In-world kick-off session with technical challenges

Yesterday, my colleagues Inge Qunhua, Heilyn Abbot, and I were ready to kick-off the first in-world session in the UNA-AAU course. As part of the course, we have designed for two kick-off sessions in SL, before Heilyn and I go to Costa Rica and start the course with a 2-day f2f-workshop at the Universidad Nacional. As far as, we had understood it, our two Costa Rican colleagues, Ena & Wica did a f2f-session with the course participants last week where they created the SL-accounts and settled possible technical challenges. Therefore, the main purpose of the in-world kick-off session was to socialize (make friends, and join our group) and to familiarize the participants with the sandbox and the island where the majority of the course activities will take place. However, another important reason to have sessions before we go to Costa Rica, was to see how the participants would manage to get into/and navigate in SL from a technical point of view – how would the participants’ user experience turn out? In planning the course, we have been discussing the technical challenges that may occur, and we have been somewhat worried about this aspect – and sadly, we did experience many technical difficulties in yesterday’s session.

The first participant to turn up in the sandbox was our Costa Rican co-facilitator, Ena. However, as the picture below illustrates, Ena’s avatar did not rezz well, and in the text chat she managed to tell us that everything looked grey, and that she had no voice/audio.

Ena’s grey avatar in front of Heilyn, me, and Inge

Technical difficulties in SL can occur for a variety of reasons one of which can be incorrect settings (e.g. for audio and graphics), so Inge quickly decided to put up a board explaining how to set the audio settings properly.

Inge sets up a board explaining audio settings on the fly

However, as Ena also had problem with an unrezzed (grey) environment, she couldn’t see this properly, so Inge ended up calling her on Skype. Meanwhile, Heilyn and I were waiting for more participants to arrive, but we soon realized that most of them apparently experienced technical difficulties. Two more participants did show, and we all got into a Skype call, and even though advice on how to set audio and graphics correctly helped the participants a bit, we did not manage to settle all the technical difficulties, and finally decided to cut the session short.

Our 3 Costa Rican participants – all dressed in grey :D

Our next kick-off session is planned for next week, and before then we hope to settle the technical problems, but we have also started to discuss alternative plans; a) we use Skype instead of the built-in SL-voice (and hope the problems with graphics can be solved locally), b) we use an alternative viewer (for some users this does seem to help in terms of graphics). None of these solutions are perfect, and if the problems stem from insufficient bandwidth, I’m not sure how we will solve it.  This UNA-AAU course is envisioned as a pilot-project where the main goal is to investigate if it will be possible to run bilateral courses between Aalborg University and Universidad Nacional through SL and Moodle in the future, and so we are already gaining important information about some of the possible challenges. I’m confident that we will solve the problems somehow, but I also can’t wait to actually go to Costa Rica to experience the challenges first-hand – some problems can simply be to difficult to solve on a distance …

/Mariis

A CoP approach to facilitate university teacher PD in ICT and POPP

On December 17th, 2010 I had the great pleasure of attending my (now former as she’s back in Costa Rica) e-Learning Lab colleague, Mayela Coto’s PhD-defense. Mayela’s thesis is entitled “The case of UNAgora: A community of practice approach to facilitate university teacher professional development in ICT and project-oriented problem pedagogy”, and is now available for download here.


Mayela presenting her findings on Dec. 17th, 2010 at Aalborg University.

Here is an excerpt from the abstract:

  • The overall aim of this research is to enhance the understanding of to what extent a distributed community of practice approach affects the professional development of university teachers and whether this leads the teachers to promote a transformation in teaching practices mainly regarding the introduction of ICT and project-oriented problem pedagogy (POPP).
  • More specific research questions are concerned with what is the impact of belonging to the community of practice on teachers?; what kind of changes takes place in the teachers’ practice?; which factors support or hinder the professional development of teachers who are part of a distributed community of practice?; how does technology contribute (or not) to the formation of the community, and to the professional development process?; and what principles may be used to guide the design of a professional development model- based on communities of practice for fostering change of practice?
  • The main findings of the study were that the distributed community of practice approach appears to be a productive form of professional development under certain conditions. It provides an environment for learning and dialogue that can enrich and deepen teachers’ knowledge, as well as an understanding of important educational issues and change of values, beliefs and practices. Issues of access to technology, culture of online communication and collaboration, teachers’ workload and time have been identified as conditions that need to be carefully studied in order for the approach to be potentially effective.
  • The overall result of the approach to professional development proposed by this study, offers teachers a scope for learning, negotiation and identity formation within the community. The study also suggests that teachers who are closer to the center of the community are able to identify with, and develop a feeling of belonging to the community to a greater extent than the teachers with a peripheral role. However, it seems that both kinds of teachers are able to transform, to some extent, their teaching practices.

