Archive for e-learning

Sunday, September 19th, 2010

The Cognitive Surplus of a conference revisited

We were offered a vision of how the academic conference might be re-imagined with the final words of the 6th Designs on E Learning conference held at Savannah College of Art and Design. Owen Kelly, from ARCADA in Helsinki, Finland, where Designs will be held in 2011, gave an outline of their plans for the next meeting, which if they come to fruition sound really interesting and a real challenge to the traditional format of papers presentations and lots of talk over lunch.


The idea is that the conference will last for 6 weeks, with a long initial period of online interaction culminating in the actual f2f event. Presenters will be asked to upload their papers and presentations well in advance of the conference, and the participants will be able to interact with them, post comments, read and absorb them etc well ahead of time. At the conference itself, the presenters will give just a short outline of their work and then lead an in-depth discussion of the issues it raises. This promises to really engage the audience, and should lead to a much deeper debate than usual.

ARCADA Helsinki

All the sessions will be webcast live – this could be tricky if they really are going to go for an interactive discussion – and will have a live feed in from the online audience to ask questions directly.

Talking to Owen afterwards they really seem committed to this vision, and we discussed that perhaps the presenters could give the traditional paper as a webinar before the event, and that we could hold other webinars after the conference to keep the discussion going. We also thought that if it was presented as a real opportunity for the presenters to get peer feedback on their work it could be sold to the management who might otherwise question the challenge to the traditional format.

I think this has real potential, and could help to bridge the gap between the ‘unconference’ style event and the more formal one.

We also had some great discussions with Keith Bailey from Penn State and the SCAD team about how to make Designs part of an ongoing process of establishing a more solid pedagogy for art and design. A key part of this was the idea for an open journal, and that we would also collaborate on a project to imagine what a ‘virtual open studio’ might be in our disciplines – rethinking the VLE/LMS with an art/design twist. We had a good breakfast brainstorm on this and started a Google doc on what it might be; more on this in another post shortly. This should link the conference to an actual open source product, and to a reification of the production of the conference too, all good stuff.

All this adds to the debate James Clay and I started on the cognitive surplus of a conference and conference formatting.

In my own small way I tried to experiment with the presentation format as well, I had a fairly long session of 45 minutes for my ‘paper’, so gave a 20 min ‘talk’ and then broke the audience up into small discussion groups to brainstorm a question that related to my talk – and a question that I wanted some answers to. I asked them to talk about what ways might web 2.0 enhance reflective practice, and to sue examples from their own experience. We made a public Google doc and allowed everyone to post their ideas to it. This worked ok; although a MAJOR bug was that the ipad does not support Google docs unless you download an app, which we only discovered during the session. And as lots of the participants had ipads not laptops, his hindered our ability to collaborate. But as a concept it worked really well, the participants really engaged with it and the discussions were really active. Proof of the pudding was that most of them stayed on after the session ended to carry on their group discussions and I had to virtually force them out to go to lunch – now that doesn’t normally happen at the end of a sessions! And of course, we created an artefact of the session, which everyone could share and contribute to.

How else might we rework the conference presentation format??

Saturday, September 18th, 2010

Collaborative co-creation at Designs on E learning

Collaboration, co-creation, communities of practice,the ‘virtual studio’,  mobile learning and digital literacies were the emerging themes of the 6th Designs on E Learning conference which was held this year in the stunningly beautiful city of Savannah Georgia, otherwise known as ‘Slowvannah’, and hosted by the impressive Savannah College of Art and Design, SCAD (they even have their own art deco cinema!)


The opening reception set the scene, and was held in one of the beautiful garden squares that dot the historic centre of the city; it was great to be out in the fresh air at the start of a conference for a change.

This is the only international conference focusing specifically on learning technology in art and design, and had a good attendance of around 100, mostly from the USA but with a good scattering of presenters and attendees from the UK, South Africa and New Zealand.

A major theme was that the ‘virtual studio’ can offer real advantages and affordances over the physical one, and that the potential for an ‘augmented studio’ is immense. Darrel Naylor-Johnson  of SCAD explained how art has always been affected by technology from the days of using animal fat for cave painting thru the invention of oil painting to today. He maintained, quite rightly, that the virtual studio, or at least the augmented studio, can have advantages over the traditional one. He gave examples of how repetitive activities can be better demonstrated using video recordings than ‘real’ demos – which typically only the students right at the front can see, and showed an augmented reality video that superimposed a clock face on a drawing class that made the technique much easier to visualise.

Keith Bailey of Penn State demonstrated their ‘Assignment Studio’, a drupal based interface to facilitate the sharing and managing of art works between staff and students. This has had real impact, students can curate their own digital galleries and it has saved up to 40% of tutors time in download/uploading of files for assessment purposes.

