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.

DD

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:

Mono-Poly

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.

/Mariis

References

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.

Using SL to facilitate a design process in group work

In the PD class, I’ve been running since December 5th, 2011 with students from the Master’s Program on ICT & Learning (MIL) at Aalborg University, the students have to do presentations in-world, and this is the first post of five describing  their work.

Background
As part of the assessment criteria in the course, the students are asked to do an analysis of SL as teaching and learning environment, and instead of doing a traditional written report, the students have to present their analyses synchronously in SL as highlighted  in this slide:


The MIL11 assignment.

The analysis has to be based on both theory (general course literature combined with literature the students choose for their particular topic), and practice. For the latter part, the students have to explore, experiment, and use SL, and they can also draw on the experiences they get from the other course activities in SL. Since all educational programs at Aalborg University are founded on a PBL pedagogy, they students also have to identify and work with RL problems – the students typically choose to focus on problems they encounter in their work settings. In this MIL11 class, the students have been working in 5 teams, and on Wednesday, January 11th the first team A had to present their analysis.

Team A and their focus


Team A: RickDJ, Ingma, MrsJJ, Ilikespace & Merlin –  all dressed up in similar clothes to highlight the team affiliation.

Team A’s members come from very different professional backgrounds, three of them are working in formal teaching (from K-12 to college), one is working in the central economic section of the city of Copenhagen, and the final member works within a special section of the law enforcement. All of the team members work with development and implementation of ICT and learning at some level in their organizations, and this is also why the signed up for the MIL Program. For their analysis/presentation, team A decided to focus on one team member’s work place, an “e-Design” educational program, and based on this context they settled for the following question to guide their investigations:

Can SL be used to facilitate a design process in project work?

In their work, the team tried to rethink and redesign an existing course for 3rd semester students, and they looked specifically at how SL can be used as a supplement to f2f and other technologies. The Team A students were interested in analyzing the particular affordances of SL that could promote certain parts of a design process for students working in groups in a blended environment.

Team A’s sandbox
To support the MIL students’ work in SL, each team was assigned a sandbox on December 9th (after they had learned the most basic SL skills), and the pictures below show the progression in team A’s sandbox.


December 17th; the team has begun rezzing and building all sorts of objects.

December 19th; the team’s presentation screen is set up for experimentation.

December 21st; One side of the team’s sandbox is filled up with objects creating a radical setting.

December 21st; Part of the interior design in the radical setting.

On December 22nd, I had an ad hoc meeting with some of team A’s members discussing the assignment and their design.

December 31st; the more respectful setting started to appear in the other side of the team’s sandbox.

One January 3rd, all teams were encouraged to present a status on their work, and get some feedback from me, my co-facilitator, Inge and their  fellow classmates –  and Team A chose to do so.


January 3rd; team A presenting some of their theoretical considerations for their upcoming presentation.

Team A’s presentation
Before  their presentation, Team A sent out instructions and an agenda in both SL and our regular 2D platform. The agenda looked like this:

  • 8:00 PM: Introduction in Team A’s sandbox
  • 8:30 PM: Inspiration trips
  • 8:45 PM: Group work in Team A’s sandbox
  • 9:10 PM: Presentation of the groups’ work
  • 9:20 PM: Theoretical input
  • 9:35 PM: Closing debate
  • 9:45 PM: Evaluation and feedback
During the introduction, we were given an overview of some of the theories and concepts the team has focused on, and we were given a brief insight into the pedagogical set-up, the students at the e-Design program etc. The team members explained how they saw a close relation between Problem Oriented Project Pedagogy and the design process in general, and they continued explaining how they wanted to illustrate this by giving us small tasks to solve as examples of a typical design process. We had to go to designated locations and take photos for later inspiration. Back in the team’s sandbox, we had to build “a work table for multiple persons”, and present it.
An overview of a typical design process with the research and idea generation phases highlighted.

The team felt that SL could be particularly useful in some of the more creative phases of a design process, and this was why we were asked to do tasks common to these phases. Because the students are not (due to time constraints) able to try out their hypothesis/ideas on their chosen target groups, it is common in theses presentations to ask the fellow students to act as the target group.


Among the theoretical concepts Team A chose to focus on, remediation and redesign of an existing pedagogical practice, were central – also in the way the team had designed their sandbox. The continuum between respectful and radical remediation permeated both design and activities, and in this way the team managed to visualize what otherwise may seem as quite abstract theoretical ideas.


As part of the research phase in a design process it is important to go out into the “real world” and gather information, and Team A had planned four different locations where each of the remaining teams had to go and take pictures for the following phase. The locations were two respectfully remediated places: Bartlett & Nielsen and Virtual Harlem, and two more radical places: Torley Island  and Mysterious Wave .


Team A’s Ingma acted as supervisor at Bartlett & Nielsen.

The time allocated for the inspirational trips was limited and I only managed to go to one of the four places, but judging from the following activities where the teams had to put their photos up for display, and based on this start working on designing a table, all the teams succeeded in completing the tasks despite time and technical (audio) challenges:


Back in Team A’s sandbox the other teams had to put their photos up for display.

Team C putting their photos on display.

Team D building a table.
… and team B building a table.

Team E presenting their flexible table, which clearly was inspired by their trip to Torleys.

After the presentation of the teams’ photos and tables, Team A continued talking about their theoretical considerations.


Team A discussing Childs, 2010 model on learners’ participation in virtual worlds.

The way Team A had planned their presentation was meant to showcase how SL potentially can be used in social constructivist learning, and even though the activities were limited due to time constraints, I think the team managed to do so. Evidently, in a short presentation like this, it is difficult to get the full experience, but by way of using the exemplary principle, it was my impression that Team A managed to make a very convincing case.


During the final part of Team A’s presentation concepts from Wenger’s 1998 social theory of learning were appropriately displayed on the floor.

In summary, I think all of the participants ended up having a very good joint learning experience, not least because Team A’s members beautifully demonstrated the value of genuine collaboration, and as one of the students from another team concluded afterwards it will be: “A hard act to follow … :)”

Next week teams B and C will be presenting – and I can hardly wait :-)

/Mariis