Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Knowledge building and the metadiscourse concept

I have now published two papers about knowledge building and the metadiscourse/metacommunication concept:

Some comments from the reviewers:

- Reviewer A: This conceptual paper addresses an important issue regarding the nature of metadiscourse in Knowledge Building. (…)Overall, the paper is well-written and –organized, and it also provides a novel theoretical framework to look at the relationships between metadiscourse and knowledge building activities.

- Reviewer B: The author of this paper made an attempt to clarify and expand the concept of metadiscourse that is important in KBCs. Drawing on discourse examples from two published studies, the author identified several facets of metadiscourse/metacommunication and suggested additional aspects. This attempt is helpful.


Some comments from the reviewers:

Reviewer A: This is a very interesting and much-needed paper that attempts to develop a deeper conceptualization of metadiscourse as it applies to knowledge building practice and research. (…)

- Reviewer B: The work is really interesting to understand how metacommunication can be analyzed in a kb context.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Action research and learning networks in schools in Ontario

The Teacher Learning and Leadership Program
An interesting initiative in Ontario is “the Teacher Learning and Leadership Program” (TLLP) which started in 2007. The government is funding grassroots projects developed by experienced classroom teachers so that their personal knowledge about how to improve one or more aspects of student learning or teacher learning can be developed and shared with their peers. The program has covered 401 projects with 2,400 teachers during the first four years of existence. The Ontario Teachers’ Federation (the umbrella union for over 120,000 teachers) is also involved in the arrangement of conferences for new project participants and they “summit” sessions where project participantes who have finished the one-year action research phase share their learning with other teachers, schools and school boards (Clark, 2012). The goals of the TLLP are:
  • to support experienced teachers who undertake self-directed advanced professional development related to improved student learning and development;
  • to help classroom teachers develop leadership skills for sharing learning and exemplary practices on a board-wide and/or provincial basis; and to facilitate knowledge exchange.
  • to facilitate knowledge exchange by building a provincial network for the sharing of teacher expertise
Positive evaluation
According to Clark (2012) participants have been extremely positive about the experience, and projects have addressed new approaches to all teaching subjects, innovative programs to improve literacy, numeracy or education for students at risk, and action research into improving professional learning communities in schools (Some of the work is documented in Ontario Teachers’ Federation DVD Taking the Lead). Both this program and the New Teacher Induction Program (NTIP) are putting the emphasis on individual professional learning and networking rather than on PD days. Further research should explore if teacher learning is enhanced by the shift away from externally-designed traditional professional development programs to ongoing, collaborative, teacher-selected and job-embedded learning activities (Clark, 2012).

Other countries working in a similiar way
Another similar program  INSTEP (InService Teacher Educator Practice), has been in place in New Zealand since 2004. Accoring to Clark (2012) both this project and the Ontario TLLP program resemble the Japanese “lesson study” and Chinese teachers’ research group approaches that Schwille and Dembele (2007) describe as exemplary teacher-focussed professional learning models. All these programs share some common features:
  • they use the teachers’ own classroom as laboratories for professional development.
  • they emphasize teachers working together.
  • they use target lessons to discuss and investigate broader goals of schooling.
  • they rely on action research with teachers writing reports to disseminate their learning.
  • they emphasize the need to understand student thinking.
  • there is a balance between individual teacher initiative and leadership, and outsider advice and guidance (Schwille and Dembele, 2007: 112–113 in Clark, 2012).

One idea in the future can be to use wiki environments to support this kind of knowledge sharing.


- Clark, Rosemary (2012). Professional control and professional learning. Some Policy Implications (ed.). Clark, Rosemary;  D. W. Livingstone & Harry John Smaller. Teacher Learning and Power in the Knowledge Society.

- Website with more information about the project:

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Metadiscourse strategies and metadiscourse tools

In my own research, I have been interested in how the metadiscourse concept is used in knowledge building research. Jianwei Zhang has together with his colleagues published some new research papers about the topic. In this blog post, I attempt to summarize some key points.

1. Two different metadiscourse strategies
Zhang, Lee and Wilde (2012) relate the metadiscourse concept to students’ efforts to co-construct ideas and develop shared, promising research goals. This study examined two complementary designs of metadiscourse in two Grade 5/6 classrooms that investigated astronomy. Teachers tested two different metadiscourse designs which were intended to help students develop a progressive course of inquiry. Both these approaches are different from a traditional inquiry-based approach where students often solve pre-specified problems or tasks which rarely generate curiosity-driven questions spontaneously.

1.1. Co-reviewing student questions
Class A’s metadiscourse focused on reviewing student questions to formulate deepening goals. This focus on progressive questions could be said to represent an “inside out” process to deepen inquiry because personal wonderment and curiosity serve as the driving force. This strategy supports student collaborative efforts to monitor what is known and what is missing in order to identify knowledge goals based on their deepening wonderment (Zhang, Lee & Wilde, 2012).

