MA project ideas

I am currently undertaking an MA in Educational Leadership and Innovation, with a focus on New technologies, through Warwick University and Robin Hood Primary School. The assignments for this course are based on Action Research, and will as such require me to undertake research within my year 4 class. At the moment I am trying to decide on how I am going to undertake this, and thought I would share my ideas and invite other to comment and help me define what I am going to do. These are my ideas at present and very much subject to change, so I would really appreciate some comments to support or challenge my thinking.

I want to look at collaborative work mediated by new technologies, as it is the social and collaborative aspect of these tools which I find the most exciting development at present.

Traditional collaborative group work is often shaped by social roles defined by factors largely irrelevant to the work at hand. I am aiming to investigate whether technological tools which alter the mechanics of the writing process facilitate the development of roles which are more appropriate for the task of collaborative writing. It will investigate whether these roles can be derived from a child centred and open ended approach, or if defined structures are required to scaffold the collaborative process. If so it will investigate if technological tools fundamentally change or support this process, or if they are simply a different way of recording its outcome, and therefore not a core part of the process itself.

I propose to do this by creating a collaborative writing task for two groups of children. These groups will be provided with a collaborative writing environment based around 1:1 access to netbooks, and a live updating concurrent text editor (demonstrated here) such as Primary Pad or Google Wave. Both groups will be set the same task, but the first group will not be scaffolded in terms of their group roles and interactions. Their contributions to the group will be allowed to develop as they see fit, and the roles they take on and contributions they make will be observed. The second group will be provided with a scaffolded structure for group work based on Kagan structures for co-operative learning. These children will be given specific roles and turn taking rules, which may be rotated around the group at given intervals. The structures will be designed with the Kagan principle of PIES, that is Positive interdependence; Individual accountability; Equal participation and Simultaneous interaction.

Once the tasks have been completed I will analyse audio recordings of the talk that took place, a replay of the collaborative writing tool, and the finished piece of writing. I hope to analyse whether using a technology which changes the mechanics of the collaborative writing process, allowing all children to interact and edit at the same time supports them to think abstractly about group roles and create their own child- initiated structure, or if they require a structure to be imposed on them in order to scaffold their collaboration.

I am slightly unsure here whether it is appropriate to try to investigate two things at once: the effect of technology and the effect of scaffolded structures for group work. The alternatives to this is of course to compare the unstructured group with another unstructured group provided with pen and paper tools, thus only investigating the effect of the technology itself.

Ultimately what I am interested in is whether technology can enhance group work by changing the mechanics of the writing process, and whether the skills learned in such a collaborative task can be transferred to the individual writing process.  I would be very interested to see if the different roles taken on by the group can be assimilated by the children and imposed on their own internal dialogue when they are writing individually. However, I recognise this is beyond the scope of a 10,000 word MA study and plan to save this for my final project next year.


16 responses to “MA project ideas”

  1. jan webb Avatar


    This is very much along the lines of what we have been doing. We have used wikis for our shared writing and found the children supporting each other quite naturally, editing and improving each other's work (esp punctuation and spelling!) and commenting using the comment and discussion tools – great results – would suggest just changing one variable at a time when you are investigating these factors; too many at once will make it harder to see the effect AND still get some meaningful learning for the children. My other suggestion is to take it beyond just collaboration within the classroom to collaboration with other schools, which is what we have done/are doing with schools abroad and in this country – if you want any more information about our projects, please get in touch and if you want a collaborative partner, I'm hoping more colleagues will be trying out this new pedagogy.

    1. oliverquinlan Avatar

      Thanks Jan. I am interested in your use of Wikis as when I tried to use them for simultaneous collaboration I found they couldn't cope- with edits being over written by previous versions etc. For the moment I want to keep the scale of the study small and confined to my class, but as I develop it later in my MA collaboration with other schools could be a very good direction, thanks.

