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‘Lego Education’ are worth looking at.

Fig.1. Coach training with Bill Furniss, Nottingham

The Amateur Swimming Association, who train all our swimming teachers and coaches up to the highest level through the Institue of Swimming, have a hundred or so Open Learn like modules that take typically 2-3 hours to do including things like ‘Coaching Disabled Athletes’ and ‘Working with athletes with learning difficulties’. And other important refresher modules such as child protection.

Fig.2. Learning for disabled students needs to be tailored to their specific needs

As we have now seen on H810 : Accessible Online Learning – far more so than in the general population, there are specific and complex needs. The general disability awareness for sport says, ‘see the ability not the disability, play to their strengths’ – as a coach you have to identify strengths from weaknesses.

Fig.3. Using an endless pool to examine swimming technique

Once you are working with an athlete then you find you need more specific knowledge on a, b, or c – which might be an amputee, someone with cerebral palsy, or no hearing. Each person is of course very different, first as a person (like us all), then in relation to the specifics of their disability so a general course for tutors and teachers then becomes a waste of time.

Fig.4. Lego Education using Lego Techniks

If we think of this kind of e-training as construction with Lego Techniks, then once you’re past the introduction a ‘set of bricks’ should be used to assemble more specific answers and insights – even getting users – in this instance a coach and athlete, to participate in the construction based on their experience i.e. building up hundreds of case studies that have an e-learning component to them. The Lego Educational Institute are an astute bunch, their thinking on learning profound, modern and hands on.

Perhaps I should see what I can come up with, certainly working with disabled athletes the coach to athlete relationship is more 1 to 1 than taking a squad of equally ‘able’ swimmers. Then apply it to other contexts. And Lego are the ones to speak to.

‘Lego Education’ are worth looking at.

The thinking is considered, academic and modern – written in language that is refreshingly clear and succinct given the subject matter. The idea of ‘flow’ – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi – is included while the ‘Four Cs’ of learning is a good way to express the importance of collaborative, self-directed construction and reflection:

  • Connect
  • Construct
  • Contemplate
  • Continue

 

 

How do you use an Activity System to improve accessibility to e-learning by students with disabilities?

Fig.1. A knight and two bishops from the iconic Lewis Chess Set role playing to represent ‘Community’ in an Activity System. After (Engeström, 2008) 

Visualizing actions between people, concepts and things requires more than words – models and metaphors are needed to create meaning. I will visualize connections on sheets of backing paper or a white board, or get out a box of Lego. Here I used Lewis chess pieces (resin replicas naturally) on a model of Engeström’s Activity System that I draw out on a piece of laminated board the size of a door (Engeström, 2008)  in order to get a sense of people working in collaborative teams to a common goal and to understand that an Activity System doesn’t represent an entity so much as a framework or scaffold that is held together by the energy of action.

Why use any model?

A model should be a well-founded visual simplification of an aspect of a complex reality that communicates its concept clearly, is based on thorough research, and is easily shared for feedback and review. Users should find that a model, like an experiment, is repeatable so that in time a body of work including case studies and a critique of the model builds credibility. A conceptual model such as an Activity System is ‘particularly useful when one wants to make sense of systemic factors behind seemingly individual and accidental disturbances, deviations, and innovations occurring in the daily practices of workplaces’. Engeström (2008:27)

Conole and Oliver (2011) mention four levels of description:

1. Flat vocabulary
2. More complex vocabulary
3. Classification schemas or models
4. Metaphors

The use of vocabulary is inevitable, though talking this through to an audience would be my preferred approach, so that with engagement response is invited. The models used here, from Vygotsky (1978) and Leon’tev (1978) to Engeström (2008) may appear familiar and set – they are not. There is a group that likes to see everything ‘triangulated’ – diamonds and stars, though evident in the literature on education – maybe akin to complex rather than plain language. From models we move to various metaphors – and you are certain to have your own. While Engeström (2008:19) himself moves on to ideas of how a fungi grows, to ‘knotworking’ and fluid, organic representations.

Fig.2. Scrutiny of Activity Systems. Based on Engeström (2008) 

Do we use models so that we spend more time thinking through the problems related to efforts to achieve what we desire? Or is the model a product of this effort? There’s a point in the social sciences where a model may lose more readers than it converts – the perseverance is worth it.

Why use an Activity System?

Activity Systems derived from a century of analysis of the way people construct meaning (Vygotsky, 1978.  Leon’tev, 1978) that later researchers applied not simply to how people think, but how groups of people act in collaborative ways  (Engeström, 1987).

Fig. 3.   Vygotsky’s model of mediated act

There are two parts to an Activity System – upper and lower. The upper part is the triangle drawn to represent the interaction of Subject, Tools and Object. Engeström (1987) took a current model – that of Vygotsky (1978) and made it his own and has since offered a metaphor to explain it further.

