The Pattern Language Network

Taming web2.0 in Higher Education

Archive for September, 2008

Cloudworks, pattern aggregators, and some news from the Planet platform

Posted by yishaym on September 29, 2008

Last week Jim, Steve and myself were invited to a Cloudfest with the Cloudworks team. A lot of interesting stuff came up (see George’s post). Among them, the question of sharing design objects (patterns, resources, etc.) across sites and the visual aspects of design objects. This resonated well with some the conversations we’ve been having here, as well as with recent discussions on hillside’s pattern languages mailing list.

We’ve been talking about the structure of a design pattern. The jury is still out on the definitive form, but we all agree that having visual elements is integral to a design pattern. So now our template includes slots for icon”, “illustration” and “diagram”. The icon appears in indices, the illustration appears at the top – as part of the motivation or inspiration for the pattern, and the diagram elaborates the solution. All three are optional, of course.

The issue of sharing information across sites is subject to a hot debate. When I record a pattern in our system, how do users of other repositories find it? In the case of Cloudworks, the idea is to broker design knowledge between communities – how do you populate the system? Part of the answer is in agreeing on a wire protocol and data format, and keeping them simple. The pattern eXchange section has a first draft of a semantic scheme which could be the basis for such a duo. Another part is indexing the aggregators (repositories, search engines, brokers) out there.

What else is new on the platform?

Well, the pattern and case study templates are slowly getting out of their teething phase. Email notifications are active (albeit clumsy). So, good progress – but if you’re looking for a programming project, we always have something interesting to offer.

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How to write a case study

Posted by yishaym on September 29, 2008

When we engage with practitioners, the first thing we ask them is for a case study. That seems to be an overloaded, somewhat obscure creature. We think we know exactly what it means, or at least what we’re looking for, but it turns out that the term is so widely used in so many ways, that it can go any odd way. Often people bring their personal statement of beliefs and achievements. In other cases, they will give a marketing presentation of their project or institution. All we really want is a good story. Believe me – that’s pretty close to the best place to start a discussion, which is what Planet is all about…

We developed the S.T.A.R.R template, which we provided as a powerpoint template and as an online form. That helped, but usually only after some verbal introduction. So here’s that introduction as a (hopefully) free-standing, self-explanatory slide deck:

Please let us know how to improve it..

(And if you’re struggling with the more technical issues, there’s the help page. )

Posted in case studies, help, slideshows, tools, user group | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Thoughts on future progress

Posted by Janet Finlay on September 26, 2008

On Monday we have a Planet Eluminate meeting. Unfortunately I’ll be in a car somewhere between Calais and Strasbourg and so even in this connected world will struggle to take part….  So if any of the team pick this up before the meeting – here are my thoughts on future priorities and where we need to go.

First and foremost we have our two day meeting coming up in October. The primary focus here is evaluation – opening our processes and outputs to scrutiny by experts in representating practice in general and patterns in particular. So far we have definite acceptances from Sally Fincher of the NTSF Share project and Helen Sharp of the Pedagogical Patterns project. Unfortunately Helen Beetham is unable to join us but would like to participate at a distance – will that be possible? My thoughts for the two days are that we have a Planet team meeting on the first day, particularly to work on organisational structure and scaffolding. Our guests will join us for dinner in the evening and on the second day we will have a half day patterns workshop for them in the morning, followed by their critique in the afternoon. We need to decide if we will ask them to complete case studies in advance – and if we will provide any structure to the critiquing session. It promises to be a very valuable event for the project I think.

Other things to sort out. The pattern/protopattern debate. I think the time has come to stop debating and just do it. My vote goes for a two stage process – what we have now is stage one – protopattern. Stage two will be a separate structure – the pattern (based on PLML is as good as anything and has the advantage of being the closest thing there is to a pattern standard). We need some scaffolding support (in the form of a series of questions I suspect) to help people move from one to the next. I am working on that when I get back for the CETL ALiC follow-on workshop which will be held on November 4th. I’ll have a proposal for the October meeting.

Sally Fincher’s structure as blogged earlier. What would be useful would be to record issues and questions on this at the Elluminate meeting and we will then look at adjusting the framework and mapping the existing patterns on to this. Again this is planned by the October meeting. In part answer to Steve’s point about decisions being much less ordered – absolutely agree – but the same is true of any design process and no framework maps directly onto the complexity of the real world (not even Alexander’s!). Maybe it helps to think of the organising structure as an abstraction of the decision process in much the same way a pattern is an abstraction of successful practice. We remove the mess of real life to help illuminate core issues.

