Mapping the digital practices of teacher educators: Implications for teacher education in changing digital landscapes

The following slides are for a (award winning no less) paper presented at SITE’2016 titled Mapping the digital practices of teacher educators: Implications for teacher education in changing digital landscapes.


The CSCW view of Knowledge Management

Earlier this week I attended a session given by the research ethics folk at my institution. One of the observations was that they’d run training sessions but almost no-one came. I’ve heard similar observations from L&T folk, librarians, and just about anyone else aiming to help academics develop new skills. Especially when people spend time and effort developing yet another you beaut website or booklet that provides everything one would want to know about a topic. There’s also the broader trope developing about academics/teachers being digitally illiterate, which I’m increasingly seeing as unhelpful and perhaps even damaging.

Hence my interest when I stumbled across Ackerman et al (2013) a paper titled “Sharing knowledge and expertise: The CSCW View” with the abstract

Knowledge Management (KM) is a diffuse and controversial term, which has been used by a large number of research disciplines. CSCW, over the last 20 years, has taken a critical stance towards most of these approaches, and instead, CSCW shifted the focus towards a practice-based perspective. This paper surveys CSCW researchers’ viewpoints on what has become called ‘knowledge sharing’ and ‘expertise sharing’. These are based in an understanding of the social contexts of knowledge work and practices, as well as in an emphasis on communication among knowledgeable humans. The paper provides a summary and overview of the two strands of knowledge and expertise sharing in CSCW, which, froman analytical standpoint, roughly represent ‘generations’ of research: an ‘object-centric’ and a ‘people-centric’ view.We also survey the challenges and opportunities ahead.

What follows are a summary and some thoughts on the paper.

Thoughts? Possibilities?

The paper’s useful in that it appears to give a good overview of the work from CSCW on this topic. Relevant to some of the problem being faced around digital learning.

All this is especially interesting to me due to my interest in exploring the design and impact of distributed means of sharing knowledge about digital learning

Look at Cabitza and Simone (2012) – two levels of information, and affording mechanisms – as informing design. Their work on knowledge artifacts (Cabitza et al, 2008) might also be interesting.

Brown and Duguid’s (2000) Network of Practice is a better fit for what I’m thinking here.

CSCW has a tendency to precede development with ethnographic studies.

Learning object repositories?

Given the fairly scathing findings re: the idea of repositories, what does this say about current University practices around learning object repositories?

Is digitally illiterate a bad place to start?

The “sharing expertise” approach would appear to assume that the people you’re trying to help have knowledge to share. Labeling teachers as digitally illiterate would appear to mean you couldn’t even conceptualise this as a possibility. Is this a core problem here?

The shift from system to individual practice

At some level the shift in the CSCW work illustrates a shift from focusing on IT systems to a focus on individual practices. The V&R mapping process illustrates some of this.

Context and embedding is important

Findings reinforce the contextual and situated nature of knowledge (is that a bias from the assumptions of these researchers?). Does this explain many of the problems currently being faced? i.e. what’s being done at the moment is neither contextual nor situated? Would addressing this improve outcomes?


A topic dealt with by different research communities (Information Systems, CSCL, Computer Science) each with their particular focus and limitations. e.g. CS has developed interesting algorithms but “Empirical explroations into the practice of knowledge-intense work have been typically lacking in this discourse” (p. 532).

The CSCW strength has been “to have explore the relationship between innovative computational artifacts and knowledge work – from a micro-perspective” (p. 532)

Uses two different terms that “connote CSCW’s spin on the problem” i.e.

that knowledge is situated in people and in location, and that the social is an essential part of using any knowledge…far more useful systems can be developed if they are grounded in an analysis of work practices and do not ignore the social aspects of knowledge sharing. (p. 532)

  1. Knowledge sharing – knowledge is externalised so that it can be captured/manipulated/shared by technology.
  2. Expertise sharing – where the capability/expertise to do work is “based on discussions among knowledgeable actors and less significantly supported by a priori externalizations”

Speak of generations of knowledge management

  1. Repository models of information and knowledge.
    Ignoring the social nature of knowledge, focused on externalising knowledge.
  2. Sharing expertise
    Tying communication among people into knowledge work. Either through identifying how best to “find” who has the knowledge or on creating online communities to allow people to share their knowledge. – expertise finders, recommenders, and collaborative help systems.
    Work later scaled to Internet size systems and communities – collectives, inter-organisational networks etc.

Repository model

started with attempts “to build vast repositories of what they knew” (p. 533).

it should be noted that CSCW never really accepted that this model would work in practice (p. 534)…Reducing the richness of collective memory to specific information artifacts was utopian (p. 537)

Findings from various CSCW repository studies

  • Standard issues with repository systems

    particularly difficulty with motivating users to author and organize the material and to maintain the information and its navigation

  • Context is important.

    Some systems tackled the problem of context by trying to channel people to expertise that was as local as possible based on the assumption that “people nearby an asker would know more about local context and might be better at explaining than might experts”.

    Other research found “difficulties of reuse and the organisation of the information into repositories over time, especially when context changed…showed that no organisational memory per se existed; the perfect repository was a myth” (p. 534)

  • Need to embed.

    such a memory could be constructed and used, but the researchers also found they needed to embed both the system and the information in both practice and in the organizational context

  • situated and social.

    CSCWin general has assumed that understanding situated use was critical to producing useful, and usable, systems (Suchman 1987;Suchman and Wynn 1984) and that usability and usefulness are social and collaborative in nature (p. 537)

  • deviations seen as useful

    Exceptions in organizational activities, instead of being assumed to be deviations from correct procedures, were held to be ‘normal’ in organizational life (Suchman 1983) and to be examined for what they said about organizational activity, including information handling (Randall et al. 2007;Schmidt 1999) (p. 537)

  • issues in social creation, use, and reuse of information.