Nancy Turner of UAL argued that creating digitally literate graduates should be at the cornerstone of any university education, especially in art and design.  She saw the key drivers of e learning  being  student expectations,  diversity and declining resources of staff and space, but argued that the most significant factor was the need to provide students with arena to develop digital literacy. In this she foregrounded the idea of co –creation of projects between staff and students, citing the work of Elizabeth Saunders on the collaborative design process with non designers.  She then posed  the key question of  how often do we collaborate with our students in the curriculum design process? This is a really important issue, and its great to see someone raising it as a vital part of the curriculum and course design process. She also highlighted the work we have been doing together on developing the 5 C’s of digital literacy - curation, critique, creation, collaboration and communcation

Several presentations explored this idea of collaborative co creation in depth, and were really inspiring in terms of how they had brought together disparate groups of students to work with tutors in a non hierarchical way.

The Face Book project was was a brilliant exploration of identity and digital presence, and investigated  people’s first impressions of others in social media an how they ‘profile’ each other. It  led by Jenna Frye and Christopher Morgan, and was a collaboration between Morgan State University, which is public with predominantly African American students and mostly black and MICA, a private college that is mostly white. The project took advantage of student’s familiarity and use of facebook but critically engaged with it to investigate how profile pictures generate stereotypes. The students submitted profile pictures and then selected a collaborator by choosing from these images without any other information about the other participants-like in facebook

Each student then had to profile their collaborator solely based in their profile picture then sent it to partner, they then had to write profiles of each other again based solely on the photographs. Finally they shared their real profiles with each other. They then made a ‘poetic portrait’ of their partner, and all the collaborative ‘portraits’ were then put together in a book using blurb where they can be ordered as a book. The Face Book opened up an honest debate around race and stereotyping in Baltimore, and began to break down segregation between what were previously completely separate worlds – some of the students met up in ‘real life’ and began to build connections between the 2 colleges.

Another great project was LINKED, another co-creation between 2 institutions. it was presented by Helen Armstrong and Zvezdana Stojmirovic, both graphic design professors. Their central concern was how could co creation gain more importance in the creative process? They identified the emergence of the ‘amateur creative’ and participatory culture, and focused on how to bring the energy of this into the classroom. They had a fascinating position based on Dmitri Siegel’s idea of the ‘Templated Mind’, arguing that users today expect to contribute/interact with media in a ‘Templated way’ – flikr being a great example – where the technology provides a understandable framework into which participatory culture can emerge – a kind of formal structure into which informal content can be arranged.  They identified a real tension between proprietary market based artefacts and individual social and peer produced ones, and argued that ‘rather than endorse global universal visions we can encourage the expression of local voices’.

The also drew on Yochai Benkler’s idea of modules of work – small units of independent work that get contributed to larger project as an underlying principle for a participatory design project between Miami university and Maryland institute College of Art graphic design students. The project had 5 key concepts in that it had to be inclusive, modular, accessible, critical and type-driven. Over 4 weeks they each made their own individual ‘letter’ which fitted into the word LINKED, these 57 variations on a theme of type were then edited into a 17 second animation of the word. Here is the  the final collaborative piece on Vimeo

LINKED_FINAL_SOUND from Miami MICA on Vimeo.

What I really liked about both of these projects was that the technology was not the focus of the work but rather an enabler of it, and that both projects dealt with the issues of the social politics of technology in really interesting ways.  For me this was a real insight, and a great example of how to get students to begin to question the digital environment and think about what impact it has on social relations, but doing it in a situated way through an authentic collaborative learning experience.

Do you have any examples of this kind of project that critically engages with the social politics of the web??

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

The PLE as a roadmap of the landscape of practice

Can a PLE be a roadmap of a constellation of Communities of Practice?


Etienne Wenger has used the powerful metaphor of traversing a landscape of communities of practice, where our personal and professional identity is defined by our participation in a constellation of CoP’s, some of which we climb to the top of the mountain of, becoming core members and participants of that community, others, we simply skirt the foothills and pick up a flavour of the conversations going on around the base camps. As our interests and objectives in learning and knowledge management change and shift, we might shift our focus from a detailed and dynamic engagement with one CoP to a more peripheral passive interaction with several. This has certainly been my experience, as I have moved from a central engagement with a latent professional CoP in my own practice area of photojournalism and documentary photography, where I would position myself as relatively close to the top of the mountain, to new explorations of the terrains of academic higher education, photographic and media theory, and on to more recent engagements with social media, learning technology and the CoP of CoP’s by participating in workshops with the Cp square community led by Etienne , John Smith and Nancy White. Key to this traversing the landscape is the concept of transference of experiences from one domain and practice and community to another; one can bring into a new CoP a deep engagement and experience from another, brining insights and concepts that perhaps are new, challenging and energising to the new encounter; and then absorb new lessons from the core members of the new CoP and pollenate them back to one’s original home. This process of brokerage and boundary negotiation to me is central to the practice of being an active member of a variety of CoP’s, in trying to see patterns of similarity and difference, and seeing how experiences and insights from one domain can impact and transfer to another.

