The Pattern Language Network

Taming web2.0 in Higher Education

Archive for July, 2008

Thinking about structures

Posted by Janet Finlay on July 30, 2008

A sub-group of the Planet team had a profitable time this morning meeting with Jill Jameson our very encouraging critical friend and discussing the progress, successes and challenges faced by the project. After Jill left to see ARGOSI, John, Isobel and I mused about some of those challenges and how we might address them. One that we need to finalise quickly is how we can best structure individual patterns to make them most accessible both to those involved in creating patterns through our workshops, and those who will hopefully come along later and want to make use of them in guiding their teaching practice choices. Planet wiki currently uses a form inherited from the Learning Patterns project which includes the pattern name, aim, context, solution, related patterns, examples (case studies/scenarios), note, links and references and legal rights. However we have had some debate as to whether this captures all that we need and whether the sections are clear enough.

In 2004 I was involved in organising a workshop at the CHI conference where this issue was the primary focus. One of the outputs of that workshop was PLML – a pattern language markup language – complete with DTD, specifying the elements that might be included in a pattern. The basic pattern element looks like this (full details and spec are available from the link above):

<!ELEMENT pattern (name?, alias*, illustration?, problem?, context?, forces?, solution?, synopsis?, diagram?, evidence?, confidence?, literature?, implementation?, related-patterns?, pattern-link*, management?)>

It is interesting to compare this to our structure, noting that only the unique identifier is essential in PLML. We have a name – though it could be more obvious on the pattern page itself. Our “problem” is called “aim” (I think I prefer problem – suggests the problem solution pairing that we are looking for). We have context, solution, evidence (our examples – though we could also have a rationale element), literature (our notes), and related patterns. Our legal element might be part of the management section – which could also include version and authorship information which is effectively managed by the wiki itself. So what is left? Looking at the elements that we don’t have, three stand out as being particularly useful: illustration, diagram and confidence.

It has been said that a pattern is not a pattern if it cannot be drawn. That may be an exaggeration but the concept of illustration of patterns is one which is critical I think to their accessibility. It really is a case of a picture being worth a thousand words. In the case of learning patterns the illustration might be a photograph or an artefact or a diagram or even a video – but there should be some visual way of representing the essence of the pattern that lets others have that “a-ha” moment. Perhaps here we need to talk to John Sandars and the Reflect 2 team about their activities..? Not sure if we need both illustration and diagram (they do serve different purposes so maybe we do) but certainly illustration.

The other area is confidence. At the moment our patterns are categorised by their level of development – seed, alpha, beta. But this is slightly different from the idea of confidence – it would be possible to have a well developed pattern in which you had limited confidence, perhaps because there was not much substantiated evidence to support it. Confidence is how sure we are that this really is a pattern. Alexander used a star system which was elegant and informative – you can see at a glance which patterns are the strongest in his language.

So from this I propose that we consider some adaptations to our current form:

  • Change “aim” to “problem”
  • Add “illustration”
  • Add “confidence”
  • Make “examples” a subsection of “evidence” and add another subsection “rationale”
  • Make the name clearer and maybe allow aliases.

Thoughts anyone?

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cheers, Daniel!

Posted by yishaym on July 22, 2008

Here’s a bit of feedback from Daniel, who participated in the Making Stuff Together workshop:

I have to say I was positively surprised by the workshop, as I told some of you it gave me an entirely new perspective for my own research and for design in general. I would be happy to work more on this (or be shepherded!), and I also think we could come up with some good stuff.

I didn’t have a case study with me for the workshop, but I have several years worth of “case studies” of online games in my head that shouldn’t be too hard to replicate given some time. As you might have guessed my area of expertise (if you can call it that) is really in games, and I would personally be quite interested in comparing the designpatterns for collaboration in games, to the patterns that designers currently try to use for creating collaborative online environments/programs. As someone mentioned during the workshop, the gaming industry are quite far ahead in many aspects such as collaboration and capturing the users interest.

Thanks Daniel. Good point about games – we should follow up on that.

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CETL ALiC Workshop – July 21st 2008

Posted by johnrg on July 21, 2008

Planet – CETL ALiC Workshop: July 21st.

