The Pattern Language Network

Taming web2.0 in Higher Education

Archive for January, 2009

Some thoughts about organising frameworks

Posted by IJF on January 30, 2009

I’ve been reading Jim’s paper, and Yishay and John’s recent experiences with organisational frameworks for the patterns.I think we have to remember that there is a problem that mapping to an organisational framework is intended to solve. The problem is: how does a practitioner who is new to the system find the patterns that will be useful to them? Ease of locating relevant patterns should, in my view, be the criterion by which we judge any organising framework. True to the Planet, participatory methodology, we have been getting users collaboratively to develop the framework, but the users we have been working with have been essentially the pattern contributors. In doing this, we mustn’t loose sight of the intended end users who come to the system cold and need to locate relevant patterns.

I’ve been trying to view recent Planet experience with this view in mind. In some ways I think it reduces the complexity of the problems significantly – but inevitably increases it in others. So, first the reductions in complexity:

  • Concern with mapping tools and process is irrelevant unless the nature of the tool used for mapping affects the usability of the resultant framework for end users
  • We can collapse the time dimension. Jim outlines a “decision cycle” which I think, might more properly be called a “development and use cycle”. The point being, that whenever a practitioner has to make a decision, they are effectively in “planning and design” mode. Jim’s scenario of use illustrates this: as the teacher implements activities that generate more information about the students, reviews the design and is faced with deciding what to do next, what has changed is the contextual information available to the teacher, not the fact that they are now consulting the patterns in order to design the next bit of the module. Ie. the use of patterns is for designing – it might be for designing activities, or designing feedback, or for designing evaluation, but the point of use is in the design stage. Collapsing the time dimension enables us to avoid a major issue – that the planning and design process is both iterative and parallel, and thus the time dimension is not a simply connected linear one.
  • As John’s group recognised, decisions may be individual, institutional or discipline-wide. In very crude terms there is probably a 1:1 mapping between these levels and time. Institutional or discipline decisions (and hence consultation of the patterns) have to be done a long way in advance of implementation. Individual decisions (and consultation of patterns), can be done closer to implementation (but not too close because by then it is too late). If we accept such a 1:1 mapping, it enables us, once again, to ignore the time dimension by collapsing it into the level description.

So, where does this leave us? Imagine a teacher with a problem consulting the patterns to try to find a solution. I think they will want to locate themselves within the organisational framework through the parameters of their problem – eg. “large class with very varied abilities”, ie. they will be locating the patterns through descriptors of their context. It seems as though both the eFormative assessment workshop, and one of the CETL ALiC groups started to develop frameworks that were based on simple context descriptions.

Some suggestions for where we could go (if we had time):

  • Try to establish what the key dimensions of context are. As well as collaborating with users, places to look for evidence would be the forces descriptions in our patterns, the fields used by the pedagogic planner and Mod4L projects, the taxonomies of learning activities developed by the DialogPlus project and by Helen Beetham.
  • Develop the pattern tagging system to request tags for the key dimensions, enabling contextual search and retrieval of patterns
  • Map the patterns (our collection and others) against the dimensions for a gap analysis.

Talking about gaps raises a further question that we haven’t addressed so far:

  • Do the gaps matter? A pattern has an impact if it points to something the designer would not otherwise have thought of. If the gaps arise because they represent such common practice that no-one has thought it worth articulating, then they may not matter (although we would want to be assured that the practice was so common that even novices were aware of it). If, on the other hand, they are gaps because they are crucial parts of practice but rare among our contributors, then filling the gaps would have considerable impact. If high impact gaps have arisen because of the affordances of our methodology, then we might want to reconsider the methodology in the long term.

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The benefits of Planet

Posted by Janet Finlay on January 29, 2009

Most of the team are at the Emerge event in York where we have been trying to come up with a cartoon strip to represent the benefits of Planet to academic staff. This is the result:

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CFP: Special Issue on Social Technologies in Computer Science Education (Computer Science Education Journal)

Posted by Janet Finlay on January 28, 2009

Call for Papers

Computer Science Education Journal
Special Issue on Social Technologies in Computer Science Education

Guest Editor: Professor Janet Finlay, Leeds Metropolitan University,

There has been much interest of late in the use of social technologies to enhance teaching and learning.  Increasingly educators are exploring the role of Multi User Virtual Environments and so called “Web 2.0” technologies, such as blogs, wikis, social networks, shared applications, podcasts, folksonomies and mash-ups, in providing a more connected, collaborative and engaging learner experience. Within Computer Science Education, social technologies have the potential to support project work and group design activities as well as providing development environments, and simulations or demonstrations of complex problems. This special issue will examine the use of these social technologies for teaching and learning within computing disciplines.