    • issues of motivation,
      Getting information is hard. Aligning reward structures a constant problem. The idea of capturing all knowledge clashed with a range of factors, especially in competitive organisational settings.
    • context in reuse,
      “processes of decontextualisation and recontextualisation loomed over the repository model” (p. 538). “This is difficult to achieve, and even harder to achieve for complex problems” (p. 539).
    • assessments of reliability and authoritativeness,
      de/recontextualisation is social/situated. Information is assessed based on: expertise of the author, reliability, authoritativeness, quality, understandability, the provisional/final nature of he information, obsolescense and completeness, is it officialy vetted?
    • organizational politics, maintenance, and
      “knowledge sharing has politics” (p. 539). Who is and can author/change information impacts use. Categories/meta data of/about data has politics.
    • reification
      “repository systems promote an objectified view of knowledge” (p. 540)

Repository work has since been commercialised.

Some of this work is being re-examined/done due to new methods: machine learning and crowd-sourcing.

Boundary objects – “critical to knowledge sharing. Because of their plasticity of meaning boundary objects serve as translation mechanisms for ideas, viewpoints, and values across otherwise difficult to traverse social boundaries. Boundary objects are bridges between different communities of practice (Wenger 1998) or social worlds (Strauss 1993).” (p. 541)

“information objects that have meaning on both sides of an intra-organisational or inter-organisational boundary”.

CSCW tended to focus on “tractable information processing objects” (p. 542) – forms etc. – easier to implement but “over-emphasis on boundary objects as material artifact, which can limit the analytical power that boundary objects bring to understanding negotiation and mediation in routine work”

Example – T-Matrix – supporting production of a tire and innovation.

Cabitz and Simone (2012) identify two levels of information

  1. awareness promoting information – current state of the activity
  2. knowledge evoking information – triggering previously acquired knowledge or triggering/supporting learning and innovation

Also suggest “affording mechanisms”

Other terms

  1. “boundary negotiating” objects
    Less structured ideas of boundary objects suggested
  2. knowledge artifacts – from Cabitza et al (2013)

    a physical, i.e., material but not necessarily tangible, inscribed artifact that is collaboratively created, maintained and used to support knowledge- oriented social processes (among which knowledge creation and exploita- tion, collaborative problem solving and decision making) within or across communities of practice…. (p. 35)

    These are inherently local, remain open for modification. Can stimulate socialisation and internalisation of knowledge.

common information spaces – common central archive (repository?) used by distributed folk. Open and malleable by nature. A repository is closed/finalised, CIS isn’t. Various work to make the distinction – e.g. degrees of distribution; kinds of articulation work and artifacts required, the means of communication , and the differences in frames of participant reference.

Various points made as to the usefulness of this abstraction.


  • Assembly – “denote an organised collection of information objects”
  • Assemblages – “would include the surrounding practices and culture around an object or collection” (p. 545)

How assemblies are put together and their impacts is of interest.

Sharing expertise

Emphasis on interpersonal communications over externalisation in IT artifacts. “ascribed a more crucial role to the practices of individuals” (p. 547). A focus on sharing tacit knowledge – including contextual knowledge.

tacit/explicit – Nonaka’s mistake – explicit mention of the misinterpretation of Polanyi’s idea of tacit knowledge. The mistaken assumption/focus was on making tacit knowledge explicit. When Polanyi used tacit to describe knowledge that was very hard, if not impossible to make explicit.

Tacit knowledge can be learned only through common experiences, and therefore, contact with others, in some form, is required for full use of the information. (p. 547)

Community of practice “roughly be defined as a group that works toegher in a certain domain and whose members share a common practice”.

Network of practice (from Brown and Duguid, 2000) – members do not necessarily work together, but work on similar issues in a similar way.

Community of Interest – defined by common interests, not common practice. Diversity is a source of creativity and innovation.

I like this critique of the evolution of use of CoP

Intrinsically based in their view of ‘tacit knowledge,’ the Knowledge Management community appropriated CoP in an interventionist manner. CoPs were to be cultivated or even created (Wenger et al. 2002), and they became fashionable as ‘the killer application for knowledge management practitioners’ (Su andWilensky 2011, p. 10) with supposedly beneficial effects on knowledge exchange within groups. (p. 547)

CSCW didn’t use CoPs in an interventionist way – instead as an analytical lens.

Social capital – from Bourdieu – “refers to the collective abilities derived from social networks”. Views sharing “in the relational and empathic dimension of social networks” (p. 548).

Nahapiet and Ghoshal (1998) suggest it consists of 3 dimensions

  1. Structural opportunity (‘who’ shares and ‘how’);
    Which is where the technical enters the picture.
  2. Cognitive ability (‘what’ is shared);
  3. Relational motivation (‘why’ and ‘when’ people engage)

Latter 2 dimensions not often considered by system designers.

The sharing approach places emphasis on “finding-out” work. Where knowledge is found by knowing/asking others and in finding the source, de-contextualising and then re-contextualising. Often involves “local knowledge” – which tends to have an emergent nature. What’s important is only known in the situation at hand and who holds it evolves within a concrete situation.

People finding and expertise location

Move from focusing on representations of data to the interactions between people – trying to produce and modify them. Tackling technical, organisational and social issues simultaneously.

Techniques include: information retrival, network analysis, topics of interest, expertise determination.

Profile construction can be contentious – privacy, identification of expertise. Especially given “big data” approaches to analysing and identification.

Expertise finding’s 3 stages: identification, selection, escalation.

Need to promote awareness of individual expertise and their availability – “based in ‘seeing’ others’ activities” (p. 551)

“people prefer others with whom they share a social connection to complete strangers” (p. 553) – no surprise there – but people known directly weren’t chosen as they were deemed not likely to have any greater expertise. Often people who were 2 or 3 degrees of separation away.

Profiles also found by one study to be often out of date. Explored “peripheral awareness” as a solution.

Open issues

  • Development of personal profiles.
  • Privacy and control.
  • Accuracy.

