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Variations in the Experience of Phenomenographic Research

Symposium Organisers: Marguerite Koole, Athabasca University, Canada & Lancaster University, UK, Jane Costello, Memorial University, Canada & Lancaster University, UK


Phenomenography originated in the field of Education in the 1970s. At this time, a series of studies were designed to understand why some students appeared to learn more deeply and easily than others (Marton, 1994, Marton & Säljö, 1976). The researchers gathered the different conceptualizations described by the research participants, analyzed their similarities and differences, and noticed that what emerged was a qualitatively limited number of ways of conceptualizing phenomenon. Further, they discovered that these conceptualizations were structurally and referentially related and that these relationships could be mapped hierarchically forming what became known as outcome spaces (Dahlin, 2007). In general, phenomenography aims to find the “variation and the architecture of this variation in terms of different aspects that define the phenomena” (Marton & Booth, 1997, p. 117). Since those early days, phenomenographic methodology has been used in a variety of ways, sometimes combining it with of secondary methods. Hasselgren and Beach list (1997) identify five different types of phenomenography: experimental, discursive (pure), naturalistic, hermeneutic, and phenomenological.

The aim of this symposium is to discuss the variation in ways that phenomenography can be applied to research in networked learning. A secondary goal is to open a discussion on the issues and challenges presented by this methodology. The four authors of the papers for this symposium have all taken a discursive (pure) phenomenological approach to their research. What this means is that rather than taking an experimental approach in which learning outcomes were analyzed and measured, as in the experimental approach, the researchers examine conceptions outside of active intervention. That is, the researchers examine how learners conceptualize phenomena occurring in the general learning environment.

Introduction- .pdf

Phenomenography and elearning in art and design

Nicos Souleles, Department of Multimedia and Graphic Arts, Faculty of Applied Arts and Communication, Cyprus University of Technology

The purpose of this paper is to elaborate on how phenomenography was used as part of an extensive study in the under-researched area of elearning in art and design in Higher Education (HE). The purpose of the original study was to identify the perceptions and practices of lecturers in undergraduate art and design disciplines, as well as the unique characteristics and challenges of the sector vis-à-vis elearning. In this paper, references are made to some of the limited studies of elearning and ICT implementation in art and design. This highlights the need for further research and supports the position adopted by this paper that phenomenography is ideally suited for under-researched areas of investigation. The paper refers to some of the research outcomes in the context of reflecting upon and elaborating on the research methodology per se and the challenges and benefits of using phenomenography to investigate elearning in art and design. Consistently with the phenomenographic approach to research, the original study pursued a second-order perspective, i.e. through a qualitative analysis of semi-structured interviews the research dealt with people’s experiences of aspects of the world. Subsequently, the paper addresses the main tenets and critiques of the research methodology and the overall process it entails. It addresses how phenomenography facilitates the identification, description and categorization of perceptions and practices for the creation of a final outcome space that is manifested as a topology of inter-related categories or groupings of the perceptions and practices identified through semi-structured interviews. The paper elaborates on the main qualitative and quantitative critiques of phenomenography, as well as issues of validity and objectivity. The latter entails dealing with the concept of bracketing and the relationship between the researcher and the process of acquiring and interpreting the data through phenomenographic methods. Finally, this paper concludes that the contribution of phenomenography was invaluable in revealing the spectrum of challenges vis-à-vis elearning in art and design, and in opening up this specific area of study to further research.

Phenomenography, research, methodology, elearning, art and design

Full Paper - .pdf

A Social Media Networked Learning Ecology Perspective

Justin Bonzo, Centre for Technology Enhanced Learning, Lancaster University

Learning Technology Professionals (LTPs) use social media as a networked learning environment (ecology) for their own professional learning.  This is done through reading and contributing to blogs, wikis, Twitter, Facebook, social bookmarking, etc.  The various elements of social media and the connections (people, information, resources) that link them together make up the networked learning ecology. Specifically, this research draws from the literature on learning ecologies (Barron, 2004, Brown, 2002, Frielick, 2004, Nardi and O'Day, 2000, Siemens, 2008b), networked learning (Banks et al., 2004, Goodyear et al., 2004, Jones et al., 2008, Steeples and Jones, 2002, Wasson et al., 2003), and on the growing amount of literature on social media in education.  The individual concepts (social media, networked learning, learning ecology) of a SMNLE have been researched in the context of elementary and higher education, but there seems to be much less research in how these concepts individually apply to professional development and learning.  Furthermore, the joint concept of a SMNLE has not been researched.  In addition, there seems to be little if any research in the conception held by LTPs of the relationships, connections and links that exist in their SMNLE.  By researching the conceptions of connections that LTPs hold, this research aims to add to the current body of research and provide insight into the experiences of those that are pushing the envelope about social media technologies involved in connecting with learning.  The phenomenon I plan to research is that of the relationships within the networked learning ecology of LTPs.  The phenomenon will be researched by looking at the variation in conception and perception of these connections by LTPs. In order to investigate the variation of meaning and ways of understanding the connections in their social media based learning ecologies, a phenomenographic approach for this research is being used.  This allows for a description of the range of the perceiving and experiencing the phenomenon of learning ecology connections that LTPs experience.    By using a phenomenographic approach, the research will be able to show how learning technology professionals conceive and perceive of the connections within a networked learning ecology.

