Second Life Community Convention 2010

For the third year in a row I’m hoping to participate in the annual Second Life Community Convention (SLCC10). This year the convention will be held in Boston, August 13-15.

As usual the convention will be organized by SL users, bringing together new and old residents in a mixture of business, education, non-profit and not least the music and art scene.

This year I’ve submitted a proposal for the educational track entitled “Contradictions that make perfect sense – remediation strategies for problem based blended learning in SL”, and so I hope to get the opportunity to present and discuss some of the ideas I’ve been working on as part of my recent stay at UC Berkeley.

In any case the convention is a definite must-go, a unique opportunity to connect with old and new friends. If there’s any one event that has influenced my PhD work, this is definitely it! Given that research in 3D virtual worlds still is a rather limited research field it is always a pleasure to connect with other educators and innovative thinkers from various parts of the SL community :-)


Much to my surprise (and regret) my PhD-supervisor has instructed me not to participate in any activities as I should focus on writing my dissertation. I therefore had to withdraw my proposal and will not be attending this year’s SLCC :-(

My first presentation at UCB’s Center for New Media

Today I did my first presentation of my PhD project at UCB. Sadly only a few people turned up, but they seemed engaged and asked a lot of questions, so that was good. It was the first time I presented some of my recent ideas on remediation, so that was quite interesting for me personally. I clearly need to refine my thoughts and the lack of proper English vocabulary, when I want to make a specific point, is really, really frustrating, but it is all part the learning process and I feel confident that it will become easier as time passes.

Among other things I addressed one of the challenges I currently have in relation to my thoughts on remediation. I’ve incorporated several dichotomies in my models for remediation, but I only see them as theoretical/analytical tools – reality (in whatever shape it represents itself) is much more complex and I don’t necessarily consider them to be mutually exclusive. Another problem is that some of the concepts I’m using are ambiguous, so I have a lot of work ahead of me in determining how I will define these concepts, and as examples of this uncertainty I presented the following three slides:

BTW, for the presentation I’d found a nice template displaying an Ethernet cable, which I thought suited the topic very well – only later I realized that as part of the terms of use I’m not allowed to upload them to any sort of file sharing site and this is why they can only be found here in pdf format … and so I will not use that type of template again!


Free PBL conference at Aalborg University – May 4-6 2010

As pre-conference to the 7th Networked Learning conference (#nlc2010), Aalborg University invites to a free 2 day conference on Problem Based Learning (PBL) on May 4-6 2010.

Aalborg University has 35 years’ experiences in educating students through the use of an overall PBL framework, which combined with project organization, is referred to as The Aalborg PBL Model. Furthermore Aalborg University Professor, Anette Kolmos holds the UNESCO Chair in Problem Based Learning. The conference will feature international experts and scientists, a.o. Scott Barge, Harvard University who together with an expert group from Aalborg University, initiated an accreditation process of the Aalborg PBL model. Standards and criteria for proper and relevant use of the method have been outlined.

Objectives of the conference are:

  • Sharing experiences and visions with universities from all over the world with leaders, scientists and practitioners meeting and discussing conditions, practise and development of PBL strategies.
  • Mutual learning in order to formulate standards, criteria and conditions for developing PBL practices that may serve a common platform for collaboration and benchmarking.
  • Reaching an agreement on central principles, codes, standards and visions for the proficient PBL university in the 21th century.

Important dates:
Abstract submission: March 29th
Registration: March 31st
Paper submission: April 15th

The preliminary programme can be found here.


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: Student analysis of SL – part 1

As part of the MIL course this year the students could choose to do their didactic analysis of SL either asynchronously in FirstClass or synchronously in SL, and 6 out 8 students chose the latter. Regardless of mode the students were asked to investigate 5 elements of particular importance when dealing with didactic analysis; Didactics (understood as theoretical foundation) and target groups, Orientation and navigation, Interaction, Learning processes and Audio-visuals. All of the students received the Zebra presenter and could use the sandbox to arrange the setting for their presentations, but they were also encouraged to find tools and places on their own. Each presentation was set to last approx. 2 hrs. and judging by the comments from all the students who chose the SL format, the analysis thus ended up feeling like an oral exam. In this and upcoming posts I’ll present some of the students’ findings and reflections.

Perlo & Francine

EduIsland 4: Practice classroom

First up were Perlo & Francine who had found a free practice classroom for trainee teachers at one of the EduIslands. Perlo & Francine had chosen to prepare their analysis as a streamed video which we were able to watch via the presenter in the classroom. As foundation for their analysis they had chosen the Didactic Relation model and the target group was adult students at a Teacher College studying religion. The purpose of using SL should be to conduct field studies that would otherwise be impossible to do in real life within the given college settings. Perlo & Francine envisioned using SL as part of a blended learning environment where they would include a wiki for the students’ asynchronous reflections and also f2f activities e.g. workshops aimed at teaching the students how to use SL.

One of the advantages Perlo & Francine pointed out about SL is the way the medium allows the user to change perspective, not only via camera controls, but rather because of the avatar phenomenon that enables the user to have a detached, 3rd person view on him-/herself and the activities/interactions in the environment. Conversely they also pointed to the other pole in the participation-observation continuum, where – provided you feel immersed or attached to your avatar – you would be able to participate (almost) like a native in different cultures. This change of perspective and the ontologically challenging question of being present or not was underlined by the way Perlo & Francine chose to present their thoughts as themselves in the video, but displayed on a screen and discussed in-world as avatars.

Despite their enthusiasm about SL as teaching and learning medium, they also worried about especially technical challenges, the fact that most communication in SL is in English and the rather vast amount of time that is needed to get to know SL sufficiently so that the students actually would be able to use SL as intended. Nonetheless, they did find the possibility to do field studies via SL to be really appealing and worth trying out, and they are currently preparing a course that’ll be running in the beginning of 2010. After the presentation we visited a couple of the religious places that would be relevant in their course:

The Kaaba at IslamOnline

Looking at The Black Stone – something NpIRL for non-muslims …

Praying at The Cijian Temple

Afterwards Perlo & Francine reflected on the experience in FirstClass and they both focused on the many things – especially technological – that you need to pay attention to when teaching in-world. Compared to f2f they found it more difficult to control and mange the activities, make sure everybody understood their instructions and when touring making sure nobody got lost. These are quite typical impressions from initial teaching experience in-world – but don’t worry –  it does get easier in time :-)