Members of the Educational Dialogue Research Unit (EDRU) are united by a socio-cultural approach to educational research. Our focus is on the teaching, thinking and learning that occur in dialogues, whether they are spoken, written or undertaken via other media such as text-based conferencing. Our work on educational dialogues is currently being developed to take into account the multiple modes at play in learning/teaching interactions in formal and informal settings. We share a commitment to collaborate with ‘users’ of educational research to improve practice. Within this broad approach, and compatible with it, we believe in bringing multiple perspectives to bear upon educational dialogues in a principled way, including methods developed in linguistics, psychology, anthropology, sociology and educational technology, as well as methods more traditionally associated with education. Members of EDRU collaborate together, and with members of other research groups, in an overlapping series of research and dissemination projects exploring educational dialogues in different sites including: schools, higher education, workplaces and homes, and mediated in different ways, including the language of face-to-face interactions, musical collaborations, the use of telephones, computers.
You can find information about studying for a PhD here and about Doctorates in Education (EdD) in EDRU (pdf document)
Educational Dialogue Research Unit (Enquiries)
Faculty of Education and Language Studies
The Open University
EDRU's recent research focuses on the collaborative and collective processes of learning and teaching in formal and informal contexts. More specifically, four key areas of activity characterise the current work of the group:
- the analysis of educational dialogues in formal and informal settings;
- multimodal meaning making;
- the technological mediation of learning and teaching and;
- processes of learning and teaching in the creative arts.
The programme of work being undertaken by the group is driving current developments in socio-cultural theory and research. It involves the development of innovative, often multi-methodological, approaches to the analysis of educational dialogues and is underpinned by a strong commitment to theoretically informed educational intervention. Whilst we characterise our work in terms of four key areas of activity, the work undertaken in one area often informs the work being undertaken in another. For example, learning-teaching processes mediated by technology may be investigated in relation to, or informed by, work undertaken in face-to-face classroom settings.
EDRU research informs the CREET themes of ‘Literacies, applied linguistics and languages’, ‘Technology-enhanced learning and pedagogy’ and ‘Transformation of learners and contexts’.
The analysis of educational dialogues in formal and informal settings
Thinking Together http://www.thinkingtogether.org.uk
Thinking Together is an ongoing programme of research concerned with understanding and promoting educationally productive dialogues. It is led by Neil Mercer at the University of Cambridge in collaboration with Karen Littleton. Thinking Together has attracted much international interest, and has resulted in collaborative research projects with colleagues in Finland, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, The Netherlands and South Africa. British Council funding has enabled Neil Mercer and Karen Littleton to collaborate with Professor Sylvia Rojas-Drummond from UNAM, Mexico, developing the Thinking Together work in a Mexican educational context.
Interactive whiteboards as pedagogic tools in primary schools
Karen Littleton, Alison Twiner, Julia Gillen, Judith Kleine Staarman and Neil Mercer were awarded Economic and Social Research Council funding (£44,935) in 2005 for a project examining teacher-student dialogues around interactive whiteboards in primary schools. The interactive whiteboard is fast becoming a common feature of primary classrooms in the UK and this country appears to be leading the world in introducing them. However, this is taking place in the absence of a clear conception of the whiteboards as communicative and pedagogic tools. This project has used observations in four primary classrooms to provide theoretically informed accounts of how whiteboards are used by teachers, in the context of established classroom practices, patterns of classroom interaction and educational goals. It has established an empirically-grounded account of the use of this new technology and an assessment of its educational value.
The discourse of reading groups
Joan Swann and Kieran O’Halloran were awarded £90,049 from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) for the project: ‘The Discourse of Reading Groups’ (Nov 07-Oct 08). This research explores the discourse of reading groups (including book clubs and book groups): people who meet regularly to discuss, argue over and evaluate literary texts. Reading groups are an important source of ‘everyday’ judgements about literature. While we know a great deal about professional readings and debates – in the form of published reviews and literary criticism – much less attention is paid to how ordinary readers engage with literary texts. The study reflects the diversity of contemporary reading groups, including female, male and mixed groups; groups where some participants have literary training; face-to-face and online groups; and groups that meet locally in people’s houses; in bookshops or libraries; in institutional contexts such as workplaces, schools and prisons. The research combines interactional sociolinguistic with corpus linguistic methods.
