Archive for August, 2010

Progress in little steps

Since my recent embarking on doctorate research, I was becoming a little despondent – even troubled at the low level of support I was getting from non supervisory academics outside of University of Strathclyde I contacted for help.  It seemed especially obvious where I might be encroaching or suggesting extending their areas of research.  Perhaps I am naively thinking that this extending through collaboration was the whole point of research contribution, and this of course can be sped up by getting an inside track to the originator’s thinking (if alive of course :o) ).  One academic friend confirmed this feeling by saying, “oh no – people are living off their research, going to conferences and extending their fame….oh no – they don’t want some up-start like to you shortening the life of their hard work!”.


Could this be true?  While this seems to be true in my experience (so far) there has been one group that I have found to be the exact opposite, a group of educators and researchers in Second Life (SL).  This week I sent in a question on project costs to their mailing list, and after only a day there arrived a flood of responses.  They may just have restored faith in people, nevertheless,  I am happy to be part of this inspiring early adopter community.


Normally when I sit down on my weekend and think about writing my blog – one big topic jumps out at me to write about. But these past two weeks have been unusual and full of inter-dependent but much smaller activities like evening meetings, emails, presentation updates, reading, investigation into project costs, and evaluating the trade-offs on various decisions I could make for this research.


In light of this realization I’m simply going to go with the flow here, and tell you about my past two weeks progress in a series of non relating sometimes ill-defined bullets!


  • The Academic Proposal presentation (ver 2.3) has been updated and now contains a new research question – “Can cybergogic 3D learning create enough immersion and educational effectiveness to enable value shifts for individuals towards sustainability?”.  The cybergogy paradigm is a combined concept of pedagogy, andragogy, web 2.0, and eLearning/eTeaching combined into one new paradigm (Scopes, 2009).


  • After being a little worried a few weeks back about not finding a values model for sustainability (see my blog entry “Crocodiles are scary!”) I have been in touch with Dr Margarita Juarez-Najera who extended Schwartz’s moral norm-activation model for Sustainability Behaviour Change (2010), and it looks like a model I can use to determine sustainability values and therefore over time actual shifts.  Margarita, says that the model is exploratory, and tested only statistically so it will be interesting to see how it works out in practice.


  • During the past month I have uncovered many trade-offs that need to be analyzed with my advisors in terms of project scope.  These types of trade-offs can change dramatically the personality of the project and the interest of those who might like to fund or support it.  These trade offs include offering: Full Virtual Institute requiring lots of investment, or wander the commons for free? Take participants from a Business (private), or University (private/graded) or virtual world resident centered (public)?  If it is from the University will it be a single discipline or cross discipline?  Is it global or local coverage? Will there be multiple learning archetypes and levels of interaction offered in the institute either simulation, scenarios, discourse and awareness or a mix?  Will there be measures of value shifts or stay at learning archetype effectiveness? Will it be Sustainability in its broadest sense or one particular sustainability issue e.g. renewable energy usage in business? And finally, will it have an iterative research method or stick with the waterfall method?


  • As mentioned in my opening paragraph, via the SL educator communities I have been investigating project costs.  Lot’s of help arrived, however, more importantly I realized that there is still the question of scope first, and the need to make some hard decisions on mission and objectives before costs can be accurately worked out.  To help see the design pictorially I have created the following DNA design to capture my thinking. This will likely keep changing shape over the coming months as my supervisor rightly warns me.




  • Yesterday I had a meeting with the education technologist Howard Ramsay from the Management Science Department in SBS.  The good news from this meeting is that I have been given a virtual building to use on campus in SBS/SL, and subsequently I created an associated group called “Sustainability Institute” inside SL to gather interest from inworld.  The new building is the picture at the top of this blog, and yes it has my plane parked outside!!!!  The next step is to complete the DNA design so more specific details can be sorted out so that Sustainability Education activities can be designed and built on the other SBS’s virtual Island.


  • Although coaching as a concept is taking a slight back seat to adult learning theory, I am continuing with the coaching certification training. I had sought help from Dr David Rock a CEO of a company that uses Nueroscience and brain-based methods to explain the coaching systems effectiveness, but unfortunately he is not interested to participate in any manner.  Nevertheless, the spirit of coaching brings with it a much more democratic and co-learning style that I still think works very well with Sustainability Education.  All things being equal I should complete this by end of 2010.


  • I had a meeting earlier in the week with an inspiring practitioner Gayatri Raghwa who manages Sustainable Schools Initiative amongst other related projects here in the Abu Dhabi Environment Agency.  To be frank, I was simply knocked over by the depth of her experience in Sustainable Education.  She is a very humble lady but I would add she is truly really amazing and a very special person.  After speaking with her you just want to jump up and act, go out into the community and help!


