MA Project – What do YOU think? (please)

Image attribution: CC Flickr: EganSnow

I am in the second term of my MA entitled ‘Leading Innovation and Change’ at St Mary’s University College in Twickenham. This module is called ‘Research Methods for Project Enquiry’ and requires I choose a pilot project as a test bed for my ultimate project in the second year. No problem, except I am not sure what to do. As Head of ICT, both discrete and across the curriculum, I have a great opportunity to take one strain of my role and use my MA to focus on it to greater depth. Great, but I cannot decide what to do. I thought people I work with online (you) might be able to help me decide. My choices are all the usual ed tech suspects. Here’s a basic list:

  1. VLE. We use Moodle at the moment. I could do various aspects of this:
    1. Choosing a new VLE. I failed to share the VLE decision with my colleagues and pupils. I could do a project that documented the process of including the opinion of all parties into the decision-making process as we evaluated the more costly solutions of Frog and Open Hive and an improved Moodle.
    2. Training teacher(s) to use Moodle and evaluating the impact it has on their teaching and learning.
    3. Implementing and evaluating the impact of using a VLE to deliver and assess teaching and learning.
  2. The use of various technologies to engage pupils and improve teaching and learning:
    1. cameras
    2. web2.0 tool(s)
    3. voting systems
    4. podcasting
  3. Our recent inspection identified an area for improvement in our Library by providing more opportunities to access independent learning using ICT. This could lead to an interesting line of inquiry examining independent learning as well as how ICT can be used to promote and support this within the context of my school.
  4. Using an online service in the classroom. Possibilities:
    1. Edmodo
    2. Twitter
    3. Blogging (posterous, wordpress multi-user)
    4. Collaborative mind-mapping
    5. Google Apps for Education
  5. Developing a Professional Learning Network as teaching CPD.

So, you can see there are lots of possibilities and I would like your help in choosing one to focus on. What do you think would be worthwhile? What would be of interest to you? What would be most useful to the development of educational technology?

Any ideas, thoughts and comments most welcome. All my work will be shared online via this blog.

MA Project – What do YOU think? (please)

23 thoughts on “MA Project – What do YOU think? (please)

  1. Some really interesting possibilities here… One thing you need to watch is that you don’t take on a project that is too big or too vague (in it’s purpose) as it will be very difficult to find a ‘research question’ which in turn will make it almost impossible to write up!

    Another important question you need to consider is what ‘data’ are you going to collect and what are you hoping to show at the end…

    The ones that caught my eye on your list as being both interesting and small enough to form an interesting MA project are:

    Using a particular tech to improve Teaching and Learning – I would stick to Camera, Voting Systems or Podcasting (Web 2.0 tools is very vague and difficult to define which will cause problems)

    Using an online service in the classroom:
    You want to restrict this to a relatively short time period (no more than half a term), to make the data concrete and quantifiable. Use or pre- and post- questionnaire exploring students attitudes could form an interesting project…

    The most important thing is to choose something you want to do anyway as it will take a lot of time and it will be much more enjoyable and valuable if you can link it to something you want to explore anyway…

    Good luck!

  2. All interesting and worthwhile topics – I’ve no doubt any one would be successful. Personally, I’m interested in number 5. I see a hard core of teachers on Twitter, at Teachmeets and so on, but the majority of the staff in my school struggle with basic IT skills and lack the confidence to try new ideas for using technology in the classroom. Above all else, this seems to me to be the biggest stumbling block.

  3. I’d personally be most interested in how some of the online technologies you mention enhance, enrich and allow different kinds of learning development in the classroom. In my own work, we do blended learning but rarely, if ever, use online forms of technology in the face-to-face sessions – it’s only blended before and after the events.

    So, I’d really like to see what you come up with blending online tools into face-to-face teaching.

    Thanks for sharing!

  4. Interesting group of choices. These are my top three in order of priority. I hope this helps.
    #2, 4, & 5.

    #5 – First priority: develop a Professional Learning Network involving cadres of teachers. There could be grouped according to levels or school wide. The issue would be engaging any non tech users.
    #4 & 5 – Secondly: teachers involving students in using these online services in the classroom engages them in their learning. As you know there are a wide range of applications that fall under the guise of Web 2.0 tools. Groups of teachers who share students might decide on one to several tools to learn and use with their students. Effectiveness should be easy to research and validate.
    #5 – The gadgets: Are of no use unless teachers understand how students will use them to create new products. I think that all classrooms should have these tools with teachers and students knowing how, why, and when to use them.