Contributions are invited on any aspect of social technology applied to computer science education, including classroom-based empirical studies, intra- or inter-institutional evaluations, instructional cases that inform practice, and theoretical explorations of the value – or otherwise – of the use of such technologies in this context. Studies based on qualitative data, such as case studies, historical analysis and theoretical, analytical or philosophical material, are equally highly regarded as studies based on quantitative data and experimental methods. It is expected that all papers should inform the reader of the methods and goals of the research; present and contextualise results, and draw clear conclusions.

Key dates:
Submissions due: 16th April 2009
Notification to authors:  13th July 2009
Final versions due: 31st August 2009
Publication date: December 2009

All papers will be subject to the normal rigorous anonymous peer review process but authors may if they wish discuss their ideas in advance with the Guest Editor. Submissions should be approximately 7000 words long and be submitted by email to the Guest Editor, at, following the style guidelines for the journal  (see

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CETL ALiC Workshop Jan 27th

Posted by johnrg on January 28, 2009

Janet and I ran a workshop with the CETL ALiC user group yesterday where we got the participants to review their own approaches to designing student learning experiences and then to reflect on how useful some of the frameworks under consideration were in this context. We gave them copies of both Sally Fincher’s time based decision points framework and also the 6 themes used in the Disciplinary Commons (DC) project (Context, Content, Instructional Design, Delivery, Assessment and Evaluation). This was followed by an activity in which participants were asked to map the patterns stored in the Planet platform against their preferred framework.

One group choose to work with the DC themes modified to include levels concerned with individual, institutional and discipline wide decisions. This was chosen as it was simple and easy to work with. They also added an extra theme for ‘Students’ on the basis that students were a key element in the learning design process however when they mapped the patterns onto this framework none of the patterns were allocated to this theme! (perhaps because the students were an implicit aspect of everything). This group were able to review all the patterns in Planet and were able to map most of them – there were a number that were impossible to map as they were either empty or incomprehensible as patterns.

The second group combined both the decision based framework with the DC themes producing quite a complex structure that required them to give some deep thought to the mapping of patterns. As a result they were able to cover a subset of the available patterns but their mapping showed an interesting spread of patterns across time, numbers of students and level of decisions. They also found that some patterns could not be mapped again either because they were only a title or were difficult to understand.

It was clear from the discussions and comments of  participants that the different levels of development of the patterns made the activity very difficult and they did observe that a number of things presented as patterns were not actually patterns but examples of something that had worked in one context only (one ‘pattern’ was identified as a problem without a solution!).

We have videos of the groups working and will seek to provide some clips of the mapping outcomes. What is evident is that we do need to revisit the patterns we actually have with a view to identifying those that are clearly useful to us and moderating them to bring them up to pattern standard. As part of this process we need to introduce a separation between those items that are truly patterns and those that are ‘candidate patterns’ in order to help staff who may wish to use our patterns.

At the end of the workshop we spent a little time with the participants in order to get them to complete the workshops evaluation questionnaire as offered by Isobel. We will bring these to the meeting at York by which time I should have looked at them at identified useful outcomes.

We plan to run a further workshop with this group in March where they bring a specific issue or problem from their teaching experiences and support them in using a framework that helps them identify useful patterns for solving that problem.

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maps are for going somewhere

Posted by yishaym on January 22, 2009

The formative e-assessment group has come up with a map of their patterns and their main supporting case stories.
This map is based on Dylan Wiliam’s table of factors of formative assessment.


map of case stories and patterns from the formative e-assessment group (

I took us quite time to arrive at this map. We tried various techniques and approaches. First, we tried to draw a graph of the links between the patterns. That proved to be too thick in some points (highly connected patterns), too thin in others, and not very informative in general.

Then, we tried a table-top concept mapping at a workshop, where we asked participants to draw out key concepts and map them on the table using post-its and coloured thread. This was a good exercise for participants, helping them establish a common language and identify the contingencies of the domain. However, it didn’t give us anything we could work with as an organising structure.