So, all in all it has been a very productive month, which leads me to share one final insight – is this high effort I am putting in sustainable over 4-5 years?  Realistically I think not, and therefore I have decided to do the majority of my work alongside the university semesters and build in some breaks!


Considering the next Semester starts in October, I think I need to build in a short break between now and then, before I take on the first class – Research Philosophy.  So don’t be surprised if there are some light blog entries between now and October – I’m now on a short holiday :o)


References this week:


Juárez Nájera, M., 2010. Sustainability in Higher Education. An explorative approach on sustainable behavior in two universities.


Juárez-Nájera, M., Rivera-Martínez, J.G. & Hafkamp, W.A., 2010. An explorative socio-psychological model for determining sustainable behavior: Pilot study in German and Mexican Universities. Journal of Cleaner Production, 18(7), 686-694. Available at:


Scopes, L.J., 2009. Learning Archetypes as tools of Cybergogy for a 3D Educational Landscape : A structure for eTeaching in Second Life. Social Sciences, 95.


What is a theoretical contribution?

Another week shoots by following the usual pattern of multi tasking around family, work and reading up on different topics including re-reading an article shared by Dr Catherine called “What constitutes a theoretical contribution?” by David Whetton (1989).  Its fairly well known that as you move further up the academic ladder it gets much harder to determine was success looks like.  Whetton’s simplification down to Kipling’s six honest men (“Just So Stories”, 1902) is a master stoke.


I keep six honest serving-men

(They taught me all I knew);

Their names are What and Why and When

And How and Where and Who.


The “what, how and why” form the heart of Whetton’s thesis used to describe the phenomenon under research by asking the first two questions:

1. “What” are all the relevant factors are under study?

2. “How” are they related e.g. cause/effect, are there propositions, and can they be demonstrated in a graphical model?


He then continues that we must explain “why” the theoretical representation deserves any attention by others in your field.  He recommends strong logic, soundness and compelling evidence!  “Who”, “when” and “where” are minor players yet still important as they set the context and boundaries of theoretical discussion, and help understand how generalizable is the model (Whetton, 1989).


Ok, so far so good, but he shocks me by suggesting that much of new knowledge contribution comes from the study of existing models, often by applying theories in other disciplines in your own field, and stretching current thinking in a new context.  The Whetton recipe for success continues:


1. use multiple factors;

2. marshal compelling evidence by showing that the original logic, assumptions were wrong or show new empirical evidence proving the existing theory wrong;

3. propose remedies or alternatives as that comes as part of the “shared responsibility” of your chosen field;

4. finish with writing that includes clarity, impact, relevance and timeliness.


But, why is Whetton’s idea a shock for me?


Quick re-cap: thinking back over the past two months I have been looking at certain areas of interest (the what and why) and where they overlap, looking for somewhere interesting to dedicate my search for new knowledge.  I have been following this process of reducing uncertainty but let’s reflect on specifics.  My interest is where coaching, technology/web 2.0 and sustainability overlap, but in particular, how can using these tools and this context can they be used to cause value shifts in people participating in the research?


This week: I took on the crocodile and had a breakthrough in my search for relevant values and measuring values change research via the discipline of Environmental Psychology.  This is part of what Whetton says, but it is here it gets interesting…  The research uncovered is a major thread of robust research using VBN Theory (Values – Beliefs – Norms ) from leaders in the field of individual values such as Rokeach Values Survey (1973), Schwartz Values Survey (1992), and finally an extension to their work in an environmental context by de-Groot and Steg (2007, 2010).    There were other threads explored such as Inglehart’s political, cultural, national, and longitudinal values change surveys (1971) or Hertzberg’s cultural values (1984), however, I have concluded that these and other alternative representations are macro-value research projects and offer little help in the research of individual change.


With the risk of jumping the gun here as I have not yet explored forward from de Groot and Steg, but I must say that it was here that their research starts to look a little shaky both in terms of its assumptions in the environmental context, and that it may not be a complete model to use in the broader Sustainability context.  Regarding the first criticism from an environmental perspective, the researchers made the decision to take a subset of Schwartz Values Survey dimensions positing that the other dimensions have little effect on pro environmental behaviour.  While I agree with the logic of adding a biospheric dimension alongside Schwartz’s egoism (self-enchancement) and altruism (self-transendence) – for me this assumption seems quite a stretch!  Regarding the second criticism, its pro-environmental stance would not encompass the broader sustainability context, so returning to Schwartz’s full survey and moving forward from there might be required.  Have I stumbled upon the edge of knowledge as Whetton was suggesting in his article?


