I started studying late. I went to university when I was about 25, started with some access courses, and then did a BSc in Cognitive Science at the University of Hertfordshire. After that I was lucky enough to immediately get a job as a researcher here in The Open University’s Knowledge Media Institute, KMi.
At KMi I worked on a project which involved finding new ways to generate novel narratives from the existing content of the children’s animated TV series, ‘Tiny Planets’. This gave me an interest in using narrative, which I pursued in my PhD.
I am looking at how to support students using different media to answer enquiry-based learning questions. There are many sources of data on the internet but it can be hard to organise their use, particularly for younger students who are used to being presented with knowledge rather than actively looking it up.
I’ve developed a conceptual framework of how narrative can support enquiry-based learning, and the way I do it is to have different characters that students can choose to help them through their enquiry – a detective for historical work, for example. I’m also developing a software toolkit which will, hopefully, demonstrate that it works.
I’m doing my PhD part time, over six years. I took six months off because I had a child, and I’m aiming to complete within a couple of years. My regular job means I’m often working into the evenings to meet deadlines, so I have to organise PhD work on an ‘as and when’ basis. I have meetings every two weeks with my supervisor, which makes sure I keep some kind of momentum going.
The technical infrastructure at the OU is great and the people are very knowledgeable. There is a lot of support for PhD students to go to seminars and conferences and mix with the research community, which I think is essential. You can sometimes feel isolated, as you can become so focused on a single topic that it feels like you’re the only person doing it – even though that’s not the case. I think this would be the same in any university.
My ambition is to run and hopefully lead my own research projects. I would like to stay with KMi, but if I did move, I think I could now sell my research abilities elsewhere quite easily. What I’ve done here has given me a lot more confidence.
Annika Wolff, UK. PhD: Tools and Methodologies for Supporting a User in Reasoning Across Mixed Media Digital Resource