(REVISED) A MULTI-DIMENSIONAL SPACE FOR LEARNING DESIGN REPRESENTATIONS AND TOOLS
POZZI F., PERSICO D., EARP J.1. A MULTI-DIMENSIONAL SPACE FOR LEARNINGDESIGN REPRESENTATIONS AND TOOLSINTRODUCTIONOne of the core activities teachers perform as part of their professional practice –and a crucial aspect for successful attainment of teaching and learning objectives -is sound conceptual preparation of educational interventions, whatever their formor granularity (single activities, whole lessons, course modules, whole courses orprogrammes, etc.).Over the ages, educators have adopted a variety of methods, processes and toolsfor such preparation, and in most cases these entail production of an artifact ofsome kind, from a few roughly sketched notes to more elaborate forms ofrepresentation. Elucidating, shaping and crystallizing one‟s ideas in this way is aprocess of design - formulation of the conceptual basis for the subsequentenactment of the educational intervention. Representing one‟s thinking in such adesign (of whatever form) can be regarded as having a maieutic function, in that itcalls on the teacher to externalize, reflect on and assess her ideas for the subsequentintervention. The design artifact then stands as a record of the author‟s (orauthors‟) intentions, serving as a possible reminder and support before, during orafter enactment. When set against the teacher‟s experience of how the interventionactually unfolded, valuable insights can be gained which may well help to refinethe original design for possible reuse. Importantly, design artifacts can be sharedwith others, especially among peers, to communicate information aboutprofessional practice, a vital factor in a sector where practitioners have traditionallyoperated in relative isolation, even when working in the room next door to eachother, day in day out. In all of these cases, the essential role of the design artifact iscommunicating ideas to oneself and/or to others.Of course the advent of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT)has had a profound effect on all aspects of social communication, and the fields ofendeavor addressed here, seen essentially as reflection and communicationprocesses, are no exception. The use of ICT in educational practices has opened upnew didactical opportunities while at the same time introducing an added degree ofcomplexity; this in turn calls on practitioners to reconsider and perhaps change theapproaches and tools they adopt for design, in a quest for more informed andmethodologically sound practice (Conole, 2012; Mor & Craft, 2012; Earp & Pozzi,2006; Persico, 2006). This has led to considerable innovation in the field oflearning design, a field that (for the most part) is identified with employment ofmethods, digital tools and resources to support a systematic approach to design.
POZZI F., PERSICO D., EARP J.2This trend towards computer-supported learning design has helped to enrich,diversify and extend the possibilities for communicating design ideas - and forenhancing the above-mentioned maieutic process. Depending on their priorities,practitioners may want to: record these ideas for reference and personal reuse;convey them to (other) actors engaged in the enactment process such as learners,facilitators, collaborating peers; pass them on to other practitioners and designersfor discussion and possible adaption/reworking towards reuse in other settings andcontexts; share them with researchers as part of pilots devoted to educationalinnovation of some kind. Those same design ideas may be expressed in forms andlanguages of different kinds, including machine-readable representations used toautomatically configure a digital learning environment in whichthe design can bedeployed and activities enacted. Currently, there exists awide variety ofrepresentational forms conceived for different purposes, users and contexts, andthis may make it difficult for practitioners, especially novices, to orient themselves.This paper is an attempt to bring some order to the chaos of existing designrepresentations, even if the borders between the different categories identified israther blurred. We acknowledge that many of the considerations made hereinderive from the work carried out by the „Learning Design Grid‟ (LDG) STELLARTheme Team, which was active from Autumn 2011 to Spring 2012 and produced aPractitioner‟s Guide to Learning Designi.There are a number of dimensions along which it is possible to classify existingrepresentations, tools and approaches in the field of design for learning. Gibbons etal. (2008) identify 7 continuums along which it is possible to position the variousdesign languages: complexity – simplicity; precision – non precision; formality –informality; personalization – sharedness; implicitness - explicitness;standardization – non standardization; computability – non computability.Agostinho (2008) and Conole (2010) also provide an overview of the range ofrepresentations used to describe learning designs and other outcomes of the sameprocess, showing how they can be used to foreground different aspects of designdevelopment.The presentcontribution builds upon previous work in this area to propose amulti-dimensional framework that is intended as a conceptual tool for classifyingdifferent design approaches and representation forms, thus also shedding light onareas where further research work is needed.FORMAT AND TYPES OF DESIGN REPRESENTATIONS: A FIRST OVERVIEWDesign representations can vary in format and type. Broadly speaking, formats fallinto two main categories: textual representations (languages) and visualrepresentations. According to Conole (2012), textual representations are expressedin either artificial/formal or natural language (narratives), while visualrepresentations basically relyon a graphical format.Textual representations in artificial languages describe the design in a highlyformalized way, usually so that it can be processed by a computer. This makes itpossible to deliver relevant components of a learning activity directly to learners or
A MULTI-DIMENSIONAL SPACE FOR LEARNING DESIGN REPRESENTATIONS AND TOOLS3provide for automatic configuration of a suitable computer-based learningenvironment in which the activity can take place. Describing a design through suchformal languages is usually a fairly technical matter. Consequently, it may call forinvolvement of a professional with the necessary technical competences to act as a„bridge‟ between teacher and computer, or for a high-level interface that „masks‟the technicalities,thus allowingthe teacher to focus on design considerations.Textual representations based on natural language, instead, are largely„narratives‟, i.e. descriptions of designs, plans or experiences based on words. Assuch they typically have a low degree of formalism. However, they are often basedon a pre-defined skeletal structure, such as an organized schema of descriptors orfields, for expressing various aspects of the design. This provides the designer withguidance,while the design is conceived and developed, about the kind of choicesshe needs to make, the information that the description is to contain, and the levelof detail required.Some narrative forms are conceived to encourage the communication of core,context-independent information at the expense of more detailed context-relateddata, which may even be excluded altogether. This tendency towards abstractioncan be interpreted not just as an effort to foster (efficient) communication of adesign‟s essence to others, but also as an (informal) attempt to facilitate reusethrough generalisation. In must be recognised, however, that in the absence oflanguage formalisation and structural standardisation, there is no guarantee thatreuse will actually be enhanced in this way.Other kinds of narratives, as explained further hereunder, are intended to includemore detailed information, which may be related to the pedagogical rationalebehind the intervention and/or the details of the “enactment” phase. The latter maybe considered to “flesh out” the design skeleton with tangible description of theway the learning activity has been or can be used, the context that the activity isintended for, the target population to be addressed, prerequisites, etc.As to visual representations, these generally take the form of diagrams orgraphs, which convey an overall view of the design or specific aspects thereof,such as the structure of the intervention, the learning objectives, the contents to beaddressed, the roles of the people involved, etc. Diagrams or graphs are a means torepresent the main entities within a design and their mutual relationships; theyinclude the likes of flow charts, content maps and swim lanes.Charts, on the other hand, are visual representations of quantitative data fromtheintervention; bar or pie charts representing features of the learning process, basedon suitable indicators, are typical examples. These charts usually foster reflectionon the design by focusing attention on the specific aspects represented (San Diegoet al, 2008).As we will see in the following, textual and visual representations may inprinciple be used autonomously, but often they are used in conjunction with oneanother. This is because the single format alone is often insufficient for effectivelyconveyingall the essential information, especially when the main purpose ofrepresenting the design is to share it with others;a conjunction of the two oftenproves more fruitful for communicating (Falconer et al., 2007).
