Paper accepted at ALT-C conference
A paper that I have written together with Petra Oberhuemer "Bridging the divide in language and approach between pedagogy and programming: the case of IMS Learning Design" was accepted at the Association for Learning Technology Conference (ALT-C). In this paper, we describe some analyses regarding the IMS Learning Design specification. The analyses had the goal to bring level B concepts of the specification closer to the view of teaching practitioners. The results of the analyses have been worked into the modelling software Graphical Learning Modeller, namely to create easy access interfaces for learning designers that enable them to employ level B functionalities in their learning designs.
The anonymous reviewer(s) of our paper encouraged us (among other comments) to make the critical points regarding IMS Learning Design more explicit. We did that, and now an amended version of the paper received full acceptance as a research paper.
CETIS Learning Design event in Manchester shows IMS LD progress
I was given the opportunity to participate in a CETIS Learning Design event held in Manchester on May 20, 2008. Different representatives of IMS LD related projects gave presentations on the status quo of LD tool developments and pedagogical views on IMS LD; for a list of presenters, their topics and slides look on the CETIS website. Critical voices on IMS LD mostly came from audience members. One of the presenters saw the biggest weakness of the IMS LD specification in the definition of services, which is far too general and allows only for a small number of services (namely, chat, forum, send-mail, announcement, and monitor services). It seemed to me that the delegates are looking for a specification for modelling pedagogical practice, and IMS LD is considered to be the only thing that's out there in this regard; that's why efforts continue in regard to IMS LD tool and representation developments even though the gap between pedagogical needs (easy-to-create and easy-to-understand representations of a learning design) and technical requirements (extensive knowledge needed for IMS LD modelling) has yet to be bridged. Looking from the pedagogical side, LAMS seems to be setting the standard, as it supports the learning designer (pedagogical) perspective by providing pre-defined building blocks for instructional practice.
Paper accepted at DeLFI conference
Late today, the news reached me that our paper (in German), which I wrote together with Stefan Zander and Petra Oberhuemer about the technical details of our software Graphical Learning Modeller, has been accepted at the DeLFI conference held in Lübeck, Germany. The conference is a German conference that focuses on computer science aspects of e-learning. This year, DeLFI is hosted together with the Mensch & Computer (human & computer), Cognitive Design and Usability Professionals conferences in order to create synergies between the different fields of study.
This is a nice reward as we are ready to release this month a new version of the GLM that will feature level B functionalities. I will post updates here.
Gaining experience, and getting an idea
Over Easter I played chess at the Neckar-Open in Deizisau, the world's second largest chess tournament sporting 654 participants this year. Although I can't say that I was a great point huntress, I still gained a lot of experience. One idea that came to me as I indulged in chess was what kind of pedagogical strategies would be appropriate for training chess. I am actually considering to take chess as the area of application in which to try a new theory of classifying pedagogic methods. I have yet to check whether that would be a good idea or not, but having the idea is a start!
(Picture linked from website of the 12th International Neckar Open)
New version of GLM (0.4.2) available at sourceforgeStefan Zander has uploaded a new version 0.4.2 of the Graphical Learning Modeller (GLM) to sourceforge today. The new version is sporting a new resource manager for better content/file management, and it also features our first level B implementations (not fully functional yet). The level B functions can be found in the tab "Interactions".
Paper on GLM accepted at ED-MEDIA 2008
I am switching sides again (from being a consumer to being a producer of blog entries ) with some good news: our paper describing the concepts, functions and evaluations of the Graphical Learning Modeller (GLM) has been accepted at the World Conference on Educational Multimedia, Hypermedia & Telecommunications (ED-MEDIA). The conference will be held in Vienna, Austria, on June 30 - July 4, 2008. The GLM is software for designing IMS Learning Design compliant units of learning, and it is aimed at users who are not familiar with the specification, i.e. you do not need to know the concepts of play, act, role-part or activity-structure, as the software automatically detects and writes these from the graphical workspace.
IMS Learning Design modelling software now available on sourceforge
The software Graphical Learning Modeller (GLM), which we have been developing with our team at the University of Vienna (the team consisting of Philipp Prenner, Stefan Zander, Petra Oberhuemer and I, Susanne Neumann), is now available for download on sourceforge.net as open source (Requirements: Windows Operating System; Java 1.6). The Reload Learning Design Editor served as the foundation for our developments as we extended the Reload tool. The GLM version that we made available at this point is conformant to Level A of the IMS Learning Design Specification. Right now we are working on implementing Level B as well (an analysis of Level B has been published in the Lecture Notes in Computer Science; view paper here). New versions of the GLM will also be placed on sourceforge.
Our approach to interpreting the quite complex IMS Learning Design specification was to create a more intuitive and graphical interface for the instructional designer. The advantage of using the GLM is that you do not need to know the entire IMS Learning Design specification in order to design units of learning. Instead, you just need the "basic" vocabulary and concepts like learning activity, support activity and environment (which holds resources and services like chat, forum). After arranging and connecting your activities, the software automatically interprets your design and makes it compliant to the IMS Learning Design specification. Voila! You may then export a unit of learning zip file (content package) that holds the imsmanifest.xml.