Finding others Lot of work outside CSCW.

CoI in the form of web Q&A communities have arising on the Internet. With research that has studied question classification, answer quality, user satisfaction, motivation and reputation.


  • more money = more answers, but not necessarily better quality.
  • charitable contributions increased credibility of answers “in a nuanced way”?
  • Altruism and reputation building two important motivations

Recent research looking at “social Q&A” – how people use social media to answer – two lines of research (echoing above)

  1. social analysis of existing systems;
    Looking at: impact of tie strength on answer quality, org setting, response rates when asking strangers – especially with quick, non-personal answers, community size and contact rate.
  2. technical development of new systems

Future directions

Interconnected practices: expertise infrastructures

Increasing inter-connectedness

  • may cause “experts” to become anonymous.
  • propel new types of interactions via micro-activities – microtasking environments make it easy/convenient to help
  • Collaboratively constructed information spaces – wikipedia – numerous papers examiner how it was constructed, including work looking more broadly at Wikis
  • Other research looked at github, mozilla bug reports etc.
  • And work looking at social media, microblogging etc and its use.


Ackerman, M. S., Dachtera, J., Pipek, V., & Wulf, V. (2013). Sharing Knowledge and Expertise: The CSCW View of Knowledge Management. Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW), 22(4-6), 531–573. doi:10.1007/s10606-013-9192-8

Technology required by teachers to customise technology-enhanced units

This is the 2nd post (first here) looking at Instructional Science 43(2) on the topic of “Teachers as designers of technology enhanced learning”. This post looks at Matuk et al (2015)

In summary

  1. The claim is that the ability for teachers to customise is positive for learning.

    Teachers’ involvement in curriculum design is essential for sustaining the relevance of technology-enhanced learning materials. Customizing – making small adjustments to tailor given materials to particular situations and settings – is one design activity in which busy teachers can feasibly engage. Research indicates that customizations based in evidence from student work lead to improved learning outcomes (p. 229)

  2. Customisations by a four middle/high school teachers are examined to see how these customisations were afforded
  3. Identified 3 4 types of customisations (the abstract says 3 and then proceeds to list these 4)
    • “devising timely instructional interventions to provide individualised guidance”
    • “planning activities and adjusting milestones to align with students’ progress”
    • “modifying existing materials to better integrate content into overall curriculum plans”
    • incorporating scaffolds to better address students’ needs
  4. Identified 3 technology features that support customisations
    • A system that logs student work for teachers’ inspection;
    • tools for conducting dynamic, formative assessment; and,
    • an authoring environment that supports re-design of units at multiple levels of granularity

In this paper, we argue that teachers’ effectiveness in customizing TEL materials also relies on the affordances of the tools available to them, particularly in their ability to make students’ ideas visible (p. 232)

Preliminary design principles “for flexibly adaptive curriculum materials based on the premise of making student work visible as evidence to inform teachers’ customizations” (p. 250)

  1. Provide an interface for browsing logged responses;
    i.e. display responses and revisions “and give teachers a persistent record of their students’ thinking”.
  2. Integrate scaffolds that make student thinking explicit;
    i.e. make students’ thinking processes visible to teachers to enable formative advice. Strong link here with learning process analytics (Lockyer et al, 2013)
  3. Provide technologies to monitor real-time progress;
  4. Offer flexible, accessible authoring tools that support testing and refinement.

Challenges for future technologies: a research and design agenda

  1. How do we design interfaces and real-time displays that make students’ logged data both accessible to, and usable by teachers?
  2. How can we make the underlying instructional framework transparent such that the curriculum materials themselves guide teachers’ customizations?
  3. How can authoring tools be designed that both take advantage of teachers’ expertise and respect their time?

Some of the findings echo some of the ideas from learning analytics, but more directly from a teacher perspective.


  1. The participants and context for this study was fairly limited. What types of customisations and features to support customisations might be identified by examining the work of other teachers in other contexts. Especially contexts that make significantly greater use of digital technologies (e.g. largely online university courses)?
  2. This paper appears to focus on teacher’s redesigning technology-enhanced “curriculum materials”, almost a content focus. What differences do you have to consider if you see digital technology as part of the learning space? As the environment in which learning occurs, not just the curriculum?
  3. The idea of educative curriculum materials – “curriculum materials with an additional tools and resources to aid teachers in attending to changing classroom dynamics, reflecting on their practices, and seeking new approaches to solving problems” (p. 233) – resonates with the idea of Context Appropriate Scaffolding Assemblages (CASA) including the idea of a CASA that allows course designers (teacher educators) to annotate their digital learning spaces (course sites) with explanations and rationalisations behind the designs. Perhaps something useful for other teacher educators, but also for pre-service teachers (links to an idea that @palbion has previously mentioned).
  4. How does this papers purpose/context

    existing research establishes that technology can support teachers’ customizations. It also characterizes broad categories of the kinds of customizations teachers make. Still, little is known about the specific ways by which technology enables customizations, especially those based in students’ ideas.

    link and inform the purpose/context of the paper(s) we’re thinking of?
    Links somewhat back to questions #1 and #2. A different context and a broader notion of digital technologies. Also perhaps a focus more on the type of digital knowledge required of teachers. “Affordance” as in “affordance of a technology for customisation” is a relational term. It’s dependent on the functionality of the technology and the teachers capability to perceive and perform tasks with that functionality.

