Category Archives: design theory

Contradictions in adjectives: You can’t be consistent and optimal

One current challenge is attempting to engage productively with institutional strategic/operational planning. The big challenge in doing so is balancing the perceived importance of institutional level concerns (governance etc) with those of an individual teacher.

As part of this challenge I was reading a document summarising the aims of a rather large institutional project in ICT around learning and teaching. Yesterday I tweeted part of the strategies from that project (it starts with “Ensure the development of”

As my tweet suggests I see some contradictions in the adjectives.

Here’s a story from the dim dark past to illustrate how it’s essentially impossible to have an online student experience that is both consistent and optimal.

You shall not use single quotes!

Back in the mid-1990s CQU was a fairly traditional second generation distance education provider. As such it had a style guide for print-based materials (almost the only sort) that were distributed to students. In large part the aim of the style guide was to provide a consistent learning experience for students. One such element of the style guide was ‘You shall not use single quotes’. “Double quotes” were the only acceptable option.

So, that’s consistent.

Less than optimal

As it happens, in the mid-1990s I was the tutor in the course 85343, Machine Intelligence. The practical application of the concepts in this course were done in the Prolog programming language. Here’s a brief section of Prolog code taken from here. Can you see the problem this is going to cause in terms of consistency?

move(1,X,Y,_) :-
write(‘Move top disk from ‘),
write(X),
write(‘ to ‘),
write(Y),
nl.

That’s write, Prolog code makes use of single quotes. The distance education study material for 85343 included sections of Prolog code. Do you know what the central distance education organisation did?

Obviously, because ‘You shall not use single quotes’ they automatically converted all of the single quotes into double quotes, printed the materials, and sent them out to students.

I don’t know whether the coordinator of the course got to proof the study material before it went out. But he was the Head of School and I’m willing to be if he did, he didn’t even think to check the style of quotes used in the Prolog code.

Consistent can’t be optimal

The lesson (for me at least) is that you can’t be consistent across all the courses in a university, while at the same stage claiming to provide an optimal learning experience for students.

This quote from Dede (2008) picks up on why this is a problem (or you can listen to the man himself)

Educational research strongly suggests that individual learning is as diverse and as complex as bonding, or certainly as eating. Yet theories of learning and philosophies about how to use ICT for instruction tend to treat learning like sleeping, as a simple activity relatively invariant across people, subject areas, and educational objectives. Current, widely used instructional technology applications have less variety in approach than a low-end fast-food restaurant. (p. 58)

And it’s not new

Here’s a quote from Jones (1996) – yep I had a bug in my bonnet about this almost 20 years ago and here I am again

With traditional on-campus teaching academics generally have complete control over what they teach and how it is presented. In CQU’s distance education model the subject matter’s presentation is controlled by DDCE. This results in significant tension between the desire to operate standardised systems for production and distribution of courseware and the desire for course designers to be creative and imaginative (Mark, 1990).

‘It’s like deja vu all over again’

There’s a paper or two here.

References

Dede, C. (2008). Theoretical perspectives influencing the use of information technology in teaching and learning. In J. Voogt & G. Knezek (Eds.), International Handbook of Information Technology in Primary and Secondary Education (pp. 43–62). New York: Springer.

20 Mark, M. The Differentiation of Institutional Structures. Contemporary Issues in American Distance Education, Michael Moore (ed), 1990, pp 30-43

Metaphors and organisational change

Metaphors are useful. They reveal some of the underlying assumptions held by people. For example, this paper (Behrens, 2007) reveals that Information Systems research has a strong bias towards thinking of organisations as if they were machines. A bias that tends to invade most organisational practice. The following picks up on a couple of recent events to examine one of the metaphors commonly used in academia. It argues that this metaphor reveals some problematic assumptions.

Herding cats

The standard trope around academics and change is herding cats. Captured memorably by an EDS commercial

Of course, anyone who knows cats, knows that’s not the way to get cats to do anything.

Update: (26/06/2015) Apparently the Mythbusters have some empirical proof of how difficult this might be. As pointed to by this tweet

Obviously this difficulty was foresee by others, as (end update) is illustrated by a tweet yesterday from @SAlexander_UTS summarising a point made by a senior academic

Even this modification of the herding cats metaphor doesn’t understand that the entire metaphor is based on potentially problematic assumptions. Problematic assumptions that I have observed failing to have any impact on universities for something approaching 20 years.

I’ll focus on three.

That you know where to move the food to

The first assumption is that someone (typically senior management) know where to move the food. i.e. someone knows what is the best strategy, the best practice. This is the assumption that underpinned Mao’s four pests campaign to eliminate rats, flies, mosquitoes and sparrows. The sparrows ate grain meant for the people, so had to go. They were eliminated by (amongst other measures) millions of villagers heading out to bang pots and pans to continually scare sparrows so they would never land and hence die from exhaustion. The campaign was so successful that there was a locust plague.

Apparently, the sparrows also ate insects, including locusts. With most of the sparrows dead, the locusts bred leading to somewhat troubling and unintended consequences.

Change of a complex adaptive system – like a university/organisation – is very very difficult because it’s difficult for a group of people (even if they are super intelligent senior management) to understand all of the consequences of changing where the food is located.