This work was supported by the European Union Research and Development Project PROLIX, which is funded under the sixth framework programme Information Society and Technologies.
Being spontaneous in a planned learning scenario
A few days back, I was watching an audio commentary by the director of a movie. He mentioned that even though the scenes were all carefully planned with lots of details, he would spontaneously come up with ideas about actions of the actors while on the set. He would whisper these ideas to the actors right before they filmed the scene. These ideas were usually ones, which the director was only able to "see" and act upon when they were right there on the set, right before shooting the scene.
I found that to be an interesting insight, as I feel that the same could also be said about the planning and implementation of learning scenarios: some things only turn up when you are actually IN the situation and recognize the need to deviate from your original plans. Since the IMS Learning Design specification still plays a big role in my daily work, I also related this insight to the Learning Design specification. I thus believe that the specification does in fact not provide the amount of flexibility needed to allow changes in the learning situation "on the fly". This somewhat relates to an earlier blog entry I wrote on Things IMS Learning Design can't do for you. Once more, I feel that the Learning Design specification implicitly imposes a pedagogical model on us that might not hold well in practice. I would like to back this statement with a comment from one of the attendees at an IMS Learning Design workshop, which I co-led at the Danube University Krems. The person said that he never sticks to his original plan when he is with his students in the actual learning situation. He thus would not find the IMS Learning Design specification suitable to his needs, since everything has to specified before hand and can only be executed according to plan.
ePortfolio Conference sports pace makers
For the first time, I contributed together with Petra Oberhuemer to the ePortfolio conference with a paper on scaffolding learners when they are learning with process portfolios for the first time (we were not focusing on showcase or assessment portfolios). What we found was that a lot of times learners feel overwhelmed by the task of writing down their thoughts and feelings regarding learning processes (for instance, look at the case study by Tosh, Light, Fleming and Haywood in 2005). Many of these kinds of studies mentioned that more guidance from the tutor would have been helpful to the students. In this paper, we propose using a scaffolding guide derived from the IMS Learning Design specification to provide structure in the early uses of process portfolios.
The presentations at the conference were quite inspiring, as seeing all these examples from ambitious practice made me feel like being at the forefront of learning technologies. It seems that increasingly more people are starting to think outside the classical instructional realm of "we say what's right, you take the test" (see my adjustment of the picture of the Nuremburg funnel to the right, where I took the learner out of there!). The tenor among the presenters was, however, that the currently available tools do not live up to the needs of the users. There seems to be much room for improvement. Some universities, like the Open University UK, develop own portfolio software (in this case "My Stuff"), where they are experimenting with new arrangements for all the content: there are no folders anymore, just tags. The only way to find your stuff again is by tagging it.
Heyer leaves, Neumann arrives, heyerlevel stays
On a somewhat personal note, I would like to point out today that my name has changed from Susanne Heyer to Susanne Neumann as I got married this month. Certainly, it is not an easy decision to give up one's name, something that has been with you from the start and is the first something of yourself that you hand out to people. As women in the vast majority still take on the names of their husbands, it is hard to be the rebellious one to convince her husband to take on her name instead. However, as it was more important to me to have a "family look", which to me means that all carry the same last name, I decided for the change of my last name. It certainly is an adventure if you consider what is all affected by that "small" change, starting from legal documents to rental contracts, business cards, email addresses, web domains... I probably will never have so much to do with administrative offices as in this time after my wedding.
So, all my publications from now on will be under the name of Susanne Neumann. Nevertheless, I keep posting on heyerlevel.de -- as a reminiscence.
Things IMS Learning Design can't do for you
We are still working on tackling the IMS Learning Design Specification (short: IMS LD) and building a (hopefully) usable tool for designing learning sequences. The Level B development is now getting into the serious stages. I found a recurring pattern appearing when evaluating diverse pedagogical approaches in terms of IMS Learning Design: we actually cannot create all learning situations using IMS-LD terminology as the specification promised (compare IMS LD's objective of Pedagogical Flexibility "The specification must be able to express the pedagogical meaning and functionality of the different data elements within the context of a unit of learning. It must be flexible in the description of all different kinds of pedagogies and not prescribe any specific pedagogical approach."). The learning designs that frequently cause problems with the IMS-LD-specific design are the ones that shift lots of responsibility to the learner in determining the learning sequence and its activities. Examples for these types of designs are
- learners create a training or game, which will be integrated later as an activity (the best you may be able to do with LD in this regard is to upload a file containing the instructions for the training or game activity, but not the actual setup)
- learners create ideas, which will then be categorized according to categories that the learners themselves specified and which were not known or available in advance
- learners determine roles that they will need in their group work and then assign each other these roles
- repetitions of activities, where the number of repetitions is not known before hand (this problem was already pointed out by van Es & Koper, 2005).