  5. The technology-enhance units being customised here can be customised “without the need for programming skills” (p. 234). Might not this limit the type of customisations that teachers can undertake? Might not teachers with programming skills want to make different customisations and thus require different affordances from the systems? The customisations identified in this paper are very dependent on the nature of the system and the affordances it offered. Would a more open system combined with a teacher with programming skills identified more and different customisations/technology features?
    Something that the authors identify later

    Our findings raise questions for future research about how teachers’ different prior knowledge of their students and of the subject matter, their individual skills with tech- nology, and their personal orientations toward their roles as teachers and designers, influence their interpretations and responses to their students’ work. They also raise questions about how these interactions are manifested in teachers’ customizations. (p. 250)

  6. Is this observation

    A recent review of 30 technology-based inquiry-learning environments identified only eight, including WISE, that support teachers’ customizations (Donnelly et al. 2014) (pp. 234-235)

    indicative of a broader problem around digital technologies? i.e. they are generally not designed to be modified by teachers. There’s an aspect of that around the LMS, what about more broadly? How does this fit in with various perspectives about the (de-)professionalisation of teachers?

It’s all about putting the context back in

Reading the 4 types of customisation that were identified puts me in mind of the reusability paradox described as the tension between these two observations

  • “The more context a learning object has, the more (and the more easily) a learner can learn from it.”
  • “To make learning objects maximally reusable, learning objects should contain as little context as possible.”

And my current pet argument that the mindset underpinning the design and implementation of digital technologies for learning and teaching has a (strong) tendency to remove context and hence reduce pedagogical value.


What strikes me about the four customisations is that they are all about modifying the “technology-enhanced units” to insert more context. e.g. providing individual guidance, align with students’ progress, better integrate content into overall curriculum plans, and better address needs. All these talk about teachers modifying the “technology” to better respond to context.

Which resonates strongly with Shulman’s (1987) suggestion that

the key to distinguishing the knowledge base of teaching lies at the intersection of content and pedagogy, in the capacity of a teacher to transform the content knowledge he or she possesses into forms that are pedagogically powerful and yet adaptive to the variations in ability and background presented by the students (p. 15)

And also picks up a quote from this paper

The relationship between teachers and curriculum has been characterized as one between designers and their tools (Brown 2009). In designing curriculum, teachers combine available materials with their own knowledge and expertise to craft instructional experi- ences (Brown and Edelson 2003). (p. 232)

Animated gif of reusability paradox showing a trend to putting more context into the object



The authors argue that

materials that yield to teachers’ modifications better respond to the classroom’s changing needs, constraints, and resources…research finds that teachers who attend to students’ ideas design more effective instruction and formative feedback (Black and Wiliam 2010) (p. 230)

But the various constraints of the classroom setting mean that

their customization decisions tend to be driven by issues of practicality and feasibility (Boschman et al. 2014) rather than by evidence from students’ ideas

Reasons why materials are changed and how are outlined with some supporting references. Labelled as curriculum customizations (Brown and Edelson, 2003). Largely guided by experience, practicalities etc.

Customisation may be a process of differentiation leading to learning gains. “This process demands a degree of expertise” (p. 231). “Customisations based in students ideas have been shown to lead to improved learning outcomes (Ruiz-Primo and Furtak, 2007)…,em>how teachers understand their students’ thinking also influences the kinds of customizations they make” (p. 232)

The role of technology in supporting customisation

The relationship between teachers and curriculum has been characterized as one between designers and their tools (Brown 2009)…Thus, by understanding how teachers use tools to aid their practice, we can further define their facilitating roles. (p. 232)

Apparently Schwartz et al (1999) make a point related to the need to provide flexibly adaptive materials that can support teacher customisation without losing integrity. Which brings up the interesting point

because whereas teachers’ adaptations of materials to local conditions can sometimes lead to improved student learning, it is also possible that they deviate from the intended value of the innovation (p. 232)

TEL materials and afford/guide customisations. Many examples of TEL curriculum material that have done this. Also mentions educative curriculum materials as materials with additional tools and resources – e.g. annotations on documents viewable by a teacher that offers suggestions for implementation and described the rationale behind these designs.

The context

Case studies arise from use of the Web-based Inquiry Science Environment a system used by 9900+ teachers, 80,000+ students, and with 8,000 different customised WISE units (at the time of writing). Up to date statistics are available from the web site

Essentially appears to be a collection of established units in the form of web pages, animations etc supported by various functions (e.g. concept maps). It does have an authoring environment that “allows users to copy and modify existing units without the need for programming skills” (p. 234).

This is interesting

A recent review of 30 technology-based inquiry-learning environments identified only eight, including WISE, that support teachers’ customizations (Donnelly et al. 2014) (pp. 234-235)

Cases of customisation and the role of technology

Much detailed description. Explaining how and why the four teachers customised the WISE units in response to their students. Shows the origins of the four types of customisation.


Teachers used different tools based on a range of factors:

students’ differing needs; the conceptual and linguistic challenges most prominent in teachers’ regard; teachers’ own instructional goals; and teachers’ orientations toward technology, pedagogy and their roles as designers with respect to the curriculum materials (p. 248)

There was variability in modes of customisation – variability in level of digital changes

These differences in customization mode might be explained by teachers’ familiarity with, and orientations toward technology; as well as to the support available for using that technology (Inan and Lowther 2009; Koehler and Mishra 2008; Zhao et al. 2002)….If teachers did indeed vary in their facilities and familiarities with technology, then with consistent amounts of training, their customization strategies would come to more closely resemble one another. But another explanation for teachers’ differences is their perceptions of themselves as designers (Cviko et al. 2013) and as research participants in curriculum development projects such as WISE. (p. 249)

The last point is perhaps interesting.

How can technologies offload the effort involved in giving individualised guidance?

“logistic constraints of the classroom can limit what teachers can do” (p. 253) Mainly talks about automation as the tactic. Fairly limited discussion and something a lot of machine intelligence guys are working on.


Lockyer, L., Heathcote, E., & Dawson, S. (2013). Informing Pedagogical Action: Aligning Learning Analytics With Learning Design. American Behavioral Scientist, 57(10), 1439–1459. doi:10.1177/0002764213479367

Matuk, C. F., Linn, M. C., & Eylon, B.-S. (2015). Technology to support teachers using evidence from student work to customize technology-enhanced inquiry units. Instructional Science, 43, 229–257. doi:10.1007/s11251-014-9338-1

Shulman, L. (1987). Knowledge and teaching: Foundations of the new reform. Harvard Educational Review, 57(1), 1–21. Retrieved from

Teachers as designers of technology enhance learning?

