WP1. The Grand Research Challenge for TEL

The overall objective of WP 1 is to identify and formulate the Grand Challenge for technology enhanced learning research. This work involves all partners and it tightly integrated with our instruments as the vehicles to establish, test and refine our "Challenge Thinking". Specific objectives are:

Three major research themes: people, context and orchestration

Good research generates more questions than answers. This has been the case for the earlier Networks of Excellence Kaleidoscope and Prolearn. Both networks have provided us with independent visions for technology-enhanced learning with their own unique perspectives. By combining these visions it becomes apparent that technology-enhanced learning involves far more than providing access to knowledge. Benchmarking the state of TEL against this progress, we have identified three themes to guide our initial Grand Challenge Roadmap: 1) Connecting learners 2) Orchestrating learning 3) Contextualizing virtual learning environments and instrumentalizing learning contexts. These themes are intended to be a starting point for providing a framework to identify and formalise the TEL Grand Challenge in order to advance the future of technology enhanced learning.

1. Connecting learners

On the Web, we can see that self-directed, self-managed and self-maintained communities create successful new forms of collaboration. A wide range of tools is used by these communities for knowledge sharing and building, communication, collaboration and networking. Knowledge sharing and building is facilitated by open and closed forums, Wiki pages and personal or shared blogs. Multimedia material is shared using popular tools such as FlickR and YouTube. Communication takes place using forums, annotation, tagging, chat rooms, instant messaging and video conferences. Collaboration is facilitated by shared media repositories, version management systems and collaborative text editing systems such as Google Docs. Networking portals, such as FaceBook and LinkedIn, allow professionals to find, contact and keep in touch with like-minded.

In a Web 2.0 world new communities bring together self-directed, self-managed and self-maintained users and, thereby, create successful new forms of collaboration. These new communities are typically open to all learners at any point in their life of learning. Within successful communities, inherent incentive mechanisms to motivate and encourage participation exist. The heart of learning and knowledge consists of people. Replacing the current centralized, static technology-push models with new interactive models that reflect the continuous, social nature of learning requires a radical shift from a focus on knowing what to a focus on knowing how and knowing who.

Within this theme key research questions are: 1) what are key enabling and success factors for learner networks; 2) how can individuals be supported to move between networks and simultaneously participate in several networks; 3) how can learner networks profit from its members’ participation in and expertise derived from other networks.

2. Orchestrating learning

Situated, collaborative learning clearly demands a new approach to pedagogy, didactics and assessment. Collaborative competence for using, generating and exchanging knowledge in a peer-to-peer manner is increasingly becoming an integrated part of TEL environments. Different perspectives are to be considered. For example, from the pedagogical perspectives, concrete problems and possible solutions offered by teaching and learning situations mediated by the use of technology are to be considered. While, from the cognitive perspective, the focus should be on what the individual can learn under certain conditions and on the new skills needed. The necessity to personalise and analyse the new key abilities and skills required in the knowledge society has become a critical issue in education. The specific characteristics induced by new technologies in the teaching and learning of disciplinary content are also important issues to be studied. Within this theme key research questions include: 1) What is the role of the teacher/more knowledgeable other in orchestrating learning? 2) How can we design collaborative learning models with innovative technology in order to scaffold productive collaborative activities? 3) From the point of view of the learner what is the relationship between higher-order skills and learning of a particular knowledge domain?

3. Contextualizing virtual learning environments and instrumentalizing learning contexts

As learning has become an integrative part of our life, and as it takes place in different learner communities, the tools, resources and systems that are used need to be contextualized. Complementarily, the interplay between formal and informal learning in formal and informal contexts has to be instrumentalized through the use of physical artefacts, mobile devices and the configuration of physical and virtual space, in order to create learning opportunities beyond the traditional institutional boundaries. Technologies for learning must be designed for culturally mediated settings, which include the co-design of technology and pedagogy for situated learning, simulated environments and support for mobility. Traditional classroom learning is founded on an illusion of context stability, by setting up a fixed location with common resources, a single teacher, and an agreed curriculum, which allows a semblance of common ground. But if these are removed, a fundamental challenge is how to form islands of temporarily stable context to enable meaning making from the flow of everyday activity. Within this theme key research questions include: 1) How can new forms of contextualized learning enable novel experiences for learners and for development of human competences? 2) How to support the mobility of the learner in distributed and multi environment learning settings, like the transition between real and virtual contexts? 3) Which standards are needed to achieve interoperability and reusability of learning resources in this field? How to harmonize the existing learning standards?