That you can successfully move the food

Be Water Wise

The other assumption underpinning the herding cats metaphor is that you can successfully move the cat food (or herd the cats). i.e. once you’ve identified where to move the cat food to, that you are capable of picking up the cat food and moving it to the new location. At an organisational level this is very hard for any meaningful change.

For example, over the last two days I was attending a planning session for the two schools of education at my current institution (I work in one of those schools). The sessions were held in the dining room of one of the colleges on-campus. The restroom for men at this college provides a wonderful metaphor for just how difficult it is to move the cat food and illustrates what “moving the cat food” typically looks like in most universities.

As the image shows, the door into the restroom had prominently displayed a sticker promoting the idea of being water wise. Someone in the college or broader institution had identified being water wise as a good idea and was trying to herd the cats in that direction.

The only trouble is that when you entered the restroom you soon became aware of running water. As the next image shows it appears that the washer in the basin tap was shot so that tap was continually leaking. No matter how water wise I wanted to be….

Running water

When it comes to “moving the cat food” in universities. It often more closely resembles the distribution of lots of stickers, rather than effectively modifying the environment to achieve the stated goal. So an institution that is keen on Open Educational Resources runs lots of special events and creates websites espousing the benefits of open educational resources. But at the same time retains a default position that the copyright for all teaching materials created by staff remains with the university. If I want to convert my teaching resources into open educational resources, I have to ask the legal office for permission.

That the cats will follow the food

So, assuming that you can

  1. Identify the best destination for the cat food; and,
  2. Successfully move the cat food to that destination.

The assumption is that the cats will follow the food. That they will happily accept your arbitrary decision that they should eat in a new location.

Anyone who knows cats, knows that this isn’t going to work. For example.

If there is a defining characteristic of cats it is that they have a fairly high level of agency. They will decide whether or not the new destination suits. If it doesn’t, they will do something else.

For example, if you design a new standard look and feel for the institutional LMS and it is a step backwards in terms of functionality, then some academics will work around that look and feel.

It’s called task corruption.

Other alternatives

I’m a cat person (I’m also a dog person) and based on my experience there are other alternatives.

Scruff of the neck

You could take a leaf out of the species textbook and grab them by the scruff of the neck and take them where you want. This is an approach that is being taken by some management. However, it still suffers from exactly the same problems as outlined above.

Beyond those problems, it adds the additional problem of changing the relationship between you and any adult cat you try this with. Especially if you try it repeatedly.

Squirting water

If wanted the cat to stop doing the wrong thing, you could always use the squirt bottle approach. Whenever the cat does the wrong thing, you squirt water at or yell loudly or some other form of punishment.

Of course, this actually can only ever prevent the cat from doing the wrong thing, rather than take them to a new place. It also assumes you can identify the “wrong thing” to do.

But worse than that, there is an argument that it doesn’t even work and I quote

The squirt bottle technique only accomplishes three things:
  1. It creates frustration in the cat
  2. It causes the cat to become afraid of you
  3. The cat learns to wait until you aren’t around before engaging in the behavior

Trust

Winter in Toowoomba

This is Tommy (aka Son). He’s my cat/I’m his human. We’ve been together for must be almost 9 years now. Tommy can be the other side of the yard, but if I make a particular noise (and all things being equal) he will generally head my way (at his own speed). He knows that there will be a positive outcome and generally desires that outcome. He trusts me. If something in the environment changes (e.g. visitors) he may not, but in the right circumstances I might be able to get him to surface, but there are limits.

This is another approach you can take with cats. However, it still suffers from the same problems as above. It assumes that I (senior management) know where to go and can successfully get everyone there.

Surprise – let the cat(s) take you where it will

An approach that doesn’t seem to be all that much discussed is to let the cats be cats. Enjoy what they do and what they will give you. Perhaps establish a few routines and the appropriate environment, but the reason anyone owns a cat is because cats surprise and give enjoyment. Letting cats be cats.

Just a bit like organising a children’s birthday party.

What might the 3 levels of organisational culture reveal about university e-learning

I have fulfilled my organisational duty and attended and participated in a 3 hour workshop intended to achieve some level of shared vision within the organisation. As always I remain cynical about likely impact such sessions will have on the organisation and my experience of it. There was, however, some benefit in making me aware of Schein’s three levels of organisational culture (apparently from this book) and summarised in the following table (and more on wikipedia).

Schein's Model.JPG
Schein’s Model” by ShiraraeOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Three levels of culture
(Adapted from Schein, 1992, p. 24)
Level Description
1. Artifacts Visible and feelable structures and processes
Observed behaviour – difficulty to decipher
2. Espoused beliefs and values Ideals, goals, values, aspirations
Ideologies
Rationalisations – may or may not be congruent with behaviour and other artifacts
3. Basic underlying assumptions Unconscious, taken-for-granted beliefs and values – determine behaviour, perception, thought and feeling

An idea is that the artifacts are one avenue for exploring the espoused beliefs and the underlying assumptions that inform the organisational culture.

Hence my question, what do the artifacts associated with organisational e-learning say about the organisational culture of those institutions? What are the espoused beliefs and underlying assumptions that inform that culture? Are there any contradictions?

What follows is a quick application of this to my next task – starting the preparation of my course site for the next semester. This is a simple exercise not an in-depth analysis and certainly informed by the barest of familiarities with a very specific view of culture. But on the face of it, this exercise strikes me as as useful lens. (It would appear that @leahpmac already done some work around “culture and e-learning”. It’s a small world.)