Fig. 4.   Vygotsky’s model of mediated act and (B) is common reformation. Cole and Engeström  (1993)


Fig.5. The structure of a human activity system. Engeström  (1987:78)

Historically this is where Vygotsky began in Moscow in the late 1920s (Fig.3) Engeström and others turned the experssion of Vygotsky’s model the other way up. This split of upper and lower serves another purpose – Yrjö Engeström likens this expression of an activity system to an iceberg where the top triangle – Subject – Tools – Object is what we see, while the other actions, that give the system context – he added when developing Vygostky’s (1978) original model, are beneath the surface. Engeström. (2008:89). (Fig.4) It’s worth remembering that Vygotsky was working on how people create meaning, while later thinkers have adapted this to help scrutinise how communities or groups of people, tools and sets of guidelines create (as Engeström puts it above, ‘sense meaning’ Engeström 1987).

Here the author Jane Seale (2006) takes an Activity System and applies it, as a management consultant might, to a humdinger of a problem. What this reveals is the interdependence of many factors, groups, tools, artifacts and interests on a desired objective.

Fig.6. Application of Engeström’s (1987) systemic model of activity to the accessible e-learning practice of a higher education practitioner. Featured in Seale (2006)

When is the construction of an Activity System useful?

Engeström (2008:27) suggests that it is particularly useful ‘when one wants to make sense of systemic factors behind seemingly individual and accidental disturbances, deviations, and innovations occurring in daily practices of workplaces’. Someone needs to think it is necessary to study the status quo – perhaps because there is an awareness that something, somewhere is going wrong, or that there has been an actual downturn in business or collapse in profitability, or a desire simply to look at things in a different way to understand where improvements can be made, a change in policy and law, or a reinvented or renewed.

Fig. 7. Engeström.Y (2008) From Teams to Knots: Activity-theoretical studies of Collaboration and Learning at Work.

Engeström (2008:207) suggests that there are five principles in relation to theories of activity systems.

  1. Object Orientation
  2. Mediation by tools and signs
  3. Mutual constitution of actions and activity
  4. Contradictions and deviations as source of change
  5. Historicity

Fig.8. Scrutiny of Activity Systems . Object. Based on Engeström (2008) 

1) Object Orientation

The Object is a problem, the purpose, the motivation and opportunity – the modus operandi behind the activity. ‘Object orientation’ (Engeström 2008:222) is a crucial prerequisite of working with an activity system. In the context of accessible e-learning Seale (2006:165) creates an Activity System in which the object(ive) is ‘to make e-learning accessible for disabled students’. As an exercise considering its widest application this object definition suffers because the object is so broad it embraces a myriad of issues and circumstances, each word is open to interpretation – what, for example, is meant by ‘e-learning’, what is meant by ‘accessible’ by ‘disabled’ and by ‘student’. Rather than an object as an opportunity or goal as Seale uses, a fix, the desired outcome, is more likely to be found where, at least in the first instance, we identify a particular context and a tightly defined problem.

Not only that, but to contain the likelihood of ‘ruptures’ across the activity system clarity and agreement is required on the problem that needs to be fixed. In relation to accessibility to e-learning for students with disabilities there are multiple problems, many unique to a student with a particular disability or, where feasible and appropriate, a group that can be identified by the nature of their disability, for example, deaf students who are seen as, and many want to see themselves as a ‘minority language’ group. What is more, a disabled student may have several impairments and the degree to which these are a barrier to e-learning is fluid, perhaps ameliorating with treatment, or getting worse, transmogrifying, or simply being intermittent. As these are known issues that would cause problems or clashes within the activity system and prevent its working it seems futile to build an activity system on this basis – knowing that it will fail.

A problem well stated is a problem half-solved’. (Charles Kettering)

This may be an aphorism, but it rings true. Problem scoping is necessary but where a problem remains elusive, or is ‘messy’ rather than ‘tame’ (Rittel and Webber’s 1973, Ackoff 1979, Ritchey 2011) a variety of creative problem solving techniques (VanGundy, 1988. Griggs, 1985). Knowing what the problem is enables innovation – identifying the problem and devising a fix, and in communications, where, for example, advertisers prepare a creative brief that begins by clearly identifying the problem.

‘Object orientation’ and in this context, problem definition and refinement, is the first in five principles set out by Engeström (2008:207) for using activity systems. The drive, purpose and motivation for all the actions between the six identified nodes depends on the object ‘that which is acted upon’. A key component of activity theory is the transformation of this object into an outcome i.e. to solve the problem. If solving a problem is the goal, and recognition of a successful enterprise undertaken, then all the more reason to get the definition of the object correct – the process can be repeated for different problems, at different scales and over time. Without absolute clarity over the object you may find that different people in the system have differing interpretations of what it is. Kuutti (1996) found that having more than one object under scrutiny was a reason for an activity system to fail.  An answer where there are two distinct problems may be to treat them as such and attach them to separate activity systems. Whilst for the sake of scrutiny it is necessary to isolate an activity system, they do of course interact – indeed it is by looking at how two activity systems interact that you may reveal how problems are solved or innovations produced. However, if the object is wrong, or ill-defined or ambiguous then the motives may be out of kilter and it would therefore be necessary to transform all of the components of the activity system, especially and including those at the bottom half of the ‘iceberg’. Engeström (2008:87)

Fig.9. Scrutiny of Activity Systems . Tools. Based on Engeström (2008) 

2) Mediation by Tools and Signs

Tools might be evaluation and repair tools and assistive technologies, software or legislation, guidelines or staff development. Tools are a mediating factor between the Subject (student, lecturer, facilitator of the desire outcome) and the Object – the purpose of all this activity.