Kieran’s research applies corpus linguistic methods to discourse analysis and specifically to critical discourse analysis, literary stylistics and argumentation. Other research interests include cognitive issues in critical discourse analysis as well as the teaching of grammatical awareness (e.g. via systemic functional grammar) for facilitating critical thinking.
Multimodal meaning making
Multimodal literacies in the early years
Rosie Flewitt has an ongoing program of research investigating young children’s multimodal learning. Her most recent project is an Economic and Social Research Council funded study (£86,000, 2007 - 2008) exploring the range of literacy skills and practices that 3 and 4 year old children develop as they engage with the diverse printed and electronic media they encounter in today’s world. The study combines an ethnographic approach with multimodal analysis to investigate what kinds of written, oral, visual and digital literacies are experienced by the children at home and in preschool. Through survey data and interviews combined with video observations of literacy events, the study explores how parent and practitioner beliefs and practices about literacy impact on the processes of learning, and how the children use combinations of modes, such as spoken and written language, gesture, images, sounds and layout, as they engage with literacy in different media.
The experiences of young children with learning disabilities attending both special and inclusive preschools
Rosie Flewitt and Melanie Nind (School of Education, University of Southampton) were awarded £6,600 by RTR (Rix, Thompson, Rothenberg Foundation) (2006 – 2007) to investigate the communicative and social experiences of young children with learning disabilities who attend both inclusive and special settings for their early education. Adopting a case study approach of individual children and a combination of interview, documentary analysis, and video observation, this study has revealed how the young children were constructed differently in the different settings. Innovative methodologies for multimodal analysis developed during Flewitt’s ESRC-funded PhD (1999 – 2003) and ESRC post-doctoral fellowship (2004 – 2005), further unravelled how these constructions reflected the children’s uses of multiple modes to negotiate the different communicative and social environments of the three different settings. The project findings will help parents to make informed decisions and will contribute to the evaluation of the policy and practice of combining special and inclusive settings
The technological mediation of learning and teaching
Academic argument – the role of asynchronous electronic conferencing
Caroline Coffin (in collaboration with her colleagues Ann Hewings and Sarah North, both ALLRU) has an established programme of work focused on researching the role of technology in supporting students’ argumentation skills in Higher Education. This work was initially funded by two internal awards from The Open University’s Learning and Teaching Innovation Committee (from 2001-2003). Then in 2005 Caroline and her colleagues were awarded funding (£25,000) from the Higher Education Academy on the topic: ‘Developing academic argumentation strategies in text based computer conferencing’.
Caroline, together with Guy Cook/ Sarah North (both ALLRU), also secured Economic and Social Research Council funding ( £44,146 in 2005) for the project The language and discourse of argumentation in computer conferencing and essays (http://arguinginhistory.open.ac.uk). This project investigated argumentation within the secondary school context. It combined detailed linguistic analysis with interview data to investigate how argumentation in asynchronous, text based electronic conferencing can be used to support history students’ ability to put forward and engage with different points of view. In particular, by identifying and describing successful language use the aim was to show how the medium can best be used to support teachers in relating the development of argumentation skills in electronic conferencing to their development in written essays.
New technologies and their use in teaching and learning
Deirdre Cook and John Ralston’s work investigates new technologies and their use in teaching and learning. Their current work focuses on mind mapping software, talk and developing thinking and the use of tablet PCs to support early literacy. In relation to children’s use of tablet PCs, they contributed case studies to the OU/BECTA evaluation project (directed by Peter Twining, PLAC, in 2005) and are actively developing research links with colleagues in Berlin. John’s ongoing PhD work focuses on a study of the large scale use of asynchronous collaborative learning and its contribution to professional development.
Denise Whitelock has expertise in electronic assessment and monitoring systems; virtual reality systems for conceptual learning; interactive multimedia for science teaching and computer supported collaborative learning. Her ongoing work on computer-assisted formative assessment is currently being funded by the Open University’s PVC’s office. Denise has also directed the following JISC funded projects.