1. Artifact – Standard course design

The artifact I need to deal with is the new look and feel for the institutional LMS. This means that every course will not only look the same, there are some expectations about what is expected to be on the course site. For my course, this means it will look something like the following

Home page

Everything at the top of the page and in the left hand column is part of the new, standardised look and feel. Everything under the “Welcome to EDC3100: ICT and Pedagogy” heading is what was copied over from the last offering of the course. Hence the “Right now:” message suggestion the course has ended. The following is what the 2014 course site looked like.

edc3100 2014

Broadly speaking the changes involved in this project were

  • Changes in the branding/look and feel.
  • More moved into the reduced banner.
    Explicit mention of the time at USQ, notifications, my courses, useful links, course administration etc moved into the banner which takes up just a bit less vertical space. These look like good moves, but the breadcrumbs continue to include the unnecessary listing of the faculty to which the course belongs. Don’t think the students care about the faculty and it takes up a fair bit of space.
  • The removal of any ability to have a right hand column.
    Only two columns, not three now.
  • AN “expand all/collapse all” option for the main content area.
    I assume this is an attempt to address the scroll of death problem with Moodle. Wonder how much of this is implemented with standard Moodle and how much local customisation?

  • The addition of highly visible menu as the first element in the left hand column.
    These appear to be divided up into two broad categories of items

    1. Links to existing Moodle features (Forums, Resources, Calendar, Participants); or,
      As the labels suggest, these all point to equivalent Moodle functionality. e.g. Forums links to the Moodle service that lists all forums etc.
    2. institutionally specific pages that are semi-integrated with institutional data sources (Study Schedule, Teaching Team, Assessment).
      The basic model for these pages is to know about institutionally specific information such as the dates associated with weeks of semester, due dates for assignments, and the staff teaching into the course. Such information is drawn from institutional databases and combined with some capability to use the Moodle HTML editor to add additional text. For example, the study schedule will fill the date for a Week 1 and teaching staff can manually edit information such as the name of the module for that week.

2. Espoused beliefs and values

As expressed in the support resources, the rationale for this new look and feel include

  • similar experience;
    The desire that students have a similar experience regardless of the course.
  • findability.
    That students are able to find the information they need easily.

The support video for the assessment tab also proposes that the assessment tab “will be very useful for your students”.

3. Assumptions

Obviously I do not know what assumptions these beliefs are based upon, but the following perhaps are not a million miles away

  • Consistency is generally a good thing for learning.
    Given the institutional strategic plan putting some significant weight to personalisation, creativity and innovation, having everything the same doesn’t seem appropriate. Insights from research around learning, teaching, and educational technology would seem to support that. e.g. some of the points from Chris Dede (Harvard Professor of Education) mentioned in this post.
  • A consistent look and feel will make information more findable.
    Wikipedia suggests that findability involves a bit more than just user interface design. Especially when the user interface design is only really helping users locate very specific bits of information. i.e. The new look and feel does make it easy for students to find the forums, assessment, study schedule, and teaching team for a course. Good. But what about the content included in the resources? More on this below in “What about the resources”.

    In short, if findability is a concern, install a search engine!

  • That it’s possible to have a consistent look and feel across the diversity of courses in an institution.
    The new look and feel does have some features that allow for flexibility. Even though this does raise questions about the consistency espoused belief. If no information is entered for assessment or study schedule the students won’t see those options in the menu. In addition, the study schedule page provides some flexibility in terms of how many columns form the study schedule and the column titles. Allowing individual courses to substitute in the language they use.
    However, there’s a limit to how far this goes. More on this below in “Grouping the weeks”.

An assumption that appears to underpin this new look and feel is that the focus is student centered. The aim is to enhance the student experience. Now that’s a good aim, perhaps the best aim. But the follow on assumption in this case is that teaching staff aren’t capable of using the online environment to enhance the student experience and that the institution needs to do something.

From 1997 through 2004 I helped design, implement and support one approach to an institution doing something about this.
Since then I’ve made the argument for this. However, there are two important points missing from the “new look and feel” at my current institution, they are

  1. the ability to opt out; and
    There will always be academics who can and wish to create their own course sites. The approach provided the opportunity for academics to do this.
  2. an adopter-focused and emergent development approach to the new look and feel.
    i.e. it’s not sufficient for a project team to design the new look and feel and roll it out. There will be inevitably problems with the look and feel and there will be some really good ideas about how to enhance it that emerge from on-going use. How students and staff are using the new look and feel needs to be closely watched and those insights used to continually develop the new look and feel to solve problems and enhance it.

The absence of these points from the new look and feel suggest that there is an underlying assumption that there is nothing to be learned from the teaching staff and their experience. It’s a prime example of the “do it to” and perhaps “do it for” paths and an apparent avoidance of the “do it with” path (Beer et al, 2014).

Interestingly, I’ve just found the following slide on Flickr that purports to represent Schein’s cognitive transformation model for analysing organisational cultures. I’m guessing this was the basis for the consultant/facilitator. What I find particularly relevant to the specific decision is the circle around the outside labelled “organisation iteratively adapts” which I see as resonating with the adopter-focused and emergent development approach mentioned above.

3 Levels of Organization Culture (Schein by MizzD, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  MizzD 

What are the limitations of the new look and feel?