Tools play a significant role in the history of tackling accessibility issues, to undue, out do or transform resources or interpret platforms in a way that communicates their meaning offering some if not all the affordances of the tools as designed for students, who, having gained a place to study a degree  in Higher Education might be thought of as some the most able’, not simply the ‘able’.Tools in this role at the apex of the Activity System and can include guidelines and legislation where they are an applied ‘tool’ rather than a rule or standard. ‘ A functioning tool for the analysis of teams and organisations’. Engeström  (2008:229) Of course the category includes evaluation and repair tools, assistive technologies and software and equipment. Tools ‘mediate’ between the Subject – the facilitator of change through activity and the outcome of the activities – the Object. ‘To build a website that complies to level AAA’ may be achievable whilst ‘to make e-learning accessible for disabled students’ Seale (2006:) sounds like wishful thinking, rather ‘to build an e-learning module that when scrutinised by a representative range of people with dyslexia’ receives a grading of ‘satisfactory’ or above’. This would suggest the involvement therefore of dyslexic students in the testing of a navigation interface for the virtual learning environment as an ‘action’ between subject and object.

There is a particular congregation of ‘contradictions’ stemming from the relationship between Tools and both Subject and Object:

  1. The array of design and evaluation software applications (Seale, 2006)
  2. The mastery of external devices and tools of labour activity (Nardi, 1996)
  3. No rules of practice for use of that tool (Isscroft and Scanlan, 2002 )
  4. Tools that are overly prescriptive (Phipps et al, 2005)
  5. How do you choose from amongst such a plethora of tools?
  6. The context in which tools are introduced (Seale, 2006:160)

The use of tools, the choice of kit and even supporting software beyond the virtual learning environment, should be the student’s decision. “Learners can be active makers and shapers of their own learning. They should be supported in using technologies of their own choice where appropriate”.(JISC, 2009, p.51)

3) Mutual constitution of actions and activity

This is what activity looks like in a group – evidence of several thousand recorded actions within a group of students (as subject), including the group tutor, and course chair; the Open University Virtual Learning Environment, computer, device, software and network link some of the tools; the rules set by the context of postgraduate e-learning with this institution, the community all those who can be reached online the division of labour the roles we all take as students, mentors, teachers and tutors, technical help desk, subject matter expert, novice or guru – the subject specific learning outcomes for each block, for each assignment or the goal of completing the module with a pass or distinction.

Fig.10. The consequences of an activity system – loads of action. Here a tutor group over a period of 27 weeks. ‘Activity’ is represented by messages in a tutor forum. H810 is an Open University postgraduate course in Education. Technology-enhanced learning: practices and debates

The links between each component – object, tool, subject and so on – should equate to a burst of electricity or perhaps a chemical induced response between a synapse and a neuron – Engeström (2008) goes as far as to liken an activity system to a type of fungi – mycorrhizae like formation  Engeström (1997).

Fig.11. Mycorrhizae – one way Engeström sees an Activity System

An Activity System should be seen not as a concept of a static entity, but rather a living and growing thing. The actions, the double-arrows between each concept, are what gives an activity system structure  – it’s the management  of the disturbances, contradictions and conflicts along these lines of action that disturb effective flow where the role of an activity system comes in – identify then fix these and you move towards achieving the object orientation or outcome. Knorr-Cetina (2003) talks of ‘flow architecture’ and if neither of these concepts ring true for you in relation to activity systems then Zerubavel (1997) talks of ‘a mindscape’ while Cussins (1992) talks of ‘cogntive trails’. There is a caveat when using a metaphor – we tend to look for similarities, rather than see the differences and a choice of metaphor will itself skew our thinking. Morgan (1986/1997).

4) Contradictions and deviations as source of change

I would have opted for Subject as the third issue, but reading Engeström made me think again. Subject, Tools, Object reduces the Activity System to the far simpler upturned triangle Vygotsky devised to explain how people create meaning (Vygotsky, 1978:86)  without further thought to the deeper and wider issues once learning is put in context, that Engeström (1987, 2008, 2011) added by broadening this way of showing how ‘meaning is created’ in the workplace by adding Rules, Community and Division of Labour.

Rather than picking one more of these concepts at the expense of leaving the others out I think that the ‘Actions’ the double arrows that indicate something happening between the elements is of interest. I believe this would be the fourth of Engeström’s five principles – Contradictions and deviations as source of change. This after all is, literally, where all the ‘action’ takes place, what Seale (2006:164) describes as ‘problems, ruptures, breakdowns or clashes’.  (I need to go back and to understand what is meant by Engeström’s third principle – ‘Mutual constitution of actions and activity’) I think this is the principle that the Activity System has to be seen as a complete, self-contained entity, that any break or failure or misunderstanding in the system would call it to fail so you’d be better of starting again from scratch until the scale or context works. Engeström uses the metaphor of a very particular kind of lichen (‘mycorrhizae’, Engeström, 2008:229) to describe Activity Systems – he doesn’t suggest however that you attempt to work with this kind of complexity, rather it is a reminder that an activity system is fluid and changing and depends on activity taking places between the defined nodes.

