interdisciplinarity in this context as opposed to interdisciplinarity more generally?


Alan Blackwell is co-director of Crucible – a centre for research in interdisciplinary research.(, he has done extensive research on interdisciplinarity. At the ESRC TEL workshop in November 2009, he listed the following as ingredients for successfully fostering interdisciplinarity:

·                Leaders and founders of interdisciplines should resist convention and maintain vision, while being mentors and coaches

·                Freedom requires resource

·                Collaborations grow in years not months

·                Goals must offer serendipity not constraint

·                Maintain and reward curiosity

·                Understand work with and subvert structures – organisational, disciple, career


Along with suggestions for making it happen:

·        Start small and move fast

·        Bring creative and design practices to technology

·        Facilitate encounters between communities

·        Cheerfully transgress academic borders

·        Engage with reflective social science

·        Directly address public policy


More generally from my own experience in working in interdisciplinary teams, one means of fostering interdisciplinarity is to create shared objects as the focus of inquiry. The use of such ‘mediating artefacts’ in a project can act as trigger points to discuss ideas around.


As a precursor to the current TLRP TEL programme a series of seminars were run. Josie Taylor led one that focussed on interdisciplinarity ( considering the following questions:            


    * What is the difference between interdisciplinarity and multidisciplinarity?

    * Does it matter?

    * Can you engineer interdisciplinarity or can it only arise spontaneously?

    * What about funding for interdisciplinary work?


In the TLRP TEL workhop one researcher questioned whether most Interdisciplinary teams were really multi-disciplinary. Another person suggested it was important to break down the space barrier – to create time and space for sharing and imaging. Another argued for the need to create theoretical space.

Case studies

This section is intended to provide some case studies that aim to apply the general discussions so for in particular context; to show how different theoretical perspectives and methodological approaches are actually applied to real research problems. I have included a couple of case studies from my own research, but s hope that the Networked Learning hotseat discussions will generate some additional examples. Each case study follows the following template:

·      The focus of research

·      Theoretical perspectives

·      Methodological approach adopted

·      Key issues

Case study: The agile development of a social networking site for education, Cloudworks

Cloudworks is a social networking site for sharing and discussing learning and teaching ideas and designs. The original focus of the research was:

Given that there is a gap between the potential of technologies and how they are used in practice, can general social networking and web 2.0 practices be harnessed and used to foster sharing and discussion in a teaching context?

The theoretical perspective was predominately socio-cultural in nature, drawing in particular on the notion of mediating artefacts. Of particular importance was application of Engestrom’s notion of ‘social objects’. In the Cloudworks site, the social objects are ‘clouds’, where a cloud can be anything to do with teaching and learning (an idea, a discussion topic, a tool or a resource). The design and development of Cloudworks is discussed in a recent Computers and Education paper (G. Conole et al. 2008) and the initial theoreitical perspectives in an AJET paper (G. Conole & J. Culver 2009). Recently we have begun to expand our theoretical perspectives as discussed in a paper submitted to this year’s Networked Learning Conference:(Alevizou, et al. n.d.)

Our initial theoretical perspectives on which the development of Cloudworks was based, focussed around Engeström’s  (2005) notion of ’social objects’ in social networking and Bouman et al’s . (2007) framework for ’sociality’. More recently we have started to explore three additional frameworks and demonstrate how they are helping us with our preliminary analyses of emerging activities on the site and in particular the insights they provide into the dialogic interchanges and structures of involvement within the site. The first framework is Goffman’s (1955;1963) notions of ‘face-work’ and ‘ritual performance’. The second is Engeström’s (2001) idea of ‘expansive learning’. The third is the notion of collective intelligence (Lévy, 1998; Jenkins, 2006). In this paper, we review a selection of case studies from the site, and explore how the frameworks can be used to understand then. We argue that these perspectives are useful in studying networked sociality bounded in the context of learning, with wider implications for the matters of participation, self-representation, and openness in education. We conclude with the methodological frameworks that can support the further study of interaction, socialization and sharing into higher education establishments and culture

Our methodological approach is essentially one based on agile development using  user-focused mixed method approach. Data is collected from a variety of sources, including interviews, focus groups, workshops, observations, think aloud protocols and web statistics.

Case study: A design and evaluation framework[1]

XDelia (Xcellence in Decision-making through Enhanced Learning in Immersive Applications), is a three-year pan-European project that uses wearable sensors and serious games to investigate how people’s behavioural habits and emotional states affect their financial decision making. The project combines research skills and expertise of European partners from different methodological traditions (experimental, economic, field research) who will work together to achieve the project goals. Within this project we have developed a Design and Evaluation framework that aims to help stakeholders of a inter-disciplinary research project develop a shared understanding of project goals and methods by pooling their knowledge of research approaches and methodologies. The Design and Evaluation framework will provide a working collaborative model to capitalise on the different approaches, using ongoing participatory evaluation to ensure the development of an integrated set of research questions, optimum use of research instruments and effective collaboration between the different disciplines.

The approach aligns with Patton’s utlilisation-focussed evaluation approach (Patton 2008)and is informed by Cousins and Whitmore (1998) three dimensions of collaborative inquiry; control of decision making, selection for participation and depth of participation (Cousin & Whitmore 1998). To support the evaluation we are developing a design and evaluation framework that will provide the vehicle to ensure that comprehensive, ongoing evaluation is built into all facets of the project and that evaluation findings feed back into the ongoing development activities of the project in a timely manor.

It has been based on a participatory and iterative approach, which aims to be ‘useful’ rather than rarified – i.e. formative evaluation that feeds into and informs project activities as they occur throughout the project on an ongoing basis, rather than a more removed summative evaluation which merely reports on project activities towards the end of the project lifecycle. In addition to drawing out specific instances that occur across the project, we want to explore a number of underlying themes, some of which arose from the baseline interviews. For example, the way in which complex inter-disciplinary projects of this kind are coordinated can have a significant impact on how well the project works and the extent to which overarching objectives are achieved. Similarly we want to examine what kind of collaborative activities occurs in the project and the extent to which they are successful or not. Finally what critical moments occur and how do they steer subsequent project work? In keeping with the notion of being participatory, iterative and ‘useful’ the Design and Evaluation framework encourages partners to adopt a critically reflective approach to the evaluation across the project – everyone is asked to reflect on what they are doing; everyone is a researcher/reflector/evaluator. Figure 1 shows the relationship between the design and evaluation sides of the framework in which each builds upon and feeds into the other.



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[1] The text here is taken from a conference presentation on this work(Clough et al. 2009)

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