POZZI F., PERSICO D., EARP J.4PRODUCER AND END-USERA learning design representation may be produced by an individual educator or byteams of teachers and/or designers. Unless „average teachers‟ have recourse to ahigh-level tool, dealing with artificial languages would probably not be cost-effective for them; they would likely feel more at ease with narratives. In mostcases, as already mentioned, using an artificial language would require theintervention of an intermediary to transform the teacher‟s design into some sort ofrunnable code.Visual representations are typically adopted for the intuitive, user friendlyqualities they can bring to design and, provided the formalisms within them are nottoo complicated, they can generally be used by any teacher/designer; indeed this isprecisely the objective in question.As already mentioned, design representations may be intended for other teachersand practitioner/designers, but the targeted end-user group may also includelearners themselves.Lastly, those representations whose main/sole mission is to scaffold the designprocess can be seen as half-baked artifacts for personal use only. These are notintended for sharing with others and thus the final beneficiary is the producerherself.„CONTINUUMS‟ FOR LEARNING DESIGN REPRESENTATIONSIn an attempt to map existing representation forms, it is possible to identify twodimensions or „continuums‟ along which anyrepresentation can in principle beplaced.These arethe degree of formalism (somerepresentationsare characterized byhigh levels of formalism, while others are fairly informal) and the degree ofabstraction (representations can provide very concrete or very abstractinformation).The degree of formalism and the degree of abstraction are strictly intertwinedand often the level of one dimension influences the level of the other. In thefollowing the two dimensions are briefly described.Degree of formalismA representation‟s level of formalism regards the degree to which its use entailsobservation of fixed syntactic and semantic „rules‟: some representations have verystrict rulesand are therefore highlyformalized, while others allow the producer tocreate her own rules and - as a consequence - the meaning of the design will not befree of ambiguities.Typically the degree of formalism is high for artificial languages such as IMS-LD (Koper, 2006) and low for natural languages.For graphical representations, instead, the degree of formalism is typicallymedium, although there is some variance. For example, some schematic diagramsonly use perfectly defined elements and are therefore highly formal, while others
A MULTI-DIMENSIONAL SPACE FOR LEARNING DESIGN REPRESENTATIONS AND TOOLS5use symbols whose semantics has not been formally provided and give rise tomuch looser representations, so their level of formalism is typically lower.As already mentioned, though, we should not forget that in many cases visualrepresentations do not provide exhaustive information about the design and aretherefore accompanied by narratives: this, of course, limitsthe degree of formalismof the resulting representation.The degree of formalization is also related to the ease of automation; usually thehigher the former, the higher the latter. It is also associated to some extent to thereusability of the design, which is generally high for highly formalized languages;however,it should be noted that reusability does not depend on formalization only.Degree of abstractionAnother interesting dimension is the degree of abstraction. Butturi and Stubbs(2008) distinguish between „sketch-oriented representations‟ that provide anoutline, and representations that enable details to be specified. In principle, the ideais that the more abstract the design, the greater the scope for reusability. At thesame time, however, when details are missing, automation becomes impossible.As already mentioned, natural language representations may provideconsiderable detail (encompassing information about the enactment phase, forexample) or may be focused at a more general level, providing only an abstractidea of the nature of the proposed activity (Conole et al., 2011).Graphical representations tend to give rather abstract information, but it is notunusual to see graphs of different kinds, like concept maps, used in conjunctionwith texts; the graph provides an overall idea and more detailed narrativeinformation may beencapsulated within the single nodes/symbols for display whena node is clicked.Artificial languages are usually created to convey very detailed information, sothe level of abstraction in these cases is low.Since the two dimensions (formalism and abstraction) are „continuums‟of sorts,it is possible to see them as axes, along which one may locate the variousrepresentations adopted in the field. For the sakeof simplicity and immediacy, wehave chosen to group these into general representation types, as shown in Figure 1;of course this is an over-simplification, but the idea here is merelyto show that anyrepresentation can in principle be mapped along the two axes.
POZZI F., PERSICO D., EARP J.6Figure 1. Representation typeswithin‘abstraction’ and ‘formalism’ dimensionsPURPOSES OF REPRESENTATIONSGenerally speaking, „design languages can be used to generate designs and as amechanism for interpreting and discussing them‟ (Conole, 2012).In a similar vein to the proposal made by Botturi and Stubbs (2008), whodistinguish between „finalist communicative languages‟ and „representativelanguages‟, we contend that representations can be viewed in terms of purpose; insome cases there is greater emphasis on – and support for - the actual designprocess, while in others communicating design ideas through the sharing of designrepresentations is the main aim. A third type of purpose is that of supportingautomatic configuration of ready-to-use learning environments.Ideally we could distinguish between „representations aimed at personal use‟(i.e. representations used when the designer is generating the design and/or isreflecting on it), and „representations aimed at a social use‟ (when the designerwants to communicate/share her ideas with her colleagues and/or when she wantsto deliver the design to learners). Even if the borders between these two categoriesare rather blurred, and representation forms are often blended to meet multiplepurposes, some representations seem better suited – and more effective – forsupporting one or the other.