I think those are the pressing issues for me – hope the meeting on Monday is productive!

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Pattern Formats and Structures

Posted by jhensman on September 23, 2008

I want to try to summarise some of the discussion that we have had about pattern formats and structures, so that we can make the necessary decisions to take us forward.

  1. There is agreement that “Illustration” should be added as a standard field and that we should encourage use of visual representations, such as diagrams, more generally.
  2. There seems to be a consensus that “Aim” should be changed to “Problem”. Because of some restrictive connotations of using this term which have been mentioned, we should provide supporting text and examples to indicate that this is meant in the sense of what issue the pattern resolves.
  3. The question of the confidence rating for patterns has been raised. The view that this should reflect the level of confidence in the pattern as a pattern, and not just its level of development, seems to be generally agreed. Some further discussion is required to determine how this could be reflected in the form of usable guidelines.
  4. There has been discussion about a range of detailed additional information in different categories which relate to the main parts of the pattern (Problem, Solution, Context), or to the pattern as a whole. Suggestions include subsections for rationale and evidence. The experience of the formats used by other pattern repositories will be useful to us, to help decide on a compromise between the requirements of precision and standardisation to aid pattern interchange, and flexibility and simplicity for users of the pattern network. A draft structure is available on the Planet Wiki, and can be the basis of further discussion. My general preference is for fairly broad categories, with a number of more detailed optional subcategories prompted by a set of guidelines and suggested questions, with examples to indicate how these can be applied.
  5. How we deal with the formative stages of a pattern has been discussed. This is a pressing issue as it affects how people use the Planet platform, and any changes agreed need to be implemented soon as it would be difficult to change things retrospectively. There appears to be a consensus that the seed/proto patterns are not patterns, and thus must be distinguished from patterns – even ones categorised as having a low level of confidence attached to them – in some way. How this is then reflected in the pattern and platform structure still needs to be resolved. These are some of my thoughts on this. I will use the word “proto-pattern” for convenience, but what term we actually use needs to be agreed on.

The processes associated with creating a pattern, as against refining and seeking to increase the level of confidence in it, are obviously linked. However, especially when considering the initial stages of pattern creation, there are also significant differences. A simple way of looking at this question is to consider the components that make up a pattern, which we are currently discussing with regard to specifying the pattern format. In defining the problem, we need to understand what the forces are that need to be resolved. The solution both needs sufficient evidence from actual cases (a minimum of 3 according to the rule of thumb we have agreed on), as well as an understanding of what other patterns would be needed to provide a complete solution. The context specifies the conditions under which the pattern applies, but also connects it to other patterns at its own and higher levels. Therefore, even before we can even consider something to be a pattern, we have to look for other relevant cases and practice, look at the practice and theory of associated problem areas, and relate the prospective pattern to a wider conceptual framework. The questions raised and activities required at this stage thus will centre on resolving these issues. Of course these processes are also relevant when we reach the pattern stage, but while the processes associated with a pattern are primarily focused on its use to solve a particular problem, for a proto-pattern it is primarily focused on the formulation and development of the pattern and pattern language.

The distinction between proto-patterns and patterns should not be seen as a formal or linguistic one. Rather it reflects their different roles. Indeed, for a considerable part of the period of development of a proto-pattern, it may be uncertain whether it will progress to pattern status or not. It is potentially confusing to people using the Planet site, who may expect more from what are labelled as patterns, unless this distinction is made clear. At the same time, having a means of representing and developing even very rudimentary proto-pattern ideas is vital. Clarifying how we do this will be particularly important at the current juncture, where we are beginning to discuss with others how we interface with systems that may be the source of such ideas.