Research Grand Challenge Activities

Rather than defining the themes from an ivory tower, we will adopt a ‘from within’ community approach. Making use of the “Science 2.0” framework, provided by WP6, we will create an online community around the theme ‘Trends & Disruptions in TEL Research’. The stakeholders and visionaries approached by WP2 and WP5 will be explicitly invited to seed the community. Starting from this base, we will actively engage with various communities of relevant stakeholders, with the aim of connecting them to our research base and to engage with them jointly in developing shared/negotiated perspectives of the field.

An ongoing activity in the online community will be Delphi studies, which are aimed at identifying the current state of the art, the most relevant research issues, the evolving trends, any discontinuities and the most promising ideas. These Delphi studies are part of the STELLARnet activities aiming to reduce the fragmentation of the field. The experience and the views of disjoint communities and of multiple disciplines are brought together. New knowledge is build-up from conclusions based on complementary expertise, and will provide valuable input to other STELLARnet activities. This will be especially true for the integration of social and behavioural scientific insights with technical and professional perspectives and developments. In addition, the Delphi studies will involve a selected sample of international partners from outside of Europe, thus including international perspectives and making European TEL more visible internationally. To reach these goals each Delphi study will last 12 to 15 months. It is started with a vision statement and several guiding questions, provided by the STELLARnet GC core partners. In two or more rounds, the questions are answered by a broad range of stakeholders and the evolving vision is discussed, making use of various means: e.g. polls, forum posts and virtual and live meetings. After each round, the results will be analyzed, generalized and transferred into materials to be processed in the next round. The GC community will also serve as a reflection panel for the results presented during the STELLARnet Rendez-Vous.

After the last round, the results of the Delphi studies will be used in a twofold way: (a) They will be translated into concrete research questions for Calls by the Theme Teams and Incubator Committees of WP3, and (b) they will be condensed to research recommendations in form of “White Papers” on TEL research. The expectation is that these recommendations will be used as a frame for future research programmes on the national, the European, and to some extent also on the international level.

Figure shows a naive example of how our GC WP1 may drive the four phases of our Network, in this example, providing a unifying vision for each year of work.


Figure One example model of GC theme impact on STELLARnet

In order to inspire, stimulate and integrate ongoing research and discussion and to remain up-to-date, the GC WP will foster a Research and Technology Scouting Team (RTST). The RTST will have the responsibility to (a) organize a central information point for current research opportunities, infrastructure and capacity in each of the different partners’ labs; (b) scout new technologies and assess their innovative value and (c) define new TEL research challenges and refine existing ones. The RTST activities go beyond merely scouting: they involve research activities, including assessment of technologies and field studies in industry as well as in higher education. It should be noted that the 3 deliverable reports that track the activity of the RTST work are likely to focus upon the “lead theme” of the Challenge, but will also encompass work on all themes that will run in parallel during this Network.

The findings and insights generated by the Delphi studies and RTST activities will form the basis of a TEL road-mapping and strategic reporting activity that will have various points of contact with the other WPs. In addition to further input to the WP3 Research Capacity activities (see below), the results will be disseminated to and discussed in the WP2 STELLARnet Meeting of Minds and brought to the WP5 stakeholder groups. Tracking and monitoring progress of the roadmaps over time will also act as a useful barometer for the health and vitality of TEL research in Europe. As such, it will serve a useful function of review, synthesis, prediction and critique similar to that promoted by Educause and its Horizon Scanning activities in the US.

The initiation phase of WP1 will determine the sequencing and impact of the themes, so early and rapid progress is essential, therefore a critical early deliverable will be our ‘roadmap’ activity, the “First TEL Grand Challenge Vision and Strategy Report” (M6) lead by the University of Bristol.