Here I get to my point (finally), if it proves true that no current knowledge or models are available to use as an instrument for testing measurable value changes towards sustainability, then researching, improving and extending the work of de Groot and Steg, and Schwartz will be needed BEFORE I can realistically continue towards the current focus.  Wow – that is a shock, in particular when I consider that the latter would not even be required as the former satisfies the criteria for new knowledge!


When starting out on doctorate research, perhaps we all have grandiose ideas about making real breakthroughs in human knowledge – going where no person has gone before!  When I asked a colleague and ex-professor in environmental economics about my bigger ideas, she violently shook her head in disbelief and replied (paraphrasing),


“No no no, who are you without any research credentials or credibility to attempt grandiose ideas? – no one will listen to you”, she continued, “when I went to my supervisor with my proposal [note this is a US PhD programme] developed over three years on internet pricing models, he said to me ‘No, no, no…. take this journal [that was sitting on his desk] and pick an article from it and do your PhD on that subject’, that is how it was for me – perhaps it might be different in the business field”.


Her advice to me was…“listen to your supervisor and pick something small that you value and just earn your ticket, then go for the bigger ideas”.


In summary, to date I have not yet found a model to demonstrate value change in a sustainability context, nevertheless, for the moment like Sherlock Holmes I must keep looking.  If I find one, then the model can be used in the context of coaching, technology and sustainability and I’ll be on track with original thinking, – if not, it seems I have to make one, otherwise how can I provide compelling evidence that any value shifts are towards Sustainability are possible?  So, is this some sort of early crossroads for me?  Will my focus be building upon Schwartz, and de Groot and Steg’s values work through the creation and empirical testing of a new micro-values model for usage in the Sustainability context, and will that be my new knowledge contribution – or will I find a model that allows me to return to the original intention exploring the overlaps of coaching, technology and sustainability?  Watch this space…


To finish on a light note, this is a link to a webpage that contains an illustrated guide to getting a PhD.  Love it.


Now, as per usual – I would love to hear your opinions on do I have the correct understanding of Whetton, and if so do I go big or go small?   Is there a robust Sustainability values instrument out there I have not found yet? Love to hear from you.


de Groot, J.I. & Steg, L., 2010. Relationships between value orientations, self-determined motivational types and pro-environmental behavioural intentions. Journal of Environmental Psychology. Available at:


de Groot, J.I. & Steg, L., 2007. Value Orientations to Explain Beliefs Related to Environmental Significant Behavior: How to Measure Egoistic, Altruistic, and Biospheric Value Orientations. Environment and Behavior, 40(3), 330-354. Available at:


Whetten, D.A., 1989. What Constitutes a Theoretical Contribution? The Academy of Management Review, 14(4), 490. Available at:

