Archive for June, 2008

Martin the twitter bird

Monday, June 30th, 2008

OK we now have official confirmation that Martin Weller is indeed the supreme ‘twitter-bird”! Actually on a serious note I am finding twitter increasingly useful, as a background chat to keep abreast of what others are doing, as an alert to new blog posts, just for fun, and as a means of actually doing some Spanish learning - which is pretty urgent with another TMA looming and the final exam not far away!


Animated LAMS

Sunday, June 29th, 2008

One step behind Martin as usual, here’s my animoto of the LAMS conference - could get right into this, much better than static pics; although AJCann’s wit know no end ;-). Patrick McAndrew pointed animoto out to us - Patrick what have you started???

Ready for mass adoption?

Sunday, June 29th, 2008

James Daziel entitled his keynote at the LAMS conference with one of the central questions facing learning design research: ‘Are we ready for the mass adoption of learning design?’ If we are honest despite the enthusiasm and interest in learning design as a potential solution to addressing the lack of uptake of innovation in education and a mechanism for sharing ideas between teachers and across disciplines, there has been little impact beyond the early enthusiasts. James’ keynote tackled this conundrum, the talk reflected a lot of the recurring themes of the LAMS conference – where sharing and reuse were returned to again and again. He began his talk by suggesting there were three different meanings of the term ‘learning design’: 
  • as a means of formally representing the teaching and learning process (descriptive framework),
  • as a type of e-learning software,
  • or as an approach to supporting effective pedagogy.

In terms of ‘LD descriptive frameworks’ he argued there were a number, both technical (such as IMS LD, LAMS XML, etc) and general (lesson plans, patterns, etc). A key aspect, he argued, was the need to be able to represent many different pedagogical approaches both technically and pedagogically, and that such systems can therefore be termed ‘pedagogically neutral’ (although in my view this is easier said than done!). He illustrated the point about representation by referring to early attempts to capture music in a notational form, pointing out that it took a couple of hundred years before a stable, sharable representation was developed which captured enough of the essence of the music, whilst still enabling flexibility and adaptation on the part of the ‘re-user’. I have heard James use this analogy before and think it is a very good one and does nicely describe the issues we have in terms of trying to capture and re-present teaching ideas. As James said, it too over 200 years to get something useable in the music world and we have only being trying for about 10 years, so there is hope for us yet! I do think this is a key issue, the significance of representation in design is often underestimated but is actually key to the solution of reuse; we need to work hard at developing an evolving set of representations that contain enough understanding to convey the essence of the teaching idea being described.

LAMS, of course, is an example of ‘LD as an e-learning system’. He argued that one of the key benefits of LAMS was the focus on the creation of collaborative learning activities. LAMS was way ahead of its time, particularly because it provides such a simple, visually appealing interface and way of representing the learning sequence but also because it takes the design right through to run time. He argued that a LD system such as LAMS is fundamentally different to a Content Management System (CMS) – suggesting that an LD system is a workflow engine, whereas a CMS is a group-based management website. I suspect a lot of people might argue differently on this one, but for me yet again it raises the issue of the metaphors we use to describe and represent the complexity of the online space. Early notions of describing the online environment as translations of the physical worlds – i.e. a ‘Virtual University’, with virtual lecture rooms, cafes etc. is now inadequate as it doesn’t capture the temporal and networked dimensions of the digital world; it doesn’t represent the dynamics of online environments - the dynamics in use. James’ use of ‘workflow’ partially addresses this – my interpretation of what he was saying was that LAMS better presents the ‘design in action’ as opposed to more static representation in a CMS.

In terms of ‘LD as an approach’ he referred again to the need for and importance of developing a sharable description of teaching practice and a mechanism for sharing good ideas. This is of course at the heart of what we are attempting to do with our new social networking site for designs, Cloudworks. James suggested that part of the vision is to help educators to consider new approaches to improving student learning and to give them advice on appropriate course design.

He then focussed on the challenges that have been overcome. Firstly in terms of frameworks work such as IMS LD have taken us a long way in terms of technical representation. On the educational side, projects such as the AUTC LD project in Australia and our own work on CompendiumLD have provided us with new vocabularies for describing and representing designs. Secondly, software development in this area has been far more difficult than anyone could have imagined (he said that with feeling!!!), but LAMS, Coppercore, Reload etc are now there, available and being used. He provided some impressive statistics in terms of the size of the LAMS community and the number of institutions using it. A key challenge remains to look at integrating across these systems – integrating LD software tools with the backend institutional CMS/VLE is an obvious one. Thirdly, he reflected on the progress made in terms of sharing effective practice and again pointed to both the AUTC site and the LAMS community as evidence of progress made in this area. As an aside Barry Harper from the AUTC work also presented at the conference and was talking about the work they are now doing interviewing teachers to find out more about their design practice – a very similar approach to the one we are taking in the OU LD project. James’ reflected however on the difference between direct reuse of designs, particularly wholesale reuse and looking at other people’s designs for inspiration; suggesting that the later was far more common.