How would this affect our current framework? Obviously we should have some guidelines that explain the distinctions, but reflecting this in our systems and pattern formats requires careful thought. In practice, although we need to draw the distinction between proto-patterns and patterns, we also want to create a smooth transition between the two. If feasible, I would prefer a common format, with an interface that was effectively context sensitive, and presented different options and questions depending on the proto-pattern/pattern status indication. As an example, for a particular part of a proto-pattern, questions may prompt the user to look for examples where a proposed solution does not apply, to help establish the boundaries of context for the pattern. In the case of the pattern itself, this part would state what these boundaries were, and indicate relevant related patterns. There would need to be a process, perhaps using a simple checklist, that facilitated the transition from proto-pattern to pattern. Underlying this would be the simple criterion for deciding whether something should be given pattern status – namely: “Can it be used as a pattern?” Opinions on this issue would be particularly valuable, as we need to move to a decision very soon.

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Organising structures

Posted by Janet Finlay on September 17, 2008

One of our aims in the Planet project is to explore possible organising structures for our learning patterns – the “language” bit of what we are talking about. This is probably the most elusive element of the pattern approach – there are many individual patterns and there are pattern collections, but genuine pattern languages are few and far between. Organising structures are not trivial!

So what are we looking for? We want a structure that captures the relationship between our patterns. It should allow us to find the pattern we need for a particular context but also the patterns that are nearby. It should help us to use the patterns to create new solutions. It should also illuminate the “gaps” where we might need a pattern but where we don’t yet have one. Indexes are not enough.

A starting point for consideration of an organising structure for teaching practice has come from discussions with Sally Fincher who is leading the Share project, with which Planet members are collaborating. This organising structure is based around decision points – when, where and at what level we make decisions about our teaching practice. Sally has produced the following initial suggestion for such an organising structure and given us permission to post it here as a starting point for further debate and discussion:

The promising thing for me about this structure is that it does potentially provide our three basic requirements. If we mapped patterns onto the structure you could immediately see the patterns that were relevant to your current decision point as well as those closely related. You could work through the decision process using the relevant patterns at any point. And it would be immediately obvious where patterns were missing.

Our next step is to try to populate and refine the structure using both our own seed patterns and the collections that are publicly available. Thanks to Sally Fincher for allowing us to explore her structure in this way.

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e-learning patterns: workshop at KMRC, Tuebingen, March 4-6

Posted by yishaym on September 14, 2008

Once you start its hard to stop, but really I should. After all, this is the Planet project site – not the pattern herald. Still, this workshop is organized by Christian, so it has to be worth the trip. Plus, you can catch a gig at Tuebingen’s epplehaus.

Design patterns capture proven solutions for recurrent problems. The goal is to externalize the implicit knowledge of an expert, using a highly structured description format for documentation. Patterns have been around for decades, they are a success story in the field of software design, and recently have become very popular to describe recurrent teaching scenarios, instructional methods and tools.

This workshop aims to 

Capture and document the state-of-the art – Establish quality standards – Dissemination – Ties to related fields – Co-operation

For more information about the workshop, please contact Christian Kohls.
Mail: c.kohls(at)

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us @ handheldlearning

Posted by yishaym on September 13, 2008

Our paper “Planet: bringing learning design knowledge to the forefront” has been accepted to handheldlearning2008 (London, oct 13-15). Looks like its going to be a fun conference. If you’re there, come and say hi. Here’s the abstract we sent:

15 years ago, few learners had either mobile telephony or internet access as a reliable learning resource. Today most have both, in one 150gr device in their back pocket. The accelerated progress of technology means not just that learning is changing, but that change is changing. We – learners, teachers, researchers – have to respond to developments at a dizzying pace.

The first consequence we need to acknowledge is that the division of roles is being blurred. Teachers need to invest in continuous learning, learners can often take the role of teaching, and all are de-facto researchers: exploring and experimenting with new opportunities daily.

The second, more complex and perhaps more vital recognition is that we are all learning designers. We design learning environment for ourselves and for others by choosing the tools and their configuration, we design our curriculum, choosing which new skills and practices to acquire – and which to defer. We design learning experiences by carefully assembling tasks, tools, activities and social interactions.
These observations call for a renewed attention to learning as a design science. Herbert Simon defined: “everyone designs who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into desired ones” (Simon, 1969, p 129). Hence, design science is, in a nutshell, the science of making a better world. Design science needs a language of its own. A set of “scientific instruments”, modes of capturing and sharing knowledge, and methods of establishing validity. Mor & Winters argue that design patterns and pattern languages hold a promise in this respect, and propose a workshop model for participatory development of pattern languages in education (Mor & Winters, 2007; 2008).

