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.


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.


SLecture 1 – observations from the PBBL course

In the PBBL course we have planned 10 lectures in SL and a number of optional informal meetings. Last night we had the first lecture and in this post I’ll reflect a bit on some of my observations. We have 23 participants from 5 countries and an unknown number of Danish on-campus students enrolled. As one of the requirements to pass the course we have asked the participants to attend a minimum of 5 lectures of their own choice (for the students the requirements are different) – so first of all it was interesting to see how many participants/students would actually show up. I’m using the MystiTool to keep track of this and at a certain point in time I counted 22, incl. my colleagues Heilyn, Thomas and Jacob, but some attendees did unfortunately have technical problems so my estimate is that 17 is the most reliable number.

SLecture 1 in session …

Based on my experience from the two other courses I’ve run in SL and our preparation meetings last week, I anticipated some voice and text chat problems, so I had posted the following program and guidelines for in-world communication in our Moodle platform prior to the SLecture and of course had these slides on the CZ presenter:



My overall impression is that the SLecture went well, not least since those who managed to get voice and text working engaged in eager questioning and commenting on the different topics for this SLecture; BL, PBL and the various course elements. But there were also challenges and some serious technical problems:

·         The voice and chat check lasted 45 min. which was longer than anticipated. I did point out in the beginning of the SLecture that it should be regarded as a test lecture, but I’m still somewhat surprised it took that long. There were, however, completely new faces in this SLecture and there are still some participants struggling with general voice settings, use of headset and unstable Internet connections.
·         There are still a few of the enrolled participants who have not yet joined our in-world COMBLE group, and a few who do not know how to change their Active Title. The course preparation week was optional and I expected people would join the activities based on their own judgments. This is something I would seriously consider revising in a future course …
·         Since none of the participants or us as facilitators are native English speakers we all struggle with the language. It’s the first time I’ve personally run a course in English and I must say I find it very time consuming and challenging.  With 7 open chat windows, lots of new names, and the language barrier I did find it rather difficult to stay 100 % focused on my presentation. But this is just a matter of experience, so I do not worry too much about it. According to the feedback my main points came across reasonably clear.
·         When we sent out the initial materials for the course, I had made a tutorial for creating the SL account, and in this I recommended that they created their first names so that they would be easy to say/write in English. But I don’t think this message came across clear enough. At least there are a few names I find very difficult to say/write. This could also be a cultural thing and for sure my Polish, Estonian, German and Argentinean pronunciation needs work ;-) I also suspect that for some of the participants the fact that I address them by their first avatar names takes some getting used to – most likely many of them do not identify with those names (yet) and some seem surprised when they discover that I’m actually speaking/writing to them. This probably will change in time. In a future course I would try to explain the name issue more detailed, though.
·         It was the first time I used the CZ presenter and it worked fine. Nonetheless, I will try to find some sort of podium to place the laptop on, so that its position is fixed and I can return to it more smoothly without having to adjust its position.
·         In the two previous courses I’ve run in-world I’ve been the only facilitator and I must say I enjoy having my colleagues with me this time. Not only are they able to help and answer some of the questions (that I might miss!) in the chat, but it is also very beneficial to be able to get their immediate feedback on these SLectures afterwards.

After the SLecture my colleague, tryberg and I stayed and reflected a bit on the event…

Next SLecture is tomorrow and I’m really looking forward to that, because this has turned out to be a great learning experience :-)