5) Historicity

Fig. 12. A discontinuous series of Activity Systems … like Toblerone at Christmas.

‘Historicity’ – Engeström’s experssion (2008) is a term referring to ‘the historical actuality of persons and events’,(Wikipedia, 2012) suggests the need to see an Activity System as a snapshot, a sequence and a discontinuous one at that. So take the familiar equilateral triangle of the Activity System model and run a line of them. Seale (2006) suggests there is value to be found by doing some ‘archaelogy’ – I think ‘historical research’ would be an adequate way to think of it, for what this may reveal about how these ‘rupture, conflicts’ Seale (ibid) or ‘contradictions’ and ‘deviations’ as a source or change’ Engeström (2008:223) along the lines of activity. Seale (2006) talks of how an activity system ‘incesstanly reconstructs itself. Engeström (1994) talks of an ideal-typical sequence of epistemic actions in an expansive cycle. To Vygosky (1978), learning is a continual movement from the current intellectual level to a higher level which more closely approximates the learner’s potential. This movement occurs in the so-called “zone of proximal development” as a result of social interaction

Subject

Fig.13. Scrutiny of Activity Systems . Subject. Based on Engeström (2008) 

By definition here the ‘non-disabled’, particularly in the cognitive sense though sometimes with athletic promise too. Ironically whilst ‘non-disabled’ is not a favoured term it does at least relate to a homogenous group, while ‘disabled’ does not given the range, scale and potentially shifting nature of impairments to learning from hearing, to visual, cognitive and mobility.

Subject to be of most importance – this is the person, actor or lecturer, indeed a student – anyone who is responsible for facilitating and supporting the student’s learning experience. This may be a practitioner who works with a Higher Education Learning Technologist or the digital media access group if there is such a thing. Engeström (2008:222).

Any of the team members may be a novice, which may be a positive or negative influence for the actions in the system. A novice is inexpert, on the other hand they are free from the habits that may be causing problems and creating barriers. Because of the way a novice learns they are more inclined to innovate as they are not bound or even aware to rules, guidelines and beliefs that may hold them back.

Rules

Fig.14. Scrutiny of Activity Systems . Rules. Based on Engeström (2008) 

These can be formal, informal or technical rules. They are institutional and departmental policies and strategies. These are rules of practice, and legislation, as well as strategies and research. They are explicit and implicit norms. These are conventions and social relations. These in the context of accessible e-learning are the various guidelines related to web usability and legislation related to accessibility and equality. Universal Design and User Centred Design are rules too. Rules mediate between the subject and the community. The actions, the ‘doing in order to transform something’ or ‘doing with a purpose’ are the activities that link Rules with Subject, Rules with Object and Rules with Community.

Community

Fig.15. Scrutiny of Activity Systems . Community. Based on Engeström (2008) 

These are ‘people who share the same objective’ – their being in this activity system is dependent on their wishing to engage with the object, the opportunity, to strive to achieve the stated outcome. Any ruptures are therefore not a consequence of having the wrong person in this community – this grouping, this loose gathering of like-minded people, is what Engeström has come to describe as a knot and the actions these people take as ‘knotworking’ Engeström (2008:194) – latent, informal, sometimes impromptu gatherings of people who assemble to address a problem or to take an opportunity – what Rheingold (2002) describes as ‘smart mobs’.

Fig.16. Scrutiny of Activity Systems . Division of Labor. Based on Engeström (2008) 

Division of Labor

This concept, or node as an ethereal entity is ‘how people are organized to realise the object’. Not one to represent by a chess piece and one may think that this ought to be the link that joins people together … this is where working with a model as the beat of a heart, not the heart itself, requires acceptance of the way a model is designed to work. Division of labor This is planning and funding, designing and developing, implementing and evaluating, using, specialists vs. the mainstream).

Fig.17. A Wordle using the text from this blog.

Conclusion

Fig. 18. The Water Cycle – imagine this reversionsed to represent a digital ocean and content in the ‘cloud’.

Digitization of assets is akin to the creation of an ocean in which the binary code are the molecules of water – apt then with the shift from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 and our adopting the use of ‘the Cloud’ and ‘Cloud Computing’ to take this metaphor into a more dynamic form and think of it as a water-cycle. This system is shifting continually horizontally with currents and tides, but also vertically – the exponential growth in computing speeds and memory capacities the energy that drives the system. This global system hasn’t taken adequate account of people with disabilities – as in the real world there are barriers to access caused by visual, hearing, mobility and cognitive impairments – just as these have been addressed in a piecemeal way through legislation, funding, programmes and promotions, by disability groups or holistically, so too with adaptations or changes to the digital world – there is no panacea that will remove all barriers for all people with any disability, of any kind, type or stage of deterioration or amelioration.  Stretching the metaphor further I wonder if at times this digital water-cycle, again like the real one, is polluted, that translucence as well as flotsam and jetsam in this ocean are the barriers – on the one hand the pollutants have to be removed – the barriers taken down – but at the same time, cleaner purer water, in the form a universal design that is simpler and usable would gradually cleanse some of system. Once again, a mirror to the real world responses, specialist schools and associations, say for those with dyslexia are blind or deaf, become an oasis or island in this digital system.