These are examples, where IMS Learning Design does not offer methods for expression, if we aim at wholly completing these activities in an online learning setting (add-on 08/06/07: "wholly completing ... online" means that we do not try to circumvent the identified problems by having learners prepare an external document or file which will then be uploaded. This would represent an undesirable media break (German: Medienbruch)/change of media, but may in fact be the only solution that would work in this regard.). The reason for this inflexibility is the steadfast prerequisite of IMS Learning Design that everything regarding the learning activity sequence must be known and specified before hand. No additional activities, roles, or input storages (properties) can be created while the unit of learning is already underway.
We should then ponder in this regard whether other systems/technologies provide functionalities to allow learners this kind of freedom. Petra Oberhuemer pointed out that Web 2.0 technologies (sorry for the term ) might be able to provide this kind of flexibility. How far current learning management systems have come to provide this kind of flexibility, I cannot tell. Some of them might offer a liberal rights management system, where situations like the ones above can be performed. However, interoperability will then be lost (something that IMS LD wanted to offer).
Nothing new: socio-economic (dis)advantages of students
While preparing an article for the ePortfolio conference, I came across a finding by Lev Vygotsky, the Russian social development theorist, in a book called "Understanding Vygotsky". Already in the 1930s, Vygotsky found that pre-school children with high IQ scores were the ones that came from "privileged" backgrounds, where there were plenty of books and their parents read stories to them. Even though the concept of IQ-score-measuring may be controversial, these results reminded me very much of the PISA study findings, here an excerpt from one of the documents:
"In most countries, disadvantaged students appear to put in just as much effort as their advantaged peers and are at least as likely by age 15 to see the point of studying to get a good job. Where their motivation falls most clearly short, however, is in their intrinsic interest in reading. This may well be a result of less stimulating home environments, with fewer resources such as books. Engagement in reading has been shown to be of crucial importance in overcoming social disadvantage: students from less advantaged families who read a lot and enjoy it tend to outperform those with more home advantages but less reading engagement (OECD, 2002b; Guthrie and Wigfield, 2000)."
(Source: Learners for Life: Student approaches to learning, Results from PISA 2000, p. 62; Emphasis added by Susanne Heyer)
It is curious that we haven't reacted accordingly a long time ago, if this knowledge of socio-economic disadvantages has been known for such a long time (almost a century by now!). At least, the PISA results study offers suggestions how to improve the school setting to reduce the socio-economic disadvantage of some students by explicitly helping them in adopting self-regulatory learning strategies, comprehension-oriented strategies like combining new and existing knowledge and conscious checking of things that need yet to be learned in comparison to the learning goals. Hopefully, teachers everywhere strive to take up these suggestions and offer even more strategies on how to tackle this problem.
IMS Learning Design Level B Analysis accepted in EC-TEL 2007
In the past few months, the IMS Learning Design specification has taken up a great deal of time in my work. I have placed an estimate at the mass and complexity of the specification earlier, nevertheless, the complexity needed to be tackled somehow. In order to do this, I analyzed the available units of learning at the DSpace repository looking specifically for functions that properties and conditions fulfilled, the property types and datatypes being used and the place where they were used. Our PROLIX team at the University of Vienna discussed this analysis' outcomes and took them as the basis for software additions to our graphical modeling tool (screenshots to follow). I include here the graphical summary of the distribution of property functions.
The figure shows the six main categories of functions that properties served. Some of the functions are split into subcategories, which you can better see when enlarging the figure. It should not be surprising that the function "Change Value of a property" was the most common function since that is the purpose of properties: to store data values. Most of the time this property value was changed in a resource, meaning that a learner or other involved role in the learning design would assign this value to a property during runtime while interacting with the resources presented in the learning management system.
This analysis was then described in a paper titled "Making Sense of IMS Learning Design Level B: from specification to intuitive modeling software", which I co-wrote with Petra Oberhuemer, Stefan Zander and Philipp Prenner, and which we submitted to EC-TEL 2007. I am very happy to see that the reviewers found this analysis worthy enough to be included in the EC-TEL 2007 full paper line-up (acceptance rate: 21%) and a publication in the Lecture Notes in Computer Science. Our reviewers were constructive in their feedback; one of them mentioned, however, that IMS Learning Design is "withering away...". I am curious to see whether this prediction holds true.
Peter Knight: Pedagogic practices influence employability
This past Friday (April 20, 2007), we had a guest speaker at work -- Peter Knight from the Open University UK (announcement). He gave his talk, although it included rather radical ideas for curriculum change, in a calm and convincing manner. Peter proposes to use the ongoing implementation of the Bologna process (standardizing academic degrees across Europe and higher education reform) to simultaneously change university curricula. The purpose of the suggested curricular change is to increase employability of university graduates by integrating a wider range of pedagogic practices. In one of his books, Peter provides evidence from research to show what skills employers want from the university graduates they hire, and how current university studies do not live up to providing the right education for this demand. Usually employers are happy with the discipline-specific skills of graduates, but are less happy with soft or generic skills such as time management, team working, and communication.
