Meeting - 11th July 2013


Those Present: Prof. Liz Bacon, Prof. Lachlan MacKinnon, Dr. Cos Ierotheou, Andy Wicks

The session started with a discussion around a summary I had produced of how changes in the learning environment could be quantified.  This was needed because there is little point in the subject of this PhD (a change in the mode of delivery) if its effect cannot be measured.  There was general agreement that is was sensible - even if the method of doing so will need amending.  It was suggested that a qualitative questionnaire also be used eventually.

It was quite surprise that the correlation between courses was so poor.  In one case there was only a 10% causality between the results of the two courses.  The statistics were gathered for year 1 computing (2011/12) because that was the course on which this methodology would be trialled.

It was felt that it might have been better if more detailed information, such as the names of the tutors.

The discussion then moved on to a more thorough explanation of what is being proposed.  Whilst the idea of breaking the content into atoms is not new, the concept of making these learning style independent is. was then demonstrated to show how this would work in practice.  Pearl trees were introduced as a mind mapping alternative system.  A course would be a string of pearls that could be grouped into different mode (i.e. compulsory, recommended or optional) or by topic area.

The way that these strings of pearls were created was explored.  Did one start with the pearls or the string on which the pearls were threaded?  Since the system is meant to be open, the direction of travel is to left up to the tutor.

It was felt that all of this was, to some extent, putting the cart before the horse.  Normally, the research would inform the question to be answered.  However, in this case, the product is the subject of the research, so this is a valid approach.

The system allows for small group tutorials (meeting in the virtual cafeteria), a tutorial room (a one-to-one chat), a student and staff office for each person.  The moderation process (and others) have a limited lifespan and is controlled by the student.

The size of the student office would change as their list of atoms grows (to motivate via gaming thinking).

All of this needs to be underpinned by thorough research.  The RDA 1A and 1B now needs to be completed - this is the formal registration form - as well as a log book.  There are long list of forms which have to go to through the research committee as the PhD progresses.

I was then interested in how I would know if there was someone else looking at the same problem.  The answer was to read the literature.  It is highly unlikely that someone would choose to start exactly the same topic at the same time.  If they did then one would have to change the direction subtly to accommodate that.  This is only likely to happen at the start of the PhD where changes can be made easily.

This can be helped along by publishing early.  One would normally start with a survey paper (for example, the development of VLEs in e-learning and examining the support they provide and then linking that to learning object technology) and then move on to a theme specific paper.

The PhDs of Sophie Peter, Alan Mustafa and Muesser Nat were discussed as being helpful in this project.  All three were looking at different aspects of the e-learning process.

It was explained that my ideas might change whilst completing the literature review.  There should be a document explaining why the site looks as it does that is founded in the research.  This would then inform the survey paper.  ELIZA has its roots in 1953.  Herman Hollerith was more computational than learning based.  Vanavaar Busch defined Memex which used hyper-linking to define a web of knowledge.  This was followed by the Mac-based hypertext.  Liz and Lachlan wrote a paper called "Reusing an existing wheel" on data models for the internet of things.  The discipline is over 50 years old and we should recognise that history so that we do not re-invent the wheel.  This project could be seen in a similar way.  There is a large body of work on VLEs as a way of offering materials.

The concern therefore is not, "Is there someone doing the same thing?", it is more, "Has someone already done this?".  I will therefore meet with Karen Richardson again to go over finding papers in this area.

I should try searching for "managed learning environments", "adaptive learning environments", "student management systems", "technology enhance learning tools", "structural models of learning", "shovelware" (the reuse of existing lecture notes in VLEs rather than redesigning them for this medium) and "vicarious learning" (felt or undergone as if one were taking part in the experience or feelings of another*).  The latter is a counter-balance to e-learning since it deals with cohort socialisation.

The route into the research papers system will determine whether I am asked to pay.  Again, I should ask Karen Richardson about that.  I will need to make notes.

How to read: Read the abstract - that will determine whether this is of interest.  Read the conclusion - that will tell you what they got to so that you can see whether that is of interest.  Read the references - it tells you where this paper lives and whether the author has cited the important sources.  Which theme does this paper address?  Is it experimental, a description of theory, a description of practice, is it empirical or qualitative.  This huge body of knowledge will be whittled down once the research question becomes clearer.  As you are doing that you are identifying that there are some key papers that need to be revisited.  These are the reasons why I now have this research vehicle.  Learning how to do this takes time, but once acquired one can get through hundreds of papers in a day.

Seminal papers will have lots of citations on Google Scholar and Web of Science.  If a paper has been referenced over, say, 200 times then it is likely to be seminal.  Use the citation count to decide the order in which to read the papers.  I will be expected to demonstrate a knowledge of the area in the viva.

For a masters you can get away with having read half-a-dozen seminal papers.  However, for a PhD you need to know what is out there.  A good survey paper may be seminal but not have any results.  Whereas this particular paper influenced an entire generation of researchers to go down this particular path.  I should reacquaint myself with the work of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Jean Piaget and Sir Isaac Pitman.

Terry Mayes would talk about the "d-word" - delivery.  The technology will change the delivery model, but whether the overall effect is positive or not is still to be determined.  However, it does not change human beings and learning so we have to key in to what makes that work well.  Multi-modality suggests that e-learning has a use.

The final research question will come out of the gaps the literature review identifies.

The question then arose about how having a group of three supervisors would work.  Whilst there is a lead supervisor (Liz Bacon in my case), in CMS the tendency is that all are used for everything, i.e. whoever is available.  The monthly meetings will be there to ensure that I'm still on the track of the topic and wandering off down blind alleys.  I should provide an update before each meeting.

The format of the PhD is flexible but it should have; an introduction, one or two background chapters, a chapter on approach and methodology, a chapter on design, a chapter on implementation, the experimental model, an analysis of the outcomes and recommendations.  Start getting this together now by creating the outline and writing the survey paper to start to fill in the background section.  Only the external covering of the dissertation is proscribed by the university.