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Thursday, July 4 • 3:30pm - 4:10pm
Knowledge and knower structures in self-directed learning

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Object of study and research question:
This paper deals with ‘self-directed learning’ spaces in Higher Education.
This is one of the main principles of the pedagogical approach, Problem Based Learning (PBL), which has become more prevalent in Denmark in recent years. The principle of self-direction implies that the students are expected to make extensive decisions about their own learning. The paper focuses especially on dilemmas in the relations between teachers and students and between students themselves. It draws on results from a recently completed research project initiated by the Association of University Colleges in Denmark.

It is commonly known among actors involved in PBL, that the principle of ‘self-directed learning’ contains some contradictions for both learners and teachers. On the one hand, students are encouraged by the PBL-pedagogy to develop their autonomy and personal traits, build on their own experience etc. On the other hand, the educational system as such requires that student performances are sanctioned against objective standards.
This is typically seen in exams where the requirements for the students often appear more clearly than they were first informed about by the PBL-pedagogy. Some dilemmas seem to arise: The challenge for the students is to find out to what degree they can pursue their own interests and preferences compared to what is objectively required of them. Another dilemma is how to balance two teacher-roles through the PBL-programs: instructor and/or facilitator.

B. Bernstein’s concept of ‘invisible pedagogy’ captures some of such contradictions and dilemmas (Bernstein, 2000).

The purpose of this project was to investigate the contradictions in the seemingly conflicting codes in the pedagogical discourse associated with the PBL in order to gain a deeper understanding of what characterizes self-direction dilemmas for the actors, both teachers and students. In this paper, focus is on the question:
What characterize the structuring features of self-directed learning spaces in PBL-organized educational practices, and how can dilemmas in such learning spaces be conceptualized?

With ‘structuring features’ as a central object, an educational sociological approach was considered relevant for the study. Specialization codes from the LCT-framework were enacted to explore different structural principles for knowledge practices within PBL-organized educational settings (Maton, 2000)(Maton, 2014).

As analytical tool in this project, the two structuring principles, Epistemic Relations (ER) and Social Relations (SR) were agreed-on to identify dominating codes and code ambiguities/shifts between curriculum and pedagogical practice (se next section). With inspiration of Bourdieu’s theories of capital and how actors position themselves in a field, the students’ educational dispositions were analyzed in order to discover any possible conflicts between such dispositions and the transmitted pedagogic discourse.

Methods, techniques or modes of research:
The project was designed as a qualitative multiple case study comprising two educational programs with different cultures and different PBL-concepts. The two chosen cases were a “Constructing Architect”-program and a “Retail & Design management”-program.
Analytically, we distinguished between two levels in the educational device: 1) Curriculum and 2) pedagogical practice. This was done to enable us to trace any possible changes in the pedagogical discourse from one level to another.
• Research of curriculum documents, such as directives, syllabuses and study plans
• Observations of classroom activities:
o Introductions to project phases and subject areas (interaction between teachers and class)
o Project guidance (interaction between teachers and project-groups)
o Student interaction in project groups
• Interviews with teachers at the beginning and the end of PBL-course.
• Group interviews with project groups
• Individual interviews with students from project groups

Results and conclusions:
While the curriculum documents emphasized individuality and student agency, i.e. relatively strong social relations (SR+), this was downplayed in classroom practices. Here emphasis was on acquiring certain disciplinary knowledge (ER+). The curriculum documents exhibited a knower code, but in the classroom practice the code changed towards a knowledge code. This happened in both cases. However, this was not a clear code shift, but a shift to a more ambiguous code. The ambiguity of the code was - on one side - what created the self-directed spaces, but on the other side, it also created dilemmas and uncertainties. The paper discusses this with strong reference to Bernstein’s concept of invisibility, especially the ‘play’ that occurred between students and teachers, hence the teachers’ reluctance to provide solution-oriented responses. On the one hand, the students felt that this uncertainty improved their learning. On the other hand, they also became frustrated and thought it was too time consuming.

The paper also presents how a vertical knower hierarchy emerged in the study group by the students own positioning of each other according to their cultural (educational) capital. This knower hierarchy reflected to some extent how the students interpreted the ambiguous code they met.

One of the main points in the study is that the task is not for teachers to eliminate invisibility and dilemmas, but to develop a language by which the actors can discuss what is expected from them within the open frames - the ‘rules of the game’. In the first place, this means that teachers and students need to develop an understanding that making the rules of the game clearer is not a matter of reframing or changing the code. Instead, it is a question of realising, that ambiguity is an embedded element in self-directed studies. Both parties are part of a ‘game’ where there will always be some uncertainty of how various ‘knower-attributes’ will be assessed, when students are to prove their competences.

Significance of the study, including issues raised for LCT research
Specialization codes form LCT together with Bernstein’s concept of invisible pedagogy’ has enabled a deeper research into the structuring mechanisms of self-directed learning spaces and the contradictions and the dilemmas that follow from becoming a ‘self-directed knower’.


Thursday July 4, 2019 3:30pm - 4:10pm SAST
Room B45

Attendees (1)