Using metaphor to examine diversity (or lack thereof) in research

This post contains a link to a PDF working paper that uses metaphor analysis on a collection of journal papers to examine just how diverse research within the Information Systems field actually is. It finds that the IS field is actually not very diverse at all from this perspective, which is somewhat contradictory to what is accepted by most IS folk.

The paper treats research as a cognitive process. A process that is constrained/influenced by the concepts we have of the world and the objects we study in our research. Our understandings of these concepts are very often unquestioned. The paper uses metaphor analysis to uncover what understandings IS researchers (writing in one of the IS fields premier journals) have of the concept of the “organisation”.

Work in organisational science has identified three main metaphors used of the organisation. They are:

  1. Organisation as a machine
  2. Organisation as an organism
  3. Organisation as a culture

It finds that the “organisation as a machine” metaphor is by far the most used and the most detailed. Followed a long way behind but “organisation as an organism”. “Organisation as a culture” is almost non-existent.

Within learning and teaching at universities I’m increasingly seeing a lot of this same bias. Much of the management, leadership and “quality” assurance stuff I see in higher education has a very strong assumption of the machine metaphor. A metaphor of questionable use in any group of human beings, let alone a university and especially around the act of learning and teaching.

With this fundamental assumption, I’m not surprised that much of what is proposed to improve learning and teaching fails.

Seven principles of knowledge management and applications to e-learning, curriculum design and L&T in universities

I’ve been a fan of Dave Snowden and his work for a couple of years. In this blog post from last year Dave shares 7 principles for “rendering knowledge”. For me, these 7 principles have direct connection with the tasks I’m currently involved with e-learning, curriculum design and helping improve the quality of learning and teaching.

If I had the time and weren’t concentrating on another task I’d take some time to expound upon the connections that I see between Snowden’s principles and the tasks I’m currently involved with. I don’t so I will leave it as an exercise for you. Perhaps I’ll get a chance at some stage.

Your considerations would be greatly improved by taking a look at the keynote presentation on social computing at the Knowledge Management Asia conference given by Dave based on these 7 principles. I listened to the podcast yesterday and slides are also available.

I strongly recommend these to anyone working in fields around e-learning, curriculum design etc. to listen to this podcast.

For example

Let’s take #2

  • We only know what we know when we need to know it.
    Human knowledge is deeply contextual and requires stimulus for recall. Unlike computers we do not have a list-all function. Small verbal or nonverbal clues can provide those ah-ha moments when a memory or series of memories are suddenly recalled, in context to enable us to act. When we sleep on things we are engaged in a complex organic form of knowledge recall and creation; in contrast a computer would need to be rebooted.

The design of both e-learning software and learning and teaching currently rely a great deal on traditional design process that rely on analysis, design, implementation and evaluation. For example, at the start of the process people are asked to reflect and share insights and requirements about the software/learning design divorced from the reality of actually using the software or learning design. Based on the knowledge generated by that reflection, decisions are made about change.

The trouble is asking people these questions divorced from the context is never going to get to the real story.

Content, redirects and impact on Google ranking

Late last year I wrote that this blog was currently ranked #12 by Google (US-based search) for a search on “david jones”.

Over the Xmas break I spent a fair bit of time copying content from my old website to this blog and putting in place permanent redirects from the old site to the new content. I also uploaded some images onto my Flickr photos and included links to content on the blog that was associated.

Today, when I do the same search the blog is now ranked #5 by Google for a US-based search.

For an Australian based Google search the site is up from 177 to 87

Reflections and Implications from Webfuse – Domain languages

As I am currently writing up the PhD I have banned myself from working on any new papers. However, as I work through the PhD I will get ideas for papers so rather than waste time writing them in full and even worse forget about them I’m going to try and write about them on the blog and categorise them appropriately. With the hope that post PhD I can come back and have a large collection of papers to write. Alternatively, I’ll have a collection of dribble to laugh at.

First cab off the rank is the idea of a “webfuse reflections and implications” paper. To some extent this would come from the last chapter of my thesis and capture some of the lessons, reflections etc learned from the 12 or so years working on the thesis and Webfuse (the artifact that arose from/created the thesis).

In part the idea for this paper is to capture the messy bits that you have to solve in practice that are typically overlooked by researchers and the enterprise folk implementing e-learning. The hope is that these reflections/implications could spark off ideas for future research projects.

Some of the initial ideas which will be expanded upon include

  • Domain langauges and the mismatch between enterprise software and institutional practice.
  • The need for “loose joining” between e-learning systems and other institutional databases.
  • Limitations of traditional IT governance and other forms of hierarchical division of labour and responsibilities.

Domain languages and LMS mismatches

The idea for this one was sparked by this post on iPhoto and Domain Languages and some previous work.

The definition of domain language given on the 37signals blog is

A domain language is the set of words that reflect the way you cut up a domain. It consists of the pieces you sliced and the names you chose to give them. This language defines an application and makes it special.