In the end, we went back to the fundemental question: if having a map is the solution – what is the problem (and the context)? We realised that in the context of our group the primary value of the map, or any organising structure would be to provide a means of navigating the language. To that effect, it has to be simple and informative. Too much information would be just as bad as too little. Think about the London tube map (thanks Jim, for the example). Beck’s genius was in understanding that the design of the map should be functional rather than structural. In other words, scale or any geographical refernce was irrelevant. The map should show you in the simplest and clearest manner how to get from station A to station B (and what fare you need to pay). This resonated quite well with what I remember Helen Sharp pointed out at October meeting. She refered to the papers from the pedagogical patterns project. Most of them start with an easy to grasp table that organises the patterns below into clear categories.

Nevertheless, 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 framework.


  • An organising structure is not an Aristotelian hierarchy. It is functional,  not structural. Or rather, structural to the extent is serves its function. Organise as a verb, not organisation as a noun.
  • We should expect many mappings of the same space, each internally coherent but each partially covering the space and overlapping with others.
  • Maps may take any arbitrary shape – spiders, tables, trees, graphs, etc. The mapping tool should afford this. Personally, I recommend creating maps in SVG using inkscape. Unfortunatly, some primitive browsers don’t support embedded SVG, but I trust our users to have enough sense to use decent software (and in any case, we can export images for the poor).

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New tagging facility available on the Planet Wiki

Posted by jhensman on January 20, 2009

Anyone registered on the Planet Wiki now has the ability to add tags to patterns, and then search on these. You can define your own tags, or use the tags link under navigation to see tags already used. You can use the tags in any way you like – we will be interested in feedback on how you use them. One facility we intend to use them for is in linking the Wiki to other systems. This includes systems specifically used with Planet, to map the patterns for instance, as well as other learning tools and frameworks.

Thanks to Ajdin for implementing this very useful feature.

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JCAL special issue on web2.0

Posted by yishaym on January 20, 2009

the Journal of Computer Assisted Learning has just released a special issue on Social Software, Web 2.0 and Learning

And, while we’re in the mood, I thought I’d mention:
Scott Wilson Interactive Learning Environments16(1):17–34(2008)

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programme for the KMRC e-learning patterns workshop

Posted by yishaym on January 14, 2009

(cross posted from

Christian Kohls just sent me the programme for the e-Learning Patterns workshop in March, and it’s looking really good. Some of the names I spotted: Helen Sharp, Ulrike Cress, Davinia Hernándes-Leo, Till Schümmer, Frank Fischer, Andreas Harrer, Yannis Dimitriadis (random list).

I’m facilitating a workshop on “cases to patterns” and also giving a talk on “Patterns for building patterns communities”. Here’s the draft abstract for my talk:

workshop1The construct of design pattern is often summarised as “the core of a solution to a problem in context”. What, then, is the problem that design patterns solve, and in which contexts?
As design patterns break new grounds in educational research and practice, challenging questions arise: how do we engage new audiences in the pattern paradigm? How do we adapt the form and modes of use of patterns to make them useful in diverse realms of practice? Why do we have such a strong conviction in the value of design patterns?
The tradition of design patterns refers to concepts such as “timelessness” and “expertise”. These are problematic in a world of accelerating change. Yet another fundamental principle is accentuated; the need to establish robust design languages capable of capturing the complexity of problems in our environment and offering verifiable solutions. I argue that design-level discourse is imperative in many critical domains of human activity, and that patterns should play a central role in such discourse. Over the last few years, my colleagues and I have been developing a methodology for participatory workshops for practical design patterns. This methodology has emerged from the “Learning Patterns” project, and is being refined by the “Pattern Language Network” project.
In this talk, I will describe the methodology, its history and future plans, and provide some illustrative examples. I will also highlight some of the fundamental questions which is provokes.

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Mapping the Planet Patterns – and a Pedagogical Framework for Learning

Posted by jhensman on January 13, 2009

The Planet project has collected and is developing a number of patterns related to using Web 2.0 techniques for learning. How can these be connected to each other to form a language, and incorporated into a wider pedagogic framework that can be easily used by learning practitioners? These questions are looked at in a document available at:


The document looks at the principles of connecting patterns together into a language, and maps the patterns collected by the project, including patterns that came out of the very successful recent workshop on Digital Identity. It then suggests a general pedagogical model and framework that can include the Planet patterns, and uses a simple example scenario to demonstrate how this could be used in a practical situation to help design a unit of learning.


