What I used to think I knew isn't helping: adventures in higher ed open source

Archive for November 2009


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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 »


Written by khomotso

November 30, 2009 at 6:02 pm

Posted in Sakai

Leading Design

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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.

Written by khomotso

November 19, 2009 at 12:18 am

Posted in Sakai