The Pattern Language Network

Taming web2.0 in Higher Education

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Next Generation Technologies in Practice 09 – Loughborough

Posted by Janet Finlay on March 11, 2009

Several of the team have just spent two days in Loughborough at the Next Generation Technologies in Practice JISC conference – excellent event with much food for thought on sharing practice and communities of relevance to Planet. This morning Jim, John and I, together with Wendy Luker, Director of the Persona project, led a session entitled Social Technologies for Sharing Practice, where we looked at Planet and Persona, together with Streamline, and the ways in which they had made use of social technologies to support sharing. It was a pretty full session and seemed to be well received (I particularly liked this tweet, in response to me saying the twitter stream was quiet during the session: “it’s too interesting to tweet :)”!)

For those who missed it our slides are on authorstream (slideshare not playing ball at present for me):

Vodpod videos no longer available.

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Useful Sharing

Posted by Janet Finlay on March 4, 2009

Here is a presentation by Sally Fincher of the University of Kent on Useful Sharing which she gave recently at Glasgow. I think she captures very well many of the issues that arise with sharing practice effectively. (Skip through the section in the middle where they are doing the exercise – although it is in itself a very interesting exercise and one I have made use of in Planet workshops, having used it with Sally in the HCI Disciplinary Commons).

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Three or four workshops?

Posted by Janet Finlay on February 9, 2009

I’m in the process of writing a script for our short Planet video and have been pondering on both the practice and the theory of the workshops model. We have defined it as a three-workshop model: cases to candidate patterns; candidate patterns to patterns; patterns applied to scenarios. But there seems to be a fourth activity that we have all done – which doesn’t seem to fit well into this model: mapping patterns. Whether that is attempting to develop a community language or attempting to map patterns to an existing structure, this has been a core activity in several workshops. So do we actually have a four workshop model?

I suspect part of the answer is that the boundaries are fluid – a “workshop” is not necessarily a discrete event but a collection of activities that might actually take place over the course of a number of face to face meetings – and, conversely, different groups will work at different speeds and may combine elements of several workshops into one meeting. But the fact remains that there are four distinct activities – and, unless we find the holy grail of a single organising structure, all four will generally be needed. At the moment I am putting mapping and use together – but maybe we need a four phase process?

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guest post: Maisie Platts on sketching at the EDID9 digital identity event

Posted by Steven Warburton on February 3, 2009

Maisie Platts along with Martin Jones joined us at the digital identities workshop last month. They are both illustrators, and helped us add a visual dimension to the case stories and group discussion – Martin’s reflections can found below. These are the notes that Maisie has sent and kindly allowed us to publish here as a guest post:

When I was invited to attend the Digital Identities workshop to draw my view of what was being said and done I was both excited and a little nervous as to what to expect. My biggest concern was to whether I’d be able to comprehend what was going on. The idea of creating quick sketches with a possible audience was also quite daunting and very much out of my usual comfort zone. I’ve become very used to sitting at home with only myself for company drawing things over and over until I am pleased with the results before I show them to anyone. Although I was feeling a little anxious about these things I am a firm believer of the importance of setting myself challenges and it’s always good to get out the house!

A week or so before the workshop we were sent links to some of the case stories that attendees had written about digital identities. From reading these I felt less worried as I began to understand better the idea of digital identities and was familiar with some of the subject matters such as Facebook and Flickr. There were still a few things though that boggled my mind.

On the day of the workshop an early morning rise and a surprisingly fast train journey got me from Liverpool to London, handily arriving at Euston Station just around the corner from the British Library. I was very happy to be greeted with a cup of tea when arriving at the conference centre and enjoyed a quick chat with some of the attendees along with Martin my fellow sketcher for the day.

