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ICT, transfer, and boundary crossing in VET – part 2

As I explained in a previous post, in our current research project my colleagues and I are interested in studying why and how vocational teachers understand and design for boundary crossing through the use of ICT-based artefacts. The research project is guided by the following two main research questions (RQs):

RQ1: In what ways and why do VET teachers use ICT-based artefacts as boundary objects to design for boundary crossing and continuity in and across different contexts?

RQ2: What didactic and pedagogic recommendations can support VET schools’ future work with establishing enhanced school-workplace interaction through the use of ICT?

A couple of important points should be made regarding these RQs. First of all, at the Metropolitan University College, we are obligated to conduct “applied research”, which means that besides generating new knowledge, the research must be directed towards “a specific practical aim or objective” (cf. OECD’s Frascati manual). This obligation influences both the identification and formulation of RQs, and as seen in RQ2, we have to conclude our research with concrete recommendations for practice, and ideally these recommendations should be “field validated” by practitioners through our research. In our case, we develop didactic and pedagogic materials (models, cases, exercises etc.) the in-service VET teachers can use when they participate in our educational programme*, and hopefully also when they’re back in their schools.

Another point has to do with our use of the term “didactic”. In a Scandinavian or German academic tradition, our a study would be situated within the field of Didactics. However, according to Hamilton (1999), in the Anglo-American mind, the term “didactic” may have very negative connotations implying a moralizing and heavily teacher driven approach to teaching and learning. Professor emeritus, Karsten Schnack from the Danish School of Education (Aarhus University) therefore recommends Danish scholars to avoid using the term when communicating in English (Schnack, 2000). While we don’t subscribe to a moralizing and teacher driven approach, we do recognize this aspect, and so in general when we present our research outside a Scandinavian context, we use the more neutral concept of “design for learning” (cf. Wenger, 1998).

To further guide our research, we have some additional sub-RQs as well:

  1. How and why is boundary crossing and continuity understood and practiced?
  2. How and why are boundary objects understood, designed and used as mediating artefacts?
  3. What types of ict-based artefacts can be identified as boundary objects, and what didactic and pedagogic pros and cons can be attributed to these?
  4. What types of ict-mediated boundary crossing can be identified, and what didactic and pedagogic pros and cons can be attributed to these?

As the reader will notice, we are using the concept “boundary crossing” and not “transfer” in our RQs, even though our project in Danish is entitled “ICT and transfer in VET”. According to Akkerman & Bakker (2012):

Boundary crossing is a concept that has been proposed as an enriched notion of transfer (Tuomi-Gröhn et al., 2003), but differs from transfer in various ways. First of all, whereas transfer is mostly about one-time and one-directional transitions, primarily affecting an individual who moves from one context of learning (e.g. school) to one of application (e.g. work), the notion of boundary crossing includes ongoing, two-sided actions and interactions between practices (Säljö, 2003). Second, whereas transfer emphasizes the need for similarities between practices, boundary crossing is about finding productive ways of relating intersecting dissimilar practices. (Akkerman & Bakker, 2012, s. 155 – my emphasis)

In a Danish VET practitioner context, however, the concept of boundary crossing is unknown and our research dean therefore recommended that we use the more traditional transfer concept. We have, nonetheless started to use boundary crossing and boundary objects in our teaching.

Further, as already stated in the above mentioned first post on our project, we are constantly challenged by the similarities and differences between the concepts.


*) In Denmark, VET teachers are obligated to attend in-service further education, and at the Metropolitan University College we offer such programmes.


Akkerman, S.F. & Bakker, A. (2012). Crossing boundaries between school and work during apprenticeship. Vocations and Learning. 5:153-173

Hamilton, D. (1999). The Pedagogic Paradox (or Why No Didactics in England?). Pedagogy, Culture & Society. Vol. 7, No. 1. pp. 135-152.

Schnack, K. (2000). Er didaktik og curriculum det samme? Danmarks Lærerhøjskole.

Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of Practice. Learning, Meaning, and Identity. Cambridge University Press.

Tomatoe, tomatoe – Didactics, … ?

I’m currently writing about the conventions that I’ve chosen to use in my PhD-project. Essentially, my study investigates the development of a design for teaching and learning remediated in the 3D virtual world, SL. In a Scandinavian or German academic tradition, such a study would be situated within the field of Didactics. However, according to Hamilton (1999) and Schnack (2000), in the Anglo-American mind, the term “didactic” has very negative connotations implying a moralizing and heavily teacher driven approach to teaching and learning. At the Master Programme on ICT and Learning (MIL), where I have conducted my research, we often use a didactic-based terminology (e.g. we often speak about didactic elements, didactic analyses, and didactic design), at least when we communicate in Danish. Despite our terminology, we do not adhere to the Anglo-American perception. Nonetheless, Professor emeritus, Karsten Schnack from the Danish School of Education (Aarhus University) actually recommends Danish scholars to avoid using the term when communicating in English:

In English the term “didactics” is rarely used. The reason probably is that the word has strong associations with the adjective form “didactic”, which is more often used. And for some reason “didactic” has a very negative ring to it. When something is done in a “didactic” way or didactically it is considered to be moralizing and/or heavily teacher driven in a negative way.