Some colleagues and I are starting to wonder about what type of “digital knowledge” teachers might need. This is occurring in the context of a re-design of a Bachelor of Education. This particular post is a summary of reading and thinking about ideas outlined in Kirschner (2015) and related writings. Apparently Instructional Science 43(2) feature contributions discussing “teacher as a design professional”.

In particular, the idea of

if and how teachers as designers of technology enhanced learning might (not) be feasible or even desirable (p. 309)

Some of the major points Kirschner (2015) makes include

  1. Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) is not new. Teachers have been using technologies to enhance learning since movable type and the blackboard (and perhaps earlier).

    But the question here is whether or not digital technologies represent a different type of technology. e.g. Kay’s (1984) identification of the computer as the first metamedium and also “the important original idea of opening tool creation to every user – even children” (Wardrip-Fruin & Montfort, 2003, p. 391) suggest that digital technologies can/should be very different from the historical technologies that Kirschner relies upon.

    Be this as it may, the five contributions have not convinced me that TEL is different from all other innovations and/or why it should be treated as such. (p. 318)

    I’m wondering if this perceived lack of distinction between digital technologies and other technologies is the important question here. If digital technologies are just like other technologies, then learning how to use them is sufficient. But if digital technologies are different, then perhaps just learning how to use them is not sufficient.

  2. Higher level competencies are more important/fundamental than knowledge of tools, techniques, and technologies.
    I’m not convinced you can develop these higher level competencies without having knowledge and experience using the tools, techniques, and technologies that are contemporary to your initial entry into the profession (whatever profession).

There’s more in this special issue that might be of interest.

Role of design

Kirschner (2015) continues

Both practicing professionals and institutions for teacher education must understand and embrace the role of design in professional com- petencies if technology enhanced learning is ever to be fully integrated into teaching and learning processes (p. 309)

Begging the question, What is meant by design?

Teacher competencies

Kirschner & Davis (2003) apparently identify “pedagogical benchmarks for ICT in teacher education” and argued that

as long as institutions for teacher education see the computer or ICT as an addition to teacher training and not as something fundamental to it, the computer would never become an integral well-used part of the teaching/learning process. (Kirschner, 2015, p. 310)

Suggesting that for this to happen, the teacher educators who design and teach into teacher education programs need to see ICT as integral to the teaching/learning process. i.e. at the very least they should seem themselves as digital residents.

i.e. pre-service teachers don’t take courses in “teacher aided, textbook aided, or whiteboard aided instruction/learning”. There is a need to learn about the different ways these tools can be integrated into learning, but the point is not as a separate course.

Should ICT be special and be taught in special courses? In a perfect world, perhaps not. As all of the teacher educators would be digital residents and easily demonstrating how ICT is integral to learning and teaching. But is this happening?

Kirschner uses “teacher competencies” to answer. Teacher competencies are defined as

combination of complex cognitive and higher- order skills, highly integrated knowledge structures, interpersonal and social skills, and attitudes and values (Van Merrienboer & Kirschner, 2012, p.2)

The suggestion is that “Many professionals, be they academic or vocational, have five basic competencies” (Kirschner, 2015, p. 310)

  1. Gathering necessary background/situational information;
  2. Analysing that information and arriving at a diagnoses for/decision as to a course of action;
  3. Determining exactly what needs to be done/what steps need to be taken;
  4. Carrying out the chosen actions; and,
  5. Evaluating whether the result of the actions was what was hoped for or expected, and if not, returning to #1.

I do wonder what the argument is for establishing this as the 5 basic competencies? Not that I necessarily disagree, but why these 5?

A connection is made to medical doctors and the point is made that

the basic competences do not really change, but rather the enabling/underlying knowledge, skills, and attitudes do. (p. 311).

For a teacher these changes include

a wealth of new and/or different domain specific knowledge, pedagogic knowledge and pedagogic content knowledge that is increasingly evidence informed….now includes new pedagogical techniques and mastery of newly available technologies. And attitudes of society, learners, parents/guardians are changing, even concerning the role and function of knowledge, learning and even formal education (p. 311)

Kirschner (2015) suggests that “the design of TEL is not a new competence that needs to be acquired, but is rather the twenty first century equivalent of twentieth century phenomena” (p. 311). The connection is made with the AECT and its origins in the use of audio-visual technologies. The faddish nature of technology is illustrated and the suggestion is that teacher training needs to focus on training that can be applied/transferred across a variety of contexts over an unlimited time span.


  1. There’s an assumption here that such knowledge/training is or can be currently known, can be meaningfully taught to students, and will maintain it’s currency into the future and into different contexts. Is there such knowledge?
  2. Or do the five competencies above represent the ability to learn and adapt and thus form that only knowledge that can be applied/transferred?
  3. How does this perspective go when faced with the reality of politics etc, especially those participants who believe that there is the “one true” method for learning and the “one true” set of knowledge to be imparted on learners?

Relationship between competencies and tools, techniques and ingredients

Can this higher level and transferable set of competencies be successfully imparted to novices, people who have yet to experience a range of contexts?

Kirschner (2015) argues

from the viewpoint of teacher competences, there is really no need for specific attention to TEL. TEL is an artefact of the times, and is essentially the educational equivalent of part of the expert chef’s arsenal of tools, techniques and ingredients.

Granted my knowledge of chef training is limited to the media, but the abiding image I have of the film Julie and Julia is of lots of practice chopping onions.

This image – reinforced by just about every other popular representation of chefs – is that a first step in becoming a chef is developing the immediate capabilities required to operate within a professional kitchen. The first step in learning to be a chef is not learning generic high level competencies. You first have to become expert in the “aresenal of tools, techniques and ingredients” so you can start to develop and apply the high level competencies to become a truly creative chef.