In the introduction I understood most of what was being said and enjoyed thinking about how I could draw the three aspects of my identity that we were all asked to do. Everyone then got into to groups to discuss specific case stories. I chose to sit in with one of the groups having not yet decided whether I would stay with them for the whole morning or move around and catch elements of different groups conversations. We all began by introducing ourselves and talking a little about what we did and about our depictions of the three aspects of our identity. Then two members of the group Margarita and Josie talked through their case stories and the group proceeded to discuss. I started out by trying to quickly sketch my interpretation of what was being said (seminaked.jpg) and then redrew a few of the elements which I felt needed a bit of refining to make it clearer what was happening (protection.jpg).

Towards the end of their discussions the group were stood up around the table looking at a large sheet of paper and moving around different coloured post it notes. You could tell they had been working hard as the table was in a bit of a state of disarray, much like how my desk gets at home. This was when I chose to draw what I saw before me to try and capture the enthusiasm and energy of the group (conceptmapping.jpg).

I had gotten so carried away with my drawings that it came as a surprise to me when it was lunch time already.

After lunch I made the decision that I would not stay in just one group but move around a bit more to see the differences or similarities between them. When I arrived at the first group it was quite difficult to understand what they were talking about as it was all a bit too technical for my ears. I began making literal interpretations of the words ‘Super Patterns’ and ‘Anti Patterns’ which seemed to keep coming up in their conversations. I imagined them to be highly decorated superheroes and plain clothes anti heroes from a comic book. I didn’t want to get too carried away with this so after a while I asked the group for a brief run down of what they were focusing on. This made it a little clearer and allowed me to draw something I think was a little more relevant to their discussions. (Pica1.jpg)

After this I decided to move over and sit with a different group. It was quite difficult again to figure out what the basis of their discussions were as one story seemed to lead on to something different. However I decided it didn’t really matter what the starting point was as what was being said was very interesting so I just chose to draw from what the group were talking about at that moment. (Pica2.jpg, Pica3.jpg) Before too long everyone was packing up for a final round up of the day so away went my pencils into my pencil sharpening filled pencilcase.

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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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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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Organising Principle for Patterns.

Posted by johnrg on December 12, 2008

Jakki, Andrea and I made an attempt recently to map some of the patterns held on the Planet Wiki against the time and decision based organisational structure put forward by Sally Fincher. We had some success and we also encountered several issues. Particular areas of difficulty arose from:

  • working with a dynamic timeline
  • identifying disciplinary based decisions

We also made a number of observations including:

  • the same patterns could be applicable at different points along the time line
  • the same patterns could be applicable to differing group sizes
  • there are evident groupings of patterns e.g. communication and team working

What did we learn?

There was considerable discussion between the three of us about where to place some of the patterns on the diagram. Similarly our understanding of the timeline varied because of its circularity e.g. at what point are you making decisions based on student module evaluations is it at the end of the time line or the beginning.

As a result of this exercise a variant on the decision based organising principle was proposed based on the idea that designing learning experiences can be modelled as a life cycle and that this can be represented as phases that may be sequential and iterative.  Another factor in seeking to represent things in this way was the view presented by  Sally Fincher that however we seek to offer patterns to staff it must be as close as possible to what staff actually do otherwise they are unlikely to make use any outcomes from the project.

In looking at this mapping activity it rapidly became clear that the number of factors influencing decisions arose from pedagogic, operational and administrative considerations and that while there may be useful patterns to be mined from each of these areas we need to limit ourselves to pedagogic patterns for the purpose of this project.

Another observation made relates to ‘groupings’ of related patterns. Looking at Sally’s structure there are also ‘groupings’ evident in this e.g. classroom activities, evaluation, reflective, project work and so forth. It seems to us that one approach here would be seek to collate patterns into groups and to identify appropriate points in the ‘life-cycle’ of a learning experience where such groups may prove helpful to academic staff. Clearly we need to understand what groupings might prove useful and we would need to evaluate potential workflows of such staff to see how they actually go about designing, delivering and evaluating learning experiences.



We identify a few active and amenable members of staff to talk to about how they create student learning experiences. We should seek potentially useful points at which collections of patterns could be made available, what form this might take and also what patterns might prove useful.

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