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Participatory learning

Research Leads

Elpida Makriyannis, Doug Clow

What is it?

The overall aim of this strand is to understand how participatory learning - active engagement, participation and contribution by learners, often in social, open and creative ways - relates to open educational resources (OER).

iSpot forumThe research questions

  • How does participatory learning behaviour manifest?
  • How do their modes and types of interaction compare with those in traditional OER contexts?
  • What drives participation in these communities?
  • How do users participate?  What are the different modes/profiles?
  • Are there hidden elements effecting their participation? What are they?
  • Is there any learning taking place?  And what learning is that?

Progress to date

Daily observations were performed on user participatory behaviour in 50 online learning communities using public domains in order to determine how users participate in these communities and what drives participation.  The findings of the observational study resulted in the development of a new model for participatory behaviour in online learning communities.  To test this model, the iSpot community ( was observed.  The outcomes were:

  1. The development of a new framework (The Fairy Rings of Participation Model) that describes user participation in online learning communities
  2. Participatory activity in online communities falls into four modes: a) browsing, gathering and sharing content; b) giving and receiving feedback; c) collaborating and jointly deciding; d) sharing control over the community and content
  3. Participatory mobility in online communities is influenced by underground multidirectional activities and hidden elements i.e. reciprocity, identity, habits, real-world probes
  4. Initial findings show participation of iSpot members depending on the same underlying elements found in the model; recipricated activity encourages learners to add more content; real world probes - students asked to post observations as part of course requirements; and identity - experts who know each other's work will engage deeper and participate more often
  5. Young members mimic expert scientific style, making more accurate and in-depth descriptions as they become more involved in the community, showing increased confidence about their learning
  6. Students with initially limited knowledge improve so much taht they are able to challenge or suggest alternative descriptions to expert identifications

Some of this work has been published in a conference paper ('Fairy Rings of Participation', Makriyannis and de Liddo, Aalborg, 2010).  A full paper has been written ('iSpot analysed: Participatory Learning and Reputation') and presented at the Learning Analytics and Knowledge Conference in Banff February/March 2011.  More are planned.

OLnet has also been involved in contributing to existing external research projects.  This work forms a 'spin-off' to the Participatory Learning strand:

  1. TwHistory ( virtual re-enactments of historical events, broadcast via Twitter streams in real-time.  Research has been to explore opportunities for allowing learners new ways to experience and learn about historical events and figures, not only as re-enactment observers, but as active participants
  2. SmartHistory ( a free and open, not-for-profit, online art history textbook that uses multimedia to deliver unscripted conversations between art historians and the history of art.  The main objective of the research was to identify enablers and barriers in the creation and contribution of OER content to the site and to the SmartHistory OER community
  3. HESTIA (Herodotus Encoded Space-Text-Imaging Archive) open-source project using materials from an OER database on Herodotus with historical information across time and space using Google Earth and Google Maps.  The research was aroudn the tools (i.e. Herodotus Earth and Herodotus Narrative Timemap) and experiences of those researching, teaching and learning about the ancient world.
  4. OER Content and Discovery: How to make open content search and discovery an easier and quicker process for users worldwide.  OLnet, in collaboration with the HESTIA team, won the Google Digital Humanities Award in 2010.