He concluded by touching on the challenges that remain. In terms of frameworks we need to do a lot more in terms of interoperability, educationally we need to articulate out different representations and be clearer about what they are for – if you only have a page to describe an innovation, what is the essential information you would want to convey? In terms of software development, not surprisingly, he has a long wish list of improvements – integration with CMS/VLEs, different types of looping and non-linearity, role-based LD where students can take a more active part in the design process. Also what kind of guidance and support can we give designers/teachers – which is appropriate, at the right time and the right level of detail? This is something we have struggled with in the work on DialogPlus and CompendiumLD, as have the LPP and Phoebe teams. James referred to the new work they are doing in this area in terms of the development of a LAMS activity planner – which will contain a library of pedagogical templates and in-situ guidance and support. He concluded by returning to the issue of sharing, reuse and mass adoption. This is one of the key challenges that we haven’t yet cracked, but as I said in an earlier post, the meme is spreading…    

Shareable memes

Friday, June 27th, 2008

I suspect there is a new ‘meme’ around in terms of sharing learning activities and designs.  There has been a lot of discussion here at the LAMS conference about how we share ideas and designs. Applying web 2.0 to design is a key aspiration of the work we are doing with our cloudworks site, but we are aware that others are also doing similar things. of course the LAMS and Moodle communities are very strong and already have alot in terms of sharing designs. I have also just come across via Robin Mason a new site that Ron Oliver is promoting for sharing teaching activities. feels like we are on to something. The challenge is ‘How do we put these all together, connect between them, generate distributed and interoperable communities? 

Where next with planners?

Friday, June 27th, 2008

 Helen Beetham gave an excellent and thought provoking keynote this morning at the LAMS conference. Here are my rough notes on the points she made: 1) Teaching is a human skill that can be enhanced by technology, 2) Teaching is a different skill to learning though in close dialogue with it, 3) Teachers intentions can be articulated and enacted with the support of technology and can be shared with other actors – teachers, learners, systems in the learning process, 4) A design should be generalisable across different situations whereas a plan should work in one situation, 5) Different decisions take place in practice and we need to take account of this, for example before learners enrol, after they enrol etc and how they work through a set of activities, 6) Plans and designs must in practice both be contingent and flexible, because learning is a contingent response and personal activity. Therefore there is a spectrum of educational design/planningKey questions
  • How do designers intentions accommodation learners intentions?
  • What balance of scaffolding and flexibility is appropriate?
  • When and how should designers intentions be made explicitly and represented and when in the background?
  • Which are important to learners?
  • What are the relationships amongst different decisions – logistically or educational (relationship between an outcome and activity)?

Overview JISC programme

Two pedagogy planner tools have been funded which expose the challenges both developmental and conceptual, also helped in terms of gathering requirements about design and providing proof of concepts in the field which we can critique. The LPP planner is for regular use to support course planning, scaffold support for decision making process, educational values build in to it. In contrast  Phoebe might be more appropriate for initial teacher training, CPD, time to reflect and think, educational values more fluid, more flexible. The  LPP is based on the notion of collaborative online planning and design tool that supports lecturers in developing and sharing learning designs. Add in learner needs, link module level to individual week planning. In contrast,  Phoebe is a wiki-based planner to promote innovative practice in design for learning, provides a complement to LAMS providing up-front and contextual planning that is currently doesn’t support, separation of planning and guidance.Challenges exposed
  • Development challenges – lead to more refined understanding of requirements, many of which are already being addressed by tools in development
  •  More fundamental challenges – require us to question where we are going