Categories: Uncategorized

Crocodiles are scary

When two crocodiles swim towards each other, it is not until the last minute by their feeling the vibrations of the larger crocodile will the smaller one change its path to avoid confrontation. This would describe what happened to me as I started my week thinking that this would be the week I explore values. As I got closer to research I started to find a vast knowledge base and history from multiple perspectives from psychologists, sociologists, economists, and philosophers. It was not only the vastness but the diverseness of opinions on how to study values (Bozeman, 2007). I’ll share for the record some of the complexities discovered. 1. Typologies are numerous: • Instrumental or Prime (Dahl and Lindblom, 1953) • Means or Ends (Kalleberg, 1969) • Instrumental or Terminal (Rokeach, 1974) • Proximate, Remote, Intermediate, Ultimate (Van Dyke, 1982) • Egoistic, Altruistic and Biospheric values (de Groot and Steg, 2010) 2. There are differing ways of thinking about valuing, and ‘whether actions should be judged in terms of agent-relative intentions (expressive theory) or agent-neutral outcomes (consequentialism/utilitarianism)?’ 3. There were also deep complexities between values within a typology e.g. how to intrinsic and instrumental values relate to each other? 4. There were also considerations towards differences in individual values and how they relate to public/social values. A Sustainability consultant and colleague from EAD, kindly passed me the following definition from the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development in a document containing the Bonn Declaration (April, 2009) which states: (   [Education for Sustainable Development] “ESD is based on values of justice, equity, tolerance, sufficiency and responsibility. It promotes gender equality, social cohesion and poverty reduction and emphasises care, integrity and honesty, as articulated in the Earth Charter. ESD is underpinned by principles that support sustainable living, democracy and human well-being. Environmental protection and restoration, natural resource conservation and sustainable use, addressing unsustainable production and consumption patterns, and the creation of just and peaceful societies are also important principles underpinning ESD.” When I read these, I do think almost anyone will agree – perhaps the issue is not an intellectual one but instead in practice living them! In the end I felt the ‘values theory’ crocodile was just too big to take on this week although the last typology seems a particularly relevant starting point for the sustainability context. But all was not lost after I discovered and read ‘Social Learning in Environmental Management’ (Keen, Brown & Dyball, 2005). Social Learning Theory (SLT) as depicted in this book is quite different to when I previously came across SLT when writing my discussion chapter on Coaching and Learning Theories within the MBA project. For me SLT from its roots and its popularity, Bandura pushed the lens of modeling by observation. I can attest to this perspective as ‘coachees practicing coaching’ was an example of modeling new skills from my previous research, nevertheless, I think SLT really can be much more, particularly for sustainability. Let me explain. Keen, Brown, & Dyball’s (2005) approach is to suggest that SLT supports sustainability through influencing the learning agenda, learning platforms and learning ethics, achieved through what they call the ‘five braided strands of social learning’ (p.8). These five strands cover reflective practice and reflection; understanding the systemic orientation of our relationship to each other, and the environment; integration and synthesis of perspectives e.g. pillars of sustainability; negotiation and collaboration between the diverse parties – their knowledge, their language, and their motives; and finally, rich participation which for me is captured by effective stakeholder engagement. (See AA1000SES for what I think is an example model where actors can strive towards the co-leaning and co-action end of participation spectrum.) Ok, but where does this fit with my research? The penny dropped for me in Chapter 11: The Ethics of Social Engagement: Learning to Live and Living to Learn by John Harris and Peter Deane. Firstly they questioned our whole relationship to our environment with respect to dominion i.e. most religious perspectives have us believing we are only transcending the earth to a better place (or not), that we are in some way superior to the rest of life, and should utilize the planets resources as we like; to which their point is this perspective kind of separates us from the environment, rather than being part of it. Secondly, they researched how immersion affected social learning for environmental students who went into the field and worked on projects together. Their findings suggest that learning was so much more powerful when compared to the classroom. One participant in the book comments: (note: this comment was posted a few decades from one of these field trips) “… the whole exposure to what was actually happening down there was one of those horrendously memorable experiences. Going to the actual mill and seeing those logs gobbled up in seven seconds really symbolized the power of how homo sampiens destroys.” (p. 202) Simply stated, research behind immersion in the real world offers tremendous opportunities for learning that may affect our values and behaviours, while in the classroom remains disconnected and offers less intensity and less opportunity to change people. This is where it hit me, ‘as my research is inside a virtual world – could my research simply be a waste of time?’ Just go out into the real world! Ouch – my first serious doubt. During the rest of my week I have been considering this point and have come to the following conclusions: 1. While the virtual world is not the real world it is still immersion, so there still might be usefulness here. 2. Sometimes the real world immersion is not possible i.e. looking at a disaster site like the 1984 gas disaster in India. (Link to SL: – and credit for today’s blog image.) 3. Sometimes geography makes certain immersion field trips problematic or too costly 4. Perhaps if there is some benefit of the immersive world experience, where might it sit in comparison to the abstract classroom and real world immersion experience? Finally, it is not for me to assume at this early stage that immersion actually has the power to change the values of people i.e. my thesis is not yet set, and I am starting with the research question ‘can coaching in immersive worlds create value shifts towards sustainability?’ Proving this either way would be a contribution to knowledge – would it not? One last point this week is the issue of using the coaching approach to pedagogy. Keen, Brown, & Dyball’s works also covers within the reflection braid – Kolb’s Learning Cycle, and Argyris’s Learning Loops; both of which I referred to in my Coaching MBA Dissertation. I asked myself the question: is there any difference between the coaching approach to the social learning approach? My response is yes there is. Even though there will be overlaps – I believe the coaching model will combine ‘brain-based’ research, various adult learning theories, an emotional learning element e.g. ‘feeling the meaning’ (Walkerden, 2005, p181), a solution focus; and co-learning opportunities together to help facilitate positive change. So, I wrap my week up by resolving a couple of scares: Values is a big subject so I need to be sure it is values I am targeting as opposed to other perspectives e.g. knowledge; and Immersive worlds may offer a deeper learning experience than the traditional lecture or classroom, however, it is not for me to cling to any thesis at this stage – I only need to ask the question and prove its relevance :o). References in this blog entry. Bozeman, B., 2007. Public values and public interest : counterbalancing economic individualism, Georgetown University Press. de Groot, J.I. & Steg, L., 2010. Relationships between value orientations, self-determined motivational types and pro-environmental behavioural intentions. Journal of Environmental Psychology. Available at: Keen, M., Brown, Valerie, A. & Dyball, R., 2005. Social Learning in Environmental Management Towards a Sustainable Future M. Keen, A. Brown, Valerie, & R. Dyball, Earthscan. Walkerden, G., 2005. Social Learning in Environmental Management Towards a Sustainable Future, Eds. M. Keen, A. Brown, Valerie, & R. Dyball, Earthscan.