‘Those not engaging with technologies or without access are getting left further and further behind. We need to be mindful that the egalitarian, liberal view of new technologies is a myth; power and dynamics remain, niches develop and evolve. Applications of metaphorical notions of ecology, culture and politics can help us better understand and deal with these complexities’. (Conole. 2011:410)

FURTHER  READING

Cecez-Kecmanovic, Dubravka, and Webb.C (2000) “Towards a communicative model of collaborative web-mediated learning.”Australian Journal of Educational Technology 16. 73-85. Towards a communicative model of collaborative web-mediated learning  (last accessed 20 Dec 2012) http://www.ascilite.org.au/ajet/ajet16/cecez-kecmanovic.html

Hardman, J (2008) Researching pedagogy: an acitivty system approach Journal of Education, No. 45, 2008. PP65-95 (last accessed 20 Dec)  2012 http://joe.ukzn.ac.za/Libraries/No_45_Dec_2008/Researching_pedagogy_an_Activity_Theory_approach.sflb.ashx)

Engeström’s (1999) outline of three generations of activity theory (last accessed 20 Dec 2012) http://www.bath.ac.uk/research/liw/resources/Models%20and%20principles%20of%20Activity%20Theory.pdf

Engeström.Y (2008) From Teams to Knots: Activity-theoretical studies of Collaboration and Learning at Work. Learning in doing: Social, Cognitive & Computational Perspectives. Cambridge University Press. Series Editor Emeritus. John Seely Brown.

Engeström.Y (2011) Learning by expanding: ten years after (last accessed 19 Dec 20-12) http://lchc.ucsd.edu/mca/Paper/Engestrom/expanding/intro.htm

REFERENCE

Ackoff, R.L. (1979) The Art of Problem-Solving, New York: Wiley

Cole, M. and Engeström, Y. (1993) A cultural-historical approach to distributed cognition, in: G. Salomon (Ed.), Distributed cognitions: Psychological and educational considerations (New York, Cambridge University Press), 1-46.

Conole, G (2011) Designing for learning in a digital world. Last accessed 18 Dec 2012 http://www.slideshare.net/grainne/conole-keynote-icdesept28

Conole, G. and Oliver, M. (eds) 2007 Contemporary Perspectives on E-learning Research, Themes, Tensions and Impacts on Research. London, RoutledgeFalmer.

Cussins, A. (1992). Content, embodiment and objectivity: The theory of cognitive trails. Mind, 101, 651–688.

Engestrom (2008-04-30). From Teams to Knots (Learning in Doing: Social, Cognitive and Computational Perspectives) (p. 238). Cambridge University Press. Kindle Edition.

Engeström, Y. (1987) Learning by Expanding: An Activity-theoretical Approach to Developmental Research. Helsinki: Orienta-Konsultit.

Engeström, Y. (1994). The working health center project: Materializing zones of proximal
development in a network of organizational learning. In T. Kauppinen & M. Lahtonen (Eds.) Action research in Finland. Helsinki: Ministry of Labour.

Engeström.Y (1999) Learning by expanding. Ten Years After. http://lchc.ucsd.edu/mca/Paper/Engestrom/expanding/intro.htm

Engeström.Y (2008) From Teams to Knots: Activity-theoretical studies of Collaboration and Learning at Work. Learning in doing: Social, Cognitive & Computational Perspectives. Cambridge University Press. Series Editor Emeritus. John Seely Brown.

Griggs, R.E. (1985) ‘A Storm of Ideas’, reported in Training, 22, 66 (November)

Issroff, K. and Scanlon, E. (2002) Using technology in higher education: an Activity Theory perspective. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 18, 1, 77–83

JISC. (2009). Effective Practice in a Digital Age: A guide to technology-enhanced learning and teaching. Retrieved from http://www.jisc.ac.uk/publications/programmerelated/2009/effectivedigital-age.aspx

Knorr-Cetina, K. (2003). From pipes to scopes: The flow architecture of financial markets. Distinktion, 7, 7–23.

Kuutti, K. (1996) Activity theory as a potential framework for human–computer interaction research. In B. Nardi (ed.) Context and Consciousness: Activity Theory and Human–Computer Interaction. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, pp. 17–44.

Leon’tev.A.N. (1978) Activity, consciousness, and personality. Englewood Cliffs. NJ. Prentice-Hall.

Moessenger, S (2011) Sylvia’s Study Blog (Last accessed 19 Dec 2012) http://sylviamoessinger.wordpress.com/2011/02/26/h809-reading-oliver-et-al-chapter-2-a3-6/

Morgan, G. (1986 2nd 1997) Images of Organisation

Phipps, L., Witt, N. and Kelly, B. (2005) Towards a pragmatic framework for accessible e-learning. Ariadne, 44. Online. Available HTTP: <http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/ issue44/ phipps/> (last accessed 19 Dec 2012).

Rheingold, H. (2002). Smart mobs: The next social revolution. Cambridge, MA: Perseus.

Ritchey, T. (2011) Wicked Problems – Social Messes: Decision support Modelling with Morphological Analysis.Springer.