About once every two weeks the whole class had a “metacognitive meeting” which lasted 20-30 minutes. The students reflected on progress and identified the focus of their further inquiry. Before each meeting, students were given time to read the online entries of their peers. They then contributed with new and deeper questions in Knowledge Forum by using the discourse scaffold “I need to understand”. Furthermore, these questions were listed on chart paper and reviewed in the whole class meetings. In the meeting, the teacher and the students tried to identify promising questions that seemed important and might stimulate deep inquiry. These questions were revisited in the subsequent metacognitive meetings (Zhang, Lee & Wilde, 2012).

It was challenging for the students to identify promising ideas. The teacher encouraged student reflection by asking questions such as: “Which question…that seems like… really ‘meaty’…? So, that’s a question that shows a lot of promise. We could probably do lots with that...A question we could generate lots of discussions. Lots of people can have input into it.” (Zhang, Lee & Wilde, 2012).  The teacher also tried to illustrate characteristics of good questions:

- Teacher A: “How big is the Sun?” Would that be a question that would generate lots of different conversation and people could input lots of different things?
- Student 1: No.
- Teacher A: No, and why not?
(Students murmur. Student 2’s voice gains their attention)
- Student 2: It’s pretty… It’s like a simple question …How does it heat people?... that would be a bigger, deeper question…Like, “How does the Sun heat the Earth?” or something.
- Teacher A: Right. So… There are lots of questions about the Sun, that would be deeper, richer kinds of questions, that would generate lots of discussion, and those are the questions we’re really looking for. (Zhang, Lee & Wilde, 2012).

1.2. Co-monitoring of key disciplinary concepts
Class B’s focused on co-monitoring of key disciplinary concepts in readings that could deepen their inquiry into the “intellectual heart” of a discipline. Students made use of authoritative sources in order to focus on core concepts in the field. This represents an “outside in” process for students to monitor what is out there in the larger world and selectively “adopt” ideas from the field to grow their own inquiry. Such key concepts serve as conceptual landmarks that can help students better navigate the landscape of the discipline. According to Zhang, Lee and Wilde (2012) both the two described designs of metadiscourse support students work to deepen the collective inquiry. They suggest that an integration of both will likely lead to a more balanced metadiscourse.

2. Idea Thread Mapper
According to Chen, Zhang and Lee (2013) it is usually difficult for students to overview their online collective work. As a consequence it may be difficult to deepen the inquiry because the work is too disconnected. In addition much research has focused on small-group discussion which is not necessarily applicable to discussions in more complex larger groups.  In a research study, Zhang et al. (2013) use an ITM (Idea Thread mapper)-tool which supports students in getting an overview over the material. Through displaying different inquiry threads, the visualization tool make collective progress and problems visible to support ongoing reflection and co-planning. The ITM-aided reflection is used in a two hour long “metacognitive meeting” around the midpoint of the inquiry. With all the idea threads projected on a screen, the whole class reviews the collective work along different lines of inquiry. These conversations seem to increase student awareness of their collective knowledge.

3. Final remarks
These new papers indicate that Zhang and his colleagues are trying to develop a more complex metadiscourse concept. They are working with new tools (Idea Thread mapper) and scripts that can support metadiscourse in Knowledge Building discourse in a positive way. For example, they have introduced the term “metacognitive meetings”. Such regular meetings seem to play an important role in the educational design. In addition they are also emphasizing the importance of having a discussion around the quality of different questions. Since verbal discussions still seem to be of crucial importance, it would be interesting if future research could describe the interplay between verbal and written metadiscourse.


Zhang, J., Chen, M.-H., Chen, J., & Mico, T. F.  (2013). Computer-Supported Metadiscourse to Foster Collective Progress in Knowledge-Building Communities . Proceedings of the International Conference of Computer-supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL). Madison, Wisconsin.

Chen, M.-H., Zhang, J. & Lee, J. (2013). Making Collective Progress Visible for Sustained Knowledge Building. Proceedings of the International Conference of Computer-supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL). Madison, Wisconsin.

Zhang, J., Lee, J., & Wilde, J. (2012). Metadiscourse to foster collective responsibility for deepening inquiry. In Jan van Aalst, Kate Thompson, Michael J. Jacobson, and Peter Reimann (Eds.), Proceedings of the International Conference of the Learning Sciences (pp.395-402). International Society of the Learning Sciences (ISLS).

Monday, 6 May 2013

The importance of metacommunication

I have just published a paper about The Importance of Metacommunication in Supervision Processes in Higher Education. In this paper I separate between three distinct types of metacommunication:  What, how and when do you metacommunicate.