But how might this roadmap of interactions be visualised or reified? Perhaps conceptualising it in terms of a PLE can point a way forward. As I organise my RSS feeds in Google reader into photography, learning technology, social media, miscellaneous and so on I am organising my interactions with the various CoP’s that are represented by the bloggers that I follow. Patterns begin to emerge, as one blog references another and one bloggers comments on someone else’s post. These patterns begin to become visible to resonate as Jenny Mackness has explained, so that the CoP beings to manifest itself as a living entity in the interrelations between online activities. Add to this twitter, wikis and academic papers, and the process of knowledge formation of a CoP, whether a latent or established one, becoems apparent, and can be reified for the individual as well as the group by bookmarking, referencing and retaining links. This process of finding, filtering and filing helps to clarify these relationships, even if only in a schematic, mental way. Core members of a CoP can be identified, as the community itself selects them as the ‘thought leaders’ in that domain, and new or peripheral members who engage whether critically or supportively can be seen too. Sometimes a new member makes a crucial and controversial entry to a community by bringing in insights from another one in which they are confident enough in to be a core member.

cop ple roadmap

In my own PLE looking out for these synergies, cross over’s and amplifications has become a crucial part of my sense making about the world, by constantly scanning what a variety of different CoP’s in overlapping domains and with related practices are engaged with, interdisciplinary insights are easy to spot and then to apply to ones own core CoP.

For me, this has been the key outcome of taking a PLE based approach to my learning and research, it has greatly enhanced my ability to read and make sense of the map of the topography of the mountainous terrain around me and to navigate an interesting, if not always safe, path through it.

How do you navigate your path??


Sunday, September 12th, 2010

5 C’s of Building a PLE?

This is a draft of a position paper I’m writing for my university, the University of the Arts London, on digital literacy and PLE’s, any thoughts or comments welcome, especially on how useful the 5 ‘c” idea is as a way to simplify the attributes needed #PLENK2010



A UAL graduate should be digitally mature learner, equipped with the critical faculties to create their own Personal Learning Environment (PLE) that will assist them to take advantage of the affordances of technology in their professional, personal and creative lives after UAL. The best way to develop this is through a culture of collaborative inquiry that explores the potential of digital scholarship through a range of authentic situated learning experiences that are relevant to the individuals’ area of practice.

They should be able to engage in 5 core competencies of curation, critique, creation, collaboration, and communication

To produce digitally-literate graduates we need to:
• Enable students to build their own personal learning environment/network

• Provide relevant, situated online learning experiences aligned with the core competencies of curation, critique, creation, communication & collaboration

• Focus on attributes and tools that students will be able to use beyond graduation
• Make connections between the social use of digital media and its capacity for developing professional and academic identities

• Lead by example

Developing digitally mature learners

The pipe is more important than the content within the pipe. Our ability to learn what we need for tomorrow is more important than what we know today. A real challenge for any learning theory is to actuate known knowledge at the point of application. When knowledge, however, is needed, but not known, the ability to plug into sources to meet the requirements becomes a vital skill. As knowledge continues to grow and evolve, access to what is needed is more important than what the learner currently possesses. George Siemens 2005

UAL gradates with the ability to harness technology to enhance their professional and personal lives are in possession of a vital attribute. The recent LLiDA report highlighted how the embedding of technology into the fabric of daily life means the nature of work in this century is going to be very different to that of the last, with an increase in contract-based, freelance and self employment, and the average worker following several careers in their lifetime. Future employment will demand working in multi-disciplinary teams within a multicultural, networked global society. As the boundaries blur between physical and virtual, public and private, work and leisure, there is an increased need to become ‘digitally engaged’. Within the HE sector the focus is currently on digital scholarship; this needs to be expanded to create what JISC identifies as ‘capable, self-aware learners with the capacity to participate in learning using technologies and approaches of their own choosing’ (LLiDA2010 p9).

Research has indicated that university students’ use of technology is not as sophisticated as we may have assumed. Many fail to make connections between social use of digital media and its capacity for developing professional and academic identities. This struggle to transfer skills between contexts is particularly evident in the application of formally learned ‘analytic’ knowledge to complex real world situations, where ‘tacit situational knowledge plays a vital role in competent performance’ (LLiDA 2010, P10).

It is the institution’s role to enhance, not impede, the process of learners creating their own learning spaces that blend physical and virtual, formal and social. BECTA defines a ‘mature e-learner’ as someone with a ‘can do‘ attitude towards identifying and selecting appropriate technologies to solve problems. Software packages change over time; we should be focused on broader conceptual ways of working in order to prepare learners for life beyond the institution. For this to happen, all the stakeholders in the process – academic staff, librarians, IT services and learning technologists, and of course the students themselves – must recognise that learners need to experiment with different projections of identity, and adopt subject positions through different social technologies and media. These opportunities can only be enhanced by academic staff who are themselves engaged in digital practice (LLiDA 2010, P70).

Don’t teach tools, use tools to teach

LLiDA suggests that digital literacies cannot be ‘bolted onto learners’ existing practices and prior conceptions: [they] must be recognised, incorporated and (if necessary) reconceptualised’ (2010 p14).  JISC agrees that, rather than being taught as discrete skills, digital literacy should be deeply embedded in course curricula through a range of situated, technology-enhanced learning opportunities.

