Visiting Scholar at UC Berkeley

This is just a brief post to explain that I’m currently a visiting scholar at UC Berkeley (UCB). I arrived on March 29th and have been spending the past two weeks getting accustomed to my new environment. I’m here on a four month grant offered by the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS) at UCB and the Danish Agency for Science, Technology and Innovation (DASTI), which is an institution under the Danish Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation.

Professor Ruth Tringham from the Dept. of Anthropology is my faculty host and besides working at UCB I hope to also visit other universities in the area. I’ll be working on the concept of remediation in an effort to refine and most likely reform my model(s) for remediating people, places and practices – and needless to say future posts on this topic will follow…

I first discovered Professor Tringham back in 2008 when I read an article she had written together with colleagues Ashley and Mills on remediating places, and I had the opportunity of meeting her f2f in SF last August when I was attending the SLCC’09.  Tringham and colleagues also have been using SL and meet regularly with their students on their research island, Okapi.

Mariis on Okapi Island – a remediation of  Çatalhöyük, a 9000 year-old Neolithic village located in present-day central Turkey

I’ll end this post by expressing my personal gratitude to three people in particular:



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…


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.


Case MIL09: Didactic Design Discussion – 2

In the 2. Didactic Design Discussion in the MIL course I’d chosen to focus on some of the central points from my own PhD-project since it also deals with analysis of SL as teaching and learning environment. Discussing some of my own ideas with the students naturally is very inspiring and rewarding for me personally, but I’m also hoping (and sensing) that the students benefit from seeing my approach to the problem, and judging from the vivid discussion I do believe, I managed to challenge some of their presumptions. I’m not able to reproduce all of it, but I will try to highlight a few issues.

Essentially 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 aim 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.

PhD-project overview – Fall 2009

The concept remediation (in relation to new media) was coined by Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin (2000), but there was no explicit value or quality identified with different ways of remediating in the original concept. However, Tringham, Mills and Ashley (2007) further developed the remediation concept in their Remediated Places Project and came up with two distinct strategies for remediation, respectively respectful and radical. In my point of view these two strategies can be extended to include pedagogical considerations and thus inform more general implementation strategies for blended teaching and learning using new media.

I first introduced the MIL students to the concepts of respectful and radical remediation in the course last fall and like this year’s students they immediately adopted the terminology. If you’ve ever been in SL you’d know why – it makes perfect sense to distinguish between the two both with regard to people, places and practices. The interesting question nonetheless is whether remediation changes anything in the way we think and practice teaching and learning …

Is a slide show presentation in SL an innovation?

According to Peter Denning an innovation can be defined as a transformation of practice in a group, community or culture – it is not enough just to come up with a brilliant idea or create a new artifact. Surely there are many different definitions of innovation, but I agree with Denning and it aligns very well with Wenger’s 1998 social theory on Communities of Practice, which is one of my core inspirations. Changing practice is easier said than done and Steven Warburton has identified 7 barriers to innovation in 3D environments like SL:

  • Technical – machine and human related [and standards related]
  • Identity – the tension between playfulness and professionalism
  • Culture – reading the codes and etiquette of SL
  • Collaboration – building trust
  • Time – even simple things take time 
  • Economic – nothing is for free
  • Design – perhaps this is a meta-barrier but SL does offer up very particular design challenges

Besides these I would add another meta-barrier, namely the inherent paradox between (re-)production and innovation that all participants in education are facing. This is what I call the didactic double bind. In general double bind is described as dilemmas in communication, and SL seems to be filled with conflicting messages. After the session one of the students posted this photo as her take on a in-world double bind:

The text for that photo could read: ”SL is an open environment. Join us if you can”. Naturally, the experienced SL resident would know that the dilemma in this particular situation is metaphorical – a shift in camera angle and you’d be there… the perspective on the situation would change and shifting perspective, looking at dilemmas at a higher level of abstraction is one way of solving double bind situations and would according to Bateson. 1972 mean learning at level III. And this is actually one of the reasons why I find SL so interesting – if we assume that the learner overcomes the initial difficulties and gets accustomed to the environment it provides rich opportunities for learning at higher levels, because SL inevitable challenges the learner both ontologically and epistemologically due to the whole meta-cognitive nature of the in-world experience.

After this we moved on to discuss the concepts of immersion and augmentation and what these two apparently conflicting ways of engaging in an environment like SL could mean – not least when it comes to teaching and learning practice. Again the students were eager to discuss and we covered a lot of important points on which I will return in a later posting. Suffice to say that we all agree with Tateru Nino on this:

It’s not all black and white.
The whole immersion versus augmentation debate is clouded by one trivial little detail. One is not the opposite of the other. The two aren’t even mutually exclusive.

We ended the session by trying out the Opinionater – it really is a very efficient and fun tool for stimulating discussions :-)