His suggestion for overcoming this mismatch is to place more focus on pedagogic practices that go beyond the usual lectures, multiple-choice tests and essay writings, and to specifically train these generic skills (he backs this strategy with research results -- and mentions that research results are always needed in order to be convincing ). He talked about the difficulty of measuring and assessing "soft skills" and about how much time and training in different situations these skills take to grow into expert levels. The ideas of this curricular change, although Peter admitted that this process will take up a good amount of time, are currently being tested in a pilot project with a few colleges in the UK. Very inspirational! Thank you!
Addition on 04/26/07: The conference ePortfolio 2007 (October 2007 in Maastricht) features a related theme "Employability and Lifelong Learning in the Knowledge Society". The call for papers is running now and ends on May 15 for practitioner papers and on June 15 for scientific papers.
What kind of an adopter are you, or are you?
Everett Rogers did numerous research studies on how technology finds its way into people's habits. He developed a normal distribution curve and provided names for the different segments of the curve according to the stage of adoption: innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, laggards. Meanwhile in its fifth edition, he wrote very legibly about the Diffusion of Innovations.
Something I learned recently was that we are too eager and quick about applying Everett Rogers' theory to every technology invention we see. Peter de Jager talks about the Danger of the Early Adopter Myth. Peter writes, that the curve as introduced by Rogers, cannot be drawn for every innovation. He says [quote] "The adoption terms are accurate only in hindsight; they tell you nothing about how a population might respond to a change/innovation." Therefore, we can't anticipate that every technology innovation will behave according to the curve Rogers' introduced. We are also mistaken, if we classify people into the categories: people will behave differently depending on the technology that is to be adopted. These statements might seem obvious, but looking at some articles, I get the impression that there are more loose interpretations of the theory (e.g., see the wiki at Uni Erlangen where they did a survey amongst students about who considers themselves to be an "early adopter"; in German). This might stem from the fact that Rogers defined typical characteristics for people that were early adopters of a technology, and one might feel inclined to quickly say "that's me" because it is only a small step to generalize from characteristics of one situation to the general behavior of a person.
The Instructional Systems Technology department at the University of Indiana designed a simulation game to "practice" the diffusion of innovations. They provide a login, which allows to play the game; you just don't see your log of decisions until you pay the fee. Entertaining, and I am learning!
What does IMS Learning Design have to do with icebergs?It is not all that new, and lots of people use it: the iceberg analogy (look here, here and here). Only a fraction of the iceberg (percentages for this vary between 7 and 10% or so) is above the water and visible, and the rest is beneath the water surface and invisible. In thinking about IMS Learning Design, I felt today that this analogy would do justice: Level A of the IMS LD specification is the part of the iceberg that is above the surface -- it can be seen and be fairly well observed. Level B, however, comprises the much bigger chunk. It is hidden (there are not many applications to look at and observe) and I am still guessing at its true "mass". Level B is described in the specification but its potential and what it enables us to do, remains (for now) hidden. The portion of Level B in comparison to Level A is humongous, of that I am certain.
Inspirational vs. runnable (learning) designs
In collecting and structurally describing typical approaches that instructors use for training and teaching, I came across this clear difference between the way instructional approaches are usually described in literature and how they are described when prepared for implementation in IMS Learning Design. Apparently, due to the different purposes, the descriptions feature different structures, which I am looking at analyzing this coming week.
Sheila MacNeill (CETIS Educational Content Domain Co-ordinator) also discusses this issue on her blog, and talks about the difficulty of capturing an inspirational design in a standardized description, which a machine could read. It seems that you can only have either, but not both: either have the necessary elements to grab a (human) instructor's attention to adopt or try an instructional approach, or have it be formalized for machine interpretation.
Derntl: Patterns for Person-Centered e-Learning
For my dissertation, I am currently researching patterns and taxonomies across different fields of study. Within the realm of education, Michael Derntl's dissertation (in English) "Patterns for Person-Centered e-Learning" was recommended to me. Since Michael put in his acknowledgements "Just let this work be referenced frequently, instead of collecting dust in dark libraries!", I thought I start a little reference here on my blog before doing the hard copy referencing .
The person-centered approach that is at the heart of Michael's investigations fits into the newer paradigm of instruction/education: shift responsibility from the instructor to the learners, involve learners, facilitate and foster rather than obstruct and align. Coming from a computer science background, Michael then used the standardized description methods of informatics to describe and formalize known approaches to pedagogy. He also developed a hierarchical taxonomy system to put the patterns into an order.
From the first time that I spent studying the dissertation, I think that Michael sticks to the definition of patterns to "capture best practice". Of course, there is always a discussion about how patterns are defined. From the Alexandrian meaning, patterns were meant to stimulate creativity in solving problems rather than to present a ready-to-use solution. I recently read a well written 1999 paper by Sally Fincher "Analysis of Design: An Exploration of Patterns and Pattern Languages for Pedagogy", which also included a discussion on these two differing views on patterns. In my analyses, I hope to differentiate the two views and clarify their purposes and advantages.
Where are those learning object examples?
