1 University of Milan (ITALY)
2 Open University of Catalonia (SPAIN)
About this paper:
Appears in: INTED2013 Proceedings
Publication year: 2013
Pages: 6490-6500
ISBN: 978-84-616-2661-8
ISSN: 2340-1079
Conference name: 7th International Technology, Education and Development Conference
Dates: 4-5 March, 2013
Location: Valencia, Spain
The topic of the impact of Web 2.0 ecologies on the learning contexts of PhD candidates is of particular interest for innovation in higher education teaching and learning. In fact it is located in between discourses concerned with digital learners in higher education and those related to emerging profiles of digital scholars in academia. However, this theme results so far underesearched in literature, in particular in the Italian higher education setting.
The present paper reports findings from an exploratory study investigating the extent to which Web 2.0 technologies are affecting the ways in which individual PhD students learn to become researchers. To this end, the study explores how individual doctoral researchers cope with competing institution-led and self-organized, analogue and digital opportunities for learning. This article presents the results of an online questionnaire which was delivered between September and October 2012 across three Italian universities. The questionnaire aimed to describe the components (people, resources, tools, people and related interactions) of the emerging learner-centered “ecology of resources” (Luckin, 2010), characterizing individual doctoral students variously dealing with their needs of support and striving to achieve their being ‘independent researcher’. Over than 20% of the PhD students being involved (n = 3000) participated in the survey. The respondents belong to a wide range of subject areas, with a particularly high number of PhD students undertaking their doctorate in technical and scientific domains.
The surveyed Italian doctoral students seem to be usual adopters of social media in their everyday life, but there are also signs that they are currently adopting tools and services available in the open Web to undertake activities usually required in their doctoral programs. Whereas it is rare that a doctoral program facilitates the use of Web 2.0 applications, institutional email and digital library still constitute the core technology-mediated services appreciated by these new researchers. Moreover, the participants in the survey show a pragmatic attitude towards the Web 2.0 services and state to be prompted to use such tools mainly by ‘occasional, practical needs’ related to their research activity. On the other hand the respondents credit the social Web with a wider, still unexploited potential to improve some research practices, especially as regards to its use in updating and networking activities.
However, very few PhD students actually curate an ‘academic’ presence in social media and most of them seem to neglect the opportunities to adopt social Web tools to practice academic writing and exercise critical reading. Finally, it is worth noting that the provision or lack of specific research training on these emergent tools plays a key role in the indicated motivations. This early portrait of the emerging learning ecologies of current doctoral researchers sparks cues for reflecting on the extent to which the design of formation of future scholars should take into account changes occurring in learning spaces, also in the light of new forms of networked scholarship being pioneered in the social Web.

Luckin, R. (2010). Re-designing learning contexts: technology-rich, learner-centred ecologies. London, UK: Routledge.
Higher education, doctoral students, Web 2.0, learning ecologies.