Networked Learning conference 2016
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Designs for learning with the Semantic Web:

Fran Tracy, Liverpool John Moores University, Jesper Jensen, University of Southern Denmark

Symposium Introduction

This symposium aligns with the first conference theme of ‘Theories, methodologies, perspectives and paradigms for Research in Networked Learning’. Within this theme we have assembled three papers relating to designs for learning with the semantic web (Web 3.0). We plan to start the symposium with the presentation of each paper then follow with discussion of the key themes running through them. These are: 1) the emergent nature of semantic web technologies, 2) how participatory research practices like DBR are affected during the development of semantic web technologies and 3) how both of these concepts may find a new place as we move forward into increasingly complex and changeable educational environments.

Each paper critically reflects on the experience of research and development of semantic web technologies in different educational settings. We specifically focus on methodologies for research in networked learning; linking the nature of an emergent networked learning technology like the semantic web to critical reflections on our participatory research practices across multiple disciplines. This process of reflection on design for learning is described by Jones and Asensio (2002) as critical to enable us to be aware of the influences of social and cultural change in education, our own assumptions about learning, design and development and to uncover any previously unspoken issues for the field of networked learning. We draw on empirical data and experience to contribute to a research field which is concerned with aligning practice with values (Hodgson, 2012). Interestingly, very few papers presented at past networked learning conferences have explicitly considered the role of semantic web technologies in this field and none have linked this to methodological considerations for their design and development. In many ways it could be argued that the semantic web expands the potential of Web 2.0 for ICT to ‘promote connections’ in learning, which is central to the definition of the networked learning process (Goodyear, Banks, Hodgson and McConnell, 2004, p1.).

The semantic web is not a new technology; Berners-Lee at al. brought the concept to public attention in 2001 as ‘a new form of Web content that is meaningful to computers [which] will unleash a revolution of new possibilities’. But the take up of this grand vision has been patchy and development activity has been disconnected (Carmichael and Jordan, 2012). Outside of specialist fields the notion of the semantic web or Web 3.0 is not well known and the researchers in this symposium are used to the challenge of explaining the concept without a familiar online technology to which it can be associated. Much of the work of the semantic web is hidden and described in the language of the information sciences. Never the less, the potential of the semantic web has been realised for acting as a framework offering advanced search tools, flexibility in visualising data and integration of digital repositories with user-generated content (Martinez-Garcia, et al., 2012). This potential can be exciting but the ethical implications of its use in educational environments should be considered at all times as an integral part of research and development (Tracy and Carmichael, 2011). The case can be made for describing semantic web technologies as ‘emergent’ in line with the definition by Stahl (2011:p364) of ‘a technology that shows high potential but hasn’t shown its value or settled down into any kind of consensus’. However, a strict definition of emergent is hard to tie down due to the uncertainty and ambiguity of predicting future impact (Rotolo, Hicks and Martin, 2015). The impact of the emergent nature of the semantic web is considered in line with research methodologies in the papers for this symposium. Along with the challenges and responsibilities posed by developing a technology that is in continual transition and change come the possibilities for redefinition and configuration of the educational pedagogies and practices with which it can be associated. In line with participatory research methods like Design Based Research and in increasingly fractured educational systems this may have the capacity to empower staff and students in the work of knowledge management in Higher Education.

The paper by Jesper Jensen & Nina Bonderup Dohn specifically considers a Design Based Research (DBR) project where semantic web technologies were developed for teaching Biology and Chemistry in an Upper Secondary School in Denmark. The case is made that the emergent nature of the technology posed methodological challenges to the implementation of a DBR approach but also created new opportunities for flexibility in the creation of unique solutions to suit the pedagogical practices of the educational environment. This encourages stronger involvement of practitioners in the development process. Furthermore, the paper argues that DBR projects like the one described in this paper, are actually paradigmatic for investigation of educational contexts in rapid technological and pedagogical change because they not only take this change into account, but fundamentally and significantly build on them.

The participatory nature of research and development of technologies is considered further in the paper by Fran Tracy, which problematizes participatory research for the development of semantic web technologies. Here the uncertainties and contingencies that are created in the use of participatory research methods are highlighted. Empirical data from an interdisciplinary, multi-institutional technology enhanced learning (TEL) research project is used to reconsider who or what was participating in the research and also when and where that participation took place. The case is made that uncertainty and contingency in technological solutions and methodological approaches allow for enrichment of the development process and subsequently the research outcomes. Through the process of participatory research for this project new teaching practices were developed, pedagogical reflection was inspired and new technologies were developed.

The third paper by Patrick Carmichael takes an alternative approach to the analysis of the design practices used in the research and development of semantic web technologies. The neglected tradition of operaismo or 'workers enquiry' is used to reframe some of the activities and findings of a research project which sought to explore the potential of semantic web technologies in Higher Education where case-based learning was the pedagogy of choice. Operaismo has recently begun to receive attention and its potential has begun once again to be recognised as a framework for exploring the experiences of ‘precarious’ workers, including those in high-tech industries and education. This paper explores some of the insights it might offer for the design of semantic web technologies, with design being seen as a particular kind of work-based enquiry that benefits from contextual understanding and participation of multiple stakeholders and user groups.