Today I was looking for (good) examples of learning objects for inclusion and discussion thereof in a paper. I thought I'd go to google and search in the Pictures (Bilder) section for "learning object". The results shown to me were quite curious: within the first three results pages, the majority of pictures shown regarded the concept of learning objects (the theoretical constructs) rather than examples. Now, to some this might not be as astounding since not everyone puts the key word "learning object" into the title or description of their picture/file that may portray a learning object etc. However, I think since Wayne Hodgins introduced the concept of learning objects in the mid-1990s, by now the examples of learning objects should outweigh the concepts of learning objects by far!!! But they don't. Perhaps learning objects remain a mystery...
See also the heated discussion on Helge's blog about learning objects (in German).
Ain't no (real) reusability for pedagogic approaches with Learning Design
I recently had this enlightenment and was all excited because I thought I had "discovered" something regarding the reusability of learning activity structures that are built using IMS Learning Design. But as I now found out, I just reinvented the wheel! Stephen Downes already posted a similar conclusion on his blog in 2003 (!!!). I am oh so humbled! Let me share my thoughts anyway, in different words than Stephen used. Perhaps it will still be useful to someone.
"Reusability" is the buzzword of the century it seems. Make it reusable and it's w-o-r-t-h-y! Needless to say, the reusability of pedagogical approaches is being discussed as well. Since the introduction of IMS Learning Design, the possibility of exchanging and reusing generic pedagogical approaches seems to be within reasonable distance -- just a grasp away. I looked into this idea when studying the IMS Learning Design Information Model and Best Practice and Implementation Guide (although I found the latter to be more useful). However, what I now realized is that the exchange of pedagogical concepts cannot be done all that easily using IMS Learning Design.
The problem is the technical binding of the created Learning Design: it is embedded in the entire "Unit of Learning package". The learning activities, their pedagogical structure and everything is captured within the "organizations" element (see picture). However, from this element there are constant links to the other set elements within the package, for instance, the Resources (update 2007/01/17: not necessarily the Resources element, but the Physical files, which contain activity descriptions and so forth) element. And the only "thing" that can be exported and exchanged is the entire Unit of Learning Package. So if you wish to reuse just the learning design within the "organizations" element, you still need to import the entire Unit of Learning, perhaps delete the contained
Resources physical files and add your own.
Now, this effort might actually be managable. However, if there are complicated structures of IMS Learning Design Level B in place (for instance, if you use Properties and Conditions to create individualized learning paths) then you will hopelessly drown in the complexity of the structure and can say 'good bye!' to reusability. The reason is that all individualization typically involves Properties that are defined in the learning design (organizations element) but the action of individualization (changing/setting properties) often takes place within the
Resources element Physical Files. This creates a complicated net of properties that are linked back and forth: this net cannot easily be overviewed, changed and adopted. In my view that means the reusability potential of such learning designs is reduced.
As an example, you may want to have a look at the "Learning to Listen to Jazz " Unit of Learning provided by the Open University of the Netherlands. And try to figure out how the 100+ Properties within that Learning Design work. At times you have no chance of finding that out unless you have the XML-code of the
Resources files, where the Properties are changed, available. But who wants to look at 100+ XML-codes to reuse a good learning design that already makes use of resources files containing Properties? Apparently, there needs to be other measures taken for generic learning designs. But to reuse just the pedagogical design of a great Unit of Learning easily is at this point not easily managable from my point of view. The ties between resources physical files and pedagogical design are too tight, even though they are technically stored separately. But the back-and-forth links tie them together, nevertheless.
Ontologies raise heterogeneity
I found this interesting quote by Pavel Shvaiko and Jerome Euzenat at http://www.dlib.org/dlib/december05/12inbrief.html "Ontology Matching"
However, in open or evolving systems, such as the web, different parties would, in general, adopt different ontologies. Thus, just using ontologies, like just using XML, does not reduce heterogeneity: it raises heterogeneity problems at a higher level.
I have viewed ontologies as rather subjective and at times arbitrary systems of organizing content matter. Therefore, this quote appealed to me. However, Shvaiko and Euzenat are also talking about 'matching ontologies' in their article as a solution to the above mentioned problem. This approach combines analytical strategies of different fields to combine the knowledge contained in several ontologies in order to get from it, what you need at a specific moment in time. Resources on ontology matching can be found at the Ontology Matching website.
TENCompetence Winter School 2007: I'll be there
The Project TENCompetence is hosting a Winter School held in Innsbruck, Austria, in January 2007. Topics include Educational Principles, Learning Design, Competence Development, Web Services and many more. Many renown lecturers will be hosting sessions, among them Rob Koper. The School is aimed at PhD Students, preferably ones that research into areas that relate to TENCompetence. Application deadline is November 30, 2006 and the attendance is limited to 40 participants.
I am applying for the Winter School and am expecting to learn a lot! The topics and set-up sound very interesting (plus this will probably remain my only opportunity this winter to go snowboarding!).