Had a really good session with the CETL ALiC Teaching Fellows today. Lots of engagement and some excellent outcomes.

Observations With my Group.

It was interesting working with a group of staff who were very aware of each other’s work prior to the session. This had some drawbacks in that it meant that the early discussions were a little hindered due the publication of papers in which participants had drawn together different elements of their experiences into a common paper. However it quickly became apparent that the initial single case study was in reality two case studies and a third related case study also needed to be entered. Hopefully the existing case study will be modified and the two new ones entered soon.

One point of feedback early in the day focused on an enhancement to the Planet wiki; several of the case studies were the result of input by two or more people however only the person who actually entered the case study into the platform was able to edit it. A need for multiple owners with read / write access was established – Yishay how quickly can we respond to this?

Issues Arising.

The wifi signal in the room allocated for the session was extremely patchy and this disrupted the process of working on the live Planet platform to the extent that information was captured as word/text documents. We need to ensure that we are provided with better support for future sessions.

As the session developed I was surprised at how quickly the issues identified from the case studies moved away from their specific subject domain. Is this is something that others have observed in earlier workshops?

It is clear that everyone felt very comfortable identifying issues arising from the discussions of the case studies however taking these forward to propose proto patterns was more challenging. Some good patterns were proposed e.g. ‘What’sInIt ForMe’ however I think we really need to have some examples of the complete outputs starting with case studies and ending in patterns to help participants engage in our processes. Yishay suggested that we make our own pattern identification process into a pattern, if I enter the case study details can others develop the pattern(s) please?

What Happens Next.

It was agreed that Janet and I would take some of the identified proto patterns and enter them into the platform. Participants agreed to refine their case studies (where necessary) and assume ownership of, and hence continue to develop, relevant patterns [this is dependent on ensuring multiple people have read/write access to these case studies and patterns].

This session only looked at a couple of elements of some of the CETL ALiC activities so we agreed that further meetings to extend the range of activities covered should be held; late September was identified as a good time for the next workshop. Now that the ALiC Fellows have some experience of the process we have high hopes of generating some excellent patterns form their work.

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HCI Disciplinary Commons patterns workshop – September 1st 2008

Posted by Janet Finlay on July 18, 2008

Throughout the academic year 2007-08, a group of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) Educators have been engaging in an HCI Disciplinary Commons, meeting on a monthly basis to discuss their teaching practice, undertake peer observation and engage in peer review. Each participant aimed to produce a portfolio representing their HCI teaching during this period. These portfolios form a body of knowledge about HCI teaching in the UK that may be of use to other practitioners.

Planet is joining with the Disciplinary Commons project to run a workshop at the HCI2008 conference in Liverpool in September. This workshop has three aims:
• To inform the wider community about the process, activity and outcomes of the Commons;
• To give participants a taste of how the Commons operated;
• To consider how we might progress to develop meaningful representations for HCI Educators to share practice, using the patterns approach.

The workshop will be in two parts. In the morning, the facilitators of and the participants in the Commons will give a series of presentations on the priniciples, process and experience of the Commons approach to sharing practice. In the afternoon, workshop participants will take part in activities focused on sharing and representing practice. These activities will be anchored in case studies of HCI teaching practice, submitted prior to the workshop.

The workshop will be of interest to anyone teaching HCI who wishes to share practice with others and anyone interested in methods for sharing practice in general. For more information on the workshop and how to participate please see the HCI Disciplinary Commons Workshop on Planet Wiki.

This workshop will bring together practitioners from the same discipline, rather than those with an interest in the same technologies. It will be interesting to see whether the patterns captured will be more generally applicable and to consider how closely they relate to those captured in the Web 2.0 for learning focused workshops. The workshop will also allow us to evaluate the Planet methodology in another context, with an established user group. It promises to be an exciting session.

Both Planet and the HCI Disciplinary Commons projects are feeding into a major new three year project, funded under the National Teaching Fellowship Project scheme: To see ourselves as others see us: sharing and representing disciplinary classroom practice (we’re working on a snappier name!). Led by Sally Fincher, of the University of Kent, and involving Planet members Janet Finlay and Isobel Falconer, this project will explore teaching practice in detail, including developing Disciplinary Commons activities across different disciplines; evaluating different representations of practice (including patterns); and examining in depth how and why practitioners change their practice.