The Pattern Language Network project is developing a methodology, and a set of on-line tools to support it, for pattern-based design research in education. These are being used by communities of practitioners, developers and researchers to capture and share their expertise and examples of good practice as reusable design knowledge.

Posted in about us, conferences, papers | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Call for papers: Pragmatic and systematic approaches in applying patterns

Posted by yishaym on September 12, 2008

Browsing through some old notes from EuroPLoP, I found this:

Call for papers: Special Issue of Springer Transactions on Pattern Languages of Programming (TPLOP) “Pragmatic and systematic approaches in applying patterns”

Even though patterns are a software engineering success story and have become mainstream in recent years, the application of the different types of patterns in practice has not yet fully met the expectations of the patterns community yet. Among other reasons, this is due to the inefficient advertisement of patterns to the community, as well as the lack of techniques for using patterns, and for introducing them into organizations. Many practitioners are aware of the GoF patterns and use them regularly in design and coding, but there is little evidence of systematic use of patterns in other areas of software, such as software architecture, analysis, or process. While there are many anecdotes of the benefits of using patterns, the impact of using patterns at any level is still not well understood. We note that there is some increase in teaching patterns in higher education and professional training programmes, but the results are not yet visible in the industry.
This special issue aims at studying the application of patterns in practice both from the practitioners and the researchers’ point of view. The former are pattern-based approaches that have been applied in industrial projects by experienced architects/designers and have shown promising results even if they lack scientific rigor. The latter are scientific approaches by researchers that aim at software engineering methods to support the systematic application of patterns but may still be at the research stage. Approaches that attempt to bridge the gap between these two extremes are particularly welcome.


Full CFP:

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yongfook made me friendfeed

Posted by yishaym on September 8, 2008

Here’s what I learnt from this presentation:

  • Blogs are not what they used to be (ok, I knew that, but he has nice graphs).
  • Lifestreams are the new blogs (ok, I knew that too, but he has some nice links and examples).
  • When you post on slideshare, have a good joke on slide 1.

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Reviewing our workshop process

Posted by johnrg on September 3, 2008

It was particularly interesting reading the blog posting from one of the participants at the Singapore workshop on August 8th. Our own discussions have highlighted the fact that face to face workshops are the most successful way we have found to support the process of identifying patterns and anything we can do to enhance this process is essential. In the light of these comments I think there are a number of aspects of the workshop process that could be improved.  The points rasied below are an attempt to start more detailed discussions on various aspects of the workshop process:

Confusion over the meaning of key terms: should we provide participants with a glossary of key terms and our intended meaning of them prior to and / or at the start of a workshop?

Introducing elements of the process that are not developed in the workshop: if we provide an overview of the whole process should we make it clear which aspects of the process will be developed in the workshop and which need to be developed after the workshop?

Better visualisations of the process: although the slides have a useful diagram showing the process would it be helpful to collect some diagrams created by participants and offer these as alternate views? The blog post has an interesting mind map like diagram for example.

Supporting the jump from case studies to patterns: several elements of feedback have suggested that a critical but difficult step in our process is to move from the details of a case study to the identification of commonalities across cases and the recognition of potential patterns. Can we provide examples of this – maybe a short video showing how we might achieve this, video clips from workshops again showing other people engaged in this activity??

More in depth discussion in the group activities: can we offer participants a list of ‘typical’ questions that they might respond to when reviewing case studies, identifying commonalities and proposing patterns. This would provide more scaffolding for this part of the process.

Information overloading: the comments seem to suggest that parts of the workshop became less effective because of the amount and diversity of information and links presented. Could we reorganise the process so that we concentrate on the activities and once we have got to a point where participants have produced some outputs then come back to some of the wider references?

Coherence of the activities: we need to ensure that participants follow one example to completion in the first instance (preferably their example / case study) before revisiting elements of the process and extending the range of examples.

Confusion over how to apply the patterns created: feedback suggests that participants would like to have a reasonably clear view of how the resulting patterns would be applied to create problem solutions. We need to provide a clear appreciation of how patterns might be represented as a network and how a tool might be support user choice of patterns to create a solution, their solution. Our view of the framework needs to be articulated  more clearly.

In conclusion: I think that the final comment from the blog is extremely relevant to us:

“All in all, I think the concept and the idea behind is a solid one… more thoughts on how the key components can be delivered and connected perhaps would have made the learning a more effective one.

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