Archive for December, 2011

My digital environment

Thursday, December 15th, 2011


As an illustration of how we as practitioners are using technologies to support our practice I will describe some of the key tools I use on a daily basis. I can honestly say that the way I work and communicate with others has been transformed in the last five years or so because of this. Obviously I still use email, viagra but now use gmail as well as my institutional email address. Skype is constantly open and used for short chats with others, pills as well as more detailed meetings or brainstorming sessions via the video conferencing facility. One thing I have noticed about interacting in audio and video conferencing systems is that the visual clues of being co-present in a room are missing, hence turn taking and participation is more stilted. I use Twitter extensively to share thoughts from conferences I am attending, to disseminate research outputs, to point to interesting articles, but also to ask questions, get good ideas and resources via tweets that others post. The tone tends to be light hearted but predominately professional. I also use facebook a lot more for social interactions; for communicating with friends and family and keeping abreast of what others are doing. Repositories such as Slideshare and Dropbox are invaluable for sharing papers and presentations.  Obviously there is my blog that provides a mechanism for me to share developing ideas, as well as reporting on interesting meetings or conferences. Finally, I have recently started using diigo as a social bookmarking tool and I am already finding it invaluable.

Obviously there is a wealth of other tools that I use (various audio and video conferencing tools, LinkedIn and Google+, Cloudworks, etc.) but I don’t necessarily use these on a daily basis.

It would be interesting to find out what others are using as their core set of tools, how they are using them and why they are important. There are parallels here with the discussion in recent years on Personal Learning Environments (PLEs) and a number of writers have tried to represent PLEs visually. Clearly as new tools emerge as practitioners we explore them and consider whether or not it is relevant to include them in our daily practice. Diigo, for example, instantly became useful for me, whereas I am still struggling to find a role for Google+ and LinkedIn and can’t yet see what this offer above and beyond what I get from facebook and Twitter. This repertoire of digital tools is extremely powerful. For example, I recently couldn’t find the complete reference for a paper by Kay, 1972. I searched and searched the Internet, there were lots of citings to it but none of them were complete! In frustration I tweeted a query about it and within five minutes had five replies giving me the complete reference, now that is powerful!

Participating in such media means I feel part of a global network of peers; from which I get support, encouragement, ideas and inspiration, but which in turn I also hopefully reciprocate by answering queries that others post, retweeting useful resources or simply providing support or encouragement. For each of us participating, we need to decide what our digital identity/voice is in these digital spaces. What style of discourse do we present to others?  How is our discourse different through blog writing, as opposed to Twitter or facebook? How are others perceiving us? 

Hello blog!

Thursday, December 15th, 2011

My poor blog has been sadly neglected recently…. I’d like to use the excuse of writing the book, try but the reality is I just got out of the habit of blogging. For some reason I’ve got back into it again. I had forgotten how valuable blogging is, as a means of reporting on things and working up new ideas. I am currently working on a post about memes and metaphors for networked technologies for example. My blog definitely adds something to my repertoire of thinking channels; from presentations through blogging and finally through to more coherent publications. Has anyone else experienced similar problems and neglected their blog recently? 

Learning Design Workshop in Sydney

Thursday, December 15th, 2011

I have just spent a few days in Sydney attending the LAMS and Learning Design conference and a two-day seminar on learning design. The latter was organised by James Dalziel as part of his ALT-C fellowship. This enabled him to bring together about twenty learning design researchers to discuss the state of the art of the field. The format of the workshop consisted of each of the researchers providing a brief overview of their current focus of research, followed by a discussion. The workshop was extremely interesting and generated some rich discussion. The blog post provides a summary of some of the main discussion points and outcomes. The workshop was timely following on from the recent activities of the Learning Design Grid group in London and Berlin. We have plans to take the work of the two groups forward in a number of ways, including the production of a co-constructed book which defines the state of the art of the field.