Universities have domain languages. Actually, university sectors in different countries have different domain languages and to some extent different universities within the same country can have different domain languages.

For example, in the mid-1990s the institution I worked at then had a domain language that consisted of the following terms

  • Unit – an individual course/subject that a student enrols in (e.g. Programming I etc.)
  • Course – a collection of units that make up a student’s entire study for a degree (e.g. bachelor of information technology).
  • Student number – the unique identifying number (actually combination of letters and numbers) for a particular student (e.g. C0101010X)

As the 37signals post suggests software applications have to encapsulate a domain language. The designers of those applications have to make choices about how they divide up the application space, what objects are sensible and what to call those objects.

Around the turn of the century the institution I worked with adopted the Peoplesoft enterprise resource planning (ERP) system for some aspects of its work, in particular its student administration system. Peoplesoft is from the North American university sector and had a domain language that made sense for that sector. It also originally started in the Human Resource management sphere and so aspects of its domain language showed its origins.

For example, the institution, its students and staff had to change the language they used from the above to the following

  • Unit became Course.
    This re-use of a term that meant something completely different in the previous domain language was particular confusing.
  • Course became Program.
  • Student number, while still used in normal conversation, became EMPLID (emploee ID) in the database and some aspects of the interface.

The change in domain language made the adoption of the software more difficult. It required significant changes to a broad array of practices and documentation that normally would not have been required. It also resulted in my institution (and the others who adopted Peoplesoft) started using a domain language that was different from many other Australian universities.

The Blackboard e-learning system we’ve been using over the last few years has also show this sort of problem. The main one has been the difference between the names given to teaching staff.

Implementing the rotating banner image

I’ve mentioned some plans to implement a rotating banner image on this blog. As you may have picked up from this post, if you’re looking at the site, that such a rotating banner image has been implemented. Here’s the story.

It’s one of pragmatism. The plan of not using an external server, after a minimum of searching, was proving to be a little more difficult than I thought. So rather than waste time I’ve simply re-used the approach I used on my old site. i.e. this script. At the moment the script simply does a loop through a list of images stored in the file system of the host web server.

After purchasing the “CSS Edit” ability from WordPress.com (about $AUD20 for a year) I’ve added a bit of CSS to call the above script and hey presto, rotating banner image.

In the spirit of release early, release often, I hope to continue modifying this to move it further away from the original design and towards some of the newer plans. In particular, the use of Flickr to host the images.

Webfuse usage statistics – Online assignment submission

Online assignment submission is one of the more used features of Webfuse and is explained in part in a few publications like this one.

Number of students and courses

Year # of Students % of All students # of courses # assignments
2000 1067 5.6% 11 1519
2001 1646 7.5% 18 3915
2002 4005 17.4% 28 13468
2003 3805 16.5% 48 14792
2004 5709 23.3% 65 23273
2005 8134 29.1% 79 26781
2006 7109 25.5% 92 29132
2007 6328 27.3% 97 25317
2008 6571 31.9% 124 24081

Webfuse statistics – Staff Portal

Webfuse provides a “staff portal” called Staff MyCQU. It is essentially a web-based application that provides a single interface to most of the tools/services staff require while teaching a course.

# staff using the staff portal

The following (as yet incomplete) table shows the # of unique staff using the staff portal and the average number of times each staff member accessed the portal in that year and the total number of requests for the year.

Data for some of the years has not yet been added

Year # Users Avg Accesses Total Accesses
2002 207 117 24,202
2003 459 258 118,351
2004 654 283 184,896
2005 807 462 372,545
2006 1142 489.5 558,952
2007
2008 1203 467 562,311

Webfuse usage statistics – Quizzes

As part of my PhD thesis I’ll be generating some statistics about the usage of the Webfuse e-learning system that has been in use at CQU since 1996.

I plan to post those statistics to my blog to share the data but also to encourage discussion and suggestions around the causes and contributing factors behind these statistics. The comments I add will be definitely from my perspective and need to be questioned. My comments will also be very rough, at least until I’ve put all the statistics up on the page and reflected upon them.

First cab off the rank is the Webfuse quiz system.

Number of quizzes and course offerings per year

The following table shows the number of unique quizzes and course offerings that used the Webfuse quiz system per year.

Year # of Quizzes # of Courses
2001 73 34
2002 90 30
2003 104 34
2004 228 51
2005 164 51
2006 165 49
2007 139 41
2008 107 34

Some explanation might include

  • 2004 was the last year I was directly involved with Webfuse. My lack of involvement isn’t all that important but I believe it indicates a time in the organisation when the view was that the days of Webfuse were numbered. Hence academic staff started looking elsewhere.
  • 2004 was also when Blackboard was adopted and by late 2005 most of the bugs had been ironed out.

Number of students

The number of students taking a quiz per year and also the number of students at the University for the year.

Year # of Students
taking quizzes
# CQU Students
2001 3655 22065
2002 4377 23069
2003 4348 23060
2004 6008 24524
2005 6131 27990
2006 3357 27862
2007 2871 23193
2008 2359 20627