This echoes my observations of the difficulties faced in first year programming courses. Courses where problems arose when the expert programmer/academic assumed novice programmers should start by learning the fundamentals of program design (very similar to Kirschner’s 5 competencies) without having to worry about the low level of skills of basic programming language syntax.

Kirschner (2015) positions the “modern day expert teacher” as a “top-chef who integrates different educational ingredients according to effective, efficient and enjoyable pedagogic/educational techniques making use of different tools and technologies afforded at this moment” (pp 312-313).

The problem is that you can’t be a top chef unless you are intimately familiar with the ingredients, tools and techniques.

Which is perhaps capture by this quote from Van den Dool and Kirschner (2003, p. 176)Teachers need to integrate ICT competence into their core teaching competences and the educational system must integrate it into the heart of learning and teaching. What really counts at the end of the day is if teachers and learners feel that ICT tools are a ‘normal’ part of their competences and not an add-on, either in a positive or negative sense.

What is this digital competence?

My original annotation on this quote from February this year was

Yes, but given we don’t yet have a good handle on how to effectively do this an dmost teachers aren’t, isn’t it necessary that they learn how .

What is this “ICT competence” that he talks of? What is it’s nature? Is it just being a tool user? Is it being a digital renovator? How can teacher educators – many of whom haven’t “integrated ICT competence into the core teaching competences” make judgements about what is ICT competence?

How can educational systems that have failed to integrate ICT “into the heart of learning and teaching” make judgements about what is/isn’t required?

Ecology of Education

Uses CSCL and “New learning” as examples of approaches that lost their way.

e.g. CSCL focused too much on the technology, then the nature of collaboration, without paying enough attention to the type of learning. Not sure that any form of separation – computer vs collaboration vs learning – is an appropriate way. It’s about a mixture of all three to create something new.

New learning posed new approaches and was intended to complement, rather than replace, older approaches. But the bandwagon took over. That happens.

The “ecology of education” is defined as the exchanges and affordances between learners, teachers, and the digital tools, virtual environments, and physical spaces. As an ecosystem it is both

  1. a system; and,

    i.e. “a complex whole made up of elements that work together as parts of an interconnecting network” (p. 314)

  2. systemic.

    Change any part and the change will ripple through the entire system.

And this ecosystem extends out more broadly into its surrounding educational system – government policy, political parties, commercial companies etc…

The proposal is that

if research into teachers as designers of TEL is to have eco- logical validity, it must be undertaken in ways that accommodate the ecology of education, attending to its systems and systemic nature

It’s this systems and systemic nature that causes challenges such as

Teachers typically have little time, limited expertise and rarely any formal endorsement for their design efforts

They don’t readily have access to “their own work space or ‘down time’ during the day to maintain and increase the profesionalism”.


developments towards decentralized structures require teachers to be more involved in curriculum design (e.g. Dinham 2005); research, which shows that teacher customization of materials can enhance student learning (Gerard et al. 2010); and practice, where the mismatch between existing resources and needs of specific learners/settings requires that teachers design to improve alignment (McLoughlin 2001). (p. 314)

Comments on special issue contributions

Kirschner (2015) now goes onto look at the other contributions.

McKenny et al (2015) critique includes

  • Can current teachers really develop the identified knowledge?
  • Are teachers actually reflective practitioners?

Cover et al (2015) – importance of teacher participation in design

  • Doubts about generalisability from two case studies.
  • Is participation a worthwhile goal in itself?
  • What about the student?

Matuk et al (2015) – “added value of teachers’ re-design of curriculum materials via small, systematic adjustments” – identifying 4 types of customisations and three technology features that support customisation

  • Limited use of student voice.
  • Subjective nature of the data, analysis etc.

Voogt et al (2015) – teacher participation in design teams provide professional development.

  • focus on teacher design at the lesson/course level, rather than curriculum level
  • move beyond adaptation and look at shared design and construction

Svihla et al (2015) identify patterns of support for teacher designing

  • limitations of research design make findings a less than surprising.

Overall, results are “soft” due to reliance on small-scale case studies with varied methods and tools.

Discussions and conclusions

In commenting on the research framework proposed by McKenney et al (2015) it’s seen as potentially limited because it is based on “existing literature” and thus may not be comprehensive.

And this

Teachers are designers— of all learning, including TEL. Research in this area is important, but the TaD (of TEL) field is still young and needs to be more clearly placed in the broader ecology of education; that is, should not be compartmentalized as something different and fragmented in the field’s approach to it. (p. 320)


Kirschner, P. a. (2015). Do we need teachers as designers of technology enhanced learning? Instructional Science, 43(2), 309–322. doi:10.1007/s11251-015-9346-9

Wardrip-Fruin, N., & Montfort, N. (Eds.). (2003). The New Media Reader. Cambridge: The MIT Press.

What type of “digital knowledge” does a teacher need?

Apparently teacher education has a technology knowledge problem.

The 2015 Horizon Report for K-12 lists as it’s second “Solvable Challenge” (defined as “Those that we understand and know how to solve”) the problem of “Integrating Technology in Teacher Education“.

It includes statements such as

Teacher training still does not acknowledge the fact that digital media literacy continues its rise in importance as a key skill in every discipline and profession….training in the digital-supported teaching methods is still too uncommon in teacher education and in the preparation of teachers….the most important finding is that the level of a teacher’s digital competence directly correlates with students’ learning outcomes when technology is used

Given that teacher education typically happens within higher education a mention should also be given to the 2014 Horizon Report for Higher Education that identified as its number 1 “Solvable Challenge” that “Low digital fluency of faculty” and has some obvious connections

Faculty training still does not acknowledge the fact that digital media literacy continues its rise in importance as a key skill in every discipline and profession…training in the supporting skills and techniques is rare in teacher education and non-existent in the preparation of faculty

The 2015 Horizon Report for Higher Education picks up this theme with “Improving Digital Literacy” as its number 2 “Solvable Challenge” and amongst other statements includes the following

Lack of consensus on what comprises digital literacy is impeding many colleges and universities from formulating adequate policies and programs that address this challenge.

