Seminar and social infrastructures

In today’s HUMlab seminar Brian Hudson talked about a project he has been working with where they have developed a Masters program in e-learning, multimedia and consultancy. The program uses a blended pedagogical approach with online learning, local studies and independent studies – something which seems appropriate for the content of the masters. What I found especially interesting was Brian’s discussion of the importance of designing for a development of the social infrastructure in online and blended courses. Building on the work of Bielaczyc (2001), he referred to how the social infrastructure operates on three levels: the cultural level, the activity level and the tool level. Brian reported on how students in his course claimed they felt a sense of belonging, of success and of being in an atmosphere which was advantageous for their learning. When asked about what factors might influence these sensations, Brian suggested that task design, group size and dynamics, the role of the assessment and peer feedback, student expectations and trust for the tutor are important aspects. The importance of designing activities where students work towards a common goal is something we have noticed also here in HUMlab, not least with our Virtual Weddings project, where students work in groups and use technology to represent findings collaboratively in innovative ways.

We’re excited in the lab that Brian is in Umeå. His thoughts on the new opportunities for learning that are afforded by technology and on how communication technologies can help in the learning process relate to some of the work that we do (not least to my PhD research, so I certainly belong to the excited crowd!). In addition, I think that having this kind of expertise at our university is invaluable considering the developments needed in adapting to the Bologna model.

Look out for a forthcoming article in the British Journal of Educational Technology entitled “Working on educational research methods with Masters students in an international online learning community” where you will be able to read more about Brian and his colleagues’ research. For the time being, you can have a look at this article from August 2005.