Constructivist principles acknowledge that real-life learning is messy and complex. Classrooms which emulate the “fuzziness” of this learning will be more effective in preparing learners for life-long learning.’ George Siemens 2004

‘Literacies emerge through authentic, well-designed tasks in meaningful contexts’ (LLiDA 2010, p5); therefore we need to design situated and flexible learning opportunities where learners use their own technologies for self-direction, personal reflection, progression and planning. Empowering learners to navigate increasingly complex learning landscapes requires continuous evaluation of their techno-social practices, the practices of professional and scholarly communities, and how technologies are integrated into curriculum tasks. Assessment and feedback should reward exploration and encourage innovation in learners’ approaches to study.

HE institutions must develop the capacity to deliver flexible curriculum design processes: innovative curriculum delivery and support that exploits digital technologies wherever appropriate; and management of knowledge resources in an environment where educational content is openly available to all.(2010 p7). Student engagement in the process is vital, sadly however this is not always apparent in actual HE institutional practice:

‘Students were rarely addressed as responsible actors in these strategies and yet many of the activities mandated would not make sense, or be successful, without active student engagement’ (2010 p46)

The recommendations of the JISC report include the iterative acquisition of skills through authentic practice rather than isolated instruction. This requires authentic, digitally mediated contexts, with individual scaffolding and support that recognises and integrates learners’ prior conceptions and practices.

A UAL graduate’s digital literacy

‘The PLE is ‘all about me’ – it’s what each of us personally creates around us as a means to support our lifelong learning.’ Steve Wheeler 2010

A UAL graduate should be capable of ‘learning to learn’; to identify, access, organise, evaluate, interpret, analyse, synthesise and apply. In addition, they should have developed communication and collaboration skills including teamwork, networking, media literacy and critical reading, creative production and ICT/digital/computer literacy. We should aim to equip them with a set of competencies and understandings that they can then build on and adapt as they continue to interact with the world and build up their personal learning network (PLN) and  Personal Learning Environment (PLE). A PLE suggests that digital learning should be seen as a flow, using whatever resource is available today to learn, as something else will be along tomorrow, and that  wherever possible, activities should utilise tools that learners will be able to use beyond graduation. At the start of their academic career a student may benefit from structured institutional support such as a VLE, but as they progress they should be able to fashion their own set of tools to manage their digital learning; what Stephen Downes has called a personal learning centre (PLC).

Howard Rheingold defines literacies as ‘skills plus community’, and identifies five key literacies as attention, participation, cooperation, critical consumption (or what he calls ‘crap detection’), and network awareness. Together they generate what he calls a ‘culture of collaborative inquiry’. Essentially we should be helping graduates to develop the capacity to direct their own learning and to critically engage with digital media. To do this they need to develop ‘trust networks’ to find and validate the information they seek, and then act as what Jeff Jarvis has called curators in sharing this with others. As George Siemens argues, ‘know-how and know-what is being supplemented with know-where’; a PLN helps to find the ‘where’. Additionally, as Wes Fryer argues, they need to be able to create, communicate and collaborate in producing new artefacts online.

5 Core Competencies

We suggest that a UAL graduate should be able to critically engage with the following core competencies to create their own Personal Learning Environment (PLE), and that the development of these abilities should be developed through embedded, authentic learning experiences that are relevant to their own practices. Suggested activities and tools are outlined with each competency.


Find – Internet search, Wikipedia, Google scholar, e resources, image textbook, etc

Filter – RSS feeds, PKN

Collate/collect – social and personal bookmarking, mindmapping, online storage


Assess the validity/authenticity of sites/information

Reflect on ones own practice and that of one’s peers – blogs, forums etc


Create – make digital content Inc audio, image, text, website, blog, video, wikis

Protect – copyright, privacy, digital footprint


Collaborate – e.g. wikis, Google wave, blogs, Basecamp


Share /disseminate/ distribute – wiki, blog, discussion forum, email, wave, twitter, facebook/social networks

Promote – twitter, blog, facebook/social networks, and email


LLiDA report (2010)

Siemens, George (2005) Connectivism

Wheeler, Steve (2010) Anatomy of a PLE

Friday, September 10th, 2010

The Cognitive Surplus of a Conference

New wine, old bottles was possibly the key theme of ALT-C in that much of the discussion flowed around questioning the relevance and role of traditional delivery methods of education in the digital age. From Donald Clark’s dissing of the lecture format, which he puzzlingly delivered by giving a pretty good lecture (in the sense that it was entertaining, polemical, well illustrated, he didn’t read from a paper, he engaged the audience, and he swore a lot, see Steve Wheeler , Peter Tinson and David Kernohan for more discussion on this ), to James Clay’s ending question about PLE’s that echoed last year’s clarion call that the ‘VLE is dead’, there was a lot of discussion about whether we need a new paradigm for learning that acknowledges that formal learning might need to be a preparation for informal learning rather than the other way around.

The key moment for me was when Sugata Mitra demonstrated that the key role of the educator is to set some parameters for learning then let the learner get stuck in: educators should ask the questions, he said, and let the learners find the answers. He proved the efficacy of this by telling the story of how he challenged a group of Indian schoolchildren to master the complexities of molecular biology completely on their own purely by interacting with the web; expecting the experiment to be a total failure he, and the audience, were astonished when after just a few months the group of children had collaboratively raised their understanding of the subject to close that of an undergraduate student. Mark Prensky and the Innovative educator seem to be thinking along the same lines.