  2. Jane Avatar

    Very interesting looking forward to hearing about your findings. My initial thought would be that the outcome could depend on the original co-operation skills of the two groups. Thinking about children in my school some do very well in team activities others do not I assume this would be the same if they were collaborating online. I would think that measuring the quality of the end product from two seperate tasks using the same kind of tool would be useful. First task little or no support/framework, second task with a framework/instructions.

    1. oliverquinlan Avatar

      Thanks Jane, I think I need to keep it focused on this, and I will be considering the previous skills of the children and group dynamics when choosing groups.

  3. Sarah Brownsword Avatar

    Sounds really interesting, but I agree with Jan be careful with trying to investigate too many things at once, especially when you have a word count limit!

    1. oliverquinlan Avatar

      Will do, too many interesting avenues, it's hard to focus on one!

  4. joga5 Avatar

    I wonder whether you could do it with more than one piece of work and therefore explore the impact over 2,3,4 or even 5 pieces of work. I wonder whether the differences will be accentuated over sustained use in one sequence.
    I also wonder whether there could be comparison with the use of technology to support the KAGAN principles of PIES.
    Lots of questions and not many answers I am afraid

    1. oliverquinlan Avatar

      Thanks Bill, that's a good idea. We have been advised to keep the scale of the study small as possible for this project, as we still have the final project next year which is much broader in scope. You are totally right, needs to be done over several pieces of work really for meaningful results.

  5. sachavanstraten Avatar

    Great ideas Oliver.

    I'm looking at researching something similar with secondary students, probably using a mix of asynchronous tools (Google Sites and other elements of Google Docs) plus some synchronous learning, using Dim Dim or Cover It Live.

    I'm looking forward to hearing how you get on.



    1. oliverquinlan Avatar

      Thanks Sacha, I'd be interested to read about your experiences as well.

  6. IaninSheffield Avatar

    Sounds like a fascinating study Oliver – I'd be really interested to hear the outcome. I'm also dojng a Masters (Technology Enhanced Learning, Innovation and Change at Sheffield Hallam) and we're often charged with working in a similar way to that which you're asking of your students e.g. critiquing a particular research paper . . . as a group . . . using a wiki. And d'you know what? After 18 months, I still don't think we've got the hang of it! You'd think that graduate educationalists might be able to manage that . . . perhaps we might have something to learn from your Y4 students.

    You did ask whether you ought to be investigating two things at once. It really depends I guess on whether your study is simply investigative or comparative – do you want to find out about the factors which support students to collaborate (both scaffolding and tech tool), or are you after whether the collaborative writing tool alone brings anything to the table?

    Actually, you've probably answered your own question – “Ultimately what I am interested in is whether technology can enhance group work by changing the mechanics of the writing process” – which might provide your route forward.

    1. oliverquinlan Avatar

      I am convinced these kind of skills are going to be crucial to the children I teach when they move into adulthood and the workplace, as you have found. I think I want to be investigative, but in terms of the scale of the study I am thinking a comparative approach might be more rigorous and productive.

  7. IaninSheffield Avatar

    You might also find this TED Talk from Suga Mitra about how young people learn collaboratively, given no guidance at all:

  8. keithmcneill Avatar

    Sounds great Oliver. I can see your dilemma with the option of studying two things at once. My first instinct would be to focus on the effect of the technology on the collaborative environment. Decide whether you want to structure the groups or not and leave both groups the same. There will be a lot in this and as Neil said the other night those 5000 words will vanish pretty quick. Investigating various models of collaborative structure and tech could come later down the track.

    1. oliverquinlan Avatar

      Thanks Keith. That's what I am thinking too, maybe I am trying to conceptualise a final year project rather than one which fits the scope of this year.

  9. pamthompson Avatar

    What an interesting idea, and so much more effective to do the research with your own class. I understand your concern though about judging the differences with both technology and structures. Would you need to do more than one? Tech with and without structures then non-tech with and without structures? Just a thought.

    I'm thinking of a topic for my last unit of my Master of Ed. I'm not being very creative unfortunately.

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