At the nexus of learning and innovation

Three recent PhD graduates: Nanoscience, higher education, and agricultural learning

One of the most important things we do at CRLI is supporting our PhD students. A few of these have graduated in the last few months and been awarded their doctorates. Their years of hard work certainly deserve a mention, so we’ll briefly summarise their work below.

Polly Lai


Polly’s dissertation explored new ways of learning challenging nanoscience concepts. These concepts are particularly challenging because they are so distant from our everyday experience, i.e. at the atomic level, so it is difficult to intuit how they work. To get around this, Polly used ‘Agent Based Models’ (ABM) to support learners in getting an embodied grip on these elusive atomic phenomena. An ABM is a visual and interactive computer simulation consisting of agents following simple rules, and from the interaction of these agents more complex phenomena emerge. Polly compared learning performance between students using ABMs and other commonly used visualisations. Her results showed that ABM-supported learning was more effective, and she explained this result in terms of embodied theories of cognition. 

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Kashmira Dave


Kashmira’s dissertation explored learning in higher education, where there is an increase in ‘learning by doing’ approaches as compared to prevailing ‘learning by telling’ approaches. Specifically, her study sought to improve our understanding of how university teachers design tasks and how students then interpret the tasks set for them. One of the important elements here was that the intentions of a teacher may not translate directly into the interpretations of the student. Understanding this process is therefore important for effective teaching and learning. Her results suggest that teachers should be more explicit about the intentions of a particular learning task, i.e. what a learner is supposed to learn, and to not leave this up to chance. When this is clearer, better learning outcomes are more likely.

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Gilbert Importante


Gilbert’s dissertation explored the implementation of agricultural technologies in developing countries, and how farmers learn to use technologies supported by ICT. Gilbert analysed the interweaving of humans and technologies through the theoretical perspectives of sociomateriality, and sense making (i.e. giving meaning to experience). To explore this, he conducted an ethnographic case study in the Philippines. The results showed that participants progressed through three stages, namely: figuring, configuring and reconfiguring. During ‘figuring’, the farmers engaged in various learning processes by observing others and engaging in verbal exchanges (e.g., linking new abstract ideas with material objects, organizing ideas, and verbal referencing). In ‘configuring’, farmers learned by experimentation, storytelling, group learning and the integration of sociomaterial objects in farming routines. During ‘reconfiguring’, farmers engaged in experimentation that focused on the creation of new knowledge and understanding, and the manipulation of new artefacts.

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