But the overriding feeling for me at my first ALT-C was a sense of nagging disappointment that despite being populated with over 400 of the best practitioners of learning technology around today, what did we actually achieve in concrete terms, what artefact, statement, decision, conclusion or prediction did we build? (Although sadly this is true of most conferences whatever the subject) My disappointment was exacerbated by my expectations, I had expected that at a conference like ALT-C I would be blown away by examples of amazing ways to use learning technology to deliver ideas, presentations and collaborations; instead sadly I was blown away by how dull, boring and traditional so many of the sessions were. There is, and forgive me for shouting at this point, ABSOLUTELY NO EXCUSE FOR BULLETPOINTED POWERPOINTS THAT CANT BE READ at a conference like this, you’ve all had ages to prepare so YOU MUST DO BETTER. I’m not saying my style is perfect, but at least I show lots of pretty pictures and don’t read from my slides. Admittedly there were presentations that did something different, engaging and new – Thom Cochrane’s prezi seems to have been one although I missed it – and there were several that relied on the force of the presenter themselves – such as Dave White’s. (if you need some inspiration, see Presentation Zen for a start and follow his advice)

My disappointment was also at the traditional format of much of the conference too, lots of short and long papers, and the usual milling around at lunch and dinner. I had expected something much more creative and collaborative, along the lines of the unconference idea or barcamp for example. This lack of what we might call ‘organised informality’ is a key failure of so many conferences, and fails to exploit what we might call the ‘cognitive surplus’ of such events. Clay Shirky’s idea can easily be extended to the conference arena, just imagine if instead of answering the techies equivalent of a Sunday pub quiz, all that talent, brains and application had been harnessed for the evening to actually DO something. It doesn’t really matter what, but something. Collectively there was something in the order of 1000 work days at the conference, which if it was a research grant would have been in the order of hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of staff buy out. Even if  just a fraction of that had been harnessed in a more focused way, we could have done something amazing together. I do not doubt that there was lots of flow and exchange of ideas and experiences at the conference, and that lots of deals were done, but there is little coherent evidence of this, no artefact left to be proud of except the scatterings of blogs and tweets.

So here are some suggestions for future conferences.

One: aggregate all of the content of the conference in real time to make a live, digital publication – newspapers and magazines are published every day from scratch, so why cant a conference be reported on in real time. Take a team of volunteers – student journalists perhaps- and produce a publication that takes the twitter feeds, blog posts, conference abstracts, live interviews with flip cams whatever, to give what Dave White has suggested could be seen as a sense of ‘eventedness’ of the conference – this builds on the cool aggregation of the twitter feeds from ALT-C that Tony Hirst has done or Andy Powell’s analysis of their content

Two: Instead of a ‘pub quiz social’ make one night of the conference more like a barcamp event, except with a theme – a bit like a pub lock in – you are not leaving here until you have done something useful – really dig down and debate an issue and come up with a document or something – theme to be decided by the conference itself.

Three: organise the lunch sessions more into themed discussions, and make them longer – say 2 hours – birds of a feather tables for example, or get the keynotes/invited speakers/presenters to each sit at a table and lead off a discussion, more of a knowledge cafe format

So what ideas have you got to make use of the cognitive surplus of a conference??

Friday, May 14th, 2010

Etienne Wenger on OPEN-i and the MAPJD

I just spent a fantastic three days with Etienne Wenger at a series of workshops and conferences, and he was kind enough to give my work at LCC this plug….

Saturday, February 20th, 2010

References for Google Wave

Boud, D, (2009) Assessment, Experience Reflection keynote address

Cann, A, Badge,J, Moore, D and  Neylon, C

(2010). Google Wave in Education ALT online newsletter 15 January, 2010 (last accessed 15 January, 2010)

Cross, J, (2004) Learnscape Architecture (Last accessed Feb 11th 2010)

Educause (2009) 7 Things You Should Know About Google Wave 29 October, 2009 (Last accessed Dec 12th 2009)

Laurillard, D. (2006), Rethinking University Teaching: a conversational framework for the effective use of learning technologies, London, Routledge Falmer.

Lave, J. and Wenger, E. (1991). Situated Learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Jennings, J, (2010) Google WAVE for Education CESI Conference 2010 Portlaoise College, slideshare presentation (Last accessed Feb 11th 2010) may 28 2009 (Last accessed Dec 12th 2009)

Roschelle, J. & Teasley, S. (1995) The construction of shared knowledge in collaborative problem solving. In C. O’Malley (Ed.) Computer-supported collaborative learning, Springer Verlag, Berlin, Germany, pp. 69- 197.

Tinsley, R Lebak, T, (2009) A Collaborative Learning Model to Empower Teachers to be Reflective Practitioners

Saljo, R, (2009)Technology, mediation and access to the social memory (Last accessed Feb 11th 2010)

Schon, D. (1983). The Reflective Practitioner. New York: Basic Books.

