The Pattern Language Network

Taming web2.0 in Higher Education

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).

One Response to “maps are for going somewhere”

  1. […] maps are for going somewhere […]

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