Usability of Standards for "average" users
As I was saying before, I am getting quite involved with the IMS Learning Design (IMS LD) Standard. In trying to understand the architecture of the standard, I am realizing that with the use of the standard, it actually should be like using a really good software: good software doesn't project its own terminology and technical architecture onto the user. Rather, it guides you almost effortlessly through your very own creation process, for which you are using the software as a tool. The problem with IMS Learning Design and the available tool(s) to create the needed XML data structures is, that you first have to understand all the terminology, syntax, and semantics of the standard before you can go ahead and create an IMS Learning Design. This violates in my understanding the principle of a good software. The Reload Editor is not that much of a help, since it merely mirrors the terminology of the standard and architecture itself (although I have to admit that it is an XML-generating software, so if you can't write in XML then Reload is already a help!).
I think one of the improvements that could be made is to "translate" the logic of the architecture into common usage principles and offer those translations in form of a new editor software to the users. Perhaps this will make more people aware of and willing to use IMS LD. We are taking steps towards that... more on it later!
Diving into IMS Learning Design
Today is Friday, the 13th, so obligatorily, I must post a blog entry today . I have now moved to Vienna into a nice, little apartment in the 19th district and I treated myself to a high-speed Internet connection (first time ever!). Hopefully, that will increase my posting rate but, as Goethe said in his Faust, "in the beginning was the deed" not the word , so I will see.
For my new job, I am getting quite involved with the IMS Learning Design Standard, and thus far I am a little taken aback by its complexity. I have yet to understand the purposes of the standard (what were the thoughts behind creating this and this element in that way?) and struggle with the little things (why do I have to provide three names for what I consider to be the same thing?). Yet, I am very curious to see, if it keeps up with its promise of being able to describe any pedagogical design you can possibly think of. Unfortunately, as the computer scientists whom we are working with told me, the current tools (specifically the Reload Editor in our case) do not completely measure up to the standard. Therefore, we can't make use of the entirety of the standard quite yet. But we are working on it...
Norm Friesen compares "Didaktik" and instructional design
I had an inspiring e-mail discussion with Norm Friesen, the Director of CanCore. He authored an essay, which is linked from his blog, comparing the terms and philosophies behind the Northern-European term "Didaktik" (didactics) and the Anglo-American term "instructional design". In the current draft version, Norm critically discusses the two views of education. As a compromise between the two views and in the light of the development of learning objects, Norm favors Microlearning or something that may be called Microdidactics, since it might hold the greatest potential for "finding a kind of Aristotelian golden mean between context, granularity and abstracted decontextualization" (p.11).
I found Norm's thoughts and ideas very curious, since I studied the instructional design system at Penn State, but have now learned a lot about the German views of didactics, pedagogy and education. I hope for more discussions on this topic.
Transport of semantic informationSince I am putting together a publication about the work of our student assistants (they are taking apart digital course materials to create smaller information/ learning objects), I am learning a little about semantics. Today I came across a document [in German] by Dostal, Jeckle, Melzer & Zengler. Within the document they describe the idea of semantic web. What I found interesting (and agree with) is that semantic information itself cannot be transported. Only a representation or symbol of that semantic information can be transported. However, it lies in the eye of the beholder to interpret the meaning of that symbol. I think this supports my thoughts from two days ago. The authors describe what this means for designing semantic web applications. However, I projected this onto the design of information objects.
Sense and nonsense of semantic types
In the realm of e-learning and learning objects, what is usually meant by 'semantic type' is the function or meaning that a piece of content or a "learning object" possesses. Typical examples of semantic types are example, definition, summary etc. The project that I currently work for aims at assigning semantic types to resources, similar to what Norbert Meder did in his work on didactical ontologies. In the light of his work, I had somewhat of a revelation. Meder assigns his semantic types within a context: in his work, it is clear from the start, what function a piece of content (in his terminology a "knowledge object") serves, since he starts out with a predefined structure and assigns content to that structure. Therefore, the piece of content inherits the semantic type from that predefined structure.
The philosophy of CampusContent, however, is to assign this semantic type before a piece of content is placed into any context. From my perspective, semantic types only make sense and are useful, if the context is known. With free floating content pieces, the context cannot be determined and therefore, a semantic type cannot be assigned. Therefore, for pieces of content that are stored without a context, an assignment of semantic types cannot be performed.
Action Verbs for writing student learning outcomes, i.e. learning objectives
Today I had a chance to meet up with Suzanne Aurilio and Brock Allen at San Diego State University. The talk we had was very inspiring to me, and I took some ideas, for instance about matching key competencies and significant content areas, back to Germany with me.
As a gift, I received a laminated placemat that features 360 (!) action verbs to support the writing of learning objectives. Brock told me that the idea of the verb list was to inspire instructors to use more meaningful verbs when writing learning outcomes (for instance, the verbs "understand" and "know" are not that useful in writing learning objectives since they leave open what performance might express that someone "knows") and to avoid using the same action verbs in learning outcomes over and over again. The placemat including the 360 action verbs can be downloaded for free at http://ctl.sdsu.edu/action.htm.