The "What-dimension" describes what kind of metacommunicative content you are talking about. This can both be the conversational content, the conversational relationship or the use of conversational time.  The "How-dimension" suggests that one will relate to other people in a specific way when metacommunicating. An important distinction is made between monological and dialogical metacommunication, where the last type refers to an episode where both parties are metacommunicating.  The "When-dimension" suggests that a metacommunicative utterance will always take place at a specific time. 

In the context of supervision in higher education,  I recommend that there should be more focus on metacommunication as part of a transparent communication style and metacommunication about the collaboration period in supervision.


Monday, 1 April 2013

Collaborative writing with wikis

Here is a short summary of the main research project I am currently working with:

Collaborative writing is considered an important activity in a large variety of professional work. Recently, the widespread use of social media has also increased the amount of writing in social interaction. In addition academic collaborative writing projects have emerged. The online encyclopedia Wikipedia is especially interesting because of the large amount of contributors from all over the world. The success of this massive online project seems to challenge popular definitions of collaborative writing which have focused on a limited amount of writers (Lowry et al. 2004, Posner and Baecker 1992).

Based on these new trends, I will develop a comprehensive model of collaborative writing which attempts to integrate these new writing trends from the internet. Inspired by a sociocultural perspective (Castelló et al. 2012; Prior 2006) and recent theoretical development within the research field CSCL (Computer Supported Collaborative Learning)(Järvelä and Hadwin 2013; Kirschner and Erkens 2013), I will establish a multilevel framework that describes writing activities at four different levels: individual, small group, community and massive global scale.

The theoretical discussion will be based on data from a case study in Norwegian teacher education. In the spring term 2012, approximately 25 students were required to use a wiki to do three collaborative writing assignments in a course about educational use of ICT. Students met face-to-face one or two times a week during period of one month. In these evening sessions a rich variety of data was collected: video data, audio data and individual screen capture data. In addition students were interviewed in groups after they had finished their assignments.

In the data analysis I will give a detailed description of how the students collaborated. Discourse data will be used to analyze the interaction and the language use. I will use screen capture data to analyze the evolvement of collective text artifacts during the course. I will also describe the tensions that arise when students write together in new ways which don’t necessarily fit with the cultural expectations of what is considered “good academic writing”.

 - Castelló, M., Bañales, G., & Vega, N. A. (2010). Research approaches to the regulation of academic writing: the state of the question. Electronic Journal of Research in Educational Psychology, 8(3), 1253-1282.
 - Järvelä, S., & Hadwin, A. F. (2013). New frontiers: Regulating learning in CSCL. Educational Psychologist, 48(1), 25-39.
 - Kirschner, P. A., & Erkens, G. (2013). Toward a framework for CSCL research. Educational Psychologist, 48(1), 1-8.
 - Lowry, P. B., Curtis, A., & Lowry, M. R. (2004). Building a taxonomy and nomenclature of collaborative writing to improve interdisciplinary research and practice. Journal of Business Communication, 41(1), 66-99.
 - Posner, I. R., & Baecker, R. M. (1992, January). How people write together [groupware]. In System Sciences, 1992. Proceedings of the Twenty-Fifth Hawaii International Conference on (Vol. 4, pp. 127-138). IEEE.
 - Prior, P. (2006). A sociocultural theory of writing. Handbook of writing research, 54-66.

(Picture source)

Wikipedians meet in Toronto

During the month of April, 2013 Wikimedia Canada will host its first Contribution Month where contribution events will be organised in different locations across Canada. The goal is to motivate people in contributing to Wikipedia and bring existing editors together.

Anybody who is interested in contributing to Wikipedia can meet up to collectively improve a predetermined theme.  In Toronto, Wikipedians will meet on April 11th to work on Toronto related articles.

Sunday, 31 March 2013

Collective development of wiki textbooks in teacher education

The last two years, I have been leading a project where we have tried to develop new textbooks in Norwegian Teacher Education through the use of wikis.

We developed two different wiki textbooks (“The Mentor Teacher” and “A guide for music teachers”). Both of these books are of quite high quality and people are currently working on improved versions of the books. We are also translating the book about mentoring into an English version which will hopefully be ready in June 2013. The wiki text permits flexible reuse because of special text license

This developmental work is intended to stimulate the development of a more transparent knowledge sharing environment at Østfold University College, but also far beyond this specific institution. This is the reason why it has been important to stimulate the development of sustainable communities that can continue to develop these textbooks. We have encouraged contributions from several different stakeholders such as experienced teacher educators, student teachers and teachers. In this way we try to challenging traditional production of textbooks and the notion of teachers and student teachers as only being “textbook consumers”.

The project is funded by Norway Opening Universities and started in 2011 and continue until spring 2014.

Picture source