Inspirational -v- runnable designs – some thoughts from d4l meetings last week

The latest JISC epedagogy experts forum meeting took place in Birmingham last week, 26th October and included sessions from three of the projects in the current design for learning programme. (As you know we are providing the support project for this programme.) The projects involved were Mod4l, Pheobe and User-oriented Planner for Learning Analysis and Design. The former is concerned with developing practice models and the latter two with developing pedagogic planning tools.

The experts meeting was followed the next day with a smaller meeting for the three projects, the CETIS support team, JISC and Glenaffric ( programme evaluators). One interesting articulation from both days and coined by Isobel Falconer (MOD4L) is the difficulty in distinguishing and representing an inspirational design – one that really grabs teachers attention and imagination – and a runnable design – one that is machine (and sometimes human) readable but often lacks any information about the design which would motivate a teacher/course designer.

So when we are trying to produce generic models and tools such as pedagogic planners how do we represent examples of good designs ( if you can ever really know what a ‘good’ design is). How can we represent different types of designs in a conceptual way? Can there be a common abstraction(s), which is decontextualised from a subject specifc area, which still makes sense to all teachers? Patterns are one potential solution, but how are they actually implemented in the tools currently available? It seems that LAMS 2.0 may be able to create patterns but that is only one possible technical solution.

This discussion led onto a debate on what the three projects and indeed the programme as a whole is trying to achieve. Should the planner projects provide tools which help plan their teaching (taking into account institutional drivers such as room availability, class time, staff time etc) or should they be changing practice by providing examples which inspire, encourage self-reflection, and ultimately transform teaching practice. Or is it about providing tools to which help with more effective planning skills taking into account institutional factors such as room availability, staff availability, class size, time contraints, tools available through institution etc. Of course, the programme is trying to do all of these, and serendipitously each of the planners has taken a slightly different approach.

The User Orientated Planner (aka the London Project) is looking far more like a high level whole course planner which takes into account all the institutional issues and forces the user to include them. At the moment it has an excel prototype which the team are using with practitioners and there is a more interactive version (in Director) in development. The Pheobe project is taking a wiki based approach and what looks like (in the initial demo of the early prototype shown ) a softer approach with less of an emphasis on the higher level institutional issues – however they are included. The London project is closely tied into LAMS however Pheobe isn’t tied to any tools and would like to be flexible enough so that if any instituion wanted to use it they could list the tools they provide/support. Another interesting aside brought up by the Pheobe team was in relation to searching and the possibility of using personal recommendations as a search criteria, maybe based FOAF, as many practitioners would look at a design just because they knew who had created/and or recommened it.

The one common difficulty all the projects are having is when they want their tools provide examples of designs similar to those being constructed by users. There is still a dearth of examples and this leads us back to the representation issue.

The support wiki is starting to gather examples of designs and already has a discussion topic on the issues involved. Hopefully we can start to unpack these issues in more detail in the coming months.

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