The 'method' phenomenon
Recently, I have been collecting and classifying different pedagogical and instructional methods. What I have come across is the "there is no best method" phenomenon and that different methods achieved indeed the same learning outcomes (although it is hard to believe at times and would need a detailed look into the actual studies). What was suggested by the text (Koskenniemi 1968!)1 was that the effectiveness of a method is always determined by the goals and factors of a learning situation: there is no such thing as a global recommendation for one method.
The discussion on the effectiveness of e-learning reminds me of this very phenonmenon. A new technology arises and people start forecasting that it is the solution for our educational needs. This already took place when movies, television and computer-assisted instruction entered the arena: The revolution was always predicted but never took place. Same with e-learning: people predict that it will change the way education is done and expect e-learning to be more effective, more efficient etc. Accordingly, the CHIRON-project is currently conducting a survey to [quote] "analyse individual experiences on evaluation models of e-learning effectiveness". Another example is the Computer Assisted Language Learning Research (CALL), which has been trying to prove for years that computer training/instruction is "better" than traditional instruction. Perhaps they are asking the wrong question to begin with.
In this regard, you may also be interested in the study collection of Thomas Russell, who found no significant difference in student achievement across hundreds of studies comparing "traditional" methods and technology use for teaching.
1 Original publication in finnish under the title: opetuksen teorian perusaineksia.
Research visit in San DiegoFor once, I will be presenting a paper at the IDPT conference in San Diego this June. Furthermore, I will be staying there a little longer during July for research purposes, about which I am very excited. I will get to meet some of the faculty at the Educational Technology Department at San Diego State University and hopefully have fruitful discussions about the role of content "bricks" (i.e. learning objects) within a dynamic view of learning. Looking very much forward to it!
Egon Bloh criticizes one-dimensional classification schema
Citing Bloh, E. (2005). Grundzüge und Systematik einer Methodik netzbasierter Lehr-Lernprozesse. Online Pädagogik, Bd.2. B. Lehmann and E. Bloh. Baltmannsweiler, Schneider Verlag Hohengehren: 7-85 (in German). [Fundamentals and systematics of a methodology of netbased teaching-learning processes.]
As I mentioned before in the review of the Hokanson & Hooper paper, their one-dimensional approach to a taxonomy for instructional design was lacking substance, since it could not account for the manifold directions that instruction could go into. Bloh (2005, citation above) also criticized other taxonomic approaches to instruction and education, for their lack of the consideration of a "multi-dimensionality of methodic actions". Bloh and I are apparently on one page regarding the multi-dimensionality. I have yet to understand the approach that Bloh himself proposes, though. Two texts are hardly enough to get a good grip on his stands, but the point I currently disagree with (and I have yet to determine how substantial that disagreement is) is the following: Bloh believes that there are instructional methods, which carry a special status because they are used in online teaching and learning. Most of the time it is even exactly the same method as is used in face-to-face instruction; the only difference is the medium of delivery. Bloh thinks, the change of medium justifies a new method. That's where I disagree: the goal of the method remains the same. The netbased method should not receive a special status just because it is delivered via the Internet and not in face-to-face. Any comments on this?
Philosophy of Science III: Alan F. Chalmers
The self-organized learning group about the philosophy of science that I am a member of has now departed from Erhard Oeser and has moved on to Alan F. Chalmers. Oeser did well introducing the basic concepts of science, yet he narrowed the discussion increasingly on the medical sciences. For doctoral studies in education, we found those explanations less helpful. Therefore, my colleague Silke Kleindienst suggested to move on to Alan F. Chalmers. The outline of his book What is This Thing Called Science? (University of Queensland Press) [In German: Wege der Wissenschaft: Einführung in die Wissenschaftstheorie (Springer)] looks promising. I will keep you posted.
By the way, here you can get a taste of how serious Germans are: the translation of Chalmer's book title into German sounds rather serious and nothing like the pleasant and curious English title!
Hokanson & Hooper: Taxonomy of Instructional DesignI reviewed Hokanson & Hooper's paper because it is relevant to my dissertation topic, where I create a taxonomic schema for pedagogical methods, especially ones that relate to the use of media. The approach that Hokanson & Hooper took is laudable. It is even more praiseworthy if we consider as they state themselves that there is no such thing as a taxonomy for instructional methods thus far. The paper is definitely worth a read. However, their taxonomy reminds me very much of Bloom's taxonomy. My impression is that they stayed too close to the popular role model. Also, I believe that a one-dimensional taxonomy as proposed by Hokanson & Hooper is not enough to describe a system for instructional methods that ought to cover multiple facets of learning, such as collaboration, affection, cognition as well as distance learning. Finally, I think within their taxonomy they mixed several layers, meaning the granularity of the levels differs. A taxonomy for instructional methods, however, should provide rules for creating single layers as well as for differentiating between layers of different granularity (see Michael Polanyi's theory of ontological stratification for further information).
