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Posted by on Mar 20, 2013

PhD research questions & implicit value assumptions: Transparency and #mlearning in Korea

A painting in my father in-law's house that I have stared at for the last 10 years. Or, a model for a mobile learning space.

A painting in my father in-law’s house that I have stared at for the last 10 years. Or, a model for a mobile learning space.

I haven’t posted one of these in a little while so I thought this might be an opportune time as I prepare for a meeting with my supervisors and prepare a presentation on mobile learning that I will be delivering in Finland in May. I am searching for a cohesive metaphor for the presentation, but the content I feel I understand well; for the thesis, I am tinkering and questioning, probing further and further towards something cohesive in a field that is burgeoning. I wanted to remain true to my original goal of this reflective process (posted here to this blog) to be transparent in this process, to speculate openly and to not be embarrassed by how naive some of my reflection might sound as it most undoubtedly will in retrospect. So, I come to you today with the next iteration of research questions and some of my postulating and questioning around the research questions and their influence on the structure of my thesis.

The Research Questions: v15

So I tinker with these daily at the constructive prodding of my supervisors. I am zeroing in more and more on mobile composition, how we might use mobile technology to ‘write’ in the academic workflow, how these ‘writings’ must account for multimodality, and how faculty might serve to legitimize or validate whatever is produced for consumption and use by the larger community. So here is where they stand.

  1. What is the current state of mobile technology use in the Humanities in Higher Education in (South) Korea?
  2. What types of multimodal compositions are being produced with mobile technology in Korean higher education in the Humanities? Do these works represent departure from existing disciplinary practice?
  3. Does Multimodality identify the material characteristics of these mobile engagements and multimodal works?
  4. Do these engagements with mobile technology and production of multimodal texts signal a deepening participation in the Community of Practice by graduate students?
  5. How do faculty validate these texts for dissemination to the larger Humanities CoP?

Implicit Assumptions and Potential Pitfalls

As you might have spotted, these research questions assume the following:

  • That Korean universities are actually experimenting with mobile technology and composition. There is an outside chance that this limited experimentation is not a thing, nor ever will be. I might be chasing at a ghost here, a possibility I freely admit. Overall, this is my biggest concern. That by the time I get to the data collection portions of the thesis, there will be no data to collect or it will be of the archived sort from past projects with no future continuity. If this is the case, I will need to rework this entirely and shift towards other mobile uses in higher education. However, I feel confident in assuming that mobile technology will not go away and that Koreans will make utility of it.
  • Composing across and with multiple modes is advantageous to the Humanities disciplines and our overall knowledge as humans. Although this is not explicitly stated at any point in this thesis, I believe that the evolution of communication (as a tool) is drawing us further and further into more complex systems requiring more complex modes of representation than text alone can provide. Mobile technology merely exacerbates that engagement with complexity. Artifacts are bounded and aggregated in novel and complex ways through technology, forcing rethinks of our understanding about relevance and comprehension. As such, we are looking for a new language that encapsulates these aggregations using all the tools at our employ. This is the next stage, I believe, of communicative evolution and I think multimodality is attempting to address that. So the implicit value assertion of multimodal works is laden throughout the thesis.
  • Question 5 assumes that faculty do indeed validate these texts, give then some authority before releasing them into the larger Community of Practice. I am not 100% sure this is the case, but if I am using CoP as a vantage point, I need to assess what role faculty (as mentors) serve in this process of composition (making). They might inhibit it for all I know. In a strongly top-down model of higher education that Korea generally employs, they are the node/bottleneck of this entire process of experimentation so to not address their role in new modes of communication feels ridiculous. I am just not sure how I might observe this or even bound this observation. Perhaps working in on feedback mechanisms from faculty>student. So Question 5 will evolve considerably based on the initial data collection.

