Academic writing · communication · Distance work · Pedagogical development · Pedagogy · Teaching

Looking back at the first two years of research at Örebro University, part 3: teaching in higher education

This is the last one of my research posts in my blog series about the first half of my assistant professorship at Örebro University. This post focuses on pedagogical research and the earlier ones were about my research on eHealth services for patients and accessible digital collaborative learning environments, respectively. My next blog post will focus on publications from the last two years.

I have always been interested in conducting research based on my own teaching experiences – it forces me to reflect thoroughly on how I conduct my teaching, and it also enables me to make theoretically grounded improvements to my teaching. I have mainly conducted pedagogical research within three different areas during my time at Örebro University:

  • Scientific writing in higher education
  • Virtual teams in interaction design
  • The effects of the Covid-19 on teaching

Scientific writing in higher education

Before I started to work at Örebro University, I led a communication course for first year computer science students at the Royal Institute of Technology for several years. One of the main aims of the course was to improve the students’ writing skills especially when it comes to scientific writing. The dedicated communication course was meant to prepare the students for upcoming writing tasks and especially the bachelor and master thesis reports. The main reason for developing the course in the first place was that the quality of the students’ writing was generally low and the students were never really taught how to write scientifically sound reports and essays. Giving a communication course in the beginning of the study program is not the only solution to this kind of problem, it is also possible to incorporate writing instruction and increasingly complex tasks in already existing courses. This solution, also commonly called Writing Across the Curriculum, was implemented at my current department at Örebro University just before I started working here. After realizing that we had two different solutions to a very similar problem – we need to find means of helping our students to be better writers – I started up a new research collaboration with my colleagues Kai Wistrand, Annika Andersson and Mathias Hatakka who were very much involved in the WAC initiative at Örebro University. We used constructive alignment and curriculum theory to compare our two different cases (dedicated course and WAC) and developed a set of guidelines that other universities can get inspiration from. I will link to the resulting conference paper in my next blog post, which collects all publications that I have worked on during these last two years.

During spring 2021, I continued working with Kai in this area. We are now conducting a literature review where we, among other things, look deeper into theoretical concepts related to scientific writing (like e.g. critical thinking and lifelong learning) and models for pedagogical development in the area. It is super interesting to delve into this area and I have already learned a lot. Empirical material from e.g. interviews and texts will also be collected further on. One of the main aims of this research is to increase our understanding of what factors that contribute to high proficiency in scientific writing in higher education. The work will of course lead to scientific publications in the area, but hopefully also to concrete pedagogical development initiatives. I will of course write more about this interesting research when we have reached further in the process.

Virtual teams in interaction design

Yet another pedagogical research initiative was initiated during spring 2021. This time the research is mainly based on experiences from a course in interaction design that I have held online the last two spring terms. The course’s examiner Ann-Sofie Hellberg and I are investigating, among other things, how virtual teams can be used to successfully implement online versions of project based courses in which communication and collaboration in student groups are key components. We are currently analyzing a large sample of scientific articles that were gathered during an initial literature review. The material will be used as a theoretical ground for future publications in the area. I will get back to this when we have some clear results.

The idea to start studying virtual teams in depth actually came from a popular science book chapter that Ann-Sofie and I wrote last year. The book chapter was partly based on results from a survey that we handed out to students that took the 2020 version of the interaction design course, and we used the concept of virtual teams as a theoretical base when discussing own experiences from the course and the results from the survey. I will write more about the survey and the book chapter later on.

The effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on teaching

During spring 2020 I took the lead on a department-wide initiative to study the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on our teaching at all levels. We collected several proposals for possible research angles regarding for example examinations and online seminars. Some articles, and even book chapters, have already been written and published and soon work will commence on journal articles looking back at the whole period of distance education from different angles. I’m really looking forward to our continued work in this area!

Distance work · DOME · eHealth · Grant application · Haptics · NORDeHEALTH

Just reached half-time of my assistant professorship at Örebro University!

In the beginning of August 2019 I started off my work as an assistant professor in Informatics at Örebro University. The assistant professorship is a four year position, and towards the end you will, in most cases, be promoted to a senior lecturer or associate professor after an application procedure. Since I have now reached half-time, I think it’s reasonable to summarize what I have done this far and discuss what lies ahead.

