Archive for the ‘elearning’ Category
In the midst of trying to shape a conceptual structure for communicating the Sakai 3 Design work, I’m riffing on an idea from the Drupal UX Project. At the top of all their pages they put:
Our UX Principles: 1. Make the most frequent tasks easy and less frequent tasks achievable. 2. Design for the 80% 3. Privilege the Content Creator 4. Make the default settings smart
I’m playing around with what they might be for Sakai. Here’s what I have right now:
- Make Good things easy, and the Best thing achievable.
- Design for user journeys, not institutional boundaries.
- Collaboration is core; administration is superficial.
- Make the user look and feel smart.
Update: Feel like I want to add a #5:
Learners are Researchers.
When we first started talking to Sam about Sakai 3 we used the word “template” a lot. It had worked its way into our conceptual lexicon rather early on, as the answer to how a free-form editing environment could still be helpfully scaffolded, and not force everyone to start each time with a blank canvas. At times it even started to take on a semi-magical aura: someone in the back of a room during a presentation would call out a question about how we were going to do X. “That’s what templates are for,” I’d glibly respond. Well, not glibly. The idea fit. But the truth is that we hadn’t yet really designed for this apparently pivotal thing, and it was putting a lot of faith in something not yet realized.
If I can be forgiven for putting words in Sam’s mouth, I think his attitude when confronted with this was (tactfully expressed), “OK, it’s great that you guys already have a mechanism in mind. You’ve obviously given it a lot of thought. But if you don’t mind, can we please trace that back to what the user problems are that we’re trying to solve? Because that’s what I really need to be designing around, and maybe templates will cover it and maybe they won’t.”
OK, fine. Read the rest of this entry »
We’ve been talking a lot in the Sakai community in the last year about “design-led” development, but I’ve also gone on record in saying that our community members can get ahead of the design and inform it. I’ve been especially pleased to see UCD research springing up in a few areas, and in recent weeks have been promoting the maturation of the “Learning Capabilities” spreadsheet that David Goodrum has championed. At the same time I’ve been hearing concerns that such efforts might come to naught, or that they would not be listened to.
With the sponsorship of Cambridge, HEC Montreal, CSU, Georgia Tech and Berkeley we’ve contracted with a designer, Sam Peck, to lead the next stage of Sakai 3 design work, picking up from where Nathan left off last April. Relatively little has been produced in his first month of activity because so much effort has gone into understanding our domain. He’s been reading through spaces on the wiki, the Fluid project, instances of Sakai new and old, our UCD research, conversations with the long-winded, and also the “Learning Capabilities” spreadsheet. As we all know, it’s no mean feat to work through all these accumulated sources, make sense of them and tie them together. Sam has effectively been knitting together his own documentation as he goes along.
I wanted to share a recent round of his notes, both to provide greater visibility into the process and offer some encouragement that the T&L and UCD work are being factored in. Attached is a synthesis of these various sources, arranged around flows of assignment activities and the users centrally engaged with them. It does not claim to be complete or finished, yet although I need to be careful about expectations I offer it here all the same as an illustration of the process.
AssignmentNotes.pdf (16 MB)
On page 2 you’ll find literal quotes of the learning capability user statements that seemed most instructive in this area, and on pages 4, 8-10 you’ll also find the user journeys salted with more of these statements at particular points, followed by sketches that show initial attempts to design around these needs.
I often hear the problem of ensuring the relevance of development work to actual practice framed as “getting users and developers to talk to each other.” Now if by “developers” you mean anyone who has a constructive role in fashioning the end product, well, of course. That’s trivially true. But I think most of the time when I hear this it actually means getting end-users and coders to talk to each other, which sounds like a good idea but is not, I think, often very helpful.
Take the old Sakai requirements process of a few years back, which I think is generally regarded as a failure. Feature requests were itemized, voted on, and the biggest winners trumpeted, then very little happened. But I hear the failure described with variations of “developers didn’t implement” or “resource was not allocated to deliver,” and so forth. As though we had all the information we needed, and just didn’t execute. I think that really misunderstands the problem, mainly by not recognizing the design gap.
A new issue of the quarterly newsletter for the UK-based Association for Learning Technologies (ALT) is out, and I’ve got a piece in there about Sakai 3 and the future of the VLE:
It follows the outline of the keynote at AusSakai fairly closely.
A month back or so we were at the Bathurst campus of CSU in New South Wales – my first trip to Australia. The keynote addresses, including those from Michael Korcuska, Ian Boston and myself, are now up. I remember I was still working on my slides when Michael was talking, and I saw Ian working on his while I was talking. Or maybe he was continuing his cat and mouse game with National Defense. Hard to tell.
Not too far down that same Vimeo page for sakaivideo you can see clips from an interview with Matt Morton-Allen (taken during the Boston conference in July), one of our gracious hosts at CSU.
As a label for the front end design work for Sakai 3, ’3akai’ is now frowned upon in all the important circles. Me, I still like it for twitter and texting, and the fact that no one knows how to approach it phonetically just cements its value in my view. ‘Course then there is the issue of whether it means anything anyone can identify. Probably going to have to give it up.
In any event, the next stage of serious design work for Sakai 3 is now really getting off the ground. CSU in Australia, UC Berkeley, HEC Montreal as well as 3akai veterans Cambridge and Georgia Tech have joined forces in sponsoring and supporting the work of a lead designer, Sam Peck. I expect to share fragments and insights as we stumble across them along the way. More polished announcements and presentations will probably go out to the Sakai community as well, but the blog can be my scrapbook where even half-formed an incorrect things can be tacked up.