Development challenges

  •  Diversity of existing approaches to design
  • Complexity and non-linearity of educational decision making
  •  The need for contingent emergent and flexible designs giving teachers and learners scope to adapt the curriculum as they engage with it
  • Diversity of educational activities and tools (and rapid change) – generic terms, activities, pedagogic approaches, technologies, media
  • The XCRI project has identified a range of institutional processes which demonstrates the complexity of the terrain such as e-admin, e-application, curriculum management, etc
  •  The programme has identified a range of requirements:

o      customisability, design at different levels, flexible to take different paths and iterate between levels, alternative interfaces for different tasks, educational rationale, make explicit the consequences of design decisions in terms of the learner experience, to represent the context in a way that can be shared, constructive alignment among the components of the curriculum such as topics, outcomes, methods, tools, staff resources and student workload, support for collaboration, outputs of different types (runnable instantiation, institutional processes - XCRI), ability to link to repositories, ability to link with context-relevant advice and guidance, learner-related information systems

Challenges – big questions

  •  What do the tools add to existing planning tools such as mind mapping decision support software even basic web authoring tools?
  •  What do the tools add to existing educational tools (eg VLEs and CMSs), which increasingly have design capabilities and viewpoints built in?
  •  What do tools add to social software solutions to sharing good practice?
  • social bookmarking site has been created on Design_for_learning which raises challenging questions about semantic interoperability i.e. how can educational intentions be meaningfully represented and shared? 


      There are also issues arising from the impact of web 2.0 as summarised in a talk by Stephen Downes ‘Trends and impacts of e-learning 2.0’ ICCE 207, Tawan 2007. Key point: learners are becoming more connected and self-sufficient, do educator intentions matter any more?


Conclusions – planners provide a focal point for drawing down teaching centred services around the process of educational planning just as e-portfolio are becoming the focal point for drawing down learner centred services around the process of personal development planning. Reusable educational ‘memes’ or design elements can be shared using existing standards (such as IMS LD, XCRI) sharing educational purposes and contexts in a meaningful is beyond the scope of existing standards.  The concept of ‘memes’ is very powerful, simple and therefore can be spread virally but there is a contrast here with IMS LD as a mechanism for conveying this which is contra to this and complex – raises a dilemma for how to spread and share ideas. In the discussion which followed Helen concluded that maybe we need a higher level process map to put this all together, to see how it all fits; make the jigsaw pieces of Learning Design fit.

What Learning Design could be…

Thursday, June 26th, 2008




I’m at the LAMS 2008 conference in Cádiz, Spain – great location! Nice to catch up with people and there looks like there are some interesting sessions. Great to see the event running in parallel in English and Spanish. The conference this morning was kicked off by a keynote from Stephen Downes. His focus was reflecting on what Learning Design is and more importantly visioning for what it could/should be. It was really interesting to hear what Stephen was saying because it aligned very closely with the vision we are trying to develop with our Learning Design work, so my keynote followed on nicely from his. Here are some of the general points he made, he will make the slides and audio recording available on his site in due course. 

  • Traditionally, LD has been seen as primarily atomistic – linear, sequential, increasingly branching also included but still very mechanistic in focus. He felt there was an analogy to the early days of software design – where programmes were viewed as a executable series of steps
  • That there has been a bias towards instructivism – i.e. the notion that learning is a process of teaching; therefore a bias towards presentation, through a pre-described path
  • This bias is replicated at the architectural level – through Learning Management Systems; i.e. institutional based/focused, the notion of the learning provider – with learners going to the provider
  • He gave a brief review of the emergence of the concept of elearning 2.0, where the focus is community-based, user driven. And the more recently coined term  “edupunk”. In other words the application of the web 2.0 philosophies in an educational context; a shift in the focus of the www from presentation to participation
  • He explored how Learning Design could beging to shift and model these web 2.0 philosophies with desing shifting from the control of the teacher to the learner, more interactive, iterative and evoliving designs – shared LAMS deisgns where all the students are able to edit in a common learning design space
  • He demonstrated how visual tools such as Gliffy could be used a tool for creating designs
  • One of the key points he was making was the notion of giving control of the design process to the students; therefore a shift in perception and ownership – from  ‘teacher creates, students consume’ to ‘student create and consume and teacher facilitates’
  • He argued that there was a difference between a group and a network; groups had closed (members etc) whereas networks emerge and are more open. He argument was that to date in education we have centred more around groups and that perhaps now with web 2.0 etc we have the opportunity to explore more how we can adopt and exploit more of a network perspective
  • He suggested there was a lot we could learn/apply from the gaming arena and talked about the different elements of gaming  (the environment, the agents (move from place to place in the environment – chess pieces) and the operators (the humans who interact with the environment)), their roles and relationships.
  • He concluded by arguing that the original intention of the concept of ‘learning objects’ was that they would be interactive, they would inherit properties, but instead they became more like books, and learning environments become more like libraries. We need to revisit this in a modern context and more to more dynamic objects and designs in an educational context; we should look to and learn from the real learning objects of our world (flickr, youtube, wikipedia, google)
  • Therefore design as a more interactive and dynamic process - CRUD Create, Read, Update and Delete; supported through an appropriate facilitating environment, perhaps mimicking the best in lesson learnt from the gaming world

elearning conferences

Wednesday, June 25th, 2008

Another valuable list of up and coming conferences from Clayton Wright.