Schon, D. (1987). Educating the Reflective Practitioner. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Stahl, g, (2005), Human-Human Interaction and Group Learning

Stahl, (2009) Chat on Collaborative Knowledge Building

Wang, F., & Hannafin, M. J. (2005). Design-based research and technology-enhanced learning environments. Educational Technology Research and Development, 53(4), 5-23.

Wegerif, R, (2006) A dialogical understanding of the relationship between CSCL and teaching thinking skills

Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of Practice: Learning, meaning and identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wenger, E., McDermott, R., & Snyder, W. (2002). Cultivating Communities of Practice: a guide to managing knowledge.

Wenger, E, (2009), Digital Habitats, stewarding technology for communities, CPSquare, Portland OR

Saturday, February 20th, 2010

Evaluation of Wave

IMG_5338The student feedback generated a considerable amount of information, most of it positive. On the negative side, the issues raised were the lack of an automatic notification when a wave is added to, confusing organisation within waves and of a series of waves, and ‘information overload’ which one student referred to as a  ‘Google Tsunami’. However, participants made useful suggestions to address these concerns, for example working in smaller groups to make the interactions more manageable, and better organisation of waves into folders and within waves into different sections of a wave for different parts of a project idea.

This response was typical of the survey,

‘I think Wave is very good for us, allows us to know what everyone else is doing, to help each other with ideas/suggestions/experiences and to get feedback. On the other side, and to be honest, I don’t have time to read all of it, I have a look to new posts but can’t really go into all of them and have a think about them, so maybe I should just have a look to some of them so I can really contribute something useful? Realistically, there is too much info for me to go through (unless I forget I have a life!) Is this the same for other people?’

Another participant saw it as a

‘fantastic way to work in a collaborative way. whilst allowing a fast response. I think that we should keep using this as an effective tools for collaborative cooperation. In fact, the wave becomes a wiki. This could be a great to display collaborative projects.’

Interestingly, in the light of the idea of learning as a dialogue, one respondent picked up on this theme, highlighting Wave’s ‘function as an editable conversation piece’, noting that he and a colleague had used it to great effect to work together on a joint project. His co-creator noted that it ‘leaves a trail that we can each reference and amend over time’. This extended temporality of Wave emerged as a key feature, with one student noting that it creates a ‘logical and easy to navigate log where we can share each other’s project ideas and provide/receive feedback in a way other platforms can’t do so easily’. However, they also noted that the sheer volume of activity could be overwhelming, maintaining that

‘For everyone to feel the benefits though it’s going to be more of a challenge. In confirmation of what others have already noted there is a lot of information to catch up on and keep up to date with.’

An investigation into the content of the waves revealed a significant amount of critical engagement with each other’s work, at a level rarely encountered in more traditional face-to-face tutorials. Additionally, there was a lot of very practical down to earth advice and suggestions for further research and links. This combination of critical feedback and supportive sharing of contacts made for a very rich and stimulating exchange, in which each individual’s project was moved forward in a process of engagement with the community in a collaborative endeavour.


‘Our experience of space is becoming a dynamic mix of physical and virtual relationships, of synchronous and asynchronous connections, where our togetherness is fleeting at the same time as it is becoming ‘always on’’. A range of different experiences of space and time becomes an integral part of our digital habitat’.  Etienne Wenger (2009, p 175)

_MG_1798Many of our findings on this research process relate back to those in the literature on CSCL, particularly reflecting  Wenger’s insights into the ‘dynamic fluidity of togetherness and  separation’ (2009, p 175) For example, our students suggested that working in smaller groups would be beneficial, which coincides with Stahl’s findings that in groups of 3-4 the ‘construction of knowledge becomes much more of a group achievement, resulting from the intricate semantic intertwining of postings and references rather than being attributable to individuals’ (2009). He notes that in his analysis of chat logs he can see ‘cognition taking place as knowledge artifacts build up, as words follow upon each other in subtly choreographed sequences to construct new ideas’ (2009); a process I observed taking place in our students use of Wave, as they interacted with each others ideas in a critically supportive environment, making suggestions and comments that were confident, useful and reflective. The depth of response was far greater than one expects in traditional group tutorial settings, when in my experience participants generally limit their responses to generalizations at the level of  ‘that’s a good idea’, and relay almost entirely on the tutor for validation of their ideas and guidance on how to proceed. However, in this experiment with Wave, although my presence as a tutor was seen as significant, and my interjections valued, the peer to peer support that obtained was as important in shaping and forming participants project ideas to an extent rare in a face to face group tutorial environment. This process of what Boud calls the ‘calibration of judgment’ (2009) is an essential part of becoming a practitioner; the ability to decide whether a project or idea is good without the validation of an academic staff member is vital. This interaction of different critical viewpoints is a key enabler of learning, as Stahl notes

‘it is precisely the friction between disparate perspectives that sparks productive knowledge building in the collaborative effort to clarify and/or resolve difference. The kinds of rhetorical and logical argumentation that arise in small-group discourse dealing with misunderstandings, alternative proposals or disagreements are then internalized in the reflection skills of individuals and in the controversies of communities. There- by, small-group cognition provides the origin for and middle ground between individual cognition and community knowledge building.’