Since didactic considerations e.g. in Denmark almost always deals with the contrary, a good advice is to avoid using the words “didactic” and “didactics” in English communication. The risk of misunderstandings is very high.”(Schnack. 2000:2 – my translation)

Because of this language barrier it has become customary for many continental European researchers within the field of teaching and learning to either use the German word “Didaktik” or simply use Anglo/American terms e.g. “instructional design” when describing their activities. Accordingly, and mainly to avoid misunderstandings because I write my dissertation in English, I have decided to use the more neutral concepts of “pedagogy”, and “design for teaching and learning” when speaking about matters concerning the field and the process of designing. While this is not something I deal with in greater details in my PhD, I actually don’t think this is “just a matter of semantics” – there is a distinction that makes a difference. The way we construct, interpret, clarify, and negotiate meaning – even based on similar words – changes over time, but also within and cross cultures.

Turning to the term Didactic, there is absolutely no consensus in the literature regarding the meaning  – not even when looking at the origin – the Greek “didaskein”. Even 2.500 years ago, according to Jank & Meyer (2006), the term didaskein could have several meanings; “to teach”, “to be instructed” and “to learn” and the term didaxis refered to both curriculum (primarily as content) and what was learned (outcome). Even though there has been a tendency towards focusing on the teaching aspect of the term Didactic, many Scandinavian researchers refer to the so-called “Didactic Triangle” when trying to explain the basic components of Didactics.


When dealing with teaching and learning, and at the core of any Didactic Design, there’s always a minimum of three basic components to consider: the teacher, the student and the content/subject matter. However, depending on your focus, the triangle can also be used to point to different, more specialized design approaches:

  • Pedagogical Design – with particular focus on the pedagogical practice typically emphasizing the responsibility/role of the teacher
  • Instructional Design – with particular focus on development and implementation of tools and content (materials)
  • Curriculum Design – with particular focus on content based on curriculum as organizational framework for practice
  • Learning Design – with particular focus on the learning practice typically emphasizing the responsibility/role of the learner

Since I use the term Didactic in a very broad sense, I would consider any of the above mentioned approaches didactic designs as long as they were dealing with teaching and learning in formal, educational contexts. During my PhD research, I have often presented and discussed my work with Anglo-American educators/researchers, and while most seem to understand what I’ve been working on as long as I remember to say “instructional design”, the irony is that to many Scandinavian researchers this label implies “a moralizing and heavily teacher driven approach to teaching and learning.” So I guess in order to understand each other, we need to dig deeper and discuss the finer details of our practices and understandings ;-)

One matter of detail that I’ve often discussed, both with Danish and International colleagues, is the locus of control in the teaching and learning situation. I was recently reminded of a very interesting pedagogical framework developed by Niels Jakob Pasgaard, who blogs at eDidaktik. Pasgaard’s framework is based on a distinction between a monological, a dialogical, and a polyphonic way of teaching. It is derived from the work of M.M. Bakhtin, and Pasgaard uses the Didactic Triangle to illustrate his points:


Read a more detailed description here

What’s really interesting about this framework is the way it highlights the different approaches to the selection of the content/the subject matter, and the way knowledge is created based on different forms of teaching and learning. Furthermore, the framework can be used to analyse and thus select appropriate tools for teaching and learning – and Pasgaard offers examples of all three types here.

To me, Pasgaard’s framework is an excellent example of how the work of someone coming from a Scandinavian Didactic tradition doesn’t necessarily equal a negative approach to teaching and learning, rather – and as a core principle in Didactics – Pasgaard critically reflects upon our practices and understandings. Just as I have witnessed several Anglo-American “instructional designers” do.



Hamilton, D. (1999) The pedagogic paradox (or why no didactics in England?), Pedagogy, Culture & Society, 7:1, 135-152

Schnack, K. (2000) Er didaktik og curriculum det same? Danmarks Lærerhøjskole.

Jank, W & Meyer, H. (2006) Didaktiske modeller. Grundbog i didaktik. Gyldendals Lærerbibliotek.

Evaluation, Literacy and Transliteracy

As previously described I’ll be using my Connective Model for ICT-remediated Didactic Design for the general analysis of my PhD data. A first step in this process is working with the 9 basic elements in the model and in this post I’ll focus on some preliminary work I’ve done on the element of Evaluation as depicted in the model below.