A MULTI-DIMENSIONAL SPACE FOR LEARNING DESIGN REPRESENTATIONS AND TOOLS7Figure 2. Representation typesand purposesFigure 2 sets the main representation types against the main purposes: while ingeneral representations based on natural languages serve the purposes of reflecting,generating and/or sharing/communicatingthe design, mostartificial languages areused to represent the design when the purpose is the delivery of an activity tostudents. Diagrams can be used to reflect, generate and communicate the design toothers, while charts are often used as „a posteriori‟ tools to reflect on the designchoices.Again, it is worthwhile stressing here thatcombining different types ofrepresentation is a fairly common practice and servesmultiple purposes.DISCUSSION: MAPPING REPRESENTATIONS WITHIN THE FRAMEWORKSummarising the considerations made thus far, the framework adopts four generalrepresentation types (natural and artificial languages, diagrams and charts) andpositions these bi-dimensionally in terms of varying degrees of formalism and ofabstraction (fig.1). Additionally, the framework sets the four types between polesof purpose and sections them according to four general functions (generate,communicate, reflect, deliver) (fig.2). The relations between these dimensions maybe viewed from different directions and at different levels, and this aspect is brieflyexamined in the conclusions.In the following, we discuss the proposed framework using examples of existingrepresentations (or tools implementing specific representations) and seeking toplace thesewithinthe proposed dimensions. The list of representations chosen forthis exercise is not exhaustive; the selection has been made mainly on the basis of
POZZI F., PERSICO D., EARP J.8the representations discussed within the LDG Theme Team, which inspired thiswork.As a first example let‟s take so-called Design Narratives (Mor, 2011), whichareaccounts of critical events in a design experiment from a personal,phenomenological perspective. Design Narratives are usually focused on design inthe sense of problem solving, describing a problem in the chosen domain, theactions taken to resolve it and their unfolding effects. They provide an account ofthe history and evolution of a design over time, including the research context, thetools and activities designed, and the results of users‟ interactions with these. Assuch, the level of abstraction is fairly low, but – as a counterpart – the degree offormalism of this representation is also low. The purpose of this text-basedrepresentation can be both personal and social, as it can be used for bothreflectionand as a communication artifact. In the latter case,though, one should consider thatthe level of reusabilityof narrative-based designs is not particularly high, at leastnot „as they are‟; however, they can be used as inspirational objects for the designof new artifacts.Among the textual representations that lend themselves best to communicatingthe overall design and sharing it with othersfor reuse, one that figures prominentlyis the so-called „Pedagogical Pattern‟ (Anthony, 1996; Bergin 2002; Eckstein et al.,2002). While patterns are also written descriptions and are based on a precisedescriptor schema (Problem, Forces, Solution, etc.), the aim here is to leave asideany contextual information and consider the design as a general - andgeneralizable - approach to a widely-occurring problem, thus facilitating itsapplication/reuse in as many different contexts as possible.Related pattern formsinclude e-learning design patternsandCollaborative Learning Flow Patterns. Theformer werefirst proposed in the E-LEN European project (AA.VV., 2005) andlater developed further by McAndrew, Goodyear and Dalziel (2006) amongstothers. The latter capture and propose techniques that practitioners typically adoptfor structuring activities in collaborative learning situations (Hernández-Leo et al.,2005).So, comparing Design Narratives and Pedagogical Patterns via the proposedframework,wesee that, even if theseare both text-based representations,theyembody different levels of abstraction and have different purposes(mainlyreflection for the former and sharing and reuse for the latter).The textual format accompanied by given descriptor schemascan also be used toscaffold the generation of designs. This is the case of those systems that present thedesigner/teacher with a set of empty fields to fill with relevant information such asintended learning objectives, features of the target population, tools required, etc.Hints, prompts or suggestions may be on hand for completing the data; in somecases the system may even present a closed set of values from which to choose,e.g. target population = primary / secondary / higher education. The user is thusguided through the design process, with the help of prompts intended to crystallizedesign decisions and stimulate reflection. In this sense the descriptor schema(through its structure and attendant prompts/values) acts as a maieutic tool (Olimpoet al., 2010) that helps the unfolding of a complete and systematic description of