I don't understand Swertz
Citing Swertz, Christian (2004). Didaktisches Design : Ein Leitfaden für den Aufbau hypermedialer Lernsysteme mit der Web-Didaktik. Bielefeld: Bertelsmann.
page 10: "Die Didaktik zielt darauf ab, das Material nach vernünftigen Prinzipien räumlich zu fixieren und dadurch den dynamischen Lehr- Lernprozess Prozess [sic!] zu gestalten." [Translation: The goal of didactics is to spatially fix materials according to reasonable principles in order to design a dynamic teaching- learning process.]
Leaving alone the fact that Swertz provides a handful of different definitions for didactics within the first ten pages of his book, I picked out the one above as an example. It fundamentally embodies the disagreements I have with Swertz.
- Considering that he wrote about "Web-Didaktik" (didactics of the web), I find amazing that he talks about "fixing" content i.e. materials. How would that work on the web, if the essential nature of the web is to be dynamic and changing every second, producing new broken links all the time?
- Does Swertz think that instructors or teachers will always fix this content? He plainly reduces himself in the teaching options he wants to cover with this perspective on didactics of the web if that were the case.
- How can a _fixed_ structure of materials design of all things a _dynamic_ learning process? I don't understand how these two elements fit together and promote each other. Swertz does not explain this correlation in further detail.
- Are teachers able to even get to the point of fixing materials? Information changes and information is reproduced creating a mass of abundant and redundant information. How does Swertz think the selection process, which takes place _in advance_ to the fixing, will happen?
In talking to our visiting scholars from China, Fan Yang and Peng Han, about a paper on social collaboration techniques to support the search for learning objects, I was (re-)confirmed of an interesting topic that might be worth researching in the furture in more depth, perhaps even making it my habilitation topic (listen to me saying this before even knowing the concrete outline of my dissertation!) . Especially professors, who are experts of their fields but do not necessarily have training in educational principles and instructional design, hold implicit pedagogical objectives when teaching. These implicit objectives and attitudes have been built over many years of practice, experiences and convictions. Yet, most of the time, these convictions are not made explict: professors might not even be aware of them. It is an interesting thought to research whether these implicit attitudes can be made explicit, and if making these attitudes explict actually helps professors to select and apply certain pedagogical principles and styles of teaching (or once they are made explicit, if there can be tools that support the pedagogical decision making of professors).
Starting with the basics II: ethics of science
I would like to reflect one more issue from the discussion group on the philosophy of science that I am currently a member of. Oeser (2003) stated that it is the task of science to research people's needs. So, first of all, the question is posed, can we really determine what people's needs are? And the second question that arises is, are sciences like marketing that intend to (manipulatively) induce needs in people (rather than finding out what the true needs are) truly sciences, or are they 'just' acting unethically?
The first question I would answer saying that it might be hard for any science to act _ethically_ if the researchers of the science cannot determine themselves what the true needs of the peole are in the first place. Surrounding conditions will influence that decision making process: what institutions offer what kinds of monies for what purposes? What current trends exist that funding agencies find worthy of funding? Agencies sponsor 'progression' no matter what the costs? In these realms, how can it be possible to make decisions about what the true needs of people are, emphasis on people, not organizations. If the sciences depend on funding that is provided by different interest groups, it will be hard to maintain an ethical line of decision making what to research.
My point of view on the second question is that sciences like marketing work to fulfil needs of organizations, industries and companies rather than people. Of course, there are always people behind the organizations, companies etc. However, the frame of an impersonal organization allows people in those organization to act impersonally. Therefore, performing research for an organization justifies researching matters like inducing needs in people. The excuse to say "but the organization needs this information" is always there, which of course doesn't make the science any more ethical.
My conclusion then must be that even though the sciences are supposed to act ethically by researching people's needs, there might hardly be a chance for the sciences to do so due to the surrounding circumstances.
Starting with the basics: Philosophy of Science
Currently, I am in a learning group with other doctoral students of Professor Baumgartner to study the basics of science: philosophy of science. Silke Kleindienst organized and structured the group and suggested to start with the works of Erhard Oeser. Since the participants are located all over Germany and Austria, we use the learning platform moodle to communicate and discuss.
First insights I had into the philosophy of science were that the sciences are all founded upon the same principles (either to explain an unusual event or understand the purpose of an action) and that science should always follow specific ethics. Especially the ethics debate started a long discussion in our group, since science is supposed to research for the needs of people. So the first problem is, what exactly ARE the needs of people? Second problem is, aren't there sciences that intend to induce needs in people like marketing? Are such sciences still sciences, or are they just sciences who do not follow the science ethic, i.e. researching for the needs of the people? I am not sure we came to a conclusion regarding these two problems.
Susanne's scientific blog now accessible
When days become weeks become months...I was tired of speaking and started doing ("Am Anfang war die Tat!" [In the beginning was the deed!] J.W.v.Goethe, Faust; "just shut up and do", Ani DiFranco, Outta me, onto you).
So this is the start of my scientific blog, which allows me to communicate thoughts about instructional design and e-learning to an interested community. I am planning on allowing commentaries on the site to initiate a greater interaction and help me grow in my understanding of the sciences.