The following explores the dissonances that exist between the new look and feel and the approach I use in my course.


What about the resources?

The following image is a partial screen shot of the “Resources” page for my course.

Resources

This partially illustrates that my course is designed so that each week contains a learning path. A collection of activities and resources that all students are expected to work through. The “resources” page only shows the resources, but at least it does show you that there are quite a few Moodle books amongst those resources.

A Moodle book is essentially a collection of web pages. The Moodle books are used to structure student learning around a task or some related concept. For example, the first book in Week 1 is titled “Setting up” and is designed to help the students set up Diigo, their blog and Twitter. The next book explains the first required learning task for the course – introducing themselves.

Each book is typically at least 3 or 4 web pages long. A quick visual count reveals almost 50 separate Moodle books in the learning paths. Some can cover some important concepts. Concepts that the students will wish to revisit later in the semester. In particular, some books give advice about assessment. It’s not unusual for students to ask “Where did we talk about *insert topic*“.

Nothing in the new look and feel will help students find this information.

A search engine would.

It would be nice not to have to implement this kludge again to enable the search.

Duplication and confusion

It would be interesting to find out the thinking behind promoting the “Resources” link into the menu for the new look and feel. I assume the aim (in line with the espoused beliefs above) is to make it easier for students to find the resources and that this is important for learning.

However, I wonder if it’s going to create some duplication/confusion, especially given the design of my course.

The image above shows part of the resources view for my course site, including most of the initial resources for Week 1. The following image shows the learning path for week 1.

Week1

The resources page offers essentially the same view as the learning path, but it misses two components. First, it doesn’t include the activities (e.g. the discussion forums “Share you introduction” and “Where you fill in the blanks” are missing). Second, the headings are missing. These are used to group the resources and activities into meaningful groups.

The presence of the resources link doesn’t appear to add any value to students and appears likely to create some confusion.


Grouping the weeks

Adding a study schedule page is potentially a useful addition. Something that isn’t present on may sites. Some students may find this useful. That’s the reason why I’ve had a study schedule in my course site since I started.

Take a look at the “Course content” box in the middle of the page below. Do you see the link “study schedule”?

Home page

The following image shows part of the study schedule I’ve created. A problem I have is that there are some features of this study schedule that the new look and feel won’t support

  1. grouping weeks by modules;
    In the following, Module 2 includes weeks 4, 5 and 6. The new look and feel doesn’t support this grouping. This is problematic because the course is designed to have four modules and it’s a good thing that the study schedule clearly shows these modules.
  2. assignments as separate rows; and
    The submission date for assignment 2 is quite clearly shown in the study schedule by an entire row of a different colour. The new look and feel’s schedule embeds this as part of the a cell in the week’s row.

Not major problems, but illustrations of how a consistent approach to course design breaks down when it meets the design decisions made by individual teachers. If those design decisions are bad, there may not be a problem. But what if those design decisions are valid? Is it appropriate that those design decisions should be thrown our and the course revert to the norm?

studySchedule

Limited assessment information

Just under “Study Schedule” in the “Course Content” box above you will see a link labelled “Assessment”. i.e. my course site already provide a range of information about course assessment. This is again a case of the new look and feel duplicating what I already do, and doing so in a way that loses functionality.

The new look and feel assessment page does have some advantages. For example, it allows you to create cohort specific assessment information that is only seen by that cohort. The trouble is that I don’t do that in my course. So no value for me.

The new look and feel’s approach to assessment creates a single page for assessment. Everything about assessment for a course on a single page. This is a problem as the following shows.

Assessment

Can you see the “Table of Contents” heading in the left-hand menu? That’s the start of the list of information I provide on Assessment. It includes the following

  • Assessment (1 and a bit pages long)
    Overview of course assessment, due dates, percentage etc. What you see in the above image.
  • How to request an extension (almost 2 pages long)
    Some FAQs about extensions and details of how to ask.
  • Learning Journal (almost 3 pages long)
    The learning journal is a core part of the learning design (and assessment) of the course. It’s new to students, this section offers an explanation of the learning journal.
  • Problems with the learning journal (about 2 pages long)
    FAQs about the learning journal, particular common problems.
  • Assignment 1 (3 and a bit pages)
    Detailed description of assignment including submission process and the rubrics.
  • Assignment 1 Questions and Answers Video (less than page)
    A video/screen cast answering FAQs about assignment 1.
  • How to submit assignment 1 (less than a page)
    Another video showing how to submit the assignment.
  • Assignment 2 (about 3 pages)
    Detailed description of assignment including submission process and the rubrics.
  • Assignment 3 (about 4 pages)
    Detailed description of assignment including submission process and the rubrics.
  • But I’m not going on Professional Experience? (a page and a bit)
    Assignment 3 is linked to professional experience. In some circumstances students aren’t going on Professional Experience. Describes what those students do.
  • How to query the marking (a page)
    Describes the process students should use to query the marking of their assignments.

That’s a total of about 22 pages (as you might see the new look and feel uses a larger font and white space) of information that under the new look and feel would appear to have to go onto a single page. Horrendous for me to create and worse for students to actually find and use any information.

With the above I use the Moodle book plugin to create and manage this collection of information. The Moodle book plugin also provides a nice way for students to print this information. Either the entire book or selected “chapters”. This “nice way” includes removing all of the additional web interface elements.