Case studies of effective and innovative practice in the area of e-assessment
Denise Whitelock and Simon Rae, in collaboration with partners at the University of Derby - Don MacKenzie and Chris Whitehouse - were awarded funding (£45,000) by the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) (2005 – 2006). The project (http://kn.open.ac.uk/workspace.cfm?wpid=4927) extended the understanding of what e-assessment meant to users and producers in the HE and FE Sectors. The studies illustrated that the principal facilitators for effective implementation of e-assessment included active institutional support from senior management with strong staff development, pedagogical and technical support for tutors from central services. The role of pedagogically sound, imaginative design for e-assessment on the part of tutors is often a significant factor in its success. There was evidence for both summative and formative assessment taking place and that the main drivers for the introduction of e-assessment has been to improve student learning with faster feedback.
Roadmap for e-Assessment
Denise Whitelock, Andrew Brasher and Simon Rae were awarded JISC funding (£11,424) in 2005 - 2006 for a project which compared policy documents from the UK with respect to e-assessment and compared these to a vision for e-assessment from a group of experts (http://kn.open.ac.uk/document.cfm?docid=8693). In this way a roadmap was constructed. The vision and barriers to the practice of e-assessment in 2014 emphasised the role of research in progressing issues bound at both the technical and pedagogical level. There were real concerns about plagiarism detection and other challenges included a change in current production methods to achieve high quality test items. Accessibility was an issue; together with the reliability and validity of high stakes assessment. User identity must not become an issue and accessible, reliable and valid assessments are the standards by which user confidence will be measures.
Open Mentor: an open source mentoring tool for tutors
Denise Whitelock, Will Woods, Hassan Sheikh and Jan Rae, in collaboration with partners at The Robert Gordon University - Stuart Watt and Ian Craw, were awarded JISC funding (£55,750) for the OpenMentor project in 2004 - 2005. OpenMentor (http://kn.open.ac.uk/document.cfm?docid=6216) converted eMentor, a proof of concept program, into an open source equivalent system. The resulting software is a generic learning support tool for teachers in further and higher education. It has been designed to help the teacher provide the socio- emotive and cognitive support that students need in their feedback from teaching staff by analysing that feedback with respect to the grade awarded.
Open Mentor Phase 2
Denise Whitelock, Hassan Sheikh and Jan Rae, in collaboration with partners at The Robert Gordon University - Stuart Watt and Colin Beagrie, were awarded JISC funding for a further phase of work on OpenMentor (£54,997) in 2005 - 2006. In this phase of the research a full pedagogical evaluation was undertaken together with a validation of the model used in a range of Further and Higher Education institutions. This open source software now provides integration between Open Mentor and academic management systems. In this way Open Mentor can use external data sources for students, staff and course lists together with assignment content.
Personal Inquiry (PI): Designing for Evidence-based Inquiry Learning across Formal and Informal Settings
Karen Littleton is co-investigator on the Economic and Social Research Council- funded Personal Inquiry project (2007-2010, £1.2 million). This is a collaborative project between colleagues in CREET and the Knowledge Media Institute at The Open University and colleagues in the Learning Sciences Research Institute, Nottingham. The project aims to support children aged 11-14 in coming to understand themselves and their world through a new approach of scripted inquiry learning. With the aid of software running on both mobile and desktop computers children will be able to investigate issues that affect their lives, across different settings - including the classroom, their homes, and discovery centres - through a scientific process of gathering and assessing evidence, conducting experiments and engaging in informed debate. Their computer toolkit will be designed to enable scripted inquiry learning, where scripts are computer programs, like dynamic lesson plans, that guide and support the learners through an inquiry learning process by providing them with a set of structured activities, data probes, visualisations of data, and means of communication.
Processes of learning and teaching in the creative arts
Evaluations of creativity training
Dorothy Miell, in collaboration with Karen Littleton, Denise Whitelock, Dorothy Faulkner, Eva Vass (University of Otago, New Zealand), Mathilda Joubert, Sally Kynan (Psychology) and Anna Craft (POLICY), was funded by DfEE, Esmee Fairburn and NESTA to undertake evaluations of creativity training programmes from 2003 to 2005. Dorothy Faulkner, Dorothy Miell and Mathilda Joubert are currently working on a project linked to this programme of work – EXCITE Phase II, funded by Esmee Fairburn/DfES.
