Phenomenographic instructional design : case studies in geological mapping and materials science

McCracken, Janet (2002). Phenomenographic instructional design : case studies in geological mapping and materials science. PhD thesis The Open University.



This thesis explores the role for phenomenography in instructional design. Phenomenography is an educational research methodology that focuses on discovering the qualitatively different ways people experience learning a particular topic. The intent of the research is to come to understand the cognitive interactions that occur when learners attempt to make sense of difficult material, the kinds of difficulties they encounter, and the strategies they apply. This thesis considers how the analysis of these interactions may form the basis for the design of learning materials.

Two case studies are presented that illustrate the utility of phenomenographic studies in the design process. The first considers how learner's conceptions of geological mapping can inform the instructional design of a print-based module on interpreting geological maps. A description of the design process details how specific elements were developed using the data, such as objectives and feedback and design guidelines are generated. The second case presented involves a study of learner's conceptions of phase diagrams in metallurgy. The results are integrated in the design of a computer-based learning module on phase diagrams. Design guidelines generated from this case focus on how the data needs to be communicated within the context of a team development environment.

The data derived from phenomenographic studies provide descriptions of difficulties learners experience that are often not known to content experts or lecturers.. The two cases presented in this thesis demonstrate the gap between what the learner needs and what experts think they need. Communicating the existence of the gap to experts is discussed and design strategies that help to overcome this gap are presented.

Integrating phenomenographic study in the design process complements established instructional design models and teaching practice. A four-stage design model is presented that includes generic guidelines that can be applied to any design context. A constructivist designer may use the guidelines to identify and generate problem-based learning tasks. Classroom teachers may use the guidelines to generate examination questions that encourage the learner to demonstrate their understanding of the key concepts associated with the topic of study. The goal for the work presented here is to improve instructional design practice, and in doing so, improve the experience of learning for students.

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