The new look and feel does attempt to implement something like this “nice way”, however, it’s a generic web approach that leads to overlapping of real content with basic web navigation (at least on my Mac).


Problems with Moodle books

Exploring the difference with assessment has revealed some additional problems around the use of Moodle books and the new look and feel. The following image is that Assessment overview page in the old course site as it would be seen by students.

Old Assessment

In the above image, look for the following components

  1. Table of contents; and
    This is in the top left hand corner. It’s the ToC for the Assessment book and shows all of the components. It aids findability. Students can see all of the chapters in the book.
  2. Book administration.
    This is in the bottom right hand corner. It has two important links: “Print book” and “Print this chapter”. These are the links that allow students to print versions of the book/chapters with just the content (the middle column).

Now, look below. This is the same assessment book in the new look and feel. What do you notice about the “Table of Contents” and the “Book administration” components?

Assessment

The two problems that I see are

  1. Table of contents is partially below the fold; and
    Due to the new look and feel’s use of a larger font, more whitespace, a single column on the left-hand side, and retaining the standard menu at the top of the left-hand menu the Table of Contents for the book gets pushed down. So that large parts of it aren’t visible.
    I should note that I have a large monitor and keep my browser windows open in a longer format than most. There will be some students for whom the Table of Contents will not be visible.
  2. There is no “book adminsitration” component.
    Actually, there is. It just doesn’t appear in the image above and I’ve only just know found where it is located after a concerted effort to find it. i.e. I knew it had to be there, so I went looking. The following image shows the “Forums” page in the new look and feel. IN the black bar at the top of the page you should be able to see “Forum administration”. When viewing a Moodle book this is where “Book administration” will appear.

DiscussionForum

What do I need to do?

Based on the above, here’s a list of questions to answer

  1. Can I change the study schedule and assessment links to my existing approaches?
    Happy to stay with the menu and the new look and feel, but would prefer that the menu link to the relevant Moodle books.
  2. Can I remove the resources link?
    I don’t think it adds any value in my course and is potentially going to cause confusion. So can I remove it.
    Question: I wonder whether the organisation has done any analysis of student usage of the course sites over Semester 3 (when they’ve been using the new look and feel)?
  3. Can I implement a macro/API system to insert USQ information?
    The one really useful addition to the new look and feel is the integration with USQ systems to pull information (e.g. dates for each week, assignment due dates etc). The problem is that this functionality is only available within the assessment and study schedule features from the new look and feel. As above, I don’t want to use these.
    However, it would be really useful if there were a combination API and course site wide macro facility that would allow me to enter something like the following in the HTML for my course

    Assignment 1 due: <div class="assignment_1_due_date" course="edc3100" offering="2015_1"></div>

    and have it automagically replaced with the appropriate due date.

    The API is a step too far, but some kludges with javascript might make the macro possible.

  4. How best to explain to students how to best use Moodle books in the new look and feel?
  5. What can and might I do around providing a search engine for the course site?
    I feel this may be a step too far for this year.

If I am to be a good organisational citizen, then in answering the above questions I should be raising these questions through the formal support mechanisms and waiting for them to identify whether these are possible and allowed. (I fear that the latter is more likely to be the real problem).

Of course, there are also the possibility that some of the above can be implemented through a bit of bricolage.

Lessons from Schein’s 3 level of organisational culture?

Arguably I’ve established above that organisational culture contains strong assumptions about consistency equating to findability. That it is possible to employ a consistent approach across all courses in an entire university. I think I’ve established from the above that there are problems with these assumptions. I also think that I’ve illustrated that the new look and feel is (or at least appears to be) suffering from the absence of on-going iterative development. i.e. it’s not learning from itself.

In the workshop a slide was handed around that showed artifacts, espoused beliefs, and assumptions as three vertically arranged boxes (typical Powerpoint). Between assumptions and espoused beliefs, and espoused beliefs and artifacts, there were two arrows, each pointing from one box to the other. The suggestion being that assumptions influence espoused beliefs and espoused beliefs influence assumptions. Similarly for artifacts.

As we’ve argued in this paper, I believe that the organisation works on the assumption that its digital artifacts – such as the new look and feel – are established. i.e. they can’t be changed by anyone very easily and certainly not be anyone who hasn’t been approved via the appropriate governance structure. Hence the arrow suggesting that anything should be changing the artifact is somewhat attenuated when it comes to digital artifacts in enterprises.

However, as we’ve argued in another paper digital technologies are protean. They are flexible and changeable. Some more so than others. For example, phone apps are hard to change unless you’re the developer. But the web environment is definitely protean. Suggesting that the ability to change the artifact is possible from cultures that don’t hold the assumptions or espoused beliefs of the dominant organisational culture.

Of course, the problem is making changes to artifacts set up with the assumption that they are established. Can be harder than you think.

Random #fedwikihappening ramblings

The Christmas break is over. It’s the start of a new week and I’ve completed some holiday tasks (complete a run through of Dragon Age Inquisition, watch the final series of The Newsroom, and upgrade the family computers to Yosemite). Time to start engaging with #fedwikihappening and trying to make sense of how it connects with other work I’m doing.