Karen Littleton, in collaboration with Stephanie Taylor (CIG), is currently working on the Creative Journeys programme of research funded by the Royal College of Art and Design and the National Arts Learning network (2005-2007). This programme comprises a series of interview studies with postgraduate Art and Design students and creative practitioners, investigating their identity work, including how a creative identity is negotiated and taken up, In particular it looks at how speakers contest and re-negotiate established meanings as part of the process of constructing and taking up a creative identity. It also examines the biographical narratives constructed by speakers.
Full-time Research Students
- Natalia Kucirkova
- Sarah Jane Mukherjee
Part-time Research Students
- Natalie Canning
Externally Awarded Grants (in chronological order)
Below is a range of current and recently funded projects undertaken by EDRU academic and research staff in collaboration with other Open University academics and external partners.
Joan Swann, Kieran O'Halloran, AHRC (£90,049) 'The Discourse of Reading Groups’, November 2007–October 2008
Rosie Flewitt, ESRC (£86,000) ‘Multimodal literacies in the early years’, October 2007-October 2008
Karen Littleton (co-applicant) with Prof. Mike Sharples (Co-Director), Prof. Eileen Scanlon (Co-Director), Prof. Claire O’Malley, Prof. Grainne Conole, Prof. Steve Benford, Dr. Charles Crook, Dr. Shaaron Ainsworth, Dr. Paul Mulholland. ESRC (£1.2 million) ‘Personal inquiry’, September 2007-September 2010
Rosie Flewitt with co-investigators from the University of Southampton, Melanie Nind, Jane Payler Rix, Thompson, Rothenberg Foundation (RTR, formerly Mencap City Foundation) (£6,600 - OU share £3,986), ‘The experiences of young children with learning disabilities attending both special and inclusive preschools’, September 2006–September 2007
Julia Gillen, Judith Kleine Staarman, Karen Littleton, Neil Mercer ESRC, (£44,934) ‘Interactive Whiteboards as pedagogic tools in primary schools’, December 2005–December 2006
Caroline Coffin, Guy Cook and Sarah North, ESRC (£44,146) ‘The language and discourse of argumentation in computer conferencing and essays’, October 2005–October 2006
Denise Whitelock, Simon Rae with partners at the University of Derby, Don MacKenzie and Chris Whitehouse, Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) (£45,000) ‘Case studies of effective and innovative practice in the area of e-assessment’, September 2005-March 2006
Dorothy Faulkner and Mathilda Joubert (Synectics Education UK) with Karen Littleton, Dorothy Miell, Ros Searle and Denise Whitelock, Arts Council England and Creative Partnerships (£25,000) ‘Creative Partnerships Norfolk – Impact Study’, August 2005–March 2006
Caroline Coffin, Ann Hewings, Sarah North, Higher Education Academy (HEA) (£25,000) ‘Supporting undergraduate students’ acquisition of academic argumentation strategies through computer conferencing’, June 2005–June 2006
Stephanie Taylor, Karen Littleton, The Royal College of Art & Design (£2,500) ‘Creative journeys’, May 2005–September 2006
Deirdre Cook, John Ralston, Peter Twining (director), British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (BECTA) ‘Children’s use of tablet PCs’, 2005
Neil Mercer and Karen Littleton, Milton Keynes Council (£39,788) ‘Thinking together project (Key Stage 3)’, August 2004
Karen Littleton, Neil Mercer, Frank Monaghan, Claire Sams, Rupert Wegerif Nuffield Foundation (£38,106) ‘Thinking together around ICT in the primary mathematics curriculum’, August 2003
Anna Craft, Mathilda Joubert, Karen Littleton, Dorothy Miell, Patricia Murphy, Eva Vass, Denise Whitelock, National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (£20,000), ‘Fellowship Young People’s Project’, August 2003-March 2004
Dorothy Faulkner, Jane Henry, Karen Littleton, Dorothy Miell, Ros Searle. Department of Education and Science & Esmee Fairbairn Charitable Trust (£20,000) ‘Excellence, Creativity and Innovation in Teaching and Education (EXCITE)’, Jan 2003 - Dec 2005