A MULTI-DIMENSIONAL SPACE FOR LEARNING DESIGN REPRESENTATIONS AND TOOLS9the learning intervention that the designer has (more or less) in mind (Britain,2007): how it is structured, what the objectives are, what the learning outcomesmay be, what tasks learners will carry out in pursing the objectives, what materialsare to be used, what time schedule is foreseen, etc. Examples of these descriptorschemas can be found in the Pedagogical Plan Managerii(PPM), in Dialog Plusiiiorin Learning Designsiv. Although the descriptor schemas that these tools proposepresent some slight differences, they all support the design process through thedefinition of similar elements: the learning context, the intended aims, therationale, the tasks students should carry out, the resources needed, the educationalapproach chosen, the evaluation methods, etc. Thus these kinds of representationfeature a low level of abstraction and – being based on natural language - thedegree of formalism is also fairlylow.Such representations can be easily handled byan „average teacher‟, as they do not require particular technical skills and the end-users of these objects are typically other teachers, even though the artifacts areoften shared with students too, to scaffold the learning process.Learning design tools provide concrete support for the generation andcommunication of design ideas and, in some cases, represent a conduit towardstheir enactment with learners. Among the wide range of existing tools to supportlearning design, many propose visual representations as major communicativedesign vehicles. For example, graphical design forms, swim-lanes and flow-chartsare often used to visualize an overall course structure (or aspects thereof). Themain advantage here is that they can be easily shared with other designers andpractitioners, or communicated directly to students. Examples of flow chart useareLAMSv(Dalziel, 2003) and MOT+ (Paquette et al., 2008). Swim-lane learningdesigns can focus on tasks, actors involved, learning objectives, and contents.Examples of tools that adopt swim lane representations are: CompendiumLDvi, avery flexible tool allowing swim-lanes of different kinds;CADMOS vii, whichallows both swim lanes and flow-charts in an effort to give different perspectiveson the same design;and LDSV (Agostinho, 2011). Hierarchies or tree structurescan also be used to display and communicate the overall structure of the envisagedintervention. An example of these kinds of representation is implemented in thePedagogical Plan Manager (PPM).While in these cases the primary purpose ofdiagrams and graphs isto share the design with others, some (depending on theimplementation tool in question) may also be used to scaffold reflection and/or forthe generation of new designs.In any case, since the degree of abstraction of these diagrams is usually fairlyhigh,given that information isprovided in a very synthetic way, they are oftenaccompanied by additional textual data. Indeed, all the tools listed above make use– in one way or another – of textual information to integrate the overall viewprovided by graphs. In the case of tools based on „double representations‟ (visual +textual),positioning within the proposed framework is more complex and hencesomewhat problematic. This aspect is examined in the conclusions below.Representations that scaffold decision making alsocomprise content maps,which are often used not only to provide an overview of the contents, but alsotoreason and make choices about the content domain. Similarly, teachers alsouse
POZZI F., PERSICO D., EARP J.10tools like concept maps or Petri Nets during the design phase to support the processof eliciting the most important aspects of the design, as well as their relationships.These representations may also be used later on forsharing purposes, given thatthey are based on symbols and signs that can be easily interpreted by others(medium/ high level of formalism).Furthermore, there are also diagrams that describe approaches and theoreticalframeworks underpinning the design. One prime example is the well-knownActivity Theory diagram (Engeström, 1999),which is often used as a basis forrepresenting learning activities inspired by that approach. Similarly, otherrepresentations have been developed to support learning design with a specificapproach in mind,such as the 4Ts modelviiifor online collaboration or the 4SPPIcesmodel (Sanagustin et al., 2012) for blended learning. In other cases, schematicdiagrams