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It has been a while since my last post, thanks to the “madness” of travel and other affairs near the end of my first semester at The U. From March, I attended LAK in Poughkeepsie NY, AERA in Chicago, an educational discourse workshop in Ann Arbor, and CSCL in Gothenburg, Sweden. Before CSCL, I visited several cities in China, including Beijing where I talked with a group of talented grad students at Peking University and chatted in length with a colleague at Beijing Normal University; after CSCL, I visited a colleague & friend in Oslo and enjoyed a wonderful “Norway in a Nutshell” fjord trip. This has been a “round” trip—both because I traveled in a circle around the globe before and after CSCL, and also because it was my returning visit to Peking U and Beijing Normal where I studied for seven years.

Fjord

Trip to China

Changes abound in Chinese universities nowadays. Changes do not only happen with the look of their campuses, but also more deeply with efforts to establish themselves internationally. Beijing Normal, which houses the top-ranked education and psychology faculties in China, has been aggressive in recruiting international scholars. They have been sending delegates to AERA every year since 2012, as far as I know, with an important goal of recruiting prospective faculty members from abroad. According to anecdotes I heard, the faculty of education’s goal is to have 30% of its faculty members coming originally from foreign countries. While it remains debatable whether this is the right strategy to build an international faculty, and it’s still unclear how foreign scholars would fit into the Chinese system, the effort to diversify their talents is evident.

Besides recruitment, from talking with colleagues from both Peking U and Beijing Normal, the word “innovation” has become more important than ever in their institutional visions and agendas. Nationally, a policy that prohibited faculty from creating start-ups was removed quite recently. At Beijing Normal specifically, institution-level funds are in abundance to support faculty wishing to explore “innovative ideas.” The area of educational technology is especially vibrant because its close connections with ventures and industry.

Finally, together with the strong emphasis on research-based innovation grows their capacity to conduct educational research. Training in methodology—from both my prior experience as a student and exchanges with scholars having connections in China—has been one area of weakness that undermines the quality of academic work in China, at least for research areas I’m familiar with. However, from my exchanges with grad students at Peking U, the gap is becoming seemingly narrower. Their insights into scholarly research and awareness of the frontiers of international communities were impressive. This could be attributed to (1) increased opportunities to participate in research projects (being MOOCs, science learning or teacher education) compared to my time of being a master’s student there; and (2) exposure to international research (many of them already had experience attending international conferences abroad).

Anyway, the trip to China has been an eye-opening trip for me since three years ago, and I look forward to going back and spending some time there soon!

Trip to CSCL

My third attendance to CSCL was wonderful. The Early Career Workshop provided me ample opportunities to connect with an awesome group of mentors and young scholars. I especially enjoyed talking with them about crafting research programs. Knowing from the mentors about their different approaches of establishing their work was super helpful. Being reminded of “significance criteria” of research was very critical. Being exposed to excitements and struggles of my peers was also beneficial.

Dinner with workshop colleagues

The main conference was also great—as always. Besides all the wonderful research I listened to and talked about, to me the notion of crossing communities was a big thing this year. It was a lovely “surprise” to see more Learning Analytics (LA) folks this year. Besides colleagues who have been already heavily involved in both CSCL and LA, I bumped into George Siemens and Dragan Gašević (the new president of SoLAR). When I first found George and Dragan in a “corner,” George exclaimed, “OMG, I seems to know nobody here!” But I guess it became untrue after a few hours (if not minutes) when a session on learning analytics was fully packed and connections between CSCL and LA were explored.

One day later during a presidential session, leaders from a number of academic organizations representing different regions and different (yet connected) fields presented their thoughts on “grand challenges” of technology-enhanced learning. While I saw amazingly divided intentions in different fields to optimize individual learning vs. to localize decision-making by learners, a great level of connectedness was also evident. According to Chris Hoadley, we are all concerned with key issues such as (1) addressing scale and systems in learning (e.g., at different levels), (2) empiricism in a cyber-enabled society (e.g., efforts to model learner states, trajectories, and prcess), and (3) understanding context and contingency of learning. Different visions of grand challenges perceived by different fields are extremely valuable, while continual efforts to cross communities, or in Carolyn Rose’s words to build a “cross community transactive memory system,” will also be critical going forward.

Knowledge Building research was also well presented at CSCL. It was great to meet Knowledge Building colleagues from Canada, US, Hong Kong, Japan, Netherlands, and Finland. My presentation on vocabulary development in Knowledge Building—in collaboration with Leanne, Yoshiaki and Marlene—could be found below. We were thrilled to learn that our paper was one of the five Best Paper Award nominees this year.

Dinner with KB colleagues

After the “round-trip,” it’s time to enjoy my first summer in Minnesota, as well as to reflect on my first semester at The U and to write. The next post will be on the Learning Analytics course I taught last Spring.

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Bodong Chen


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Bodong Chen, University of Minnesota

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