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 :-)


Case MIL09: Didactic Design Discussion – 1

In the MIL course my co-facilitator Mew Aeon and I currently are running in SL the students are expected to analyze SL as teaching and learning environment, and in order to stimulate the students’ critical reflections we have prepared 4 discussions on different topics related to ICT-based Didactic Design. Last night we had the first discussion and for this I had prepared some slides (in Danish) focusing on two main topics; the field of Didactics and target groups.

8 students are enrolled in the course and since 3 of them did not have the possibility to participate in our recent f2f kick-off introductions  I had decided to repeat some central points. First of all there is the term ICT-based Didactic Design, which my colleague, Professor Birgitte Holm Sørensen from the Danish School of Education defines like this:

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.

Via course readings the students are introduced to various didactic theories and models – one of the latter being the so called Didactic Triangle (usually attributed to German Pedagogical Philosopher Johann Friedrich Herbart 1776-1841) that depicts the basic relationships between teacher – content – student. Though all of us can agree that the field of Didactics includes more elements than the relationships in the Didactic Triangle it does, in my opinion, highlight the fundamentals and creates an excellent starting point for discussions on some of the key issues in Didactics.

Key issues in Didactics: content and actors

Now, what I find particularly interesting when you combine ICT with Didactic Design is that ICT not only serve as materials but also as arena or “room” for teaching and learning –an aspect which clearly is amplified when using 3D virtual technology like SL.  Most MIL students can be characterized as being tech-savvy educators/trainers for whom it is relevant to further enhance their competencies in integrating ICT in their practice and we naturally ended up discussing what impact especially web 2.0 tools/services will have on the way we think and practice didactics.

As I see it Web 2.0 tools/services have the potential of changing our perspectives and thus practices regarding:

  • Users – both the students and the teachers with regard to relations/roles/responsibilities
  • Participation – as we shift from consumption to (co-)production
  • Multimodality – new possibilities to design for teaching and learning processes
  • Networks and connections – from local to global citizenship
  • Knowledge management – both from an information and communication perspective and with regard to security and ethics

How does web 2.0 change the way we think and practice didactics?

For the last decade the Danish pedagogical debate has been focusing on learning and learners (in opposition to teaching and teachers) – and this shift in perspective has been highly welcome and much needed. On the other hand this shift seems to have placed the role of the teacher in some sort of vacuum (are teachers obsolete in the future as polemically stated by David Gelernter ?) making the challenges related to especially ICT integration more difficult and complex than necessary. When discussing target groups we therefore also encourage the MIL students to carefully consider the roles of the teachers. Much as anticipated we did not reach any solid conclusions on any of the topics, but I do believe the discussions inspired the students and I’m looking forward to the next session later this week.

As part of our focus on target groups who could benefit from an environment like SL, we ended the night by visiting Health Info Island, including The Path of Support and finished off by investigating the Virtual Guide Dog.


Research stay at the Danish School of Education

Next week I’ll be visiting Professor, PhD Birgitte Holm Sørensen, Director of the Research Programme, Media and ICT in a Learning Perspective at the Danish School of Education.


Both Birgitte  and I are members of the steering committee of The Masterprogramme in ICT and Learning (MIL), and we’ve known each other for years now. Birgitte’s areas of expertise include;  ICT/New media in combination with children, young people, teaching and learning and curriculum/ educational design. Birgitte is also responsible for the 4th module in the MIL education – the module where my SL course (my primary PhD case) is based.

Besides giving a presentation on the teaching and learning potential of SL to the members of Birgitte’s research programme, I intend to use this opportunity to discuss and further develop some of the central findings and concepts in my PhD, so I’m really looking forward to this stay :-)


Design Thinking and Informatics

Next week I’ll participate in a 2 day PhD course on”Design Thinking and Informatics” at HCCI-Doctoral research programme in Human Centered Communication and Informatics, Aalborg University. Course lecturers are Judith Gregory, Institute of Design, Illinois Institute of Technology & Anne Marie Kanstrup, Department of Communication and Psychology, Aalborg University.

