Research Blog

Interview with a Professor of Merit

March 27, 2018

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Upon retirement, some Professor’s are awarded the honorary designation, “Emeritus” in recognition of their previous and continuing contribution to their institution. Olga Dysthe is a Professor Emeritus at the Faculty of Psychology, University of Bergen.

The honorary title recognises not only her long and distinguished research and teaching career, but the fact that she continues to contribute to her field and to mentor both young and not so young researchers.

She is particularly known for her engagement in the fields of process-oriented writing pedagogy and practically-based learning research. She has written and edited several books and published many articles, both in Norwegian and in English on the subject of learning and teaching, and in particular on writing, assessment, supervision and the use of technology in order to promote learning.

Prof. Dysthe attended a SLATE-hosted, Designs for Learning Conference in June and kindly consented to share some thoughts about this field based on her long experience, and current observations of the academic experiences of her 12 grandchildren. 


Your work in dialogue-based pedagogy was cited at the “Designs for Learning” Conference hosted by SLATE in June 2018. As a renowned and respected researcher in pedagogy, can you share some of your thoughts about the new directions in learning that were discussed at this conference?  

The most interesting question for me, with my background in classroom research, was: “How can Learning Analytics support the professional teacher in his or her work with Learning Designs?” Many of the conference participants (some of whom I knew from participating i the Kaleidoscope project years ago) had been active researchers of IT and learning for decades, and obviously combined close insight in theoretical and practical pedagogy with advanced knowledge in multimodal technology. I would think this balance is also important in SLATE, if the goal is to impact the development of improved learning in schools.   

The conference gave me a better insight in how Learning Analytics can provide data which is capable of informing decision making for teachers and students, for
instance how to design learning activities and interventions. From a school perspective, however, the problem is that teachers´ workload today has increased a lot because of the test regime and the demands of documentation. This limits teachers´ interest in new research and in new technological tools. But, as one presenter underlined, the learning environment in schools today is already data saturated, and teachers need assistance in order to utilize data
already provided by the digital platform.  

As a professor emeritus with a lifetime of research and teaching behind you, how does it feel to still be participating in conferences? 

It is always a privilege to attend an international conference and listen to dedicated researchers share their work. Over the years, I came to prefer small, focused conferences like this one, and where you have time and opportunity to discuss with those who present.

I wish some more time had been spent in the closing session to give an overview of the state of the art of LA and DL-research in the Nordic countries, following up what Barbara did. The fact that the overwhelming majority of learner centric analyses focus on student behavior and engagement and not really on student learning, indicates the complexity of the task.

What would you say is important about attending conferences? What would you say to younger colleagues about this?

Choose your conferences strategically, with the double purpose of getting relevant feedback on your own work and extending your professional network. It
is actually worthwhile spending some time on preparing for a conference (and not just on getting your own presentation ready), i.e. reading abstracts, checking up on previous publications by key persons you would like to talk to. But first and foremost, be curious and ask questions!

Just one personal example from this conference: I asked Jesper Bruun from Copenhagen University, whom I had not met before, to share some of his work, and five minutes later I had access to a number of projects utilizing multimodal network analysis, for instance in science didactics! Since he knew of my interest in dialogic pedagogy, he also sent me a newly published article, “The Structured Assessment Dialogue”, where the authors Dolin, Bruun, Nielsen, Jensen & Nieminen (2018)had used qualitative learning analytics to map crucial aspects of effective assessment dialogues in physics, math, biology and technology. The findings were used to design improved formative and summative assessment which they tried out in a number of Danish and Finnish secondary schools. This was to me an understandable and practical example of the interdependence of LA an LD, and it illustrates the importance of knowing the school context.

You have witnessed dramatic changes in pedagogy the last 20 years, what are your thoughts about the impacts of technology on learning / schools / classrooms / teachers …? 

I will restrict my answer to this wide question to a few reflections based on following 12 grandchildren going to school in different parts of Norway. What strikes me most is the big between how schools utilize technology. While one of my grandchildren got an Ipad the first day at school and the teachers there seem to be very professional and sensible in the way they integrate technology daily, the amount of very traditional teaching and boring homework at other schools has really shocked me. School leadership and teacher training are obviously key factors here. – At the other end of the learning trajectory, I am incredibly impressed with the impact of technology in the education of architects, which I have had a chance to follow through grandchildren over the last three years. It is very obvious that students who have had a chance to develop and extend their skills in advanced technological tools in their school years, have a great advantage in higher education.

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Christiesgate 12, 2nd floor

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University of Bergen
PO Box 7807
N-5020 Bergen, Norway