James introduced the workshop and suggested that we should focus on the following questions:

1.     Where is the field?

2.     What are people doing?

3.     What are the synergies between the different areas of work?

4.     What are the motivations behind peoples’ thinking and interest in the field?

5.     What do others outside of the field bring?

6.     What lies behind the work and what are the conceptual challenges of the field?

7.     Terminology and what they mean? For example, both the terms ‘Design for learning’, ‘design by learning’ have been used, what do these terms mean? How does the terminology work for a broader community? An issue for Peter Goodyear is that learning design implies you can design for learning, whereas he argues that we need to distinguish between what can be designed and the actually learning activity that the learners engage with.  

8.     What are Instructional Design and Learning Design and the relationship between them?

9.     The importance of adopting a more student-centred perspective and how learning design as an approach can support this.

10. Learning is something that happens within students, we just provide the context. Would teaching design be a more appropriate term?

Peter Goodyear and discussion

His interest is on research on and for designing for learning. He argued that there are a number of key components: the physical and digital environment, the tasks, the socio-organisational context, the division of labour and associated rules. Activities include interactive teaching, facilitation, and self-regulation. Ultimately a design focuses around a set of intended learning outcomes. Peter argued that there was a distinction between the tasks a designer sets up, and the actual activities students undertake. He argued that you cannot control the actual activities and learning that the students will do. He commented that the concept of ‘affordances’ is sometimes useful in describing the use of technologies, but cautioned that there is not as yet a shared understanding of what this term means. He wondered whether either the term educational design or teaching as design might more adequately describe what we are focusing on as opposed to learning design.

He introduced the concept of design patterns describing these as combinations of the environment, tasks and divisions of labour. And provided an example from research being undertaken by someone in his group. The case study he described was about whether or not iPads can improve learning. The discipline was the in health sciences and the context a bush rescue training exercise for Paramedics. The findings of the research were that the situation was complex and that the iPad only played a small part in the overall process. Therefore he concluded that we need to understand the use of tools in context, i.e. in situ and that we cannot consider them in isolation. In this example the iPads were part of a broader ecology of tools and context and hence you cannot understand the use of a tool in isolation.

The discussion moved on to argue that there is a distinction between improvised and planned/intended design. James suggested there was an analogy between different forms of musical performance. I.e. we play other peoples’ music because we recognise them as great composers, we replicate the core music but also bring to it our own interpretation.  In some respects this also relates to the fact that teaching is both an Art and a Science and begs the question: Is learning design about the ability to replicate to some extent?

It was suggested that we need more conceptual work on the connectedness betweens tools, tasks, activities, etc. the interpenetration of activities and the real worlds.

Someone else suggested that it is important to be clear about the intended audience we are targeting in terms of the learning design tools and resources. There is a difference between novice educator and a more experienced educator well grounded in the pedagogy. How do we support the range of types of educators? Will they need different forms of support? How does this relate to implicit and explicit knowledge and to novice vs. expert?

Liz Masterman

Liz reported on some of the research being carried out in the Learning Design Support Environment (LDSE) project and the developed of the learning designer tool. She described how as part of her evaluation of this work she has been using the six-stage HE framework and also James Wertsch concept of mediated actions. Again she argued that it is important to distinguish between novice and expert teachers, this seemed to be one of the recurrent themes of the workshop. She also argued that both intuitive or experiential pedagogy can be enacted at different times.

Matt Bower – the learning designer tool

Matt also talked about some of the work he has been doing as part of the LDSE project. His interest is in the development of an appropriate conceptual framework. He cited a number of important factors that need to be taken account of:

1.     Teachers under increasing pressure to develop their LD capacities

2.     Current LD platforms provide limited LD thinking support

3.     There are issues in pedagogically accurate translation between LD platforms

4.     To what extent might a tool like the learning designer act as a bridging solution?

Carlos Glue! PS

Carlos and researchers at the University of Vallodalid are interested in connecting multiple learning design tools to multiple learning management systems. He described a LD cycle of Design through instantiation/deployment to enactment and then evaluation.

GLUE!PS is a service architecture which works with an LD adaptor and a LMS adaptor. They have developed a prototype of WebCollage GLUE! PS and Moodle.

Ron Oliver – Sharing designs

Ron attended the meeting from Perth via video conferencing. He describe a project he was involved with that attempted to help teachers share deisgns. He listed the following as the core principles behind the project:

1.     The database needed to be accessible and easy to use

2.     It was important to understand what conditions were needed to encourage teachers to look for designs

3.     The metadata included brief descriptive information including: subject, year, form of learning, scope, students and teacher roles, perceived advantages in terms of the technologies used, resource needed, learning outcomes and assessment.

