Learning-flow management and teacher control in online personal learning environments. [PhD Thesis]
I would like to begin this introduction with a description of my personal development as a teacher. I was 26 years old and working in the media industry. One day, the headmaster of a high school asked me to work as a temporary replacement for a teacher who was absent due to illness. I considered this opportunity as a chance to gain some new experience and I agreed. Interestingly, from such a casual beginning, teaching gradually became my chosen profession.
My first teaching experience was as a diving instructor in the army. I taught young soldiers the skills that were critical for their survival - any wrong move under water could be fatal. The teaching methods used in the army were based on the highest levels of discipline and subordination. The recipe for ensuring discipline was quite simple – a menacing look, a loud intimidating voice and regular control over the soldiers’ activities. Later, when I taught in high school, I used mostly the same methods. My belief in the validity of these methods was confirmed by the fact that the majority of my colleagues at that time behaved in a similar way.
After several years of teaching, I entered the Master program of Multimedia and Learning Systems at Tallinn University. Studying and subsequent work experience in the university completely changed my views regarding teaching. My university colleagues promoted initiative and self-directedness in the students; they spent a lot of time in discussions, group work and other types of activities aimed at the development of critical thinking among learners. By adopting new teaching methods, I found that the motivation of students to learn was considerably increased and learning outcomes were improved.
During the time of my Master studies, I defended master thesis “Realization of IMS Question & Test Interoperability Specifications. The case of the testing system of IVA”. The following year I commenced my doctoral studies at Tallinn University and at the same time, was employed as a researcher in the Centre for Educational Technology in the Institute of Informatics. Being involved in research and development of various Web 2.0 tools, I also started to use different social media tools, such as blogs, forums, and wikis, in teaching. Although these tools were notdesigned specifically for learning and teaching purposes, they offer additional opportunities for supporting learning activitie s of students. More importantly, the use of Web 2.0 tools to build and use personal learning environments promotes self-directed learning. On the other hand, the use of dispersed social media tools by learners decreases the possibilities for teachers to observe and therefore adequately supervise the learners; the more the learner assumes control over the learning process, the more the teacher loses control. This raises the question about thenecessity of returning some degree of control back to the teacher.
In the current doctoral thesis, I studied the question of control in the context of blog-based personal learning environments. For collecting and analysing empirical data, we have developed a special software tool called LePress (learnin WordPress), which allows a teacher to connect dispersed personal blogs of students around a course organized in the teacher’s own blog.
The thesis comprises an introduction and five sections. In the first section we present the motivation for the current thesis as well as the main research questions; the second section is devoted to the methodology used in the research; the theoretical foundation is discussed in the third section; the findings published in the related publications are presented in the fourth section and the fifth section contains the concluding remarks.
Institute of Educational Sciences, Tallinn University, Tallinn, Estonia
The dissertation was accepted for the defence of the degree of Doctor Philosophiae in Educational Sciences by the Doctoral Committee of Educational Sciences of Tallinn University on June 28th, 2013
Supervisor: Peeter Normak, PhD, professor at Tallinn University, Tallinn, Estonia
Opponents: Petri Nokelainen, PhD, professor at University of Tampere, Tampere, Finland
Jože Rugelj, PhD, associate professor at University of Ljubljana, Ljubljana, Sloveenia
The defence will take place on August 21th, 2013, 14.30 o’clock at Tallinn University lecture hall M213, Uus-Sadama st 5, Tallinn, Estonia
This research was supported by the European Social Fund’s Doctoral Studies and Internationalisation Programme DoRa