Sharing practice figured large in the JISC Innovation Forum earlier this week – it was recognised by several speakers that we need to learn to do this better or we will waste both effort and resource. Planet and its new partner project, are helping to address this issue.

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PatternSeer and the Planet platform: this looks like the beginning of a wonderful friendship

Posted by yishaym on July 16, 2008

I met Ademar Aguiar at EuroPLoP last week (note to self: need to report on the conference, it was a great event). Ademar is a long-standing member of the pattern community and something of a WikiGuru, he’s one of the organizers of WikiSym, but I’m digressing.

Ademar and his students are working on PatternSeer.org, which is a web2.0-esk clearing house for all things pattern. PatternSeer allows you to submit design patterns and pattern related papers, rate them, discuss them and share them. Needless to say, it allows you to search across sites.

This covers just about everything that the Planet platform doesn’t do. We provide a structured participatory methodology for developing patterns and pattern languages, and the authoring tools to support that. We’re strong on the editing and storage, but pathetic on the social aspects and cross-site search.

This has mashup written all over it. We need a pattern language interchange API, which would allow PatternSeer to crawl the Planet platform and the the Planet platform to piggy-back on PatternSeer for search and social features. And here’s the first shot at a project spec.

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Sharing practice – a shared problem.

Posted by Janet Finlay on July 15, 2008

End of the first day of the JISC Innovation Forum and the issue of sharing practice has cropped up several times already. How do we move from having swathes of useful information hidden away at best in reports and project websites and at worst in the heads of experts to making it available to practitioners in a form and at a time that it will be useful to them? This is exactly the problem we are exploring in Planet so I was pleased to see that it is recognised as a significant issue well beyond the scope of the current project. Tomorrow Jim and I will be presenting the project in the Market Place (9-10am for those who are in Keele) – hopefully the start of a dialogue on how we can extend its reach and use the process to support the wider JISC community.

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Planet makes stuff together

Posted by Janet Finlay on July 8, 2008

I had the rather rare but very welcome opportunity of acting as non-participant observer in yesterday’s “Making Stuff Together” Planet workshop at LKL. As we had started the day with a Planet project meeting we had a full complement of “staff” for the workshop so some of us stepped back to operate recording equipment and observe proceedings.

The theme for the day was “Making stuff together”, the aim to consider submitted case studies of teaching and learning in collaborative environments and tease out the elements that were successful in order to seed patterns. We had representatives from a couple of other Emerge projects on the day (APSTAIRS and MOOSE) as well as colleagues from elsewhere. It was a mixed group – some with particular interest in patterns and pattern capture, some with little knowledge of patterns but an interest in making things in MUVEs, others with interests in creative online collaboration tools. The potential for not finding commonality seemed high!

However we should not have worried. From the explanation of the first case study (of using Flashmeeting to support collaborative design activity) the group were engaged and animated, picking up connections relating to collaboration across a range of applications from World of Warcraft to Google! By lunchtime we had half a dozen potential “seed patterns” which were then taken up enthusiastically by the group in the afternoon and developed further. There is still work to do on these but the outputs of these labours can be found on the Planet wiki pattern page and feedback and comments are welcome from all (check the Created on 7th July ones – though comments are welcome on them all!).

As an observer it was also very interesting to see how the process worked and I can see some potential patterns emerging here as well. Group formation was certainly an issue both here and in our online workshop at the June Emerge event. Facilitation needs to carefully balance team and participant engagement and it is important to establish common ground in advance. Interestingly all of these were also highlighted in the discussions of making stuff together suggesting much similarity whether we are dealing with Second Life, face to face workshops, Elluminate or Google Docs. It is the human activity of collaboration which is critical, not the technology.

Thanks to all the participants for a really stimulating day – and to Yishay, Steve and Jim for facilitating it. Our next workshop is scheduled for July 21st in Leeds and is focused on one of our user groups, the multi-institutional CETL on Active Learning in Computing. We will be looking at experiences in assessment, project work, learning spaces and Web 2.0. Although primarily for this user group, other participants are welcome. Full details will be posted here as soon as possible but in the meantime if you are interested in coming along just let me know – j.finlay@leedsmet.ac.uk

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