The Pattern Language Network

Taming web2.0 in Higher Education

Posts Tagged ‘pattern structure’

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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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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the new pattern template is here!

Posted by yishaym on November 19, 2008

Over the last few weeks, we’ve been busy with workshops all over the place: CETL ALiC in leeds, formative e-Assessment in London, Teaching and Learning Computer Science in Edinbrugh. Of these, the first two were planned as a Workshop II in the frame of our methodology. The London one pretty much followed the plan, while in Leeds, as Janet reported, was more of a “I.IV”. Perhaps we were more aggressive in London.

In Edinburgh (Heriot-Watt, to be percise) on the other hand, we managed to discuss case stories and derive two patterns in a single day. It might be down to having a longer workshop, or to the fact that computer scientists are more comfortable with the whole design pattern concept.

These workshops were a good oportunity to evaluate and refine our pattern template. In light of Janet’s suggested format, as well as the discussions we had here on Validity, Resonance and Aggregation, we now have a new and improved pattern template:

  • Includes slots for icon, illustration and diagram.
  • Added a confidence value (0-3) dropdown.
  • Details (authors, dates, etc) hidden and shown on request.
  • Added a support section

The last bit is perhaps the most significant change. The support section aims to scaffold pattern authors through establishing scientific validity. It includes four elements:

  • Source – the case story from which this pattern originated.
  • Triangulation – additional supporting case stories (remember the rule of three)
  • Rationale – theoretical backing
  • Verification – solutions implemented using this pattern

This still doesn’t reflect the pattern scheme in full glory, but “you might find, you get what you need”.

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Finalising a pattern structure

Posted by Janet Finlay on November 3, 2008

We have had many discussions about the structure we need for a pattern and the template on the wiki has been updated to reflect some of these. However I don’t think we have agreed a structure that we can work with from now on. My own view is that the current structure is incomplete and does not give enough support to people moving from protopatterns to patterns. It would also be useful to use a structure which is compatible with other collections to allow more seamless reuse of the patterns of others.

I proposed some changes some time ago based on the PLML pattern elements – the resulting discussion was then summarised by Jim. I’d like to take that further now and propose an actual specification for the structure. I believe our template should include the following elements (comments in parentheses):

  • Name (short, memorable but not so gimicky as to be meaningless to anyone outside the initial discussion)
  • Illustration (a picture showing an instantiation of the pattern in real life – so a photo, screenshot, video – rather than a diagrammatic representation)
  • Problem (the design challenge the pattern will address)
  • Context (described by PLML as “applicability” – what kind of situation does this pattern apply to?)
  • Solution (the instruction that resolves or addresses the challenge expressed in the problem)
  • Diagram (a schematic or diagramatic representation that captures the essence of what the pattern is about – could be a sketch or a more formal representation)
  • Evidence – to include 3 sections (either formally or indicated in the section “advice”):
  1. Examples (cases where this pattern is seen)
  2. Rationale (principles, evidence from literature etc to back up pattern
  3. Links and references (supporting the above)
  • Related patterns (patterns within the language – or another) that this one extends, is part of, contains, is the same as etc)
  • Confidence (how sure are we this is a pattern – may be related to the level of evidence, the rule of three etc. – suggest a three level “star” rating).
  • Author
  • Licensing (as now)

I think this is in keeping with our previous discussions but that of course is open to disagreement! Some of these may end up being collapsed into one field; others may be optional. However, given the difficulties users have had in knowing how to move from case to pattern, overspecifying the structure seems appropriate to begin with.

Our plan is to use this format for the ALiC workshop this week and work on scaffolding questions and activities to help our participants map their cases onto it. We’ll keep you posted.

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Thinking about structures

Posted by Janet Finlay on July 30, 2008

A sub-group of the Planet team had a profitable time this morning meeting with Jill Jameson our very encouraging critical friend and discussing the progress, successes and challenges faced by the project. After Jill left to see ARGOSI, John, Isobel and I mused about some of those challenges and how we might address them. One that we need to finalise quickly is how we can best structure individual patterns to make them most accessible both to those involved in creating patterns through our workshops, and those who will hopefully come along later and want to make use of them in guiding their teaching practice choices. Planet wiki currently uses a form inherited from the Learning Patterns project which includes the pattern name, aim, context, solution, related patterns, examples (case studies/scenarios), note, links and references and legal rights. However we have had some debate as to whether this captures all that we need and whether the sections are clear enough.

In 2004 I was involved in organising a workshop at the CHI conference where this issue was the primary focus. One of the outputs of that workshop was PLML – a pattern language markup language – complete with DTD, specifying the elements that might be included in a pattern. The basic pattern element looks like this (full details and spec are available from the link above):

<!ELEMENT pattern (name?, alias*, illustration?, problem?, context?, forces?, solution?, synopsis?, diagram?, evidence?, confidence?, literature?, implementation?, related-patterns?, pattern-link*, management?)>

It is interesting to compare this to our structure, noting that only the unique identifier is essential in PLML. We have a name – though it could be more obvious on the pattern page itself. Our “problem” is called “aim” (I think I prefer problem – suggests the problem solution pairing that we are looking for). We have context, solution, evidence (our examples – though we could also have a rationale element), literature (our notes), and related patterns. Our legal element might be part of the management section – which could also include version and authorship information which is effectively managed by the wiki itself. So what is left? Looking at the elements that we don’t have, three stand out as being particularly useful: illustration, diagram and confidence.

It has been said that a pattern is not a pattern if it cannot be drawn. That may be an exaggeration but the concept of illustration of patterns is one which is critical I think to their accessibility. It really is a case of a picture being worth a thousand words. In the case of learning patterns the illustration might be a photograph or an artefact or a diagram or even a video – but there should be some visual way of representing the essence of the pattern that lets others have that “a-ha” moment. Perhaps here we need to talk to John Sandars and the Reflect 2 team about their activities..? Not sure if we need both illustration and diagram (they do serve different purposes so maybe we do) but certainly illustration.

The other area is confidence. At the moment our patterns are categorised by their level of development – seed, alpha, beta. But this is slightly different from the idea of confidence – it would be possible to have a well developed pattern in which you had limited confidence, perhaps because there was not much substantiated evidence to support it. Confidence is how sure we are that this really is a pattern. Alexander used a star system which was elegant and informative – you can see at a glance which patterns are the strongest in his language.

So from this I propose that we consider some adaptations to our current form:

  • Change “aim” to “problem”
  • Add “illustration”
  • Add “confidence”
  • Make “examples” a subsection of “evidence” and add another subsection “rationale”
  • Make the name clearer and maybe allow aliases.

Thoughts anyone?

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