  5. From a personal point of view, I like the library one. We have completed upgraded our library facilities, but as yet have not got the right ‘ethos’. Finding out ways of generating independent learning rather than ‘game time’ would probably be valuable to lots of schools…especially mine 🙂

  6. Thank you Mark and Andy. Both citing excellent points.

    Mark, although I am tempted to do the PLN for teachers for the reasons you have stated. However, my concern here is being overly dependent on a busy teacher.

    Andy, you’re absolutely right about web2.0 services. Too vague and a great idea to restrict the time scale of the project to half a term to make it manageable.

    The other thing I thought about was trying to drill down into the science of learning, and whether or not the use of ICT could improve the extent of learning. I’d like to contribute to the conversation about validating the use of ICT in teaching and learning.

  7. I think the PLN one would be good too – although I agree with both Mark and Andy that they all look like good topics. Taking Mark’s comment about teacher skills, though, perhaps number 2 aimed at Teachers might also be useful? You could look at that as part of 5 anyway – basic ICT skills for PLN development, and it could work for both teachers and pupils. After all, they are all (or should be) learners.

  8. Yitzchak Freeman says:

    Mmm … interesting ideas. Personally I’d go for 1(2): Training teacher(s) to use Moodle and evaluating the impact it has on their teaching and learning. The reason I’d choose this is because it has a clear and obvious focus on leading innovation and change – i.e. impacting on others at a professional level,not only developing your own practice – and also I think it would be very tight, self-contained and straightforward to get measurable outcomes (before/after comparisons of what 2-3 other teachers do and what their classes achieve) and some associated qualitative data about how the other teachers experienced the project. Ideal case-study stuff!

    Best of luck!

  9., suggested via twitter DM, a project on handheld tech in school. My school aren’t really looking at this yet but this could be an opportunity to pilot something. I’m interested initially in how handhelds might be used by pupils to manage their diaries, homework and email to enhance their learning experience. Nothing fancy. Simply a device to improve their workflow management.

  10. Google Docs would be a good one. Why do we persist in using discrete file based tools in an interconnected world?

    I’m fillingin an EU grant form in Acrobat – it should be in an on-line database with a web front end. Its painfully slow – ironically a web based solution would be quicker both from the software speeds and because partners in other countries could put in their own details

    Why doe QCDA etc insist on sending me ppt attachments when the information would be much more usable on a web page?

    Why do people keep attaching pdfs and word documents to web pages when the information could be displayed directly in the page and linked to other relevant info? Since we can create pdts from web pages why attach files?

    Are we teaching the right skills in schools or are we simply reinforcing bad practice? Since the NC is devoid of skills it neatly side-steps the problem but at what cost to learning?

  11. I agree, they are all good topics. I am completing my coursework for a PhD in Educational Studies/Curriculum & Instruction this semester and at the point where I, too, need to choose a topic for my dissertation. I have decided on one similar to your number 5. I am going to explore PLN’s as informal professional development. If you would like to discuss further, please contact me. Good luck!

  12. Ian says:

    Hi Dai,
    No problem with breadth of choice then; especially with additional possibilities from commenters!

    As people have said, there are interesting bits of tech to look at, but what about approaching it from a different angle? If this is to serve as prep for a more extensive study, maybe it offers the chance to try out a data gathering technique you might be less familiar with; one you might like to develop? Having chosen that, your choice of topic for study might be narrowed.

    Another possibility given the title of your course and that you don’t have enough choice already ;-), might be to examine your role in any change process involving ICT. Is there any tension caused by dual responsibility – across the curriculum & as a discrete subject? How is that perceived by teachers in other areas? (“It’s alright for him; he always has access to the technology”) Might not be a problem at all of course.

    Another pointer might come from school priorities – what needs doing anyway? What would you have had to do even if you weren’t on this module, but now get the chance to do in much more detail . . . because you gotta! But as other folks have already said, it’s got to be something which picques your interest – it’ll be taking up too much time for it to feel like drudgery, so choose what excites you or what you truly want to learn more about.

