Connective models for Didactic Design

As previously described my PhD-project is aimed at improving Blended Learning within Higher and Further Education through remediation and redidactization. Through a process of designing and redesigning two specific Blended Learning courses within 6 research cycles the aspiration is to enhance learner experience and learning outcome by using new augmented/immersive 3D media and a learner centered Problem Based pedagogical approach. In both cases the target group is adult teachers/ trainers from the educational and the private/industrial sector from different countries. Having teachers/trainers as target group has made it quite natural to situate my work within the field of Didactics.

Especially in Northern Europe Didactics refers to a field of research and practice concerned with reflections and actions related to teaching and learning. Historically the field has been teacher-, goal- and/or content-centered, but since the mid 1970’ies we have – at least in Scandinavia – seen an almost paradigmatic shift to a more learning and learner-centered approach.  In Denmark this shift was above all initiated by the establishment of two new universities, in 1972 Roskilde and in 1974 Aalborg (where I work) that were founded in clear opposition to the “Old(fashioned)” universities by using an overall pedagogical approach based on Problem Based Learning and Project Organization in an attempt to amplify student motivation, engagement and learning with higher relevance for the surrounding society.

Within teacher/trainer education Didactic Analysis, as a means to learn how to plan, act, observe and reflect on didactic practices, has been a core component of the curriculum, and especially one model for didactic analysis has gained widespread use, namely the so called “Didactical Relationship Model” by Norwegian education researchers, Hilde Hiim and Else Hippe. Building on the work of fellow countrymen, Bjørndal and Lieberg (whose original model was more teacher-centered), Hiim and Hippe developed the model to show some important relations between different elements in Didactics using a learning theoretical approach. An English description of the model and the use of it in developing an online tutorial for Information Literacy can be found here.

In my PhD-project I currently have data from 4 completed research cycles and I’ve decided to use modified versions of the Hiim & Hippe model as part of my analytical strategy, which will consist of several phases progressing from a general to a more specific focus on didactic elements I find relevant in my particular case. Throughout the different phases I will be using different models, but as I find Hiim & Hippe’s model useful in depicting important relations and elements for general analysis, I’ll start by presenting this model briefly.

As mentioned above the model shows 6 important elements in a teaching/learning situation, these elements are interrelated and so influence each other in various ways and to various degrees. Even though I find the concept of depicting interrelated elements valuable, I don’t agree on the chosen elements, the description/content of the elements and the semantics in general. In my dissertation I will of course elaborate on this, but for now I will turn to my own revised models.

At the Master Programme in ICT and Learning (MIL), where I conduct most of my teaching and research, my colleagues, Bo Fibiger (1945-2008) and Birgitte Holm Sørensen originally conceived the concept of Didactic Design and combined with the use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT), Sørensen today defines it as: “The process by which the purpose, the goals and the content is determined, and where the planning, the organization and the arena for teaching and learning is shaped based on theories and in relation to ICT-based practice in a context.” I agree on the essence of the definition, but I also see Didactic Design as a result/product and sometime down the line I will also work on revising this definition. For now, the important point is that I consider my work to be part of the emerging field of Didactics combined with ICT and as a consequence my revised model is aimed at Didactic Design as depicted below:

In line with Hiim & Hippe’s model, my model also portrays important didactic elements, but I have chosen to add a few more elements, substitute one and rename some of them. I also prefer to speak of connections instead of relations, while the latter to me implies some sort of personalized bond that I don’t see between all the elements that are interconnected. I suspect that the major reason as to why Hiim & Hippe’s model has gained such popularity has to do with the fact that the elements are quite generic and thus enable the user of the model to define sub-elements depending on own needs and purpose.  One could argue that the elements I’ve added already are part of Hiim & Hippe’s model as sub-elements, but by highlighting them I believe greater emphasis can be obtained. While I do consider the elements in my model to be generic too and that my work with the model will refine the content/sub-elements, I do have some preliminary reflections.

  • ICT – in Hiim & Hippe’s model part of the setting. In my point of view the use of ICT has the potential of changing the Didactic Design quite dramatically and should as such not just be a sub-element. Furthermore the use of ICT has been written into the curricular of most educational practices from pre-schools to HE in Denmark.
  • Teacher(s) & Learner(s) – in Hiim & Hippe’s model people are absent at first glance. The Teacher is considered to be part of the setting and I guess that since the model is aimed at describing learning conditions and learning processes the student is somehow inherent. Based on my own teaching experience I, however consider the people involved in the Didactic Design to be the most influential element. This does not mean that I don’t consider the conditions (e.g. prerequisites) for teaching and learning to be important. On the contrary, but I think there is an acute need to focus on teachers’ conditions separately – especially when we combine Didactics with ICT.
  • Goals – in formal education goals are dominated by curriculum, but depending on theoretical foundation they can be formulated and attained more or less teacher-driven. One of the major advantages of a Problem Based approach is exactly the possibility of sharing the responsibility for this element between all participants in the Didactic Design.
  • Content – another element typically determined by curriculum and goals, but again within a Problem Based and especially Project Oriented approach this element can be based on collective decisions.
  • Contexts – teaching and learning doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Didactic Design is always situated, but not restricted to physical buildings or formal settings.
  • Activities – another very important element that shapes the teaching and learning processes possible and therefore also potential outcome.
  • Evaluation – Hiim & Hippe use the word assessment, which I think mainly relates to the learners and I do believe that a critical review on the teacher(s) and the teaching also is an important part of sustaining quality and I think that evaluation better covers this.
  • Time – is a crucial element, but is often missing in models and theories of teaching and learning despite the fact that there seems to be consensus on the fact that learning at a certain level actually takes a lot of time. Besides the time available for learners another sub-element could be time available for the teacher(s). In my experience many teachers/trainers find especially ICT-integration difficult and frustrating precisely because they don’t feel that they have sufficient time to learn to master the technologies and subsequent practices.