The new routine

The new routine around SFW goes something like

  1. Log into my SFW.
  2. Join the neighbourhood(s) I’m interested in .
    Currently this is limited to the #fedwikihappening folk. Over time the hope would be that this diversifies and in some cases specialises. Finding, forming and contributing to the right neighbourhoods would seem a key success factor for on-going use of SFW. And this is perhaps also one of the major hurdles. More on this below.
  3. Load up the recent changes.
    Having joined the right neighbourhood, the recent changes list reflects what’s been going on. Time to catch up on what folk have been doing.

One challenge for SFW

The issue with creating the right neighbourhoods in part comes down to the difficulty of people understanding what is different and potentially beneficial about SFW. Maha Bali identifies a large part of that in this blog post

I’ve written a lot about how I would love to make cMOOCs more understandable to other people, and that I think it might not be possible unless they actually experience them…(5 barriers listed)…But how do you encourage people to experience them, given how much of a mindset-shift that would entail? And the time investment and change in your work process it would require in order for it to work out well for you enough that you relax and enjoy it instead of stress over it or worse, drop out completely?

While describing the difficulty around understanding cMOOCs, I see this applying to SFW as well.

During my last ramble into the #fedwikihappening neighbourhood I came across a couple of related articles: Experiencing Imposter Syndrome and Incremental Caging. I came across these articles just as I was thinking about Pattern Entrainment. Incremental caging in turn reminded me of adaptive stretch.

These two patterns are fairly large members of the set of patterns that make up my schema. These are factors I see all the time contributing to the limitations of institutional e-learning. Factors that aren’t limited to teaching staff. Institutional leaders and support staff – both from central L&T, but also central IT – suffer from the same problems.

These are also factors I see in my teaching (helping pre- and in-service teachers think about how ICT can help in their teaching/learning). Factors which appear to require the solution Maha suggests – “people to experience”. This is why my courses tend to focus on creating/encouraging learners to gain experience with new technologies and the pedagogies that they enable. But even this isn’t always sufficient. As the experience can fail to break the existing schema and instead is understood through those existing schema.

Adding my new site to the neighbourhood

I’m still not listed on the happening folks page. Time to fix that. This was one of those little tasks that didn’t work the first time and I couldn’t immediately see what I was missing. Until I was reading through this post titled “Using Federated Wiki in the Classroom: Getting Started” from @holden. The trick was to use the “icon” for the page as the thing you drag. Combine that with opening my profile page with shift-click to get it to appear at the end of the list of pages, and bob’s your uncle.

There are some other interesting points in Mike’s post around the experience of using SFW in a class. I can’t help comparing some of this to my experience with BIM and individual student blogs. Some quick observations/comments

  • The difference size creates.
    I’m using BIM in a class of 300+. Mike’s current experience is in a class of 20. I think the order of magnitude difference in numbers makes a significant difference in workload/issues. e.g. manually setting up the class circle. Something I currently do by creating OPML files.
  • Roll your own class circle
    SFW allows students to create their own circle. With my course the same outcome is achieved through a combination of feeds/feedreaders and WordPress’ follow feature. I do have a feeling that more students use the follow feature than feeds. That might be interesting to explore.
  • Tracking recent changes
    The recent pages approach works with 20 students, but would it work with 300. This is not something I’ve done well with BIM/blogs. A challenge I’d like to set myself this year to improve.
  • Different metaphors
    At some stage a blog post has to be published. It is complete. SFW, as Mike notes, is more a personal journal that allows for incomplete contributions.
  • The “twins” approach to compare students’ work is something very different.

SFW as a pattern language

patterns in elearning

Back when I was reading about idea mining I had a vague sense of deja vu. This was quickly resolved as I explored some of SFW space and came across articles like Positive Outdoor Space. Ahh, design patterns and pattern languages. Confirmed by discovering articles such as Pattern language and the connection Ward Cunningham (originator of SFW) has with design patterns.

As this 1999 paper suggests, I have a lot of time for the design pattern idea. The paper even proposed a process for enhancing e-learning based around design patterns, constructive patterns and pattern mining (the ugly, obviously 1990s image to the right). A colleague and I started working on that, but nothing ever came of it. Ten years later I reflected on that experience in this blog post and proposed three reasons why design patterns didn’t work in our context (the obvious other reason is that we weren’t very good at doing this).

One point that doesn’t come out strongly in that old post is the difficulty of abstraction. Pattern mining/writing requires some significant capability with abstraction. Both to identify a practical problem/solution and abstract that into a general pattern, but also to simply grasp the value of pattern languages in the first place. This is demonstrated in the observation that the object-oriented programming (OOP) community adopted the concept of design patterns much more readily than architects (the design pattern idea was developed by an architect). Really good OOP folk are very good at abstraction.

I’m not sure that the broader community has this capability. This can be seen somewhat in the early struggles some of the #fedwikihappening folk had with idea mining, not to mention questioning whether something is lost by this approach

The third place for e-learning – gathering ideas

One of the vague applications I’m considering for SFW is in term of gathering ideas for papers/frameworks. I have a tendency to create frameworks – e.g. the BAD mindset – in my attempt to understand the world. I’m after a way to group together resources and ideas that fit within those frameworks. A page on Third Place is the spark for this. This resonates with some vague ideas I’m having around the BAD mindset. So how to do this?

