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Title: Electronic Devices as a Resource for Getting ‘On-Task’ and Deepening Group Knowledge: A Multimodal Conversation Analytic Investigation of a Self-Organized Learning Environment at a UK University
Authors: Du, Yang
Issue Date: 2020
Publisher: Newcastle University
Abstract: Mitra’s concept of Self-Organized Learning Environment (SOLE) has gained worldwide attention after receiving the $1 million TED prize in 20131 . In SOLE environments, students interact with each other, often using internet-enabled electronic devices (IEEDs) such as a tablet or laptop, and learn in a collaborative manner with little or no input from the teacher. While there is a growing body of theoretical and perception-based research discussing the affordances of SOLE environments (e.g. Mitra and Dangwal, 2010; Dolan et al., 2013; Mitra, 2014), only very few studies investigate unfolding interactions amongst students in such environments (e.g. Burgess, 2006). Using a Conversation Analytic methodology (CA) with a particular focus on multimodal resources, this study deepens our understandings of the ways IEEDs are utilized by students in a SOLE environment at a British university. The data collected for this study comprises of 12 hours of video-recorded SOLE sessions where small groups of Chinese Masters’ degree students in the UK collaboratively investigate topics related to ‘British culture’. In these sessions, students rely on both Chinese (Mandarin) and English and routinely use an IEED. Analysis reveals that students make use of various affordances of the laptop during the SOLE discussion. Firstly, IEEDs are manipulated to help carry out social actions. Students routinely use the device as a resource for ending non-pedagogical activities and getting back on-task. Secondly, the IEED is used as a resource for knowledge to the SOLE topic question. Additionally, though, it presents various challenges. The linguistic and/or topic-related contents presented on the IEED frequently prompts students to display ‘unknowing’ or ‘less knowing’ (K-) epistemic positions. Students’ claims of K- epistemic positions can trigger the relatively more knowledgeable (K+ epistemic status) student to offer assistance, with them serving as a resource for knowledge to the students with K- epistemic status. In the absence of a participant with ‘knowing’ (K+) epistemic status, the group can use the relevant contents presented on the IEED screen as a resource to work towards achieving a group understanding. 1 ii In summary, this thesis argues that without the presence of a teacher, interpreting and internalising information activated by an internet-connected device is a collaborative endeavour, in which participants draw on multimodal resources, including the employment of linguistic and bodily resources, the manipulation of artefacts, the use of technology, and a transition between different spatial realities. These findings add to the body of CA and Multimodal research in SOLE context, as well as the growing body of educational technology-related research and research on the uses of objects in interaction.
Description: Ph. D. Thesis (Integrated)
Appears in Collections:School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences

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