This is the problem the following tries to engage with.

Aside: The Horizon Reports organise problems into three categories: solvable, difficult (“those we understand but for which solutions are elusive”), and wicked (“those that are complex to even define, much less address”). I have some significant reservations about the categorisation of these types of problems as solvable. If these problems are solvable, why is it that there is still a “lack of consensus on what comprises digital literacy”? Let alone examples of institutions that have successfully solved this problem?

Our problem

I work in teacher education. I teach pre-service teachers a course titled “ICT and Pedagogy”. At the moment, my colleagues and I are engaged in the process of re-designing our 4-year Bachelor’s program in Education. It would seem an appropriate time to address the above “significant challenges”.

Different types of “digital knowledge” and “digital knower”

The literature is overflowing with labels and ideas about how to identify the type of “digital knowledge” and “digital knowers” that we’re trying to develop. It involves labels such as: digital native/digital immigrant; digital resident/digital visitor/digital tourist; digital literacy; digital fluency; multiliteracies; and, computational thinking.

Fragile by bb_matt, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License   by  bb_matt 

As the 2015 Horizon Report suggests, there is an apparent “lack of consensus on what comprises digital literacy”. It goes on further to suggest (emphasis added)

definitions are broad and ambiguous. Compounding this issue is the notion that digital literacy encompasses skills that differ for educators and learners, as teaching with technology is inherently different from learning with it.

Personally, I tend to see the influence of Maslow’s Hammer. People from a literacy background approach the question of the type of knowledge required in terms of communication and representation. Limiting what you can do with digital technologies to multimodal presentations. People from a coding background see computational thinking as the core. Librarians see digital literacies as involving the ability to “find, evaluate, create, and communicate information”.

Beyond that you have people who may not exactly live and breath in the new digital world making pronouncements on the importance or otherwise of various aspects of digital knowledge. For example, a recent review of the Australian Curriculum contained some reservations about the proposed “digital technologies” learning area that generated this response from one professional association. Not to mention some recent comments from the Australian Prime Minister.

Initial thoughts on coding in schools

Of course, there are also people who are engaged with the digital world who are questioning the value of coding to school children. For example, Bron Stuckey is left with two big questions around teaching coding in schools

Where should coding be positioned in the already overcrowded curriculum? And bottom line, where do we get the teachers with the knowledge and passion to teach it?

Rather than get drawn into the debate about whether students should be taught coding in school, the focus here is on what type of digital knowledge should teachers have in order to effectively teach?

A metaphoric typology of place and tool

Back in 2011 I asked “Residents and visitors, are builders the forgotten category?”. A question sparked by thinking about the Visitors and Residents typology proposed by White & Cornu (2011) (I paper I need to read again) for “individuals’ engagement with the web”. As a teacher who regularly used coding to enable the design of learning experiences, I wondered whether “builders” should be added. In a comment @palbion wondered whether there was a place for “renovator/handyman/DIY enthusiast”.

The aim here is to see if expanding the visitor/resident typology offers any value in understanding the breadth of “digital knowledge” and in turn identifying whether or not that offers any assistance in thinking about the type of “digital knowledge” that would be required and useful for a teacher. Especially if that teacher engages primarily in a digital learning space.

What follows is an initial attempt at expanding the White & Cornu (2011) visitor/resident typology. It has flaws, not the least of which is whether the “roles” added to this typology are defined in ways that fit with White & Cornu’s original thinking. In particular, their comments on “technical aptitude”

we do not consider the Visitor to be necessarily any less technically adept than the Resident. The concept of ‘technical’ aptitude should be viewed as more than simply an ability to manipulate hardware and software.

There are also questions to ask about whether these roles are distinct. Can you be a resident and not a decorator? Can you be a decorator and either a visitor or resident? And many more.

And importantly I’ll echo White and Cornu’s (2011) sentiment that this “typology should be understood as a continuum”.

Excluded visitor

There remain people who are disconnected or excluded from participation in digital spaces, especially online digital spaces. While the proportion is reducing there will remain people who are excluded visitors.

A potentially troubling factor in this is the balakanisation of the Internet, which apparently also goes under the name of the splinternet. Increasingly “online spaces” are not freely open spaces where anyone can wander through. The online spaces used by many formal educational institutions have boundaries which exclude people. Some times the people that are excluded were once residents.

We already have this at Universities with the LMS. @timklapdor inspired the following from @s_palm

And it’s not just the LMS. There’s Elke’s comment about what she misses most about studying at University “Access to all of those journal articles!”.


White & Cornu (2011) define visitors as being those that

understand the Web as akin to an untidy garden tool shed. They have defined a goal or task and go into the shed to select an appropriate tool which they use to attain their goal. Task over, the tool is returned to the shed. It may not have been perfect for the task, but they are happy to make do so long as some progress is made. This is important, since Visitors need to see some concrete benefit resulting from their use of the platform. Significantly, Visitors are unlikely to have any form of persistent profile online which projects their identity into the digital space.

When it comes to institutional learning and teaching tools such as the LMS, can anyone ever be more than a visitor? Is it simply a place to visit, complete a task, and then exit? Is this part of the problem facing digital learning?


White & Cornu (2011) describe residents as those that

see the Web as a place, perhaps like a park or a building in which there are clusters of friends and colleagues whom they can approach and with whom they can share information about their life and work. A proportion of their lives is actually lived out online where the distinction between online and off–line is increasingly blurred. Residents are happy to go online simply to spend time with others and they are likely to consider that they ‘belong’ to a community which is located in the virtual. They have a profile in social networking platforms such as Facebook or Twitter and are comfortable expressing their persona in these online spaces. To Residents, the Web is a place to express opinions, a place in which relationships can be formed and extended.

