Research

What my research is aboutJon

My main interests are in learning technologies and social spaces for learning. I’m interested in how we shape those spaces and how those spaces shape us. I’m also interested in how to teach crowds and, more interestingly, how crowds themselves can teach. I’m particularly interested in ways to make use of the collective intelligence of the crowd – design methods and algorithms that can make crowd wisdom a more likely outcome than mob stupidity, in ways that help people to learn. The combined wisdom of most crowds is probably greater than that of most teachers, but it’s quite hard to tap into that effectively. It can be done, however, albeit crudely at the moment. The two most-used learning technologies on the planet, Google Search and Wikipedia, use crowds in very different but effective ways to play a teaching role and, increasingly, we are learning more directly through others using social media such as Twitter and Facebook, which are great places to find customised answers to fit our needs. These technologies are OK for quick answers to immediate problems, finding a place to start or getting an overview of what we want to learn, but they are a poor substitute for the guidance of a flesh and blood teacher. There is little pedagogic love, little wayfinding, little inspiration, little adaptation to individual needs, little of the big picture in a given subject, little commitment, little support. Much of my research is about finding ways to change that.

This is very multidisciplinary work, drawing inspiration and ideas from fields as far apart as computing, education, philosophy, architecture, ecology, complex systems, network theory, music and literature. Amongst other things, I’m interested in social navigation, social adaptivity, learning communities, city planning, ecosystems, narrative, passion, pedagogy, systems analysis, interaction design, the nature of technology, crowd interaction models, stigmergy, network theory, collaborative filtering, the nature of education, alternative models of reality, evolutionary theory, control theory, socio-technical and techno-social views of the world.

What I’ve been researching and thinking about lately

  • Hard is easy, soft is hard: technology design to combine creativity and flexibility with efficiency and freedom from error (book in progress)
  • Social forms in online learning (book published 2014)
  • Assembly as a design paradigm – tinkering and bricolage as a research methodology
  • Adjacent possibilities vs path dependencies
  • Technological determinism in pedagogical design
  • The nature of control in intentional learning (book published 2007)
  • The design of crowd-powered educational systems
  • Pedagogies as technologies
  • Research methodologies to discover both meaning and proof
  • Generative research methodologies
  • Motivation in online learning
  • Disaggregating learning and assessment for educational reform

Who I work with

Anyone who can put up with me and that I find interesting. Most of the time my research is in TEKRI, Athabasca University, where my main conspirators and collaborators are Terry Anderson and George Siemens. We work on building and researching socially-enabled systems for learning, and a few other things. I have worked with collaborators in Australia, New Zealand, the UK, and several countries in Europe, as well as in Canada.

Selected representative works

2014: Dron & Anderson Teaching Crowds: Learning & Social Media – AU Press (free PDF download, cheap epub and paper versions!)

2014: Dron & Anderson The Distant Crowd: Transactional Distance and New Social Media Literacies – paper from IJLM

2014: Dron & Anderson Agoraphobia and the Modern Learner – paper from JIME

2014: Dron & Anderson Diseñando medios sociales para el aprendizaje – paper from Revista Mexicana de Bachillerato a Distancia

2014: Hartnett, St. George, & Dron. Exploring Motivation in an Online Context: A Case Study – paper from CITE

2013: Dron Soft is Hard, Hard is Easy: Learning Technologies and Social Media – Paper from Form@re

2011: Dron Analogue Literacies – paper from CODE Symposium, 2011

2011: Anderson & Dron Three Generations of Distance Education Pedagogy – paper from IRRODL (also available in SpanishPortuguese and Chinese)

2011: Hartnett, St. George & Dron Being together: factors the unintentionally undermine motivation – paper from JOFDL

2011: Dron Learning Analytics: soft and hard – presentation from LAK online course

2010: Dron Orchestrating soft and hard technologies – presentation for ITEL Winterschool

2009: Dron & Anderson Lost in Information Space: Information retrieval issues in Web 1.5 – paper from JODI

2008: Dron The trouble with tags: an approach to richer tagging for online learning – paper from E-Learn 2008

2007: Dron & Anderson Collectives, Networks and Groups in Social Software for E-Learning – paper from E-Learn 2007

2007: Dron Control and Constraint in E-LEarning: Choosing When to Choose – book

2007: Dron Designing the Undesignable: Social Software and Control – paper from IJETS

2006: Dron On the stupidity of mobs – paper from WBC 2006

2003: Dron The Blog and the Borg: a collective approach to e-learning – paper from E-Learn 2003

2002: Dron  Achieving self-organisation in network-based learning environments -PhD thesis

2001: Dron, Boyne, Mitchell Footpaths in the Stuff Swamp – paper from WebNet 2001

2000: Dron, Mitchell, Siviter & Boyne CoFIND – an experiment in n-dimensional collaborative filtering – paper from JNCA

A fairly comprehensive list of publications (to August 2014)

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