Findings included: the importance of trust and rating of peers etc. to encourage reuse, the value of incorporating at an institutional level.

John Hedberg and Sue Bennett 

John and Sue reflected on the AUTC project on learning design. John described the relationship between discipline knowledge and knowledge of the workplace and how as part of the project they used Jonassen’s typology of problems: i) rule – practice strategy, ii) incident – linking ideas, iii) strategy – generating new strategies, iv) role – multiple perspectives. They also drew on the TPACK framework: Putting technological, pedagogical and content knowledge together.

The focus underlying this was on a conceptual framework to understand teachers’ design practice and thinking.

Kumiko Aoli

Kumiko described the culture of learning and teaching in Japan, based on a survey done by Tokyo University, which revealed that most students are apathetic about learning. The survey suggested that students are burnt out by the time they get to university because of the intensity of the school system. Most of the delivery at university is didactic and lecture based. She is interested in whether learning design as an approach might put the student at the centre of learning. However it will be difficult to change the teacher culture and passive learning predominates. She tried some active and collaborative learning but it didn’t work out. She argued that there is a need to change the student attitudes as well and to help them learn the skills of learning. Respecting authority is ingrained in the Japanese culture. Students are considered as homogeneous learners and there is a need to shift to more personalised forms of learning. Teachers are individual craftsmen who work in isolation; there are no learning designers or instructional designers to help them.

Spyros Papadakis

Spyros described the Greek LAMS community and in particular the ways in which they have been developing and fostering it. His approach draws heavily on Wenger’s notion of Communities of Practice (CoP). Three questions guided this work:

1.     What is CoP and how can it be fostered?

2.     What are the challenges to developing a CoP?

3.     What are the key success factors?

More information in the project can be found at:

Debbie Evans

Debbie described the use of LAMS in the school community, with an impressive 11, 000 teachers involved across NSW. The team developed some advanced training materials for using LAMS and also had a number of projects around the use of LAMS with different technologies such as: the use of interactive whiteboards and ways in which adopting a learning design approach might be useful. The Connected Classroom project connected over 2000 schools. They also had a nice projects which explored the use of students as designers.

Spyros Papadakis

Spyros demonstrated the Learning Outcomes Authoring Tool (LOAT) that they have developed, which is designed to support the educator in creating more effective learning outcomes drawing on well established learning outcomes taxonomies, such as Bloom’s taxonomy.

He argued that well written LOs are a key factor for an effective learning activity but also that there are a lack of good tools and teachers need help to write good LOs. Indeed it is evident that most teachers don’t use the higher level of learning outcomes.

He defined Learning outcomes as what a student will gain from a learning activity. He cited Kizlik 1998 who stated that LOs are central to lesson plans. Learning outcomes facilitate the overall course, inform students about standards and expectations, and provide a framework for evaluation. Common problems include that fact that teachers use inappropriate verbs such as know, understand or learn about which are too vague. What do you measure? He argued that we need an action or behaviour and a condition and a standard.

A number of taxonomies have been built into the tool, including: Blooms Taxonomy (1956), SOLO, Revised Bloom  (Anderson et al 1990) and Instructional scaffolding etc.

He described how Bloom is based on three aspects: cognitive, affective and psychomotor learning outcomes.  The cognitive skills include: Knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation.

The LOAT tool consists of two parts: an administration networking tool (which handles learning theories) and a web tool (which makes content available to authors). You can use existing taxonomies or add your own. Can have LOAT as an add-on tool to LMSs, such as Moodle.

The tool has many features in comment with the CogenT tool developed by Pebble learning, which is also a learning outcomes tool.

Spyros and colleagues have produced a paper on the tool: Designing and implementation of the Learning Outcomes Authoring Tool, which describes this work in more detail.

Eva Dobozy

Eva described the development of a LAMS sequence, populated the LAMS planner. Eva is a constructivist teacher and hence her sequence was based on this belief based. She argued that it is important to move beyond surface level teaching and cramming towards higher-level thinking. She described how the sequence built on De Bono’s ideas of higher level thinking and how it incorporate the Plus Minus and Interesting approach as a scaffold to enable learners to tackle a problem.

