The Pattern Language Network

Taming web2.0 in Higher Education

Archive for the ‘project’ Category

issues related to the project work and administration

The Story of the Planet Platform

Posted by yishaym on March 31, 2009

True to the dogfood principle, we now have a case study on the development of the Planet platform. An amazing tale on international mystery and intrigue. Well, maybe not – but if you’re working in a UK HE institure and thinking of launching an ambitious web2.0 project, you might find our experience informative.

Or, if you have been involved in a similar project, we would be curious to know: does this resonate with your experiece?

Its all there (in brief): the original plan, what went smoothly, what went wrong, and where we are at the end of the day. Enjoy!

Posted in about us, announcements, case studies, code, notes from the field, reporting | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Planet Video

Posted by Janet Finlay on February 25, 2009

We have produced a short video which provides an overview of the project and our methodology. Many thanks to the EXTEND project for their assistance in developing this and to Jakki Sheridan-Ross for her production. Enjoy!

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about "The Planet Video", posted with vodpod

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three workshops and a symposium

Posted by yishaym on February 20, 2009

March is going to be very, very busy. Apart from the expected business of writing reports and cleaning up project outputs, we’re going to be running three workshops and leading a symposium at CAL.

The Digital Identities Workshop (March 2nd) asks –

We use the term ‘digital identity’ to refer to the online representation of an individual within a community, as adopted by that individual and projected by others. An individual may have multiple digital identities in multiple communities. What is the impact of new technologies on digital identities within education? How should we design technologies and practices to address the complexities of digital identity?

This is a Workshop III type event, which means it is focused on scenarios and builds on previous work. It is therefore, regretfully, an invitation only event. But if you have a special interest in attending, please contact Steven Warburton.

Fast on its heals, we have a meta-workshop at the E-Learning Patterns conference in Tuebingen (March 5th)

This is intended to be a sort of old bikers’ gathering. Taking the opportunity of having many experienced design pattern folk around, we’re going to rev up our (methodological) engines, and compare the tunes.

Then, back in London, there’s a workshop on Patterns for civic empowerment (March 17th)

This is a joint initiative with the Public Sphere Project, and PRADSA network, celebrating the release of the Liberating Voices book. There are still a few places left but you better be quick!

Finally, if you’re coming to CAL’09: Learning in Digital Worlds, (March 23-25th 2009, Brighton) please join us for –

a symposium on The challenges of the design pattern paradigm for the development of learning environments and experiences. We’re bringing our participatory approach with us, so you’re welcome to make a contribution before, during and after the event.

Posted in announcements, conferences, events, related projects, workshops | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

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).

Posted in outputs, tools | 1 Comment »

We – have – A – P – I!!

Posted by yishaym on December 23, 2008

Thanks to the good work of Ajdin, we now have an HTML API that serves Patterns and Cases in XML, PLML, RSS or CSV. I’ve also added a generic API, which allows you to browse all object in the system in XML/HTML.

The intention here is to allow other design pattern / learning design repositories to interface with our system programmaticaly with as little effort as possible. Other systems could list our objects, include them in searches, support easy linking, or offer an alternative interface (read only, for now).

More should be coming, so you might want to watch

But there’s also a caveat: we’re still in the experimental / conceptual phase. These APIs work, but they are also subject to change. We give no guarentees of backward compatibility. So if you use them, make sure you wrap them with an abstraction layer on your end.

Posted in code, outputs, related projects | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Planet 2-day meeting

Posted by Janet Finlay on October 29, 2008

My head is buzzing following our very productive two day meeting in London which finished yesterday. The first day was a meeting of the Planet team; on the second we were joined by distinguished guests with expertise in various areas of patterns and representations of practice. These included: Lorna Burns from Barnet College; Mark Childs from Coventry; Juliette Culver from the OU; Sally Fincher from University of Kent; Christian Kohls from the Knowledge Media Research Center in Tübingen, Germany; Diana Laurillard from London Knowledge Lab; Helen Sharp from the OU; and Niall Winters from London Knowledge Lab. Jill Jameson also joined us for the afternoon on the second day in her role as critical friend to the project. In between the two working days, the team and guests met for dinner at the wonderful Ottolenghi restaurant in Islington – well worth a visit! But back to the main business. 

Frankly it is difficult to know where to start. On day one we thrashed through some major issues to do with the process of eliciting patterns, the scaffolding we offer through our wiki, and the need for (and current lack of) an organising structure for the patterns that are emerging from our workshop activities. On the second day we had invited our guests to submit stories about their own successful teaching practice which we then used in the morning to give them a taste of our workshop approach to pattern elicitation. In the afternoon we invited them to feedback on this which led to a valuable discussion of the strengths and weaknesses in our approach and alternative approaches which really helped us to pin down the aspects we need to focus on in the remaining months of the project.

Each of these needs further consideration (and warrants its own blog post) but to summarize:

  • We are proposing a three workshop model, with active facilitation from a pattern-knowledgeable moderator pre and post each activity. Much of this is in place but needs closer specification so that what is currently “craft” knowledge is made explicit, the activities required of participants are more clearly defined and the case and pattern structures currently on the Wiki reflect what we are seeking in these two forms.
  • We need to agree what and how we are abstracting from case stories to make patterns: what are the salient questions to ask? And what order is it appropriate to ask them?
  • We urgently need an organising structure to help us make sense of the patterns that are already emerging, to identify gaps where new patterns are needed, and to scaffold the use of patterns in practice. We have some candidates and we need to start working with them: how do our existing patterns map onto these? where are the gaps? what sense do they make to users? The latter is key: whatever structure we choose must reflect the way teaching practitioners work and think about their practice or the patterns will not be used.
  • We currently have upwards of a dozen user groups, with whom we are working and talking. All are at different stages in the process, but it is important that one or two at least complete and evaluate the whole three workshop cycle. CETL ALiC and the e-formative assessment groups are furthest along this path so we need to make sure their forthcoming workshops reflect the process as it is developing.

There is much more to say and other team members will give their own reflections on the event. But for me this has been a significant activity and one which has really enabled us to examine what we are doing. There is a lot still to do but we are definitely making progress! The challenge now is to keep focused on these critical elements of work.

Posted in action items, pattern languages, patterns, project, reporting, workshops | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

“language” attribute on patterns?

Posted by yishaym on October 16, 2008

Our cases have a “group / workshop” attribute. This is because we collect them from various communities, and the participants in these communities want to quickly find their peer’s contributions. We didn’t have a similar attribute for patterns, thinking that the whole point of patterns is to promote generality and knowledge transfer. Now, that is still true, yet on the other hand we can see several distinguishable (if not distinct) languages emerging. Patterns for e-Assessment are a cluster apart from HCI patterns etc. After all, this is the pattern language network.
So, should we add a “language” attribute to patterns? Should it be single or multiple choice?

Posted in code, musings, tools, user group | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Eureka!, again

Posted by yishaym on October 3, 2008

On Thursday we had the 2nd practical inquiry day of the formative e-assessment group. The focus of this day was collecting case stories and identifying seed patterns (aka proto-patterns).
To get people in the right mood, we started with the Eureka! game, which we first tried in Singapore. You have to try it – it’s such great fun, and brings out the hidden truths about learning.
It’s also a great release exercise before diving into case study writing. After playing this, people loose all inhibitions, and the stories just pour out.

Posted in case studies, tools, workshops | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

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.

Posted in case studies, code, internal collaboration, patterns, tools | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

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 »