First attempt

  • Create the BAD mindset page
    Will borrow various bits from the paper.
    Was going to do this all on one page, but I don’t think that fits with the SFW way and I can see it reducing reusability. So time to move it out into separate pages for Bricolage, Affordances, Distribution.
  • Add to each of those pages a brief definition and a “See also” section into which I can copy references to related pages.

Creating all those separate pages and ensuring some consistency requires a bit a work. But the hope is that this “framework” will help in the future as there will be “slots” into which useful resources can be added.

Could go on for a lot longer, but will bring this to a close for now.

FedWiki 7, 8 and 9 – Moving, catching up and engaging

Thanks to the good folk of @reclaimhosting I know have a FedWiki working as part of my own domain – http://fedwiki.djon.es/. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the move creates two problems

  1. A small loss of data.
    In setting up the new fedwiki there was a need to copy over the old one. However, just after that copy (of which I was clueless due to ignoring email) I got inspired and added something. Not a big problem, but something to explore how I might remedy this within the fedwiki model.
  2. Re-connecting with the neighbourhood.
    With a new home, I have to explore how best to reconnect with the #fedwikihappening neighbourhood.

Beyond those, I just have to catch up and delve a bit deeper.

Recovering the lost data?

A brainstorm whilst laying in bed on Sunday morning led to the creation of this page on ideas for future papers and the creation of the first paper idea page. Nothing earth-shaking in either and I could perhaps just re-create them manually on my new FedWiki. But I want to see if there’s a more “fedwiki way” of doing this.

One approach is the one I stumbled across earlier

  1. Visit the page and get the URL – http://djones.federatedwiki.org/view/welcome-visitors/view/paper-ideas
  2. Construct a new URL that combines aspects of that URL with my new FedWiki site.
    The format is my fedwiki’s “home page” http://fedwiki.djon.es/view/welcome-visitors/ followed by the page slug for the paper ideas page. The page slug is the

    Which gives
    http://fedwiki.djon.es/view/welcome-visitors/djones.federatedwiki.org/paper-ideas

  3. Visit that URL
  4. Fork the page to my new fed wiki
  5. Visit the first paper idea and fork that page.

Done.

Updating your icon

Have been replying to this comment on an earlier post and have noticed folk have figured out how to change the icon used to indicate forking etc.

Happening Folks and fancy icons

Will have to figure out/come across how to do that in this session. Documented toward the end of this blog post. Requires access to the file system and using that to replace an icon.

Question: Do I have this access? Probably not. Would rely on @reclaimhosting having installed a single FedWiki instance within the file system I have access to, not likely.

But the neighbourhood to the rescue. Alex North has shared an interesting kludge that I should be able to replicate. Here’s the process

  1. Find a new icon.
    Possibly the step I’ll have the most trouble with. Hate taking/choosing selfies. Will stick with my Twitter profile image. Not the best representation, but hopefully distinctive.
  2. Convert to PNG and right size.
    Seashore on the MAC to the rescue.
  3. Find the values for a PUT request using Chrome.
  4. Use curl to make the change.

Problem: Would have liked to copy and paste the curl comment from Alex’s wiki page, but SFW supports drag and drop. Trying to drag the mouse over the page moves the paragraph, it doesn’t allow you to select. Would have to be a work around for that.

So the command is the following. Appears to be leveraging SFW’s reliance on JSON to communicate to send it the new icon. This is a great example of the BAD mindset – a bit of bricolage leveraging the affordance of technology and relying on distribution.

curl -X "POST" "http://fedwiki.djon.es/favicon.png&quot; -H "Cookie: YOUR_COOKIE" -H "Content-type: application/json" -d "{\"image:\": \"`base64 < ~/Desktop/flag.png`\"}"

Sadly I’m getting a 403 response. Verbose output of curl seems to suggest that the cookie is accepted. Appears that the server is saying “can’t do that”. Perhaps something with the way my server has been configured. The icon is at the expected location, perhaps the ownership on the image file is such it can’t be over-written?

Oh well, no great loss. Bugger it, lets annoy the reclaim hosting folk and see if they can help remedy this.

Time to try again.

So, first problem is user error. Missed a vital point through existing schema/expectations.

Not getting the 403 error anymore, moving onto a 500 Internal Server Error. Reporting as a type error.

On the plus side, @reclaimhosting have come to the rescue. The version of SFW they are using to provide me with my bit of fedwiki space has its own space on github. By which I can gain access to the “file system” of my wiki and replace the icon (via a pull request). All done. Great example of the BAD mindset. Have to blog about this separately.

And my new icon is showing up other places in FedWiki space.

Catching up with the neighbourhood

Was going to leave a comment on Alex’s page sharing the 403 problem, but that raises a question about my profile page and the moving of my SFW. If I use the practice of starting my comment with [[David Jones]] is it going to point to my old profile?

Actually, it appears to have worked. i.e. pointing to the new site. But is this because I’m logged in as me and [[David Jones]] points at the new site? What if I view these pages via the old site?

Yep, looks like it does connect back to the old site. Bugger.

Enough time thinking about the technology and implications of the move, time to engage in the neighbourhood. Of course, the wrong profile link has the potential to limit neighbourhood connections.

Ahh, others have linked to the concrete lounge article, which of course points to the old site. *sigh*

Perhaps if I just fork the page with the new server and perhaps modify the new concrete lounge article to point to it? It’s now a few days later, this seems to be working but can’t be sure.