Besides revising the number and to some extend the content of the elements, I’ve also chosen to place the elements within a frame illustrating the point that Didactic Designs within formal education generally function as quite closed systems with very little permeability. Usually the influence from external factors (e.g. political, economical and other societal factors) is much greater than the other way.

In my PhD-project I’ve been working with 2 different cases. The MIL course (3 research cycles) and the COMBLE course (1 research cycle). In the MIL course the majority of the activities have been online, whereas the COMBLE course was 100% online, and I would describe the Didactic Design in both cases as having been ICT-remediated. In Bolter & Grusin’s original concept remediation refers to the process whereby new media refashions older media, but when we start to rely more and more on ICT/new media in our practices, I would argue that not only the media are refashioned, but there is a potential and in many cases a need to also reconsider and most likely revise the other elements in the model. These considerations have led to the next model:

It may come as a surprise that the model doesn’t appear that different, but that’s actually an important point of mine. ICT-remediation constitutes a potential for change, but it doesn’t happen automatically, and changes will depend on the various types of ICT. Walled Garden technology – like conventional LMS’/VLEs – is never pedagogical neutral. Different types of technology have different kinds of affordances and the user’s possibility to change or modify intrinsic ways of communication and content creation is usually very limited. As long as the majority of formal educational institutions choose to rely on conventional technology for remediating their practices, I personally see little prospect of real change. There are, nonetheless, some positive aspects in all of this. Regardless of the rest of the elements in the model ICT-remediation – especially based on Web 2.0 – will force the system to open up and connect more with the outside world and as both learners and teachers become more ICT literate as a consequence of ICT permeating our daily practices, I do expect changes to occur.

At the MIL education ICT is part of the curriculum and even though we also could do with more change, we do try to keep an eye on new media and their teaching and learning potentials. This was also the reason why my PhD-project became concerned with new augmented/immersive media in the shape of the 3D virtual world, Second Life (SL). Based on my experience with remediating existing practice into SL, this kind of medium clearly has the potential of changing the Didactic Design. Without having gone thoroughly through my data, I do see some changes regarding especially teacher(s), learner(s), contexts and activities. These four elements will be foci points in my analysis of SL and are highlighted in the model below:

It is quite deliberate that I’ve maintained the ICT element in this version of the model, because the use of SL doesn’t diminish the need to consider ICT in general. Several kinds of 2D technologies are at play in-world, and as I still consider SL to be an emerging, and sometimes very unstable technology, I wouldn’t at this point in time recommend using SL as a stand-alone technology.

These models all focus on traditional didactic elements and I will use them (most likely in revised versions) for my general Didactic Analysis. The last version has a clear connection to another model I’ve developed, which focuses on People (teachers/learners), Places (contexts) and Practices (activities). Based on that PPP-model I’ll be able to focus on topics that are less common in Didactics and in this way I think the models will complement each other profitably.

/Mariis

Case MIL09: Student analysis of SL – part 4

Flower

The fourth and final synchronous analysis of SL in the MIL course was done by Flower and the theme for her presentation was that “we learn through experience”. Now, this is one of the rare occasions where the English language doesn’t fully cover the meaning of a Danish expression. In Danish we have two different words for “experience” – briefly explained one which deals with the more rational type of experience and the other which deals more with the emotional type – the latter – and the one Flower referred to – is perhaps best known in the Anglo-American sphere through the concept of “Experience economy”.  The two words are however not mutually exclusive and I’m afraid  the nuances are a bit more subtle than I’m able to explain … Anyway, the important point for Flower was that we learn through engaging experience and to illustrate this, she started out by taking us to Phantasy Acres, where we received Christmas gifts and went ice-skating.


Fitting objects can be tricky – and may change your appearance  radically .. especially if you’re a cat ;-)

It was highly interesting to observe how the majority of the students actually seemed to enjoy the ice-skating activity – especially since this kind of experience adds no value for me personally.  Activities like dancing, car-racing, paragliding, surfing and the like are quite popular in-world. Feel free to accuse me of being unimaginative, but animating the avatar never really appealed to me.  In my own defense, I think this has to do with the augmentation-immersion problem, and I think Flower nailed it, when she later in her presentation showed a photo of me and my co-facilitator, Mew as examples of an augmentationist vs. an immersionist.

