Month: December 2013

Theoretical Frameworks

Mom, you don’t need to read this blog post.  But for anyone who is interested in motivational theory, read on!

I am currently researching the Virtual Choir project.  There are many things that I find fascinating about the project, but primarily I am interested in motivation.  The primary theoretical framework of motivation that I am drawing on is Deci and Ryan’s, Self-Determination Theory (SDT) (Ryan & Deci, 2000). 

SDT is defined as, “an approach to human motivation and personality that uses traditional empirical methods while employing an organismic metatheory that highlights the importance of humans’ evolved inner resources for personality development and behavioral self-regulation” (as cited in Ryan & Deci, 2000, p. 68). This theory allows and encourages educational research to use traditional empirical methods, but also paying careful attention to intrinsic desires.

In other words, it is very important to consider intrinsic motivation factors when you desire completion of a task.  According to this research, adding external rewards (attaching a grade to a project, paying someone for work they are already interested in, etc.) , can actually decrease the motivation of a learner. In a participatory environment where each person is there for their own reasons, the intrinsic motivation factors become very important.


Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American psychologist, 55(1), 68.


So What?(s the big deal with informal learning)

A phrase we get asked a lot in higher education with regards to our research is, “so what?”  I think it is a good a fair question. It causes us to think and reflect.  Is what I am interested in, interesting to anyone else?  Is there a need to research ___________ (insert favorite research topic here)?  If I were to teach a class on this, would anyone want to take it?  These are the kinds of questions that come to mind when I hear the “so what” question.

Let me focus my answers on my specific research interests of informal online learning environments.  Informal learning certainly has its own answers as well as I think there are many benefits to informal learning in general (think museums, libraries, etc), but specifically when you add in the connections that the Internet affords, the possibilities are seemingly limitless of what you can create/share/do. My primary research is around Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir project ( If you are not familiar with this project, take a few minutes and go to YouTube and search for Virtual Choir.  There are four total project from Whitacre, each unique and beautiful in its own way.

Back to why I believe this is important.  Are people learning anything as part of this project?  Well, I think the answer is yes, but perhaps more importantly, these kind of project is highly motivating to individuals.  If we consider actually recording, and submitting a finished video as evidence of motivation to participate, the growth of the project has gone from about 270 participants in the first project, to over 6,000 in the fourth one just three years later.  I am interested in understanding what motivates participation in this project.  The participants come from all over the world (over 100 countries with the VC4), different backgrounds, with varying degrees of musical experiences, ages, and many other factors that we may analyze. The single common thing is that they want to participate in this project.  They are voluntarily participating and many spending dozens of hours of their own personal time learning and uploading their videos.

I want to know what it is about this project that makes them want to participate and why are they doing it. Findings from this and other similar online learning scenarios could be used to identify motivating factors of participation.  Possibly with application and transfer to other learning environments (after further research). Bottom line, technology is allowing people to connect and create things that were not possible in the past.  I believe it is very important to understand how motivation is the same or different in these online informal spaces.

I would love to hear your thoughts…

Reframing a research study

So for the past month or so, I have been struggling with knowing how to reframe a research study I am currently working on.  Initially I had planned to do a mixed methods study involving a simple survey followed by semi-structured interviews. However, after collecting data, it became apparent that there were some flaws in my survey design and I may not have enough rich data for a decent qualitative research study.  I had been struggling with trying to figure out how to adapt and change this, when I had the opportunity to present my research as part of a doctoral seminar class last week.

The feedback that I received was VERY helpful!  Honestly, I have been in this seminar class for several years now, and this was by far the most targeted and valuable feedback I have received. 

The main take-away, is that I need to really focus on the qualitative side of this research and tell the story of what is going on.  Focus on why people are participating in this project and what are the motivating factors to them participating.  Obviously, being in a school of education, I am very concerned with what participants are learning, but I have been trying to force the issue of learning into what is becoming a motivation and participation research study.  If I want to report and measure learning, I need to change the design of my study, so that I can have methods that match the research questions.  I am again reminded of the importance of matching your research methods to your objectives and research questions.  I think that this is something that graduate students struggle with so much, simply because we aren’t familiar with enough methods.  Personally, I am one that has a hard time learning methods from a class.  It is in the application of the class knowledge where this becomes meaningful, and I think it just takes time.

Again, thanks to all of my classmates and the instructor as they gave me some very good feedback and direction with how to proceed with this study so that I can incorporate the things that I have already done and make this a meaningful and interesting study going forward.