Rittel.W.J., Webber.M.M. (1973) Dilemmas in a general theory of planning Policy Sciences, June 1973, Volume 4, Issue 1,

Seale, J. (2006) E-learning and Disability in Higher Education: Accessibility Research and Practice

VanGundy, A.B. (1988) Techniques of Structured Problem Solving, 2nd ed, Van Norstrand Reinhold. Techniques 4.01, 4.06, 4.57

Vygotsky.L.S. (1978) Mind in Society. The development of higher psychological process. Cambridge. MA.

Wikipedia (2012) Definition of ‘Historicity’ – (last accessed 19 Dec 2012) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historicity

Zerubavel, E. (1997). Social mindscapes: An invitation to cognitive sociology. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

e-Learning with Lego – Connect, Construct, Contemplate and Continue

LEGO logo

LEGO logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

Fig.1. Coach training with Bill Furniss, Nottingham

 

The Amateur Swimming Association, who train all our swimming teachers and coaches up to the highest level through the Institute of Swimming, have a hundred or so Open Learn like modules that take typically 2-3 hours to do including things like ‘Coaching Disabled Athletes’ and ‘Working with athletes with learning difficulties’. And other important refresher modules such as child protection.

 

 

Fig.2. Learning for disabled students needs to be tailored to their specific needs

 

As we have now seen on H810 : Accessible Online Learning – far more so than in the general population, there are specific and complex needs. The general disability awareness for sport says, ‘see the ability not the disability, play to their strengths’ – as a coach you have to identify strengths from weaknesses.

 

 

Fig.3. Using an endless pool to examine swimming technique

 

Once you are working with an athlete then you find you need more specific knowledge on a, b, or c – which might be an amputee, someone with cerebral palsy, or no hearing. Each person is of course very different, first as a person (like us all), then in relation to the specifics of their disability so a general course for tutors and teachers then becomes a waste of time.

 

 

Fig.4. Lego Education using Lego Techniks

 

If we think of this kind of e-training as construction with Lego Techniks, then once you’re past the introduction a ‘set of bricks’ should be used to assemble more specific answers and insights – even getting users – in this instance a coach and athlete, to participate in the construction based on their experience i.e. building up hundreds of case studies that have an e-learning component to them. The Lego Educational Institute are an astute bunch, their thinking on learning profound, modern and hands on.

 

Perhaps I should see what I can come up with, certainly working with disabled athletes the coach to athlete relationship is more 1 to 1 than taking a squad of equally ‘able’ swimmers. Then apply it to other contexts. And Lego are the ones to speak to.

 

‘Lego Education’ are worth looking at.

 

The thinking is considered, academic and modern – written in language that is refreshingly clear and succinct given the subject matter. The idea of ‘flow’ – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi – is included while the ‘Four Cs’ of learning is a good way to express the importance of collaborative, self-directed construction and reflection:

 

  • Connect
  • Construct
  • Contemplate
  • Continue

 

 

 

 

Are you the learning architect or the learning builder?

Fig.1. Building Construction W B McKay 1943

Are you the learning architect or the learning builder?

It is flattering to the group from Learning & Development that they can be likened to architects. Whilst many will have a degree, some don’t – whilst some may have a post graduate qualification, very few do. None I’m sure will have spent six or seven years in formal study that has lead to recognition by the Royal College of E-Learning Designers – there is no such professional qualification, nor is there any period of formal study, a mix of studio work and academic research, that leads to a qualification of this calibre.

The exceptions are those with first degrees and MBAs and at the pinnacle of this discussion, Christopher Alexander who has first and second degrees from Cambridge and a PhD in architecture from Harvard.

Many in academia have the second degree and PhD – but they generally lack the experience designing learning outside undergraduate and postgraduate tertiary education, which is quite a different beast to the short courses and continual professional development desired in the workplace.

If I were to take the building trade by way of an analogy I would say that the learning and development manager is the client – while the architect is an agent or agency that you hire in for their design expertise and knowledge of foremen and project managers, builders and electricians – the project leaders, programmers and art directors of e-learning creation.

The L&D manager may be a subject matter expert but is far more likely to draw upon expertise from within their organisation.

Which of the following made the biggest contribution to your learning when you first set out in your current career asked Clive Shepherd?

Fig.2. What has contributed most to your learning?

This depends of course on when a person knows they are set on a career path.

How many people come into Learning & Development (L&D) having decided on this path as an undergraduate?

As a graduate trainee I expected a mix of on the job and formal training – this mix turned out to be around 95% to 5% while contemporaries elsewhere were getting 50/50 of none at all. This is the formal way of graduate training and can last two or three years. Think of lawyers (barristers and trainee solicitors), accounts, bankers and teachers … doctors, dentists, vets and architects.

Clive Shepherd who recently gave an insightful presentation on The New Learning Architect says he got the idea of the new learning architect at presentation gave by Jay Cross on informal learning.

Away from the presentation I like to click around as for me to understand a concept it helps to perceive its inception.

In turn, if you check the references for Jay Cross’s 2006 ‘Informal Learning: Rediscovering the Natural Pathways that Inspire Innovation and Performance’ you’ll find where his ideas may have came from – Robert A Heinlein (1961) ‘Strangers in a Strange Land’ and R Nelson Bolles (2005) ‘What Color’s Your Parachute’ are there along with John Seely Brown (2005) ‘The Only Sustainable Edge’.