Open Questions and Honest Appraisal of Motivation

I have a few questions to ask my supervisors for our next meeting that range from the banal (how long is this section supposed to be?) to the befuddled (do I have to give A and B and C a working definition? How much can be assumed?) to the complex (I will let you know when I think of a complex question). Some open questions I have are below. I have also provided some honest appraisal of my motivation here for transparency. Perhaps it isn’t as blatant/hilarious/flippant as #overlyhonestmethods, but it is important to note that all research begins with real motivation (on the part of the researcher) linked to some real-world application (even if that application is career advancement). My motivation is quite clear below and I have done everything to ensure that this wiggle room is built into the structure of the research itself.

Question: How much of a case do I need to make for government investment and instruction on the use of mobile technology (and all ICT) in higher education in South Korea? I don’t want to put too simplistic/naive/culturally insensitive a point on it, but education in South Korea tends to be relatively hierarchical, highly structured, and generally proscribed. There are some radical advancements taking place in South Korean higher education (that the world rarely hears about), but there is a specific system in which this experimentation takes place that I feel the need to lay out as it differs somewhat from the Western model of higher education. How much of a case do I have to make to lay this out? This is an example of a banal question of not being sure how much space to allocate to this case-building exercise.

Am I leaving the door open for a participatory design process and possible mobile development? I am not that crazy about research with little application and this is where my motivation comes through (as well as all those implicit value assumptions listed above). I believe this is a potential beneficial direction for the community and after I have done all the academic observation, rigorous reflection, writing, and dissemination, I want to build something, if warranted. I want to add a tool to the artifacts of the community, if warranted. I want to stimulate the construction, dissemination, and acceptance of multimodal texts by the Humanities community, if warranted. These are my motivations and I find myself doing nothing that would preclude this activity from taking place. Why? As I think design language is an example of that new mode of communication I referred to earlier. It is taking great complexity (designers talking to Humanities-types? Not always clear lines of communication there) and representing it accurately and cohesively. It is about employing any tool at your disposal, employing as many senses as possible in the translation of complexity. Design is the comprehension of the complex.

Design, code, and application are languages of great complexity. Building mobile applications/environments is knowledge representation; it is a valid knowledge construct of the Humanities community. I am not original in saying this. If we place such value (theoretically) in the observation of networks, flow, and learning in these spaces, then our artifacts can be about the manipulation of that flow (mobile applications). Tools that help us process complexity are, in themselves, knowledge constructs. The code counts. So, ultimately I want to build these things with the community I am serving. That is the extension of higher education into society that I am looking for: both the observation and the service. To better articulate my point here, I turn to Presner’s Digital Humanities 2.0: A Report on Knowledge and his take on the role of the university in this process (traditionally). This is part of the implicit assumptions my research questions encapsulate.

The university is no longer the sole, and perhaps not even the privileged, site of knowledge production, curation, stewardship, and storage. Traditionally an exclusive, walled-in institution, the university legitimates knowledge while reproducing rules of admission to and control over discourses. Not just anyone can speak (one must first be sanctioned through lengthy and decidedly hierarchical processes of authorization), and the knowledge that is transmitted is primarily circulated within and restricted to relatively closed communities of knowers (Foucault calls them fellowships of discourse). True statements are codified, repeated, and circulated through various kinds of disciplinary and institutional forms of control that legitimize what a “true statement” is within a given discipline: before a statement can even be admitted to debate, it must first be, as Foucault argued repeatedly, “within the true” (224). For an idea to fall “within the true,” it must not only cite the normative truths of a given discipline but, and this is the crux of this essay, it must look ‘within the true’ in terms of its methodology, medium, and mode of dissemination. Research articles can’t look like Wikipedia entries; monographs can’t be exhibitions curated in Second Life. At least not yet.

The marriage of mobile and multimodality is a vehicle towards actualizing that future vision (‘at least not’ yet implying that it will be soon). All of this is implicitly embedded in my thesis so it seemed right to share this in the interests of transparency.

Thesis images

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