Consider this a first installment. A couple of things that Sam has worked up during our conversations to help us be clear with each other what we’re talking about.
The Sakai Matrix, the first screen, is a kind of picture of the Sakai universe reminiscent of old diagrams in Science texts, like the ones that talk about different cosmological phases of the early universe. No? I guess we took different classes. Some of the graphics here are meant to be suggestive rather than precise (e.g. the lines of connection between types of users aren’t meant to show specific relationships), but if you don’t harp on the detail it’s a nice sweep of the ecosystem
The second one is an admirable representation of the regions of the Sakai application in the new UX framework. There are details in some of those little screens there to flesh out the picture, but the trick is not to get lost in them. It’s the overall picture and the regions that reveal different user journeys that I think is significant here. The area outside in ‘The World,’ for example, is meant to indicate the public representation of the internal site.
Not designs just yet, then, but good centerpieces and points of reference for discussion.
I spent a couple days last week with what seemed a big chunk of the IT operation at the University of Florida. UF went through an extensive LMS review and selection process early this year, the two finalists were Angel and Sakai, and Sakai won out in the final analysis, but only by a hair. This was contentious for about a week, at the end of which Blackboard brought everyone back together again by buying out Angel. Now UF is on a very familiar hurried migration track because the WebCT license is going away, but let’s not linger over subjects that can trigger my PTSD.
I went representing mainly Georgia Tech, as a kind of welcome-to-the-neighborhood for Sakai in the Southeast. They were very gracious and friendly hosts, but seemed suprised and grateful that I would make the trip, as though this was altruism on my part. I almost didn’t want to explain how much it meant to have a Sakai collaborator within driving distance, to have someone nearby to lean on and work with – how I hope to use them. Probably too soon in the relationship to say, “we need you.” Maybe even creepy. So I didn’t.
A central figure in this initiative is Doug Johnson. Yes, that Doug Johnson. That’s where the vision for cooperation in a volatile environment comes from. And he seems to be something of a foodie, if our restaurant picks were any indication. As if the practical reasons for being excited about this collaboration weren’t great enough.
I’m working my way – more slowly than I want – through Tyler Cowen’s Create Your Own Economy. It’s a misleading title, especially coming from an economist, but the sort of economy he has in mind is the kind created in one’s head. An economy of attention, of mind.
His basic thesis seems to be that the Web is allowing us to organize our lives in different ways, ways better suited to a”‘cognitive profile” associated with autism, which he in no way means pejoratively. He even goes as far as to say that education is essentially about cultivating our own autistic tendencies: the focused attention to the organization of “small bits.” This is a good thing.
It’s not hard to take him primarily as an autistic apologist. He claims that we have defined autism by its instances of failure, and in the process failed to recognize it as a way of coping with the world with its own characteristic strengths; that there are more successful autistics than we realize, and we should come to appreciate the virtues of this pattern of mind. That is the moral element of the book.
It’s however more interesting to me as an explanation of the Web. Where conventional wisdom dismisses online activity as shallow, amateurish and inauthentic, Cowen finds in it a framework for a new neurological health, an ordering of large quantities of small pieces that can deepen social connections and bring new meaning to our lives.
The autistic person, in Cowen’s interpretation, is acutely sensitive to the data the world bombards them with. They are overwhelmed, and they find ways to cope with their minute sensitivity or they don’t, but it’s a mistake to interpret the end result as mere dissociation or impassivity. Someone at a rock concert may betray symptoms consistent with deafness, but the deeper explanation is that they are awash in an excess of sound. So also the autistic person, and so also we members of the information age, awash in ideas, factoids, opinions, artistic productions of all stripes, and other trivia like our coursework and understanding of the world. Cowen offers a rebuke to Nick Carr’s “Is Google Making us Stupid?“ It allows us to think differently in amassing and associating larger quantities of smaller pieces, and it’s a dim view that finds in this structural change only deficiencies.
I think about Sakai in these terms, not as a support for education or even academic collaborations, but rather a tool to help make sense of a disordered world – or at least a certain set of experiences within it. As the boundaries between one’s years of study and work dissolve, and as academic success has come to be understood as a great deal more than mere coursework, so also does this set of technical tools need to situate itself within a broader ecosystem of people organizing their experience.
A colleague of mine in the teaching and learning center is fond of bursting bubbles with a simple claim: “We already know what the best way to learn is – it’s not a mystery. It’s the private tutor.” In a world where most of the advice and best practices hinge upon what are essentially strategies for managing the activity of large numbers of people, leading with that point can be a bracing way of recognizing “good teaching principles” for the pragmatic tradeoffs they are. I was reminded of this when I came across John Hagel’s use of the phrase ‘scalable peer learning’ in his breakdown of the Big Shift.
Technology hype has become such a pervasive danger to clear thinking that even technologists are usually better off starting from the luddite’s vantage point. But every now and again that healthy, self-critical practice itself wears a rut – like it has for me recently – that one needs to climb out of. Technology is just a tool, I say. It’s about mechanical efficiency, and like all tools, when used inappropriately it just gets in the way; what’s more, it is most often used inappropriately … and so on, until I start asking myself: why do I work in this field again?
It’s good to be reminded, from time to time, why technology might have such a deep role to play in spaces like learning and collaboration in general. ‘Scalable peer learning.’ Tightening down the pragmatic superstructure (like the management techniques of traditional teaching) in order to draw nearer to what’s essential, what’s most powerful, and maybe in the process achieve something qualitatively different. The Web did not create the world of sterile mechanisms deflecting us from our real goals – we had that already – but its particular mechanisms may help us get closer.