There are some inspirational ideas and link here:

Jay Cross : Important Stuff

Informal learning

Workflow learning ties learning into the workflow within an organisation. According to Jay Cross it takes us to support and on-demand services that are designed to exist within the real tasks we do in our everyday work.Out of this work on workflow learning came an even wider, and what he regards as more important set of reflections.



Fig.3. Zoom.It History of Corporate Education.

This timelines the history of corporate and executive training. It is like a touch-screen and zoom control all in one. The Bayeux Tapestry in digital form (now there’s an idea over 900 years old). I spotted a typo – you’ll find it says something about ‘Toyota: Clean Production’ rather than Lean Production. We should consider the content in other ways – I know a PLC that set up an internal ‘university’ in the mid 1970s – or maybe they called in a training centre. Same difference?

If Clive Shepherd got his idea of the learning architect from Jay Cross I imagine Jay Cross in turn got the idea from Professor Christopher Alexander.

Christopher Alexander’s Notes on the Synthesis of Form was required reading for researchers in computer science throughout the 1960s. It had an influence in the 1960s and 1970s on programming language design, modular programming, object-oriented programming, software engineering and other design methodologies. He is cited through-out the Open University’s Masters in Open and Distance Education (MAODE) as an originator of design practice that was applied to computer design and therefore could be applied to e-learning design.

Here’s the education of someone who can rightfully call themselves an architect and do so in the context of learning, even of e-learning.

In 1954, Christopher Alexander was awarded the top open scholarship to Trinity College, Cambridge University in chemistry and physics, and went on to read mathematics. He earned a Bachelor’s degree in Architecture and a Master’s degree in Mathematics. He took his doctorate at Harvard (the first Ph.D. in Architecture ever awarded at Harvard University), and was elected fellow at Harvard. During the same period he worked at MIT in transportation theory and in computer science, and worked at Harvard in cognition and cognitive studies.

Fig.4. The Timeless Way of Building

‘The Timeless Way of Building’ proposes a new theory of architecture (and design in general) that relies on the understanding and configuration of design patterns.It is these design patterns that came to the attention of creators of e-learning modules in the 21st century, the idea that designs for subjects or cohorts might be replicated and shared across the online learning community so that you might say a) fits an undergraduate arts course, while b) is the model for a health & safety module in industry, c) gives you language learning in primary school while d) offers an elective in urology to 4th year medical students.

To become an architect requires a considerable commitment.

Take the three year undergraduate course in architecture at the University of Cambridge

Entry Requirements: A* AA : Likely to include Maths and Art or History of Art.

Students may stay on at Cambridge to complete an MPhil at RSA exams to qualify in six years (this includes a year in a placement)

‘The three year BA(Hons) course is unusual in the University in combining both arts and sciences. As such it provides a unique range of skills which lead to a wide range of careers, not just architecture’.

Throughout the BA tripos studio work carries 60% of the marks.

The remaining 40% is made up from exams and other forms of coursework (dissertations, etc). Studiowork in all years is handed in for marking at the end of the year. Studiowork is time-consuming and probably requires more hours per week than any other course in the University. Students are also expected to work during the Christmas and Easter vacations.

I labour this point because as someone who has gone from corporate communications and video based training to computer based training and e-learning I would never liken myself to a cardiologist, even a qualified lawyer or certified accountant, let alone an architect. An educator perhaps, but I don’t have a formal teaching qualificaiton, only sports coaching and the MAODE when I graduate early next year.

Fig. 5. BRICKS – Building Construction W B McKay 1943

Several other analogies have been used in the e-learning literature, some that still have a building or architecture theme to them.

What we get here is learning design broken down to brick-sized components, some call them ‘interactivities’ (a term I often here working in a design agency). I find the idea of atoms in a chemical reaction (Wiley, 2001) too small, even if we are dealing with binary code it isn’t something that we see anymore. Gilly Salmon (2002) would have liked ‘e-tivities’ to catch on – she puts these in a logical sequence, building blocks towards a module. At the Open University they tend to be called ‘Learning Objects’. Chris Pegler (2004) finds this idea too unresponsive preferring if we go with the Lego Technics. Littlejohn et al (2008) describe these components as:

Digital assets – a single item, image, video or podcast or an nformation objects: a structured aggregation of digital assets designed purely to present information.

Learning activities -tasks involving interactions with information to attain a specific learning outcome.

Learning design – structured sequences of information and learning activities to promote learning.

Fig. 5. BRICKS – Building Construction W B McKay 1943

For pure inspiration I like the digital architect as a goal for an undergraduate setting out on a long course of formal and applied study. L&D directors and managers approach an e-learning agency as they would a firm of architects and together they write a brief. This is proposed, scheduled and costed then a scheme of work begins.

The delivery, depending on the scale of it, might be akin to anything from a brick arcade (health and safety induction to leisure staff) to a bungalow to a housing estate (induction of trainee solicitors in an national firm of solicitors), an office block or a factory (long term management development for an international engineering business).