Given that definitions shape the way we think about and practice particular phenomena the very act of defining something should not be done without prudence. I’m quite confident that working with the different elements in the model will refine the way I’ll end up describing them, so for now I settle for working definitions and as such I’ve found inspiration in UNESCO’s definition of Evaluation and after modifying it so that it fits better into my study field of Didactic Design it would read as follows:

Evaluation means arriving at a value judgment on the basis of measures (qualitative or quantitative) considered to be valid and reliable, which compare the actual results of a Didactic Design with its anticipated results.

The element of Evaluation is to some degree connected to all the other elements, but according to the working definition there is a particular strong connection to the element of Goals, since this is where we can derive the criteria for evaluating the results. When dealing with Didactic Design there will always be a least two major perspectives from which we can look upon certain elements, namely the teaching perspective and the learning perspective, and in what follows I’ll present some initial reflections on the particular part of evaluation that concerns the evaluation of learning outcome/results. To do so I want to dwell a bit on the concept of Literacy, which I consider to be vital when discussing the purpose and goals of especially formal education.

In its most narrow sense literacy refers to the ability to read and write, but used as a more general concept literacy refers to being knowledgeable or educated within a particular field. In an interesting UNESCO report on the plurality of literacy and the concept’s connection to the right to education as stated in article 26 of  The Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, the evolving notion of literacy is discussed and defined: “Literacy is the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate and compute, using printed and written materials associated with varying contexts. Literacy involves a continuum of learning in enabling individuals to achieve their goals, to develop their knowledge and potential, and to participate fully in their community and wider society.” (UNESCO.2004:13). Above all the plurality of literacy refers to the many fields in which literacy can be employed – specific literacies denominated by prefixes such as information, computer or media to name a few.

In my research on literacy I recently came across a very interesting article in First Monday that explores the concept of Transliteracy, which the authors Thomas; Joseph; Laccetti; Manson; Mills; Perril & Pullinger. 2007 define like this:

Transliteracy is the ability to read, write and interact across a range of platforms, tools and media from signing and orality through handwriting, print, TV, radio and film, to digital social networks. (Thomas et al. 2007)

What interests me the most is actually not the definition, but rather the idea and purpose of developing some sort of meta-literacy concept. According to the authors Transliteracy can be characterized as:

  • a possible unifying perspective on what it means to be literate in the twenty-first century
  • an extension of transliteration that also includes the increasingly wide range of communication platforms and tools at our disposal
  • a concept that calls for a change of perspective away from the battles over print versus digital, and a move instead towards a unifying ecology not just of media, but of all literacies relevant to reading, writing, interaction and culture, both past and present
  • a concept that doesn’t replace but contains both media and digital literacy
  • a possible literacy for (media) convergence
  • a concept of not just computer–based materials, but about all communication types across time and culture
  • a concept that insists on a lateral approach to history, context and culture, an interest in lived experience and a focus on interpretation via practice and production
  • an inclusive concept which bridges and connects past, present and, hopefully, future modalities
  • a concept that pays attention to the whole range of modes and to the synergies between them to produce a sense of a ‘transliterate lifeworld’ in constant process
  • both a concept and a practice productively situated in a liminal space between being a new cognitive tool and the recovery of an old one
  • a concept that deliberately refuses to presuppose any kind of offline/online divide
  • the kind of literacy we require to be able to simultaneously attend to multiple media and modes of communication as well as the kind of literacy we use to apply the literacies of one mode or medium to another one

Based on these characteristics I would interpret Transliteracy as a meta-literacy and I do find the characteristics both relevant and much needed in trying to define some sort of unifying literacy. The authors describe their work with the concept as a work in progress and “a good example of open source thinking between diverse collaborators” and they encourage further discussion and development of the concept. First author, Sue Thomas and her co-writers are all involved in the Production and Research in Transliteracy (PART) Group at the Institute of Creative Technologies (IOCT) at De Montfort University, UK and they’ll be hosting a conference on Transliteracy on February 9th 2010, which can be followed via several social media. In the video lecture below Sue Thomas explains the concept of Transliteracy based on the above mentioned article:

Returning to my interest in Literacy and especially new forms of literacy, I believe that there is a strong need to consider and develop new ways/methods of evaluation of learning outcome – not least when the learning processes and products have been facilitated by ICT-remediated Didactic Design. In this process of developing new evaluation methods, I think concepts like Transliteracy can prove quite valuable in giving indications of what criteria to focus on. Especially in Academia we seem to be stuck in using evaluation criteria and methods based on traditional literacy giving primacy to old media and modalities. Quoting Yancey. 2004: 90 “we use the frameworks and processes of one medium to assign value and to interpret work in a different medium”, which obviously is not the most appropriate way of accommodating the use of multiple and/or new media. In my third research cycle in the MIL case, I experimented with both criteria and methods of evaluation, and the results from this experiment will form the basis of a forthcoming post on evaluation of new media productions/compositions…