At the nexus of learning and innovation

Student highlight: Elizabeth Black

I have just commenced my PhD candidature with the Centre for Research on Learning and Innovation after being completely hooked on Learning Sciences and Technology through the course of my Masters (MLS&T).


How would you describe your research in three words? 

More effective collaboration

What motivates your research?

Does Group Work suck? In my experience, deeply and hard, like a member of the Resistance enjoying their first Gitane after parachuting safely back into friendly territory.

What is it with group projects? They strike fear and loathing into the hearts of students and instructors alike. And yet, most students in post-secondary courses will participate at least once in a group project that goes horribly wrong – based on anecdotal, but consistent, remarks from peers, and my own repeated experiences.

What do you hope to show? 

Collaborative project work at university is seen as an important foundation for learners to become ready for an increasingly global, complex and technology-based workplace. However, while the benefits of group tasks are recognised by both students and instructors, research shows consistent concerns around effective facilitation, equitable participation and the fairness of assessment. Evidence from recent studies suggests that computer supported collaborative learning (CSCL) environment design that deliberately scaffolds groups through both knowledge and self-regulation activities results in more learning for participants and better quality outcomes for collaborative tasks.

This design-based study will investigate the effect of using intentional CSCL design to facilitate these frequent and productive interactions within and across learning groups engaged in complex problem-solving. Understanding how these features are applied by participants in the process of their group project can help us frame future CSCL environments that reliably influence successful collaboration.

What books, articles, or people have had the greatest influence on who you are as a researcher?

The staff and students I met during my MLS&T, as well as the really diverse range of perspectives encountered during the course, have allowed me to access many more ways of seeing. The literature described and modelled many more ways of knowing. Yrjö Engeström’s Activity Theory articulates such beautiful purpose for knowledge construction. And Crina Damşa deals elegantly with the knotty problem of shared epistemic agency. Epistemic framing generally is a fascination and the Lina Markauskaite, Peter Goodyear and Robert Ellis epistemic fluency concept is a fundamental pillar in my research, with Peter Reimann’s unique blend of insight, technology and teamwork its necessary complement. I was deeply moved by the article by Hans de Zwart ‘Ai Weiwei is Living in Our Future, and Francis Heylighen’s ‘Challenge Propagation: Towards a theory of distributed intelligence and the global brain’. My coach helps me to understand the inherently constructed nature of reality, and I enjoy the debates around its manifestations in consciousness by Daniel Dennet in From bacteria to Bach and back: the evolution of minds, and Donald D. Hoffman in The Case Against Reality. I read and re-read Andy Clark’s Supersizing the mind embodiment, action, and cognitive extension on long flights and I still think my mind could do with a bit more supersizing. And I care about it all because we’re all in it together, whatever it is.

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