Although Wave is still in a beta form, as an enabler of dialogue it offers considerable potential for collaborative learning, offering significant potential for collaborative peer-to-peer learning. It’s temporality as somewhere between synchronous and asynchronous makes it more immediate yet more reflective that either real-time web conferencing or discussion forums, and the ease of introducing media into waves means that a wide variety of research materials can be combined easily and quickly, creating artifacts that can be referred back to in the future. The replayability of Wave also allows for the research to be unpacked, giving unparalled insights into the thought processes of students.

In conclusion, I would like to note that the whole experience of introducing Wave to the course was in some sense a validation of our course philosophy in the use of learning technology to support individual and collaborative engagement. We explored Wave together, as a learning community, combining course staff, students and learning technologists from CLTAD, embarking on an iterative process of seeing how useful this new platform might be in resolving a pedagogical need that we had previously identified collectively. The fact that the initiative initially came from the students themselves, their subsequent engagement with it, and that their comments and reflections on it validate the existing research on CSCL environments is a testament to the adaptability and digital literacy of the participants on the course, as one participant eloquently summed up

‘While we might complain sometimes about how many new tools we have on the go and the confusion it creates, I’m really starting to see the benefits of all of this experimentation.’

This process of experimentation, feedback, evaluation and then improvement is an ongoing one that will inform our future use of Wave, as it does all of the various platforms we use to deliver the course.

Saturday, February 20th, 2010

Wave as a project brainstorming facilitator

We use several interactive spaces for communication and collaboration on the masters course, including the Wimba live classroom for web conferencing for tutorials, lectures and seminars, reflective blogs for collaborative learning, a wiki for group research and a social networking site called Ning for discussion forums and social presence. Our experience of introducing new platforms is that we do it gradually, and do not force everyone on the course to adopt a new technology in the beginning, but rather allow the ‘early adopters’ to explore the platform and help work out how best to use it. However, we do not simply try out every new tool that emerges, we only explore something new if we can collectively identify a need for it in terms of a pedagogic function or requirement that is missing or could be improved.

One of the key activities that the students engage in on the course is initiating, researching, developing and then executing a practice project. As part of this, they have to brainstorm their ideas to ‘test them out’ with others, including their tutors and their peers. We do this typically in live group tutorial sessions, and by using their blogs and discussion forums on the Ning site. However, between the active, live energy of the tutorial and the passive, reflective thinking of the forums, there seemed to be something missing, a space where ideas could be posted and responded to quickly, a space somewhere between synchronous and asynchronous. There was also a real need for something to fill the gap between the tutorial sessions especially during the non-teaching weeks on the course. Having identified this need for a new collaborative space, we didn’t at that point actually have a platform that would fill the gap.

Google Wave was introduced in late 2009, and initially I felt that introducing Wave would have been too much for the students to take on board as it was such a new technology, largely untested despite considerable hype about its potential as a radical new form of internet based communication. However, several students began to explore it themselves and then suggested that we try it out. We therefore began to experiment with Wave as a space for interaction and real-time collaboration, learning together how to use it to enhance the peer feedback process. Initially we decided to use it  for collaborative project brainstorming and concept development, both for a practice project and a research project that the students were working on at that time. Altogether 23 students out of 27 now have Wave accounts, and collectively they have started 37 waves. The level of interaction and participation on many of the waves has been  high, with one reaching 82 posts, whilst others had 59, 44, 35 and 27 for example.

I posted some tips and hints on using Wave initially, but didn’t carry out any formal session on using it, partly because it was a very new platform for me as well as for the students but also because I didn’t want to pre-empt the ways the students might use it themselves.. We invited Lindsay Jordan, the educational technology developer at CLTAD, to join in the waves as well as she was very interested in exploring how it worked.

Most participants posted a summary of their idea as their first post, and then others, including the course team, added their comments, feedback, ideas, links and suggestions for further research or development of the project. This often included reference to other students’ previous work as in the exchange below,


Hi B yea I was just thinking about getting a thread going. Cheers for the tweets – I found a good wiki page about Koreans in Japan. I’m gonna make it my first step to look into finding some Zainichi…. dunno how though! I think the first step for me is to start the project very basically (a bit like Daniels Durban project – simple portraits of a wide demographic with some soundbites of their thoughts and feelings. Once I get a few contacts or interesting/wiling people I can build on developing themes and issues from there I reckon…….


Sounds great. I was just reading about Zainichi. Interesting stuff. Also like the approach your taking. I’m finding it hard to choose an angle this early in, so I’m kind of thinking the same. Tonight I’m going to meet some comfort women at a fundraiser and see if I can get them to agree to tell their stories and have portraits done.’

In some cases, several ideas were posted and feedback was sought as to which was the best, and in several cases participants made use of the instant poll feature of wave to get people to vote on their ideas. One particularly effective example was one student who asked if they should shoot their project in black and white or colour, and embedded a poll to gauge people’s responses, the verdict was to stay with colour.