Although diagrams and maps can help in understanding pattern structures and pedagogical frameworks, it is only if these are part of an online dynamic interactive system that they can provide an easily usable practical tool. The document considers what a system like this would look like, and concludes with a discussion on how such a system could interface with other learning tools and systems, which the project has begun to investigate.

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guest post from Martin Jones: sketches of a workshop

Posted by yishaym on January 13, 2009

Martin Jones and Maisie Platts joined us at the digital identities workshop last week. Martin and Maisie are illustrators, and they came to help us add a visual dimension to our stories – those we collect, as well as our observations from the workshop process. Martin has sent me some notes, and I’ve asked his permission to publish them here as a guest post:

Coffee was drunk standing up in groups in the foyer space, and online activities, texting etc took place sitting in the seminar room, where it was darker, and the rows of chairs made for a kind of anonimity

"Coffee was drunk standing up in groups in the foyer space, and online activities, texting etc took place sitting in the seminar room, where it was darker, and the rows of chairs made for a kind of anonimity"

My first observation, was that participants spontaneously occupied the two spaces available to them differently. Coffee was drunk standing up in groups in the foyer space, and online activities, texting etc took place sitting in the seminar room, where it was darker, and the rows of chairs made for a kind of anonymity. I think this observation was a result of a preconception of mine (screens as walls between real spaces) I didn’t manage to shake this preconception off all day, and it is reflected in a lot of the drawings.

As an artist, having groups of people who are cool with the idea of being drawn while they engage in a group activity was a great privilege. It picked up on a thread of work which I haven’t followed for quite some time – drawing crowds. I really enjoyed the challenge of working fast, and setting new challenges for myself along the way. i.e. sometimes drawing a scene that actually happened, sometimes drawing a scene that was being described, sometimes drawing a cartoon representation of the ideas being discussed.

sketches from the workshop.

sketches from the workshop.

The participants were very open to being drawn, and open to the idea that the process might be useful, even though I couldn’t come up with a short rational explanation of why it might be useful.

The fact that I joined in with the ‘draw three versions of yourself’ exercise meant that I thought of myself as part of the group I worked with first, although this was hard to sustain as my attention was divided with the drawing and moving to other groups.

3 faces game of identity game

"3 faces game of identity" game

I thought of myself as a ‘provoking’ presence, and also seized upon the work ‘lurker’ when it came up in one of the groups. I also drew Yishay and Steven as lurkers.

I think I came up with the idea of me being a provoking presence because I felt a slight frustration with the group for (as I saw it) resisting the idea of turning their contributions into anything that I would recognise as a story. They seemed much more interested in discussing the issues raised by the contributions in an open ended way. This I interpreted as evading the call to form a story because doing so would exclude all other ‘interesting’ avenues of discussion. I felt the call to form a story was the point of the workshop, not debating solutions. I didn’t express this directly, but attempted to ‘retell’ one of the contributions as a story such as one might see in a movie. This caused a slight pause among the participants, and they then returned to the discursive. No one picked this up by attempting to retell the story from their own imagination and experience, and I didn’t attempt this again (though I harboured the feeling that it would have been useful I had).

you cant be silent, theres no point in being there / why were they following me when I wasnt there

you can't be silent, there's no point in being there / why were they following me when I wasn't there? - Digital Identity Panic

I quite quickly started to imagine the workshop as an online community – potentially anyone could have walked in and joined in. People formed and reformed into little discussion groups. Everyone was very open with their opinions. I guess they were professional opinion-formers.

I was very taken with the idea of people only being partially or incompletely represented to each other online (it seemed as if there was a lot of desire to take control of this process, and a feeling of conflict that there was something wrong with the idea of controlling it – ie compromising what was good about the internet).

My drawings started to reflect this. I abandoned the idea that the drawing might represent the whole person, and concentrated only on single gestures, postures and groupings – along with representations of what was being said. I was conscious that sometimes my representations of what was being said was not necessarily true to the spirit of the speaker, but the slant of my listening. This added to my feeling of being a lurker.

The one exception to this was when one of the participants asked me to draw two situations their group had come up with to sum up the dilemma they were discussing (a pub and a sealed room). I felt very grateful to be asked to do something useful and achievable at this time of the day!

Lurking is important when engaging with new social platforms/services, especially when deciding what is a legitimate projection/use of identity. Space For Lurking

Martin Jones 12th Jan 09

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