Full Introduction - .pdf

Problematising Participatory Research for Developing Semantic Web Technologies

Frances Tracy, Liverpool John Moores University

This paper contributes to a symposium on ‘Designs for learning with the Semantic Web (Web 3.0)’ by presenting the outcomes of critical reflection on methodological issues relating to the design of semantic web technologies for networked learning. Semantic web technologies show great potential for supporting networked learning but are unsettled and under-researched in educational contexts, thus classed within this symposium as ‘emergent’. The design of this emergent and complex technology is considered in relation to empirical research data from an interdisciplinary, multi-institutional technology enhanced learning (TEL) research project. The research project explored the potential of semantic web technologies in Higher Education (HE) to support the use of cases in teaching and learning. Data was collected throughout the project including researcher's wiki-based reflective research logs, transcripts from project meetings and interviews and focus groups with participants and observation notes. Critical reflection on the research process was supported through engagement with this data, which allowed the recognition of nondeterministic constructs and fluidity and contingency in research practice. Therefore, this paper problematises participation by highlighting uncertainties and contingencies inherent in the enactment of participatory research methodology. Rather than viewing uncertainty and contingency as devaluing research, the case is made that this can allow for enrichment of the development process and subsequently the research outcomes. The flexible and emergent nature of semantic web technology matched with participatory approaches in the design of emergent technologies allows for reflection, adaptation and flexible action relating to pedagogy and practices which is essential in educational contexts that are rapidly changing. The findings highlight the uncertain and contingent nature of (1) the settings where design took place; (2) acceptance or rejection of research methods; and (3) the community groups that emerged as interested parties in our work. Vignettes from two different research settings are used to show how participation was enacted reflectively and responsively leading to some positive outcomes; including the development of new teaching practices and new technologies, which were fed back into the open source development of educational semantic web technologies. Therefore, researchers in the field of networked learning are encouraged to ‘design with participatory research’ to match the challenges posed by complex and emergent technologies and changeable educational contexts rather than attempting to apply standardised forms of design methodologies.

Participation; networked learning; higher education; semantic web technology

Full Paper - .pdf

Challenges and possibilities for Design Based Research with semantic web technology

Jesper Jensen, Nina Bonderup Dohn, University of Southern Denmark

This paper addresses the first conference theme of Theories, methodologies, perspectives and paradigms for Research in Networked Learning. The three key themes of the symposium (Designs for learning with the Semantic Web) are discussed by exploring the methodological challenges and advantages that one may experience when conducting design based research with emergent technology. In particular, when technological solutions are developed more or less from scratch, simultaneously and in interaction with the pedagogical practices which make use of these solutions. The outset for this paper is a Design Based Research (DBR) project, which we are currently carrying out at a Danish high school. The project involves development of technological tools based on semantic web (web 3.0) technology. These tools are developed simultaneously and in interaction with the pedagogical practices utilizing the tools. We seek to address the aforementioned main question of the paper by, first, reviewing the stages of DBR-processes as presented by Amiel & Reeves (2008), second, presenting the specific DBR project which is our outset, and third presenting a set of methodological challenges and advantages we have experienced in our work on this project. Through the discussion presented in this paper, we draw attention to several noteworthy challenges and advantages of developing and utilizing emergent-technology-based tools in DBR. Some of these challenges concern the potentially intangible nature of emergent technology and the difficulty of communicating the potentials of the technology to practitioners and other involved parties. Other challenges are more strongly connected with the practical development process. Similarly, we explore noteworthy advantages such as emergent technology potentially granting a greater level of creative freedom in development of solutions and tools while greatly encouraging teacher and student involvement in the development process. This further provides an opportunity for a stronger focus on designing with practice in mind. In addition, the paper argues that DBR projects like the one described in this paper, are actually paradigmatic for investigation of educational contexts in rapid technological and pedagogical change because they not only take this change into account, but fundamentally and significantly build on them.

Design Based Research, semantic web, web 3.0, emergent technology, case study.

Full Paper - .pdf

Semantic Web Learning Technology Design: Addressing Pedagogical Challenges and Precarious Futures

Patrick Carmichael, University of Bedfordshire

Semantic web technologies have the potential to extend and transform teaching and learning, particularly in those educational settings in which learners are encouraged to engage with ‘authentic’ data from multiple sources. In the course of the ‘Ensemble’ project, teachers and learners in different disciplinary contexts in UK Higher Education worked with educational researchers and technologists to explore the potential of such technologies through participatory design and rapid prototyping. These activities exposed some of the barriers to the development and adoption of emergent learning technologies, but also highlighted the wide range of factors, not all of them technological or pedagogical, that might contribute to enthusiasm for and adoption of such technologies. This suggests that the scope and purpose of research and design activities may need to be broadened and the paper concludes with a discussion of how the tradition of operaismo or ‘workers’ enquiry’ may help to frame such activities. This is particularly relevant in a period when the both educational institutions and the working environments for which learners are being prepared are becoming increasingly fractured, and some measure of ‘precarity’ is increasingly the norm.

Semantic web technologies; case-based learning; higher education; participatory design; workers’ enquiry

Full Paper - .pdf



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