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

Despairing of Language

with 4 comments

I’m trying to work my way toward a structured communication of the design work, and the words are killing me. I think it comes down to the fact that the words need some particularity in order to connote anything worth saying, but our ambitions for Sakai and education in general involves an eroding of boundaries and a fluidity of purpose.

Killing me.

Take an exercise of developing action words for our various user populations. You start to rattle off —

  • Creating
  • Reviewing
  • Communicating
  • Questioning
  • Critiquing
  • Reflecting
  • Collecting

… and so forth. Who is doing these things and when? Well, everyone and all the time. So what’s the point in even laying these out?

A designer needs to be able to frame out who is doing what, when and why, and we come up with aspirational statements like (as one commenter put it) “Learners are teachers; both are researchers.” Everyone is somebody and no one’s anybody. Perfectly right. Perfectly killing me. Somebody throw me a lifeline of myopia.


Written by khomotso

December 14, 2009 at 12:16 am

Posted in Uncategorized

4 Responses

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  1. The language around design is a real challenge; the particular problem troubling me at present is perhaps at a level above that which you describe. Even in our activities outside Sakai, at CARET I’m aware we don’t have a language we can use effectively (even between ourselves – let alone with users or contractors) to describe design, compare designs, clarify standards of design…

    This week we’re starting an activity with a creative facilitator, to begin to help us all to know what aspects of design and visual literacy exist, so we can then move on to learn about them in more detail. Just knowing what’s out there will be a big step forward, because we’ll have a tiny glimpse of how much we know we don’t know 🙂

    With my Sakai hat on, I am even less clear what is meant by design. I have heard about activities which suggest [what I in former lives would have called] graphical design, web design, and interaction design, but whether one or all of these is meant by whom at a given time I am not sure.

    Laura James

    December 14, 2009 at 8:04 am

    • I think you’re right about a big part of this, that we don’t know how to do this sort of work well, and aren’t fluent in its language. I think that’s what I really meant with this post – sometimes I realize I just haven’t got the right mental model or vocabulary.

      Studying up sounds like a good approach.


      December 15, 2009 at 12:39 am

  2. Yeah, the “big picture” abstraction is a muddy mess. This is where “littler picture” techniques like personae and user stories come in, I suppose, and contextual qualifiers like “As a X…” Everyone does everything all the time but one particular person is only doing a couple of things at one particular moment.

    What makes something like Sakai trickier (and muddier) than something like Excel or World of Warcraft is the number of easy context shifts we want to support. (Thus my obsession with a functional understanding of community contexts, shifting roles and responsibilities, and domain-specific privileges.)

    Ray Davis

    December 14, 2009 at 8:34 pm

    • That’s certainly one thing I wonder about from time to time – the range of things we’re trying to support. Granted that there are fundamental similarities across these contexts, and even more that higher ed has done a poor job of carving up the space along lines that aren’t mere extensions of administrative powerbases, nevertheless I have to wonder about our grand-unified-theory ambitions.

      I wonder about it in a way I still think is worth pursuing.


      December 15, 2009 at 12:45 am

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