Can you be a resident in a LMS? How does owning the space impact your sense of residency and ownership of that space? Should everyone own their own space, their own personal cyberinfrastructure (and this)?


Decorators might be seen as residents that wish to extend their sense of belonging to/project more of their identity into a digital space by decorating that space. You can change the colour scheme, re-arrange the furniture, hang art on the wall, and put up new curtains.

The ability to decorate a space is more than simply having the knowledge to do so.

First, you need to have the permission and right to do this. You probably can’t decorate a public space. If you’re renting a space, the rental agreement probably limits what decoration you can undertake (no nails in the wall).

Concrete Lounge

Second, the space needs to offer the affordances necessary for decoration. For example, you’re probably not going to be able to re-located the concrete seating in the image to the right.

Does the amount of decoration (e.g. customising their profile) someone performs in an LMS give an indication of their sense of belonging to the space? Does it say anything about the perceived affordances of that space?

An example of decoration as a teacher might include what I’ve done with my digital course learning space. Thanks to the institution’s standard look and feel it looks like the following. Including, pre-defined locations for all the furniture. e.g. the “Assessment” furniture is all located in a specific location (URL) and the “Assessment” item in the left-hand menu is the hall way to that institutionally defined location.

And that location sucks. As a space it provides far less than what I’d like to provide. So I redecorated.

I used jQuery to change where the “Assessment” item in the left-hand menu pointed to. It now points to a much more useful space for Assessment.



In the words of @hapgood, the concept of a digital renovator

captures that idea – no one is just a resident of the digital world. We co-create the digital environment with others. We evolve with the environment in a never-ending cycle

And perhaps extends this co-creation beyond just using Facebook to share content or customising our Twitter home page to actually making changes to the environment. White & Cornu (2011) talk about both digital visitors and residents as using “‘tools’ such as online banking and shopping systems”, but the distinction they make is that residents “also use the Web to maintain and develop a digital identity”. A digital renovator may well be a tool user and maintain a digital identity, but they also use tools to significantly change the digital space.

An example of this would be @palbion’s creation of a Greasemonkey script to add functionality to the Moodle assignment submission activity. In particular, to enable the comparison of results from different markers. A script

that runs over Firefox works on the Moodle assignment system page that lists submissions. It extracts names of markers and marks awarded and calculates means and standard deviations of marks overall and for each marker. It then formats those statistics in a table and injects that into the page.

A digital renovator is quite happy to put up a new set of shelves, knock down a wall, revamp the kitchen, and generally make changes to the digital space so that it better suits their purpose.

(Owner) Builder

The distinction between digital renovator and digital builder may become increasingly blurred. It’s a distinction that might be made based on at least two different criteria:

  1. the complexity or novelty of what’s being built; or,
    Tweaking an existing space (e.g. @palbion’s Greasemonkey script above) is renovation, where as building is constructing a new space. This is perhaps a more meaningless distinction in the digital world where everything is linked.
  2. who they are building for.
    This is where the idea of “owner builder” might be a better metaphor for teachers and learners in a digital space. They “own” the space but are adding something significant to it for their own purposes. Where as a builder is arguably a professional employed to construct spaces that will be utilised by others.

The type of work that @cogdog does with ds106 and elsewhere is probably the best example of a “teacher” builder. Though a builder who largely works outside the staid digital spaces of formal education.

Which is the space my “builder” work tends to occur. The main example is perhaps building the BIM module for Moodle that I use in my own teaching.

Considerations and limitations

What follows are a few extra considerations/limtations around this typology.

The problem with typologies

White and Cornu (2011) mention a number of disadvantages with typologies

disadvantages focus principally on the inflexibility of types, as well as the tendency to box individuals into one type or another, overlooking contradictory evidence. Theories of learning styles favour typologies of this sort, as do certain theories of human development, and many struggle to allow individuals the space simultaneously to exhibit traits characteristic of different types.

But they also point out that there are also advantages

benefits are that these categories allow others to use this new knowledge to augment the learning experience

Avoid the teacher deficit model

Another problems with the above typology and the question that framed this whole post – What “digital knowledge” does a teacher need? – is that it appears to suggest that the whatever deficit of knowledge exists, it is a deficit on the part of the teacher. It’s the teacher that is lacking the necessary knowledge. That this is the problem to fix, and that this is obviously done by training them more and better.

This is a very limited view of knowledge. As suggested by various types of distributive views of knowledge (e.g. Jones, Heffernan and Albion (2015)), knowledge isn’t just within the head. It arises from the networks of people, tools, processes, policies etc. surrounding the teachers. The lack of knowledge or inability to “move up” the typology isn’t just about the teacher’s lack of knowledge and it won’t be solved simply by more and better training.


All this is still a work in progress and has generated additional questions for me. These are listed below.

What questions or problems has it generated for you?

My current questions

  • Is there really a single type suitable for all teachers? (Of course, no).
  • How and what can pre-service teacher education do to help build this knowledge?
    Is training enough? Walk the walk?
  • Is it all about the formal teaching, what about the environment?

    e.g the idea that “branding the LMS” hurts learning/digital literacy.

  • Beyond training, is there benefit in creating institutional, digital learning spaces that feel more like places you want to live, than hovels you wish to escape as quickly as possible?
  • How do teachers and students perceive current digital spaces? What impact does this have on their self-perceived place in the typology?
  • What would be the characteristics of a digital learning space where people wish to reside, rather than leave?
  • Is there literature and research about teachers, teaching, and physical spaces that can help inform the space/tool metaphor that underpins this typology?
  • Is it possible to map existing forms of “digital knowledge” (e.g. digital literacy, digital fluency, computational thinking) onto the above typology? Is that helpful?
  • What are the distinguishing types of digital knowledge for each role in the typology?


White, D., & Le Cornu, A. (2011). Visitors and Residents : A new typology for online engagement. First Monday, 16(9).