SocialLearn: exploring the potential

Tuesday, June 24th, 2008

Last week I attended a great workshop as part of the SocialLearn project. The purpose was to share some of the thinking and work to date on SocialLearn with a group of ‘critical friends’ - mainly associate lecturers and OU students. Lots of others have already blogged about it (herehere, and here) so I won’t repeat what they have already said, but the photos from the event are now up on flckr

CALRG conference

Saturday, June 21st, 2008


I am in the CALRG research group and this week was the annual two-day conference – the 29th annual conference in fact! Further information and the book of abstracts is available from here. Unfortunately I couldn’t go to all of it because there was a clash with the SocialLearn workshop but the parts I went to were excellent and Andrew Brasher kindly sent me some notes on the talks, so this blog is my attempt to indirectly pretend I was at more of the conference!


Andrew Brasher and Simon Cross began the day talking about aspects of our Learning Design work. Andrew gave an excellent account of the background to the development of our visualisation tool CompendiumLD and the underlying design principles, as well as discussing the different values of the software in terms of supporting efficiency, effectiveness and creativity. Simon concentrated on the evidence emerging from our interviews in terms of giving us a better understanding of the design process. Simon has a nice visual diagram which demonstrates the design lifecycle. You can kind of just make it out in the pic below!



One of the excellent features of the CALRG conference is that each day has one or more discussants who critique the overall talks This year day one had Stylianos Hatzipanagos from King’s College London and Doug Clow from IET. Stylianos probed the role of learners in the design process and in particular what role they might play in the assessment process and how CompendiumLD might be used to support this. We also talked about how it was important to bring the full range of potential stakeholders into the design process; teachers, support staff, administrators, policy makers and students and that visual representation might be helpful in providing shared meaning.


Unfortunately I wasn’t at the rest of the sessions, but here is a summary of some of the highlights derived from Andrew’s notes:

  • Stylianos then gave a talk entitled “Feedback in formative e-assessment; closing the loop in distance learning”. Amongst other things he talked about his work with Steve Warburton on different types of assessment and social software. Here’s the abstract: 
    • The paper explores the relationship between social software and formative assessment. Formative assessment practices though beneficial for student learning become marginalised and constrained in open and distance learning environments. Feedback is a key factor in formative assessment and can potentially benefit from the deployment of emerging technologies and the opportunities for participation and dialogue afforded by social software. This paper explores and proposes a conceptual framework for this relationship. The claim is that the social dimensions of emerging technologies allow for formative assessment practices to be re-invented or at the very least facilitated by essentially participative and student focused interventions. A comparison of these technologies against formative assessment mechanisms will help identify the types of processes that these new tools might best support to encourage effective feedback approaches that both empower the learner and enhance their learning experience.
  • Also, McCormick’s (2004) paper  exploring the relationship between ICT and assessment was also mentioned.
  • Adrian Kirkwood talked about some really interesting work he is doing in a collaboratively international project in Bangladesh. 
  • Fernando Rosell-Aguilar talked about the innovations they are doing with the use of technology for some of the Spanish course. I would have liked to have heard this as of course I am doing the precursor Spanish course.  Andrew noted this included some very interesting use of blogs and a glossary list of blogs.
  • Teresa Connolly talked about some of the OpenLearn work, 5% of the OU catalogue is now on OpenLearn. She talked about the way in which they were looking at the design aspects with OERs and some of the difficulties. Interestingly they had been using Compendium to help with this. They are planning to look at two course units and attempt to map the OpenLearn production process.


I managed to make it back for the final session, with Chris Pegler acting as discussant for day two. Chris had done a tag cloud of the abstracts which provided a useful visual snapshot of the range and focus of the topics. Satisfyingly learning was the most prominent word; from my perspective design was pretty prominent too ;-) Here’s mine using TagCrowd on the conference proceedings - not sure what all the mysterious “7v”, “aj” etc are though!



links for 2008-06-20

Friday, June 20th, 2008