Phenomenography, networked learning, social media, networked learning ecology SMNLE framework.

Full Paper - .pdf

Perceptions of guest lecturers' impact on online learning communities

Jane Costello, Distance Education, Learning and Teaching Support, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada, Centre for Technology Enhanced Learning, Lancaster University

A phenomenographic approach to case study is presented as a proposed methodology to researching guest speakers’ impact in networked learning communities. This work-in-progress paper outlines the proposed use of case study and phenomenography in exploring learners’ experience of guest speakers’ impact on students’ in online learning communities in higher education (HE). The rationale for this chosen methodology is outlined, as well as its epistemological and ontological underpinnings. The inclusion of guest speakers in higher education courses, such that they share experience with and learn with students and instructors through synchronous or asynchronous communication, is an area little studied to date. Little is known about guest speakers’ impact on learning beyond a few documented benefits afforded by guest speakers in face-to-face learning environments. For example, guest speakers bridge theory and practice (praxis) through experiences they share with the class. Data collected from semi-structured interviews in each case will be formulated into outcome spaces. This multiple case study will generate outcomes spaces that depict the categories of description as provided by participants. Following Åkerlind’s (2008) method of focusing on student experience, the outcome space will be representative of participants’ variation of experience, from students’ perspectives. The project’s issues and challenges, as understood to-date, are outlined. Proposed next steps are identified. This paper presents an alternate approach to the use of phenomenography in researching learning in a student-centred phenomenographic approach to case study.

Case study, phenomenography, guest speakers, online learning communities, networked learning

Full Paper - .pdf

A Social Constructionist Approach to Phenomenographic Analysis of Identity Positioning in Networked Learning

Marguerite Koole, Centre for Distance Education, Athabasca University,
Centre for Technology Enhanced Learning, Lancaster University

The aims of this research are to explore how doctoral students on networked learning courses experience challenges to their identities, norms, values, and relationships. Within a relational, social constructionist perspective towards identity and positioning amongst individuals, an individual's identity is shaped through a continual interaction of dialogue with others; they shape each other in a mutual and cyclical process. This process is at work equally in Networked Learning as in face-to-face interaction with the difference that the medium through which communication occurs is different but influences the construction of identity. The author briefly describes the Vygotsky Cycle (Harré, 2010), threshold concepts (Meyer & Land, 2005), and with particular relevance to doctoral learners, conceptual threshold crossings (Kiley & Wisker, 2010). These three elements underlie the idea of 'identity positioning thresholds'--that is, the process in which a learner is confronted by conflicting opinions, behaviours, and/or perspectives that, if sufficiently critical, may cause them to examine these conflicting experiences or re-evaluate their own opinions, behaviours, and perspectives within their own social, academic, and/or professional contexts. The main interest of this research is to explore the kinds of critical stories or troublesome experiences that might lead to identity repositioning and the variations in which this can be experienced. To this end, the primary methodology being used is phenomenography. The main method of data collection is the semi-structured interview. One participant was interviewed for a brief pilot study. Then, 18 participants were interviewed for the main phase of data collection. Although the study is currently underway at the time of writing, the author describes the next steps in the study. Supplementary methods will be used to help the researcher develop an in-depth and sensitive understanding of the interview transcripts. These secondary methods include both discourse analysis and two-person interviews. After describing the data collection procedures, the author identifies and discusses a variety of issues both arisen and arising. These issues are related to the abstract nature of the topic itself, the co-constructed nature of phenomenographic interviews, the de-contextualizing and re-contextualizing of transcripts, and issues to be aware of when the times comes for analysis and the development of the outcome space. Finally, the author then briefly discusses some approaches to trustworthiness in the phenomenographic research process.

Phenomenography; social constructionism; social positioning; the Vygotsky Cycle; threshold concepts; identity positioning thresholds; doctoral studies; networked learning

Full Paper - .pdf



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