Overall, I’m very happy with how the first two years played out when it comes to both research (~80%) and teaching (~20%), even though the pandemic posed some difficult challenges in both areas. I have gotten the opportunity to participate in some very interesting research collaborations. The funded Vinnova project I drafted the application for during the first weeks at the university ended just before summer 2021 and the collaboration that was built with the involved stakeholders was really fruitful. Representatives from both The Swedish Association of the Visually Impaired and The National Agency for Special Needs Education and Schools (SPSM) want to continue the collaborations and we are already looking for new funding opportunities in the area of accessible digital collaborative learning environments. The national and international collaborations in the NordForsk project NORDeHEALTH, which started up formally in January 2021, have also been fruitful and I look forward to another two years of research on personal eHealth services in the Nordic countries. Aside from working in externally funded projects, I also started up some internal collaborations, mostly related to pedagogical research. I will write more about the first two years of research, and the publications published, in my second and third posts about the first half of the assistant professorship.

The teaching has been more of a challenge than I expected when I stared working as an assistant professor two years ago. I know the courses, but being thrown into digital teaching mode made the teaching more difficult than ever before, especially since I have been course responsible for the courses I have been involved in (Interaction design and System development theory). Despite this, the courses worked really well and the students seemed to be happy with them. I will write more about these courses, and the challenges associated with digital teaching and examination, in my fourth and last blog post about the first two years of my assistant professorship.

I really hope, and also believe, that the second half will be just as rewarding as the first one. Hopefully, I will be able to start even more internal research collaborations, especially now when I have made sure that we have two brand new haptic devices at the department – this should open up several new research opportunities within, for example, the areas of digital learning environments and multimodal data exploration and analysis!

Distance work

Wrote a short text in a tourist guide about my year of distance work at my countryside!

As I have written a few times before in my posts, I have been working from my countryside at Gräsö for more than a year due to the pandemic. Since I’m dependent on immune suppressive medication, working from the country side, and also living there, was the obvious solution.

A few months ago I was suggested to write a short story about my year of work at Gräsö, to be published in this year’s Gräsö tourist guide. I happily accepted and it was of course a bonus that I was promised the whole centre spread of the guide! It was published well before midsummer and you can see the result in the blog image above. The entire guide is available here. Since the text is in Swedish, I provide a translation here:

When I got a full time job as researcher and teacher at Örebro University, 14 months of continuous residence on Gräsö was not how I envisioned it! But after the corona outbreak distance work from home became the safest option for many of us.

Because I, since the 90s, have spent around 1/3 of the year in our house on Gräsö, and have my heart there at 3/3, it became my obvious infection-proof work home.

Working from the countryside has had its challenges, but also benefited from increased creativity due to the stimulating nature just around the corner. From Gräsö, I have participated in major research projects and carried out two courses for over 100 students – with everything from design to examination. The students should only know that the teacher was sitting in an armchair in a house far away in the forest during lectures and seminars!

This has worked so well thanks to two of the island’s most skilled professionals. On the one hand, an architect who has given the simple house a forward-looking floor plan with e.g. shower and toilet, and on the other hand a contractor and carpenter for whom nothing is impossible!

The work space (picture above) is no doubt smaller than at the university. The most important things needed for my research were moved to Gräsö, as e.g. two devices for haptic (= directed at sense of touch instead of sight or hearing) interaction with computers.

Having binoculars and a camera ready is important – suddenly a green woodpecker appears in the tree outside. If the squirrel is not there, the beautiful goldfinch can visit the bird feeding.

Proximity to nature on Gräsö, with such a rich flora and fauna, is what I appreciate most with the accommodation here. Regarding the flora, you can find almost all of Sweden’s orchids here. Along many of the roads you can find e.g. marsh-orchids in quantity and groups of lesser butterfly-orchids are also seen. On the countryside we are missing the beautiful slipper orchid [guckusko], but it is found within bike distance. In the fauna, the White-tailed Eagle is my favorite – eastern Gräsö has for a long time been among Sweden’s densest areas for this species!

At bare ground, a network of paths and roads is available for walks and bike rides – it may be to the lingonberry forest of Mon or to the east shore towards the Lilla Risten island (picture above). I have had time for experiencing many beautiful views by Lilla Risten during a quarter of an hour walks at longer breaks in Skype meetings. In case of snow, skiing is a long-awaited alternative to walking that invites to nice trips around the east shore’s capes and bays. Gräsö is very beautiful and the year here has been fantastic!

Let’s end this post with a picture of one of my animal friends who regularly visits the bird-only devoted feeding. 🙂

I wish you all a nice summer!