#H809 What Are Effects of ICT on Writing? Wrong Question!

Only a few papers per module truly change the way you look at a topic, through the clarity and profoundness they build their thesis.  The second reading in week 8, from Crook and Dymott (2005) is such a paper.  It looks at the effect of ICT on writing in an undergraduate course.  By teasing out the question and showing that writing as an activity comprises much more than entering letters on a screen, it explores a wide range of effects.

Consider the text you are currently reading. Composing the preceding paragraph certainly involved keyboard tapping and screen staring: activities that perhaps could be photographed as ‘me writing’. However, much more was involved than those simple behaviours. There was the business of distributing attention. This applies to the screen, the keyboard, and a set of paper notes. But also – because of a social interruption – it applies to the screen and other forms of event on the periphery. Writing is organized (it is located and scheduled) to be in a useful harmony with this periphery: sometimes exploiting it, sometimes needing to be insulated from it. (Crook and Dymott, p.96-97)

The paper explores the difference between a traditional psychological approach and one inspired by socio-cultural theory.  Crook and Dymott discuss some limitations (in their view) of traditional psychology.

In traditional psychology, with the individual as unit of analysis, the question would relate to:

  • isolation of design features (‘isolating the skill from its users’)
  • set up experimental design:  ‘approaching ICT as a convenient cluster of independent variables’
  • focus on outcomes (‘narrow behavioural repertoire‘)
  • little concern for processes
  • separation of literacy skills (writing, reading, searching and selecting…)

In socio-cultural psychology,  writing is considered as a cultural practice with ICT and writing mutually constitutive.

  • writing is considered as a rich, complex system of activities, incl. reading, searching, note-taking, discussing, reflecting…
  • writing is individual acting with mediational means (echoing Vygotsky)
  • writing inherently connected with technology (pens ,paper, computer…)
  • focus on revealing structures underlying practice
  • focus of inquiry is on the processes of learning and on meaning making in social settings.
  • research in authentic processes rather than designs:  ‘Most seem to concern themselves with the control of so many variables that the resulting experimental task bears little resemblance to the activities most of us routinely perform as ‘reading’. (p.100)
  • methods: observation and analysis (diaries, interviews, activity logs), complemented by controlled forms of study
  • simple generalisations about singular effects are inappropriate, individually determined

Crook and Dymott compare the introduction of ICT with the introduction of guns.  Guns don’t ‘strengthen’ or ‘amplify’ the killing of animals, rather they change the process and relations in the community.

Case study: writing by undergraduate students

Five aspects of the writing process are discussed and how ICT affects them.

1/ text on screen

  • Numerous differences between paper and screen
  • Does a computer screen facilitate or inhibit writing (issues of legibility, global structure text, skim reading)?
  • Depends on individual factors (prior experiences…)
  • Affordances: derive not fromtechnology per se, but from its relation with person (Different from original meaning of affordances, coined by Gibson)

2/ text on network

  • interactive dimension of writing (management of document access; attentional commitments to sources)
  • writing more in 1 location: disturbance of socially-distributed nature of writing.  (differences between writings by students with and without network access)
  • multi-tasking: ICT creates additional layer of alternative possibilities

3/ text as electronic traffic

  • text more easily sent and received
  • sharing of notes and work (individual differences)

4/ text and the website

  • changes in notions of audience: sense of genuinely writing for others is important to cultivate
  • make learner activity within classroom visible
  • vicarious learning from access to work of peers

5/ dialogue around text

  • proceduralisation of feedback (e.g. use of standard forms)
  • create a sense that a social exchange has been reified
  • mechanisation of communication
  • marginal scribbles and summary comment: convey a sense of authentic dialogue with the reader


Crook, C. and Dymott, R. (2005) ‘ICT and the literacy practices of student writing’, In Monteith, M. (ed.), Teaching Secondary School Literacies with ICT, Maidenhead, Open University Press., pp. 97–113.


Evolutions in Global Gender Norms: Findings from World Bank Study

Some takeaways from a recently published study (pdf file) from the World Bank on gender equality and shifting gender norms .  Thanks to the FP2P (From Poverty to Power) blog for the hat tip.

  1. Gender norms are evolving in the 20 countries of the study, but slowly and incrementally.


“One of the more consistent findings across the 97 research sites is the universality and resilience of the norms that underpin gender roles.  In every research location, women and men of all generations identified the dominance of women’s domestic role and men’s bread winning role as absolutely  core to female and male identities. Some of the focus groups gave evidence of gender norms changing, albeit slowly and incrementally, with new economic opportunity, markets, and urbanization.”