Day one focuses on design thinking (vs. construction). Introductions will be made to the history of design thinking in general and current trends in design thinking in informatics in particular. Socio-technical, theoretical perspectives will be introduced and used in discussions of what this way of thinking means for students’ doctoral research projects.
Day two focuses on methodological practices and consequences of design thinking. Case examples will be presented for how selected methods have been employed and students will work on how to integrate design thinking into their research projects.

In order to enroll in this course I had to prepare 1-3 questions related to design within my PhD project. In my view design is an ambiguous term. I do use the term in my project, but depending on what area of my project it concerns, I use the term with different meanings. I tend to regard my whole project as a design, and in Danish I would use the term didactic design to strengthen that I’m concerned with design aimed at a pedagogical practice. However, when I speak with non-Scandinavians the term didactic doesn’t seem to make much sense, and I usually resolve to say educational design instead, but this doesn’t cover my project either. When I explain in further detail what my project entails people – especially Americans – often respond by saying “oh, you mean instructional design”. But instructional design is in my opinion related to a certain pedagogical epistemology on which I don’t agree. It has been suggested that I might use the term curriculum design, but that doesn’t really cover my project either … This uncertainty about how I should coin my design is the main reason for me to participate in the PhD course as I’m hoping it will inspire me to clarify not only the prefix but also the design concept in itself. I therefore have posed the following questions:

  1. How can I define (think of) Design? According to Owen.2004:3 design can be described as “a profession that is concerned with the creation of products, systems, communications and services that satisfy human needs, improve people’s lives and do all of this with respect for the welfare of the natural environment (…) Design involves problem finding, problem solving, analysis, invention and evaluation guided by a deep sensitivity to environmental concerns and human-centered aesthetic, cultural and functional needs.” However, this is not an adequate description of my design concept …
  2. How can I coin my design concept so that it includes pedagogical, participatory and technological aspects?

Rheingold. 2008 advocates for the need of Participative Pedagogy as a strategy for designing social media. Participation is already a keyword in my project – both with regards to my overall Action Research inspired approach and with regards to my pedagogical foundation within PBL and POPP. In spite of this, I’m not really sure how to include that particular keyword in describing my project. So as you can imagine, I’m in desperate need of the course ;-) Below I have placed some of my project’s keywords in Wordle, which seems as an appropriate way of illustrating my current state of mind – one big mess!


Another interesting part of this PhD course will be for me to figure out how I (my project) fit into the field of Informatics. At ELL we have several researches working within Informatics on either information processing and/or development/design of information systems (IS), but they are using a quite different terminology (which typically indicates different views and practices) and I don’t usually consider myself to be part of that “gang” at ELL. I don’t really like the term IS. First of all, I think the information part associates with a narrow view on communication and system(s) in my ears simply rings too machine’ish putting too much emphasis on the technology. I’m aware that system(s) in several theories* refers to human activity and organization, but I just don’t like it. From talks with my colleagues, I know they share most of my humanistic views and I probably will stand corrected on this after the course – not least because I know for sure that we have common interests on the methodological level. Anyways, I’m looking forward to a couple of interesting days, and hopefully I’ll soon be able to return with a clarifying post on my project design …


Owen, C.L (2004): What Is Design? Some questions and answers.

Rheingold, H. (2008): Participative Pedagogy for a Literacy of Literacies.

*) Intersting resource on theories used in IS

Classroom Research and Didactics

Next week I’ll be attending a PhD course entitled ”Classroom Research and Didactics” at The Danish School of Education, Aarhus University. All Danish PhD students must participate in PhD courses equivalent to a minimum of 30 ECTS points, and with this course I’ll hopefully earn 5 points.  Since one of the courses I facilitate at the Master Programme in ICT and Learning (MIL) is about Educational Design and ICT, and given that my primary case in which I’m doing part of my PhD research is that course, I think this PhD course will be especially relevant for my project.