Next stop was Pax Island, where Flower asked us to explore the beauty of the landscape and finish off by jumping into a waterfall before returning to the sandbox on The MIL Island. This experience also included Mew and one of the students trying out a kissing pose – something definitely NpIRL!

Back in the sandbox on the MIL Island it became quite obvious why Flower had put so much emphasis on “experience” as vehicle for learning. RL Flower is a speech therapist and works with clients/patients who have been diagnosed with ALS. My knowledge of ALS is very limited, but Flower explained that her clients slowly deteriorate,  the disease affects their motor skills, and some lose the ability to speak/communicate. Consequently all clients end up in wheel chairs and become more and more isolated from the world. Theoretically Flower is inspired by especially Peter Jarvis, who has (among other things) accentuated the relation between sensory input and learning. The optimal outcome for Flower, if she should chose to use SL, would be to provide her clients with different types of experiences of being “somewhere” literally NpIRL in a social setting also enabling her clients to communicate without oral language in real time.

Flower was one of the MIL students who really had a difficult time learning how to master SL and in the beginning of the course when I strongly encouraged all the students to do their analysis based on their work practice target groups, Flower was very skeptical. But much to my admiration she kept on coming in-world, fought to overcome the initial barriers and never gave up no matter the technical difficulties and personal frustrations and feelings of being incompetent. Her presentation was flawless, well founded theoretically and very sober with regard to the disadvantages of using SL, and as I told her I was really impressed and proud on her behalf. It is experiences like this that really highlights the joy and satisfaction of teaching!

Judging from Flower’s own reflections on the course the most important lessons that she learned came from her own experience as a “newbie” which in many ways placed her in the powerless and uncontrollable situation that her clients often must find themselves in.  And this is something I recognize from all of the four courses I’ve run in-world so far. Those students who are teachers RL benefit greatly from being newbies – from being learners …

/Mariis

Case MIL09: Student analysis of SL – part 3

PerSecond

The third student analysis of SL was conducted by PerSecond and he had asked us to meet him at our regular meeting place in front of the fireplace on MIL’s island, but was otherwise very secretive about his presentation. As we were waiting for the other students to turn up we small talked about our avatars’ clothes – a topic that seems quite popular for both gender in-world. While it doesn’t make much sense to discuss the in-world weather, I do think the interest in the avatar appearance stems from a deeper need to figure out and find your way with the new identity.

PerSecond was actually reluctant to change his appearance from the default look, when he first entered SL, because he didn’t want to put emphasis on that part, but as he learned that caring for your avatar’s appearance signals that you care for the world and are willing to make an effort to learn how to master the medium, he changed his mind. PerSecond told us that had recently received a t-shirt with his company logo, which enabled him to identify more with his otherwise estranged avatar, and as we shall see identity was part of the theme for PerSecond’s presentation. We then headed off to what turned out to be PerSecond’s own home on the Innovative Learning Island.  RL PerSecond works at VIA University College that offers a combination of vocational, higher and further education and they’ve had a presence in SL for quite some time, but it wasn’t until PerSecond entered the MIL course and thus was forced to spend time in-world that he became convinced of the teaching and learning potential of virtual worlds. For his presentation PerSecond had prepared an interesting set-up with a video screen on one wall and a slide presenter on another – a challenging set-up if you don’t master the camera:

Like Perlo & Francine, PerSecond also chose to use the Didactic Relation Model (showed above on the slide presenter) as basis for his presentation and analysis, but he also pointed to other relevant models and theoretical foundations and combined it with video clippings from a couple of other worlds most notably Blue Mars and Hipihi. PerSecond’s primary target group would be building construction students, and one of the main reasons as to why he has been hesitant with the use of SL, is the lack of possibility to integrate other 3D modeling apps in SL – something which Blue Mars offers e.g. through support of content creation tools like 3DSMax.


PerSecond showing another important tool: Revit

As part of the presentation we also went on a short tour to see part of the construction site that recently won the annual Danish e-learning award. It is one of the rare sites that also make use of relevant audio – as you enter the building you hear a lot of very loud background noise that would be normal at a construction site.


Be careful not to step on any of the dangerous cords on the floor!

Using SL for work place training is obviously what appealed to PerSecond and he also envisioned different types of role play to enhance the professional identity of the students.  There are already different outfits for the avatars to wear near the construction site, so that the students could enact different professional roles, but as another example of role playing PerSecond had prepared a little surprise for us in the shape of a second avatar, Per Memo. Per shifted between the two avatars and we were asked to comment on the presentation on IM with Memo.

PerSecond pointed to another interesting advantage of using SL as part of this training which had to do with time and flexibility. Here in Denmark it is unfortunately often difficult to find sufficient internships for our students in the vocational sector and SL could provide an excellent supplement and enable the “school part” of the education to be closer to RL practice – something which most students undoubtedly would appreciate. The ability to leave the setting and return at any time convenient for the students also would provide more flexibility.

Given the fact that PerSecond was reluctant to use SL just a few weeks ago, I was quite impressed by his presentation and not least his willingness to explore and try out the many affordances of the medium. Per will continue his work with SL as part of his Master Thesis in the spring where he may be looking into the possibility of using SL as platform for work they are doing at VIA with Chinese collaborators.

/Mariis