2. Increasing urbanisation is a powerful driver for gender equality.  On average, urban women face less discrimination than rural ones.

3. Shifts in economic activity (from agriculture and manufacturing to services) benefit women, but also disadvantage men:

The result unfortunately is at least as likely to be destructive (drinking, abandonment, violence) as ‘hey, let me do the cooking for once’. Which reinforces the growing focus within the gender rights movement on the construction of masculinity.” (FP2P)

4.  Gender preference for parents and willingness to invest in girls’ education are strong predictors for gender equality in a country.

5.  Gender studies should preferably look beyond outcome data such as female labour market participation or girls’ participation in education.  Gender norms are determined by decision-making at the household and individual levels, as well as the functioning of markets and formal and informal institutions.

6. Education is a main instrument to influence gender norms

“In particular, the education of boys and girls—beyond its role in building human capital—is crucial in shaping norms. In multiple discussions, adolescent boys and girls described how education exposed them to new ideas and knowledge, enlarging their capacity to analyse and encouraging critical scrutiny of established gender relations and the status quo. These discussions reaffirmed what is already known about the intergenerational transfer and reproduction of norms within households. Education fosters learning away from the household environment where gender roles are played out in every interaction and action. The research team realized the importance of ensuring that school curricula offer gender-neutral learning opportunities.”

#H809 Toolkits as Bridge between Learning Theory and Practice?

Conole et al. (2004) advocate the use of toolboxes as ways to bridge theory and practice.  Practitioners don’t have time to wade through wads of theoretical papers.  As a result many designs are based on ‘commonsense’ rather than theoretically informed.  The authors argue that theory-informed designs would improve quality and that toolkits are the ideal instrument to realize this:

They distinguish toolkits from wizards (which are black boxes, hiding the underlying decision process) and conceptual frameworks (which offer little practical use).

Some characteristics and key terms on toolkits in the article:

  • for non-expert users to engage with theories
  • elicit assumptions and theories
  • decision-making systems
  • reflect beliefs and assumptions of creator(s)
  • guiding framework
  • offer flexibility for local context
  • informed decisions
  • offer common language
  • provide examples (if linked database)
  • promote reflective practice

The toolkit presented in the paper is represented by a model


Learning activities such as brainstorming or presentation of materials can be mapped with the model, prompting reflection on the overall pedagogical balance and the types of learning supported.

The paper contains a welcome synthesis of learning theories.  I’m less convinced about the practical value of the toolkit.  Publishing the paper in a closed-access journal is not likely to contribute to its adoption by practitioners.


#H809 Key Criteria for ‘Healthy’ Online Communities

Communities of Practice is one of the most used concepts in educational research these days.  Wenger (1998) has provided a theoretical basis for the concept, although his definition is quite fluid and difficult to grasp (Johnson, 2001).  Preece (2000) has  developed an operationalisation of the concept, centred around concepts of usability and sociability.  These relate to the duality, developed by Wenger, between design and emergence.

Jones and Preece (2006) distinguish between Communities of Interest (COI) and Communities of Practice (COP).  The latter, described by Wenger (1998), are reserved for communities in professional contexts.  COI refer to the more organic, loosely structured communities that centre around people’s interests.  Garrison has coined the term Community of Inquiry, focusing on groups in educational settings.  There seems to be a rich amount of literature on these Communities of Inquiry.

Preece (2000) uses a sociability and usability framework to analyse the success of COI and COP.  Usability is related to user-friendliness and consists of guidelines for the design of online spaces.  Criteria for sociability centre around the 3 P’s of people, purpose and policies.

Sociability framework

Sociability framework (Preece, 2000)

1. People

  • Reciprocity
    • requires ‘nurturing’ in young communities
    • ‘lurkers’ routinely comprise at least 50% of participants
  • Empathy and trust
    • empathy: ability to understand others and react compassionately
    • trust: expectations of positive interactions
  • Clear leadership and commitment
    • Supported by research from Wenger et al. (2011): “what makes a difference is not the quantity of users, but the passion and commitment with which a subset of users provide leadership, example and high quality content”

2. Purpose

  • Common ground
    • corresponds with ‘mutual understanding’ (Wenger, 1998) , sense of unity, a common vision & values
    • clarity of common purpose for participants  (* I’m not convinced all participants need to have a common purpose)
    • related to motivation
  • Incentives for collaboration (vs. competition)