Gregor Kennedy

Gregors’ interest is in how are students engaging with the tasks that we are designing as evidenced by their learning activities? He described a role-play situated cognition activity based on a decision tree. He argued that the characteristics of social media (create, produce, publish and share) align well with socio-constructivist principles.

Gregor reported on a study looking at medical students use of social media and the degree to which they adhered to the way in which their learning activities had been designed. He concluded with the following reflections on the work:

Never think in binaries

Our tasks – their tasks

Whole task – trigger activities

Formal – informal

Mandated - voluntary

Our tools – their tools

Designed – undersigned

Us – them

Learning – living

Simon Walker

Simon described the eLIDA CAMEL project on learning design in LAMS and Moodle. More on the project can be found at:

The also mentioned the precursor project – eLISA project, where the focus was on to what extent can learning design produced by one teacher for use by another teacher? Is there a role for generic designs?

They worked with a group of teachers and analysed their practice, and were particularly interested in study skills. He concluded that the issue of trust was very evident in terms of one teacher picking up and using another teacher’s design. Again a theme that emerged from other presenters’ presentations. He also described the CAMEL approach (Collaborative Approaches to the Management of E-Learning) which has been used extensively in the UK by both the JISC and the HE Academy to facilitate complex technology programmes, by providing a mechanism for projects to share and discuss issues during the lifetime of the project.

Paul Gagnon           

Paul described the experience of implementation of LAMS at NTU. He listed the following as emergent factors from this work:

The mind

·      My mind (socio-cultural framing), institutional mind (exposition), student mind (transmission)


·      4Cs (Challenge, Curiosity, Context and Control – Sasha Barab), NTU (professors as LDs – involved, model (engage, activate, demonstrate, apply and integrate) and stickiness) and (LD as professors – DE model and Duke-NUS)


·      Q&A and resources

Personal surprises

·      Video entry in WYSIWYG editor, canvass for LD, who got involved and why and the impact of university tenure and promotion policies (these mitigate against adoption)

Emil Badlescu-Buga

Emil is currently doing a PhD on the following question: what are the factors that determine successful adoption of innovation in education with a particular focus on learning design?

He has developed a framework to address this following an extensive review of the literature. It consists of the following components: social structures, cognitive structures and professional structures.

He is in particular interested in the factors involved in the adoption of innovation, breaking innovative stages into: innovators, early adopted, early majority and late majority/laggards.

He described the components of the framework as follows:

·        Social - cycle CoP Quasi communities, social networks and collectives – social. With social structures identity formation and trust are key.

·        Cognitive – trial data and observations, object level metadata, pedagogic wrapper and global meta-frame. Supporting work tasks and domain interest is key to success.

·        Professional – emergent usage, pedagogical context, practice exemplars, professional frameworks. The network effect is key to success.


Over the course of the two-days a number of recurrent themes, along with a set of principles that it might be argued characterise and help define the field. These include:

1.     Distinction between tasks and activities. We can design tasks but can’t control what the students will do. Activity is what actually happens, the tasks are the work that is set; it’s the specification for the activity.

2.     Tools in context. Use of tools is always context based and every situation is different. We need to take account of the complexity of the environment.

3.    Improvisation vs. structure

4.    Novice vs. expert

5.    Discipline variations

6.    Granularity of design

I hope these notes give a flavour of what was discussed and I do hope I haven’t mis-represented anyone’s work or ideas too much! It is interesting how closely these discussions map to the discussions in the LD Grid and I feel as a community there is some evidence of convergence of thinking. I think there is a real opportunity to now to consolidate this work. The idea of a collective book is one way of achieving this. We plan to adopt an open approach to the writing so that we can get broader engagement with the teaching community and those with an interest in this area. It will be interesting to reflect back in a few years time and to see how the field has developed. Ultimately a core aspiration underpinning all of this work is to try and enable practitioners to make more use of technology that is pedagogically effective. The challenges, as this blog post indicates, are large, but the rewards worth it.






E-learning papers: learning design

Thursday, December 15th, 2011