Mayela’s supervisor (who’s also my PhD-supervisor) was Professor, PhD Lone Dirckinck-Holmfeld (Aalborg University), whereas the examining committee consisted of Maite Capra (Univercidad Nacional Costa Rica), Marianne Lykke (Aalborg University), and Etienne Wenger.


Similing faces after the very successful defense: Lykke, Wenger – Mayela Coto – Capra and Dirckinck-Holmfeld

It’s a pretty long thesis, but well worth the read :-)

/Mariis


Conference on IT and Innovative Learning Environments

Thursday/Friday his week I’ll be attending a conference/workshop on “It and innovative learning environments” at university level organized by the Danish Ministry of Science in Copenhagen.

I’m especially looking forward to hearing the two keynote speakers:

  • Phillip D. Long, Ph.D. Professor of Innovation and Educational Technology and Founding Director, Centre for Educational Innovation and Technology, University of Queensland, Australia.
  • Renate Fruchter, Ph.D. Founding Director of Project Based Learning Laboratory and Senior Research Engineer, Department of Civil Engineering, Stanford University, USA

I’ve never met Professor Long, but I’ve read a some of his publications concerning design of learning spaces (i.e. Trends in Learning Space Design), and I think he has some pretty interesting takes on educational design. He is scheduled to talk about Open Scholarship and Learning, which should be interesting too!

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Professor Fruchter a couple of times during my recent research stay in the Bay Area. She’s a very energetic and positive woman, and I think it’ll be fun to reconnect with her. During this research stay a bunch of my colleagues from 5 different Danish universities and I attended a 2-day workshop at Stanford exploring the future of e-learning, and since this conference is kind of a follow-up event I’m also looking forward to reconnecting with them and the organizers from Innovation Center Denmark in Silicon Valley.

I’m also interested in hearing the Danish Minister of Science, Charlotte Sahl-Madsen’s thoughts on innovative learning and the future of our universities … On Friday I’ll be attending different workshops, and here I’m especially looking forward to hearing what colleagues from the Danish School of Education, Tina Bering Keiding & Morten Misfeldt have to say on the alignment between learning and physical space – not least since this is a topic I normally don’t pay much attention to due to my explicit focus on virtual space/place in my PhD-project.

Dan Gilbert, Learner Designer Technologist, Learning Innovations Inc. will facilitate a workshop entitled Innovative Tools and Techniques to Enhance Creativity in Your Classes: Connecting Design Thinking with Teaching and Learning”, and this should be interesting too. I’ve previously attended a workshop by Dan and it was inspirational and great fun!

Finally, I’m really looking forward to seeing how conference participants will be using Twitter #itlearning. This will be my first Danish conference organized with the explicit goal of using Twitter and I have no idea how this will be received – but I am expecting a lot of fun :-)

/Mariis

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

Book release: ICT and Learning – reflected practice

Together with colleagues Ulla Konnerup, Søren Skøtt Andreasen & Lone Dirckinck-Holmfeld I’ve co-edited an anthology entitled “ICT and Learning – reflected practice”.  What makes this anthology unique is that all the authors are alumni from the Masterprogramme in ICT and Learning (MIL).  Through 7 articles the authors discuss and reflect upon the use and purpose of ICT in different learning contexts covering the educational sector and one public hospital. The anthology is in Danish – and so will the rest of this post be …


Front cover by Helle Fibiger

Ikt og læring – reflekteret praksis er en antologi, der er blevet til på baggrund af masterprojekter udarbejdet i forbindelse med afslutning af Masteruddannelsen i Ikt og læring (MIL). Ideen til antologien kom fra alumner, som fandt det relevant at sætte fokus på den iderigdom, kreativitet og nye viden, der skabes i udarbejdelsen af disse afgangsprojekter.

Gennem antologiens syv artikler fremlægger, diskuterer og reflekterer de 13 forfattere en række vidt forskellige cases, som dog alle har koblingen af ikt og læring til fælles. Forfatternes meget forskellige teoretiske inspirationskilder, metodiske fremgangsmåder og brug af diverse typer af ikt viser bredden inden for dette spændende felt som er i konstant udvikling.

Antologien henvender sig derfor også bredt til alle, som interesserer sig for ikt og læring, hvad enten der er tale om teoretikere, praktikere, undervisere, studerende, arbejdsgivere og ansatte, for hvem reflekteret brug af ikt er en del af den daglige praksis i et samfund, hvor livslang læring om noget er på dagsordenen.

Emneord: Ikt, livslang læring, pædagogik, design, praksis, refleksion

Antologien’ s pris er kr. 198,- og den kan bestilles via Aalborg Universitetsforlag.

/Mariis