3. Policies

  • Etiquette
    • can be realized through formal rules or through self-governance/ cultural norms
    • related to amount of social pressure and presence of leadership
  • Social presence
    • described as sense people have online of others being present
    • can be generated by short response time, not necessarily by many postings
    • is strongly positively related with etiquette
  • maturity
    • COI/COP need time to form and grow, in order to develop, in Wenger’s (1998) terms, ‘mutual understanding’, ‘common language’ and ‘reified artefacts’

Comparing these criteria with Stephen Downes’ description of characteristics of successful networks, highlights some of the differences between communities and networks:

  • autonomy
    • degree to which a network and its members can act independently
    • not a criterion for a community, rather are coherence and a sense of belonging to group (identification)
  • diversity
    • degree to which various backgrounds and opinions are represented in the network
    • communities require a mutual understanding and shared repertoire.
  • openness
    • degree to which the community is open to new members
    • * although not mentioned, I believe this was a major weakness of the COP of physics teachers in the Jones and Preece (2006) study.


Preece, J. (2000) Online Communities: Designing Usability, Supporting Sociability, John Wiley & Sons.

Jones, A. and Preece, J. (2006) ‘Online communities for teachers and lifelong learners: a framework for comparing similarities and identifying differences in communities of practice and communities of interest’, International Journal of Learning Technology, 2(2), pp. 112–137.

Wenger, E. (1998) Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity, Cambridge University Press.

Wenger, E., Trayner, B. and De Laat, M. (2011) Promoting and assessing value creation in communities and networks: a conceptual framework, Ruud de Moor Centrum, Open University of the Netherlands, Available online

#H809 Ethical implications of an OLPC evaluation study

In the first TMA of ‘the season’ we were asked to formulate a research question on an educational technology topic and discuss the methodologies that could be used to address it.  I focused on the evaluation of an One-Laptop-Per-Child (OLPC) programme and whether it has an effect on learning in a developing country context.  In the first week after the TMA the focus is on ethics and audiences. What are the ethics implications of engaging a study such as the evaluation of an OLPC programme?

Some ethical aspects include (based on Lally et al., 2005):

  1. Informed consent
  • The proposed study works with minors,  so formal consent from parents or guardian is required
  • How can also the pupils’ voices be heard and taken into account by the researchers?
  • Children and parents/ guardians should be duly informed of the research and possible consequences.  How can it be guaranteed that they are fully aware of the research proposal?
  • Options to withdraw from the study should be specified.  In a long-term study such as this, this also has

On informed consent, Lally et al. (2005) write: “researchers should move away from the ‘granting approval’ mode of ethics, towards treating the participants as partners in research”.  A main reason for this shift is that it is increasingly difficult to list in advance all the ethical implications of a research study.  In Cambodia cultural barriers may stand in the way of such a negotiated approach.

2. Potential for discrimination and abuse

  • Given the permanency of the written word, safeguards to prevent information to be made public should be in place
  • Confidentiality and anonymity clauses of participants in research findings should be clear
  • Extent of moral duties of researchers, for example when confronted with harmful content, should be specified
  • Care should be taken of the effect on interpersonal relations (issues of power, safety) the introduction of an expensive technology has in an environment where such devices would normally not be purchased.
  • Introducing expensive devices may create inequalities and feelings of exclusion with pupils from deprived backgrounds.
  • Determining test and control groups may be difficult (in case of a RCT), as it implies some pupils in a class get a computer and others not.

3. User generated content

  • It should be clear who has access to usage data and child-created content and under what conditions
  • Copyrights on user created content should be clarified
  • It should be clear what content can be used in communication on research findings and under which confidentiality/ anonymity conditions

4. Attachment

  • Users may develop an attachment to a donated computer when used for a long time.  Will they become owner after the research ends?
  • Users may act differently with a device that is not their own (e.g. not use all its features)

Lally et al. (2005) highlight that mobile, ubiquitous and immersive technologies blur boundaries of learning (formal vs. informal, school vs. home, learner vs. consumer…).   These complicate also ethical implications.  There are no definitive answers for the issues listed above, rather they should be discussed with participants in a continuous process throughout the research programme.


Lally, V., Sharples, M., Tracy, F., Bertram, N. and Masters, S. (2012) ‘Researching the ethical dimensions of mobile, ubiquitous and immersive technology enhanced learning (MUITEL): a thematic review and dialogue’, Interactive Learning Environments, 20(3), pp. 217–238.