The Pattern Language Network

Taming web2.0 in Higher Education

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.


5 Responses to “Organising structures”

  1. isobelf said

    I agree that this is a promising structure to explore, Janet. It has the merit of representational simplicity and, as you say, meets our three basic requirements. It maps well, I think, to the findings of the Mod4L project about the information requirements of teachers for representations of learning designs at different stages of sharing and reuse ( ). I’ll be interested to see how it works in practice.

    One issue I see is that there is probably a gap between one’s decision point, and when one actually needs to read up and think about the relevant pattern. Hopefully, we could handle this by appropriate blurb to go with the representation, or perhaps a careful wording of the labels. Well away from the origin, this gap is not large. One has plenty of time for reading, thinking and planning. However, close to the origin one has to be able to call on and implement the pattern instantaneously. This means that one has to have read it, manipulated and internalised it in advance, so that it is ready to be implemented.

    It is in enabling the process of reading, manipulating and internalising that I think discussions around the patterns are so important, and why the platform needs to support and encourage such discussion.

    Cheers, Isobel

  2. jhensman said

    Reflections on Organising Structures

    Up to now with the Planet project, we have adopted a mainly “bottom up” approach. That is, we have started developing patterns as they have arisen within workshops, without worrying particularly how they related to each other or a wider framework. I think this was the correct way to start, because it has given us an insight into the types of pattern that arise and how they develop, and this will continue to be a key focus of our work. However, we now need to supplement this with a more “top down” approach as well. Janet has mentioned some of the reasons we need to do this. For instance, when we are developing patterns and a pattern language, it helps us identify gaps and suggest areas we should try to develop patterns in. Again, when using a pattern language, you need to find relevant patterns for your particular requirement. You may start by identifying one pattern that appears relevant, but then need to explore other linked patterns to determine the set of patterns needed for a complete solution.

    The differences and similarities between the processes of creating patterns and using them, with respect to pattern formats, have been discussed elsewhere in this blog. A parallel exists when looking at organising structures. A suitable structure will both guide the development of individual patterns and the wider language, and also help when using the language. The questions posed and issues raised when using the system in the mainly developmental phase, will provide some of the answers and structure when in the mainly user phase. These phases and their associated processes will be linked, but also be distinct in certain ways. Some thought will have to be given into how to harmonise these two aspects.

    Other factors also complicate the issue. Consider any process of design, including learning design in our case. At any point in the design process, several factors, and thus their associated patterns, will need to be taken into consideration. To take a simple example, for many processes associated with learning, the individual dimension – the learner, and the group dimension – the class etc., both have to be considered. There may be ways of ordering and prioritising these, but this multi-faceted aspect of the process will still need to be taken into account. When considering how this could be represented visually, we would have to consider multiple overlays, or a multi-dimensional space with the ability to focus on particular dimensions. Furthermore, the scale at which we visualise patterns will have to be very flexible. Within general areas we would need to be able to drill down to see the details of specific patterns.

    I feel the structure suggested by Sally Fincher is a powerful one, and a good place to start looking at these questions. One of the things I particularly like about it is the way it represents the time dimension and the importance it gives to this. If we look at the structure diagram in a slightly different way, it can help us see how this could be incorporated into a pattern framework, and also get a feeling for some of the complexities mentioned earlier. Rather than considering the “now” axis as a point on the timeline separating past and present, consider “now” as the set of decisions that have to be made and actions carried out at any time, and the elements from the past in the diagram (evaluative, reflective) being ones that influence what is decided for the future (projectwork etc.) Thus we could consider a number of patterns covering these different aspects coming together at any point in time to help determine what is done.

    Where do we go from here? I think we need to start experimenting with structures like this one, seeing how our current proto-patterns/patterns fit into it, and perhaps also patterns from other pattern libraries in the learning area. We need to look at different ways of visualising the structure and the technical frameworks that we could use. And we need to continually keep returning to our users to find out whether what we are doing makes sense to them and is usable. I think this is going to be one of the most challenging parts of the project. As Janet said, organising structures are not trivial!

  3. Janet Finlay said

    It is definitely a starting point and offered by Sally in the spirit of raising discussion rather than a finished solution. I think we will need to adjust the dimensions and consider the immediacy of the need for support in the process as Isobel says. A way forward will be to map our current patterns on to this structure and see what we find.

  4. […] are designed to help you find the pattern you need, when you need it. This makes me think about our quest for organising structures. Our primary criterion for choosing a structure should be functional. […]

  5. […] once we had darted the patterns over the table, the gaps were apparent. Which, as Janet always reminds us, is the second important function of an organising […]

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