REFERENCE

Alexander, C (1970) The Timeless Way of Building

Cross, J (2006) The Informal Learner

Downes, S (2000) Learning Objects. Available from http://www.newstrolls.com/news/dev/downes/col;umn000523_1.htm

Littlejohn, Falconer, Mcgill (2008) Characterising effective eLearning (sic) resources

Pegler, C and Littlejohn, A (2004) Preparing for Blended e-Learning, Routledge.

Salmon, G (2002) E-tivities

Shepherd, C (2011) The New Learning Architext

Wiley, D.A. (2000) Connecting Learning Objects to instructional design theory: a definition, a metaphor, and a taxonomy. In D.A. Wiley (ed), The instructional use of Learning Objects. Available from http://reusability.org/read/chapters/wiley.doc

Characterising effective e-learning resources

Littlejohn, Falconer, Mcgill (2008)

Presented in July 2006, accepted in august 2006 and published in August 2007 or 2008 referencing research and papers written between 1990 and 2004.

OK, this is an academic paper, but in a area that is changing so fast you’d think academics could pull their finger – even publish their thoughts as the develop online.

  • Digital assets: a single item, image, video or podcast.
  • Information objects: a structured aggregation of digital assets designed purely to present information.
  • Learning activities: tasks involving interactions with information to attain a specific learning outcome.
  • Learning design: structured sequences of information and learning activities to promote learning.
  • Learning Brief: (JV, 2012) My addition. Where it all begins where a client has a need, a problem to solve or opportunity to pursue, with an idea of the desired outcome, a budget, schedule and idea of resources that can be drawn upon or that will have to be created.
  • Conceptualization: source information.
  • Construction: repurpose and use in learner’s context.
  • Integration: develop and use to inform others.

From Laurillard’s 2002 Model (a bias for tertiary education).

An example of a PowerPoint presentation and its slides are given (only because, even in 2006, other forms of versatile, easily manipulated content were not readily available).

  • Narrative: downloaded by a student
  • Communicative: for discussion (synchronous, asynchronous, cohort, faculty, student body and beyond)
  • Interactive: searched, scanned (engaged, play)
  • Adaptive: (which Littlejohn et al give as editing, so reworking within the set, rather than adding anything new)
  • Productive: taking a constructed module PowerPoint (blog, video, animation, gallery photos, quotes, grabs, snips, apps) and repurposing (mash up) (Which I would call adaptive. (JV 2012, my additions in parenthesise).
  • Productive: (which Littlejohn al called productive in 2008 but I would call creative)
  • Resources: representation of knowledge by format and medium, flexibility and cost. With ease of manipulation and interaction key.

· Pure

· Combined

· Adapted

The conclusion is that when construction e-learning we need to look for and create digital resources that are:

  • 1. Easily sourced
  • 2. Durable
  • 3. Easily Maintained
  • 4. Accessible
  • 5. Free from legal limitations
  • 6. Quality assured
  • 7. Appropriate cost
  • 8. Resizable
  • 9. Easily repurposed
  • 10. Meaningful
  • 11. Engages the learner
  • 12. Intelligible

Various metaphors have been applied and can be applied, like building with Lego blocks Downes (2000) though Pegler’s preferences is to make a comparison with Technic ‘Lego’ (Pegler, 2004:Loc4282) where each piece has a set of actions.

Like a chemist combining chemicals to form atoms Wiley (2001)

Towards dynamic resources (less bespoke, more off the shelf, like sets of Apps that work in a designed sequence to produce a managed set of learning outcomes).

Constructivist (limited in precision training that requires specific, measurable outcomes in terms of changed behaviours).

Ownership (not personal learning environments, so much as personalised learning environments. Depends on the person’s habits, choices and opportunities – pc, Mac, laptop or desktop, tablet and/or Smartphone; then choices regarding software tools within or married to the learning management system. Word, graphics, draw, charts, video, pics).

Their use in context is key (the institution, course, level, cohort, location).

(JV 2012. My thoughts italicised)

Like early car or computer manufacturer, become mass produced, trying to be lean, less a conveyor belt than a professional kitchen putting out a variety of courses to clients who are largely, within their respective contexts, demanding the same thing.

1890s bike shops turning to motorbikes and motor vehicles.

2000 bespoke websites and migrating learning distance and interactive ‘non-linear’ video based learning online, artisans, one offs, the Sistine Chapel.

REFERENCE

Downes, S (2000) Learning Objects. Available from http://www.newstrolls.com/news/dev/downes/col;umn000523_1.htm

Littlejohn, Falconer, Mcgill (2008) Characterising effective eLearning (sic) resources

Pegler, C and Littlejohn, A (2004) Preparing for Blended e-Learning, Routledge.

Wiley, D.A. (2000) Connecting Learning Objects to instructional design theory: a definition, a metaphor, and a taxonomy. In D.A. Wiley (ed), The instructional use of Learning Objects. Available from http://reusability.org/read/chapters/wiley.doc

 

Wiki, blog, e-portfolio …

An OU Blog, Wiki, Forum and E-portfolio should fit like four pieces of lego. They should not only look and feel part of the same family, but their functionality should be very closely matched. In this way, operating to the strengths of each, improved engagement by students would result.

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