Students uploaded images from work in progress or inspiration from other projects, links to their work hosted elsewhere, videos, maps, and a whole variety of other links, creating a very rich array of media inputs. In several cases participants photographed or scanned physical objects they had been using in planning their projects, one participant uploaded an image of a notice board where he had mapped out his ideas.  Many of the waves were extensive, at the time of writing one that was used for two students for work on a collaborative project plan contained over 3900 words posted over three weeks, whilst another ran to 2500 words in 82 posts in the same time frame with 13 participants, and included images, videos, maps and other media as embedded objects. Only six of these posts were from the tutor, and 32 were from the posts originator, so 44 were from other students on the course. The level of feedback varied from very practical information and links to other research or projects that were relevant, to some very complex critiques of the ideas, as this excerpt in response to a project on the stereotypes of the Middle East demonstrates

‘I really like the idea of Rethinking-Islam, but I’m sure their have been projects in the past that havent really rethought Islam and just reinforced stereotypes I think this is becasue of course the sterotypes are some aspect of them do exist and if you are an outsider you are always going to see things through a window. Youre challenge will be how to fracture these cliches; this could be by working on a personal , intimate level, through Islmaic people you know or are familiar with, so to already gain some empathy? or possibly looking at people from your own country and area who have converted to Islam or lost faith even and the reasons why?’

This level of engagement and critical advice on each others’ projects is hard to generate in conventional group tutorial sessions, and this excerpt shows a sophisticated and deep level of engagement with the process of giving feedback, referring to both the posts on Wave and a live tutorial session and focusing not on the specific project at hand but on a deeper level on the motivation behind being an artist in the first instance,

‘rather than give advice or suggestions on how you are shooting, the possible presentation of the work etc something else occurred to me after reading through your wave and being in the tutorial yesterday. I take your points (and the tutor’s) that you shouldn’t have to over explain your photographs and that they should communicate with their audience as they are but vital to this is to know what you are trying to say/communicate about this subject matter you have chosen? I am sure you have lots to say about it as this appears to be a long term project for you and is therefore close to you and your motivations so I suggest tapping into some of those reasons that are compelling you to make the work in the beginning?’

We quickly realised that the almost synchronous nature of wave was potentially powerful, but equally that its lack of a notification push out of new posts and comments meant that it was hard to know when to go and look at Wave to see if anything new had been posted. We therefore established that one day a week would be ‘Wave day’ when the students and myself would endeavour to access Wave regularly during the day to give feedback and advice. At first this was on Tuesdays, but we quickly moved to Fridays as this meant that they could have a tutorial on a Tuesday with a live session and then get further feedback the following Friday via Wave.

After using wave for a month, we initiated a feedback and evaluation of its usefulness. Together with Lindsay from CLTAD, we developed a set of questions to engender feedback, but before posting them onto Wave we simply asked the participants to give their reflections in a wave without predetermined questions. After a week of feedback, we posted the more formal questions. This generated a significant amount of feedback with 10 people responding in total. I then analysed this feedback, and implemented the main recommendations, which included breaking the group up into  ‘surf parties’; smaller groups who would read each other’s waves more carefully; and suggestions for how to better organise waves internally,  separating out the various parts of the project idea from each other to make them easier to navigate.

Saturday, February 20th, 2010

Computer Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL)

‘If we now situate knowledge building in groups or communities, we can observe the construction and evolution of the knowledge in the artifacts that are produced, in the sentences spoken, sketches drawn and texts inscribed…..building collaborative knowledge, making shared meaning, ….and creating significant artifacts are foundational activities in group processes’  Gerry Stahl (2009)

_MG_8263The emerging field of CSCL focuses on investigating how the affordances of learning technologies can impact on small group collaborative work. Stahl, Koschmann and Suthers identify several key features of CSCL environments, in that they are reconfigurable and dynamic, and that in their ability to document the interactions and process of collaboration they ‘turn communication into substance’ (Dillenbourg, 2005), providing a ‘persistent record of interaction and collaboration as a resource for intersubjective learning’ (2006, p12). Different platforms have different orientations, as Wenger (2009) et al maintain, some are more suited to informal, collaborative learning whist others orient more towards individual, formal learning. Stahl notes that

‘Different technologies can provide different kinds of support for the construction and maintenance of shared conceptions. ….. Designers cannot predict many ways that these spaces will be used without observing actual groups of interacting students trying to work out their tasks situated within specific environments’ (2008, P6)

The knowledge produced in such interactions is situated in the activity of creation itself, in what Wenger characterizes as a process of reification (1998). Stahl emphasizes this as central to the work of collaborative learning, creating what he calls ‘knowledge artifacts’, that are constructed collaboratively in virtual shared spaces. Indeed, many authors point to the potential of computer mediated communication (CMC) as superior to traditional face-to-face encounters. Wegerif notes that the ‘ease by which anyone can ‘take the floor’ and the possibility of multiple threading for example, make it a better medium for an “ideal speech situation” than face-to-face dialogue’ (2006). The co-construction of digital artifacts then encapsulates the activities of learning and knowledge sharing, providing a reference point for everyone concerned to return to; a digital trail of the thought processes of creativity.