My Research

I have various different elevator pitches for different people, and my homepage bio (reproduced at the end here) gives a nice overview of the trajectory of my research program. It doesn’t, though, really give a good enough indication of more of the detail around what I’m currently doing, or where I want to go in the future. In this post, I’m going to talk a bit about what my research is currently on, with another post covering some things I’d like to look at in the future.

So currently, my research has two key theoretical foci, and two key methodological foci:

  1. A core focus of my work has been around technological tools (broadly construed) for learning, and in particular dialogue – specifically the kinds of dialogue conceptualised as ‘exploratory’ or ‘accountable’, and their relationship to epistemic types of dialogue
  2. The work has also had a key focus on epistemic cognition – the cognitions people have regarding knowledge and coming to know and a social-epistemological account of this (largely on an individual or small group level, but also in policy contexts)

In analysing such concepts I have two key methodological challenges:

  1. The analysis of dialogue, particularly at scale (e.g. how we detect exploratory dialogue in transcript data) – how do we represent connections between particular types of action/dialogue, and in particular how do we move beyond an utterance level analysis.
  2. Learning analytics around information seeking (e.g. what ‘success’ looks like in an information seeking task, how we evaluate evaluative skills, what experimental paradigms are educationally productive and probe these areas, etc.) and how tasks can be designed to probe these constructs (e.g. various types of multiple document processing task)

This all comes together through my work on how we might conceptualise learning analytics (as an assessment form with built in epistemic assumptions) for thinking about the advanced literacies involved in reading and understanding multiple texts and in particular in collaborative information seeking (CIS) contexts. In these CIS contexts small groups share an information need (“Plan a holiday”, “Decide on the right course of medical treatment”, “Write an assignment on global warming”); the dialogue and interaction with documents engaged in is – in my view – a lens onto the epistemic commitments made by the small group. The ways they interact with each other (their dialogue) and the (monologic) texts is of interest in researching thinking and interthinking, understanding how to analyse this trace data is a challenge. I’m interested in how recent developments in epistemology, and sociocultural perspectives on learning, lead to a social account of epistemic cognition.

This research leads to various side interests around the epistemic properties of dialogue, search engines, algorithms (for search, learning analytics, recommender systems, etc.), how we ‘measure’ knowledge, and so on and those often relate to my prior work, but the above is the core of my current research.

Who Am I?

I’m interested in epistemic beliefs – beliefs about the source, structure, justification and stability of knowledge – and their relationship to actions by individuals and organisations.

On the latter, I wrote my MA thesis in philosophy of education on the implications of one perspective on mind (the Extended Mind thesis) for our understanding of knowledge and its assessment. There I focussed particularly on the use of external tools, and an experiment in Denmark which allowed students access to the internet during their exams (which to my knowledge is still ongoing) and the different notion of ‘knowledge’ implicated in that sort of system from the UK system. There I was supervised by the Institute of Education’s/London Knowledge Lab’s Jan Derry

My MPhil explored these beliefs in action, looking at how children talk about their information needs when engaged in collaborative information retrieval activities in the classroom, and finding that these ‘epistemic beliefs in action’ were – unsurprisingly – related to the quality of information they retrieved. This work also found that their use of ‘exploratory talk’ – talk in which reasons are explained, ideas respected, etc. – was related to search success. This work was supervised by Neil Mercer at Cambridge

My PhD research will explore these beliefs in the context of mapping user epistemic beliefs as linked to their information retrieval behaviours, and working to scaffold the development of these beliefs through the use of learning analytics and collaborative platforms. I’m now being supervised by KMI’s Simon Buckingham Shum (whose work on hypertext discourse and argumentation environments was particularly exciting) and CREET’s Karen Littleton (whose work on productive educational dialogue and educational technologies was particularly exciting).

Also joining the team from summer 2014 are Fridolin Wild – whose work in information science and text analysis lends analytic support, and Bart Rienties – bringing a perspective on quantitative work in learning analytics.

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