Last week, on May 19th 2016 prof. dr. Marco Kalz and I have presented the SOONER project to the twelve project leaders who have been awarded funding for their open online education projects at SURF. It was a very nice opportunity to meet the people behind the project plans, to get some insight about their projects and ideas, and to share knowledge about open online education and surrounding topics. Additionally, we introduced the SOONER project with a focus on the accompanying research topic: we got to explain the way we would like to do systematic research within the SOONER project, how we will collect our data, and what we expect in terms of output and collaboration.

Recap: The SOONER project in a nutshell: The SOONER project focuses on fundamental and accompanying research about open online education (OOE) in the Netherlands. This project as a whole will enable systematic and long-term research on open online education from a macro-, meso- and micro-perspective. SOONER will be organized via four PhD-projects on 1) self-regulated learning skill acquisition in the context of OOE, 2) motivation and intentions as key to drop-out in OOE, 3) scalable support solutions for OOE including learning analytics and last but not least 4) OOE as means for organizational development and educational innovation. If you want to know more about this project, or take a look at our proposal, click here.

In the presentation of last week, we focused on the general goals of SOONER as well as the accompanying research line. Feel free to take a look at the slides.

The challenge of independence: In line with our accompanying research goals, every year, when a new batch of innovation projects is starts, we would like to collect data, and collaborate with the project leaders like we did with earlier batches. This implicitly means that we gain preliminary results from earlier project batches. Therefore, it is tempting and sounds logical to share this knowledge, and facilitate learning for the upcoming batches. However, this is not our role. We as a research team have to stay independent in order to do scientifically adequate research. We cannot influence our own data, since we would then influence our findings.

The challenge of the N: Since the accompanying research mainly focusses on the organization as a whole, we really depend on the number (n) of participants in order to make the research valid. If we for instance want to asses the culture in a university, we cannot base this on a low number of observations because this would give us an inaccurate view of the culture on an organizational level. Therefore, clear communication, collaboration as well as expectation management is very important. This was also the reason to be present at this kick-off meeting, and clearly explain what we are going to do. In advance, I would already like to thank the project leaders for their commitment.

The challenge of heterogeneous projects: What was really interesting to see, is that all projects serve different goals, adapted to a specific field (e.g. geology, writing, teacher development). Consequently, innovation in education in these projects take various forms. Some projects want to develop a platform to share short modules, others want to build massive online open courses (MOOCs), and others want to enrich their excursions with online learning solutions, or develop a way to improve laboratory education with online learning clips. As fun as this is, it is also a challenge. Especially for our fundamental research projects within SOONER (e.g. scalable support solutions for OOE) there needs to be some form of comparability between projects, or certain aspects that you only find in MOOCs, like scalability. A careful assessment of where to collect our data is therefore really important, and challenging.

All these challenges aside, this new batch of projects is also promising. All research lines a becoming more focused and clear. This means that also more challenges keep coming up, but that also helps to eventually obtain some insightful results.

Author MartineSchophuizen

Martine’s background lies in Psychology and Learning Sciences as she holds a Bachelors degree in Cognitive Psychology, and a Masters degree in Management of Learning (Maastricht University). After her studies she was a management trainee at a large dutch corporate telecom company. After that, she got the chance to go back into the academic world and had some hands on teaching experience as a lecturer at Maastricht University. She is now working as a PhD candidate at the Welten Institute of the Dutch Open University in Heerlen. Her research is centred around the question to what extent Open Online Education (OOE) is embedded in higher learning institutions. She will mainly focus on the organizational (pre)conditions that lead to succes/failure of OOE, the effect of Open Online Education on the organization, and the contribution it has towards the quality of education.

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