Wednesday 7 December 2011

My PhD in Media Studies' research problem statement

1 What problem does my research address? 
There is a research gap regarding the multimodal choices that online portfolios afford, the choices that secondary school students make and the resonances of their choices. There is also a gap in describing how students negotiate with educators regarding choices the latter view as 'problematic'.

1.1 Who supports the presence of a problem?
David Buckingham (2003, 2007) argues that exposing students to media production in new school curricula can be a very effective form of media education. The new Visual Arts curricula that this Action Research project contributed to launching; “Create your own online portfolio” and “Improve your online portfolio” were intended to serve this aim.

In following these curricula, students made many multimodal choices in creating their online portfolios. Multimodal Theory, developed by Gunthar Kress (1996, 2010) and Carey Jewitt (2006, 2010), is highly appropriate for describing individual choices and their relationships; to each other, the page they help construct and other portfolio pages.  

Jewitt (2006) has used Yrjo Engstrom’s  (1987, 2001, 2005) Activity theory to explain the complex schooling context in which multimodal choices are made. Second generation Activity theory will be used to explain how the contradictions and tensions that result from a change to the traditional Visual Arts' classroom's 'tools', 'rules', 'division of labour' and 'community' in the new online portfolio activity system contributed to students negotiations with educators concerning 'problematic' choices.

2 How, where and when does the problem impact?
Although Buckingham’s body of research on media education (1990, 2007) suggests that teaching students media production is beneficial, there are few examples in the literature of these interventions by Visual Arts educators. There is also a research gap in students’ choices with online portfolio software.

By supporting successful initial curricular adoptions at a private (2010, 2011) and public (2011, 2012) school, this project enabled research into: select South African students’ multimodal choices with online portfolio software; their choices’ resonances; and uncovers how changes in creating an online portfolio as an adjunct to a traditional one contributed to students’ negotiations with educators regarding 'problematic' multimodal choices.

2.1 Who supports the impact of the problem?
Michele Knobel and Colin Lankshear (2011) have also identified the importance of students being taught “new media literacies” through digital media production and describe the challenge of educators’ “outsider mindset” being an obstacle to digital media’s successful adoption. This project has helped Visual Arts educators to develop “insider mindsets” that are better suited to support the initial curricular adoptions of online portfolios.

Both the private and public school’s curricula support students with creating showcase Visual Arts electronic learning portfolios (e-portfolios). Barrett (2008) has written about the importance of educating students to use e-portfolios for life-long learning. She has also blogged on the decline in North American secondary schools’ adoption of e-portfolios (2010), listing many challenges that e-portfolio adoptions face.

Hazel Owen (2009) did an e-portfolio literature meta-review, which showed that although there are pedagogical benefits of e-portfolio use in well-resourced, tertiary environments, there are many hazards too. My research has supported secondary school educators with exploring the benefits and hazards of their Visual Arts students’ e-portfolio use as an adjunct to the traditional portfolio.

3 Why does the problem exist?
The conceptual basis for the problem is that online portfolios are a new cultural form; freemium Web2.0 services only emerged from 2003. Their novelty partly explains why so little research has been done into the multimodal choices they afford.

3.1 Who supports the conceptual nature of the problem?
There are distinct resourcing barriers confronting adoption of Information Communication Technology in tertiary education in the developing world: Laura Czernieciwz and Cheryl Brown (2004) identified four key resource categories; 'technological' (i.e. availability of ITC resources), 'personal', 'agency' (i.e. access to digitisation and computer equipment), 'contextual' (i.e. formal enabling networks) and 'online content' (i.e. articles written for local audiences) where barriers to adoption occur. These categories arguably apply in secondary education too, as it is a similar formal environment. 

My research project project has assisted two secondary school educators in overcoming some of these obstacles and has facilitated the curricular adoption of online portfolios for studying multimodal affordances, students’ selections, their choices’ resonances and uncovers the background to negotiations regarding 'problematic' choices.

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