Three minute thesis

Sue Watling 

Senior Lecturer in Educational Development
Educational Development and Enhancement Unit (EDEU)

University of Lincoln, UK

An investigation into the influences on attitudes and behaviours of staff who teach and support learning towards their VLE*

Three minute thesis powerpoint slide

The literature in the field of digital educational research appears to be predominantly written by digital enthusiasts. There is less public knowledge about resistance to engagement in digital aspects of teaching and learning while mandatory use of VLE in higher education is becoming increasingly common across the sector. This is evidenced at the researcher's own institution, the University of Lincoln, where a policy recommends the use of online assessment via Turnitin where appropriate and 'required standards' for all sites on Blackboard have been introduced. The digital capabilities of staff who teach and support learning are often assumed with research in this area failing to explore digital reluctance or shyness. This doctoral project set out to explore influences on the attitudes and behaviours of individuals who teach or support learning towards their VLE by monitoring the development of an online teacher education programme, Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age (TELEDA).  A qualitative 'action research' method was used to collect data over three years of course design and delivery. Action research loops and critical reflection were used to feed data back into each stage of the course development. Data included communications, interactive activity records, observations and course evaluations as well as individual interviews with participants. The aim was to highlight the value of experiential over theoretical approaches to developing digital capabilities, in particular towards the use of VLE, in order to improve the pedagogical development of teacher education and CPD programmes by including specific and relevant emphasis on teaching and learning online.

The research is located within a critical realist paradigm, one which uses an ontologically realist and epistemologically constructivist lens to view and understand the nature of reality. This conceptual framework suggests aspects of the physical world can be relied upon to exist without our observation, while our interpretation of social worlds is individually constructed. Dialectical relationships between actions and reactions might appear stable but are continually open to change. From this mix of realist and constructivist approaches, new understandings and knowledge can be seen to emerge in a continuous process of challenge and change,

This PhD bridges the space between theory and practice. As practitioner research it also blurs boundaries between research and evidence based practice. 'Insider’ positions towards doctoral studies require specific attention to the wider debates around the purpose and practice of educational research. This attention to context is presented as an additional strength. The dissertation demonstrates how data collected through action research loops need not be locally specific but can have wider significance and value beyond the institution in which the process has taken place. The blend of theory and practice, in particular within the field of educational technology,  shows ‘insider’ approaches have the advantage of testing theory through the application of pragmatic pedagogies, a blend which generates 
legitimate claims to new understandings and knowledge. 

The research plan involves nine data collation points over three years. At the time of writing eight out of nine sets of data have been collected. Analysis of the data has begun and the final interview set will be conducted in May and June 2015. Submission of the first completed draft of the thesis will be April 2016 with the Viva defence taking place in July. By September 2016, the aim is for the research to be complete. 

* for the purposes of this research project, VLE (virtual learning environments) includes single platforms (the TELEDA courses are delivered through Blackboard) while also referring to a wider range of digital ways of working (TELEDA includes tools such as forums, blogs, wikis and journals while introducing social media and working with audio and video). 

Sue Watling 
April  2015