It’s now Boxing Day and enjoying the traditional (for some) Australian past-time of watching the Boxing Day test match and doing a bit of catch up.

Started with creating an initial article on pattern entrainment and related articles on adaptive stretch and psychological dissonance. The latter articles sparked by articles from others on incremental caging and impostor syndrome.

More later.

FedWiki Daily #6 – Mining, fracking and exploring the process

And onto daily #6 of #fedwikihappening. I’m hoping this will start explore what the process might be around using fedwiki in my day-to-day thinking. To that end, I’m planning to

  1. Read and do a bit more idea mining.
  2. Explore how to catch up on what’s happening in fedwiki space via fedwiki (and not Twitter).
  3. Follow the paths that have been created by my neighbourhood.

Reading

Lots of things I need to read, but I came across Klemm (2002) today while marking an assignment. The points cited made it sound interesting and potentially relevant to #fedwikihappening and then I read the abstract

Conversation is central to human interaction. The usual way to conduct asynchronous “conversations” over the Internet is to post e-mail messages on an electronic bulletin board, with messages organized by topic. However, such environments do not allow us to exploit the richness of conversation theory for effective collaboration. This presentation will review key elements of conversation theory and describe our collaboration experiences with Forum MATRIX, a software application that runs in a Web browser and allows users to share and edit multi-media documents, plus make in-context links and notes

This is where Idea Mining (and perhaps fed wiki) bumps up against my normal approach for sharing what I read. Idea mining is focused on producing a short nugget summarising a particular idea. When I normally share what I read, it’s a summary of the whole paper (e.g. this one) not of an idea.

Sadly the paper didn’t delivery what I’d expected/hoped. See my standard summary if interested.

Running out of time, so perhaps straight onto catching up. Engaging is probably a more beneficial practice right now anyway

Catching up

Recent Changes

Connect to my fedwiki and away we go.

Interesting to watch the neighbourhood “icons” change as navigating from page to page. Notice also the indication that there is a “newer” version of the concrete lounge page. Appears @timklapdor has forked it and added a comment.

That’s one way to see changes, I wonder what the recent changes shows? A collection of changes, appears that @timklapdor has been busy and that he’s the only other person showing up on my recent changes. Suggesting he’s the only one in my neighbourhood? Perhaps because his is the only fedwiki I’ve forked pages from? We’ll see how that changes as I engage more.

Have been out to buy a Xmas present. In my absence my neighbourhood has grown. The list of “icons”/chicklets along the bottom has grown significantly. It appears there needed to be some time for all the connections to catch up. Suggesting that I needed to be connected to my fedwiki for this to happen. i.e. it didn’t happen overnight when I’m guessing much of this happened.

Which suggests that if I revisit my recent changes page, it should be significantly expanded. The image to the right success!

Now to catch up/find the good stuff and build.

Idea fracking

Idea fracking got a call out, so let’s start there. It appears idea fracking is almost an anti-pattern or in opposition to idea mining (not quite). But some of the origins of idea fracking arises from how ideas spread and one of the comments picks up on this “idea spreading”. Strikes me as two separate discussions, perhaps calling for two separate pages.

Do I add this as a comment? Do I do this by forking and adding, or can I edit the page directly as suggested in some of the other discussions going on? Does the video for daily #6 – which covers commenting – answer this? Not really.

Apparently @holden has a problem with comments. Comments are a way of avoiding fixing documents.

Which brings me to the other way of commenting, simply make the change and see what others thing/do. If others don’t like my change, can they remove it? Well, not from my copy, but they could from their own.

As I’m still getting used to fedwiki and still finding my way within the #fedwikihappening community, I’m loathe to take on the task of fixing the document, rather than commenting. Time’s also a factor.

I’ll leave idea fracking there and move on. Will be interesting to see how things evolve.

Reverse creativity, that scene in jaws and emergent development

Reading through this sequence of pages (it’s rather cool how with a single URL I can share the navigation sequence I used to get to this) ends with a comment apparently from Alan Levine (though he’s not using @holden’s recommended format, so I could be wrong about the identity. The point is the comment talks about software development experiences that aren’t driven by requirements and plans. This links to a topic near and dear to my heart – teleological versus ateleological processes.

Time to write an article, or at least to self-plagiarise. So

  1. Add a comment and link to the currently empty pages.
  2. Start writing the pages.
    Fedwiki doesn’t appear to like borders on tables.
    Oops, orange halo of death. Login. Ahh, have a lost stuff? No. Local changes has the stuff. Good. ANd here comes the neighbourhood back again.
  3. Think about whether there needs to be a broader process types page
    Added that article

Looking good

I’m starting to get a feel for fedwiki and am liking what I am experiencing. I could see how the type of community and process it supports could be valuable. Some questions

  1. How will it scale?
    The neighbourhood idea should help, but I wonder if it can become overwhelming.
  2. Can it scale?
    Is it too much of a change for folk to handle?
  3. Can I keep up?
    Haven’t had the time to engage more fully with the process. But keep in the cMOOC advice in mind, you don’t have to do/see it all.

References

Klemm, W. (2002). Software issues for applying conversation theory for effective collaboration via the Internet. Proceedings of the 2002 International Conference. Retrieved December 19, 2014, from http://www.cvm.tamu.edu/wklemm/Files/ConversationTheory.pdf