    (I feel your pain though – I’m facing a similar choice right now too)

  13. No surprise Dai my choice would be the library. It is so important that the library is seen to be leading on tech and it’s also vital that it is seen as a learning and teaching department in it’s own right. Independent learning is such a great focus to allow your library specialist to bring in innovative methods and technologies. You could lead the way for other schools ;0)

  14. Alison Green says:

    My vote would be for PLN – my Twitter one has transformed my teaching since I joined properly in October. Could you perhaps get together a Twitter list of ‘good’ follows and get your staff to follow them and then feedback after a given number of weeks.

  15. Kerry Turner says:

    Number 1 – without a doubt. Bernard is your “baby”. You constructed it, developed it, shared it and are in an excellent position to assess its impact on your staff. You’re equally able to investigate whether staff have grown in their use of Bernard, whether they haven’t and why, and whether it has had an impact on the nature of students’ learning – or not.

    Point 3 of 1 is a tricky one; different teachers, class groupings, access to reources and exam courses all have an impact on students’ success (and here one has to refer to annual academic results). It would therefore be difficult to assess the success of ONLY the VLE in any learning environment. However, flagging these up as part of an investigation might be worthwhile.

    The best response I ever heard on assessing whether a VLE had been successful in a school was a reply from a teacher who said, “I didn’t change anything else.”

    Whatever you choose, good luck, and hopefully you’ll enjoy the process!

  16. How big is the project?
    I’m also doing an MA and having similar issues with deciding what to research! For my 1st research project I wrote about Wallwisher because 1. I was interested in what my class thought about using it and 2. I was using it anyway, it’s so much easier to research something you’re already doing or were going to do anyway. My advice would be to pick something you’re personally really interested in, which one of those is *your* passion? (even if it may seem the least ‘useful’ to other people)and something which will be easy to fit in with your daily work life.
    For my dissertation next year I’m probably going to write about something related to your #5, although probably in the form of a case study because that fits best with my own writing style and preferred research methods. What kind of research do you like doing? What kind of a writer are you? It was thinking about those things that helped me make my decisions, maybe it will help you too?

  17. It might be a bit of a surprise but I would opt for the examination of the library as a place for independent learning … but can you clarify whether you mean for using ICT during *your* subject or as a cross-curricular tool? Presuming the latter then what you are looking at is the measurement of the use of ICT as a cross-curricular tool and looking at how the library fits into the usage, who you an shift the use of the library and whether it is appropriate to all subjects.

    It could be the least amount of work of the lot, as I presume that it would not mean having to do that much more recording of data about ICT usage (other departments should be doing it already) and the same with independent learning. It just means that you have to formalise the collection and analysis, state a few premises as to what you would expect and then lead into a few heavily researched statements about how certain changes would improve independent learning when using the library as a resource. Would you also be expected to follow through to see if those changes had the benefits you proposed (always look to close a research project … the only open ended ones are those that need continued funding 😉 !)

  18. I would go for the library one too, as it combines a few key factors – inspection recommendations (might be v. useful to school/you), increasing use of ICT (practical & again useful) & one of my favourite topics – independent learning! IMO there is a real issue in secondary schools in terms of giving students the skills they need to be able to learn independently and therefore be able to go on to further study / work effectively. Lots of scope there I think, but equally a very focussed project using one of the IT tools you mention would be easy to measure. Good luck – look forward to reading about it whichever you decide on!

  19. Dai
    An extensive list with lots of different options. Quite a few have been done by others, with the handheld option an example. I would suggest option 4, as a teacher who has looked into these different options to extend the classroom and use some of these to collaborate with students.

    Good luck!

  20. Interestingly enough, all these comments come out with two front-runners. The PLN as teacher CPD (seems as though quite a few people are doing something similar elsewhere) and the Library with independent learning and computers.

    My initial thoughts are with the library because it is an inspection point in my school report and therefore might contribute towards addressing that issue as well as some kind of wider research about what constitutes independent learning and how it might be supported outside the classroom (not to mention getting pupils to do it which strikes me as something other than obvious). However, that is not necessarily part of my job. And a clear message from the comments and the EdTechRoundUp last night is to make it something I am passionate about and that overlaps with my full-time role or part thereof.

    Many thanks for all the comments. I am touched. And, what’s more, I am informed by my peers.

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