The course is facilitated by Professors from The Danish PhD Programme on Didactics and Curriculum Research. Coming from another Danish University and another PhD Programme (HCCI), it will be quite interesting to learn how they define central pedagogical concepts/terms and what they define as relevant research methodologies. Even before the course has started I’m interested in the terms from the course title, and according to the course description (in Danish only) they could be defined as follows:

·         Classroom – an institutional room.

·         Didactical oriented classroom research – emphasizes the relation between on one side didactically founded goals and intentions and on the other side the actual practice in the classroom.

Part the course literature is about “belief research” implying that teachers’ underpinning beliefs can explain much of the actual classroom practice, and a course objective will be for us to examine and probably challenge our pre-understandings. In trying to do so, I’ll focus on the classroom term in this first post on the course.

It is my understanding that the term denotes a tradition within Danish Educational Research, and it is widely used both by researchers and practitioners especially in what I think would be equivalent to K12. However, I don’t think the term is appropriate when describing my own project.  At least to me, the classroom term brings associations of a strictly physical setting, a specific way of organizing the teaching and learning processes, and the term “class” indicates young learners.

My course is blended with approximately 5 hrs. face-to-face confrontation out of a total of five weeks, which means that the vast majority of the course is conducted online in both a traditional 2D learning platform (FirstClass®) and in the 3D virtual world, Second Life ® (SL). Room is simply too restricted a term to describe the setting, and I do prefer learning environment. When emphasizing learning, I do realize that there’s a risk of “forgetting” the teacher/facilitator, but since the term also indicates a very important and much needed paradigmatic shift from almost exclusive focus on the teacher/teaching to the learners/learning processes in educational research and pedagogy in general, I think this term is acceptable – at least as part of a working terminology.

When examining teaching and learning in 3D virtual worlds (and perhaps to a lesser degree in 2D settings) the whole concept of context (room, space, place, environment etc.) becomes highly relevant. The 3rd dimension is, in my opinion, what make these contexts both particular and interesting seen from an educational perspective. So this is something I will return to again and again during my project.

I do appreciate the institutional character of the classroom concept, and my focus is also on teaching and learning in a formal, university setting. However, this doesn’t mean that informal learning processes will be neglected in my own research. In fact, my pilot study (22 participants 5 weeks in SL, fall ’07) indicated that the 3D world setting amplified the students’ motivation and engagement for connecting and collaborating in more informal relations – also with other residents. Here I see another argument for not restricting my terminology to a room metaphor.  If SL is recognized and truly appreciated as a world the implications are numerous, and the complexity of the phenomena becomes apparent.

The term class is used in describing an entity of learners e.g. in a concrete course, but it is a term that we primarily reserve for describing organization in K12, which also is why we would call the learners “pupils” in that context, whereas learners at university level typically would be called “students”.  The learners in my course are adults, and we usually refer to them as students. The distinction between pupils and students may come across as academic babble, but I do think it is relevant in the sense that this distinction also indicates a difference in the roles and responsibilities of all parties involved in the teaching and learning processes.  The term student is actually debated quite often at The MIL Programme, because the term still indicates what you might call an old-fashioned view on the power balance in the learning situation and because there still is a passive, transfer element associated with the term.  So quite often we resolve to call our learners participants.

As organizing principle the term class tends to describe a situation where the whole entity of learners is addressed simultaneously, and apart from our 4 yearly face-to-face seminars, we rarely use this type of one-to-many communication. The MIL Programme is based on a Problem Oriented Project Pedagogy (POPP), which I will elaborate on in future posts. For now it suffices to say, that it basically means that we organize our participants in small groups working and theorizing on real life problems. Connected to these groups will be one or several supervisors practicing different roles/methods ranging from instruction to facilitation depending on the needs of the groups.

My initial critique of the term classroom may be too one-sided, I may not be aware of the current status of the term within classical educational research (which is how I would characterize the research at The Danish School of Education when comparing it to my own university), so I’m looking forward to discussing this and learning more during the course …