are used to describe the course map or the overall structure of anintervention; two tools that adopt representations of this kind are Collage andWebCollage (now Web Instance Collage), which represent cooperation techniquessuch as Jigsaw and Pyramidix.Another kind of representation capable of scaffolding reflection on data isthechart. Charts are generally used to analyse and reflect on aspects of a design aposteriori,i.e. after the design has been completed or even deployed. Pie chartsmay be employed, for example, as a means to reveal the balance between differentkinds of learning strategies adopted within a given intervention. The final aim maybe to fine tune the design or evaluate the learning experience. Examples of thesecharts are implemented and used in the Learning Designerx. Here again the levelsof formalism and abstraction are at a medium stage.A last category of representation, mainly aimedatenactment, is the artificiallanguage: machine-readable artificial languages like IMS-LD, E2ML and LDL(Martel et al., 2006) have the explicit purpose of allowing the production ofdesigns as computerized artifacts that are then delivered to learners. In theserepresentations formalism is of course at the highest levels, while abstraction isusually low, because they include details needed for implementation.CONCLUSIONSThis contribution proposes and discusses a multi-dimensional framework forpositioning different learning design representations. The main aim of theframework is to help practitioners orient themselves in the field and researchers toidentifyareas where further investigation is needed. An overarching ambition is toprovide a sound systematic basis for the process of designing for learning, and fordeveloping design tools that not only facilitate design representation, but alsosupport the critical decision-making typical of the design process.In order to illustrate the framework from both the conceptual and functionalviewpoints, an attempt has been made to position within the proposed dimensionsthe representation typesadopted in existing design tools. The results suggest thatthis approach constitutes a basis to warrant further development and refinement.
A MULTI-DIMENSIONAL SPACE FOR LEARNING DESIGN REPRESENTATIONS AND TOOLS11One aspect definitely worth addressing is the joint use of two (or more)representation types (typically textual + visual) in learning design tools. As theframework is more suited to the positioning of single, distinct representation types,instances of such variegation are more problematic. So one emergent researchquestion is how, and how best, the two forms can be adopted to meet the range ofpurposes falling within the personal vs. social polarityand in accordance with theformalism and abstraction sliding scales. This touches on quite complex questionsof semiotics that are beyond the scope of this paper but offer interesting paths forfuture investigation. Another area to be further explored is the multiformrelationship between the different dimensions adopted in the framework and howbest these might be captured in single graphic form that embodies the necessarysimplicity with sacrificing (the complexity of) meaning.Clearly, the needemerges for further work in the mapping/classification ofrepresentations and evenof the tools reifying them, possibly resulting in theirintegration within in a single environment. This need, together with that for a morestructured view of the tools, is the starting point for a new project called METIS,which has just been funded by the EUunder the LLP Programme. METIS aims todevelop a learning design environment based on the integration of existing tools soas toultimately provide a unique, more effective support to practitioners in the fieldof learning design.NOTESihttp://www.ld-grid.org/guideiihttp://ppm.itd.cnr.itiiihttp://www.dialogplus.soton.ac.uk/ivhttp://www.learningdesigns.uow.edu.au/vhttp://www.lamsinternational.com/vihttp://compendiumld.open.ac.uk/viihttp://cosy.ds.unipi.gr/cadmos/viiihttp://www.ld-grid.org/resources/representations-and-languages/4-ts-modelixhttp://www.gsic.uva.es/collage/xhttps://sites.google.com/a/lkl.ac.uk/ldse/REFERENCES/BIBLIOGRAPHYAgostinho, S. (2008). Learning Design Representations to Document, Model, and Share TeachingPractice. In L. Lockyer, S. Bennett, S. Agostinho, & B. Harper (Eds.),Handbook of Research onLearning Design and Learning Objects: Issues, Applications, and Technologies(pp. 1-19). Hershey,PA: Information Science Reference.Agostinho, S. (2011). The use of a visual learning design representation to support the design process ofteaching in higher education. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 27(6), 961-978.Anthony, D. L. (1996).Patterns for classroom education. Retrieved November 2012 from:http://ianchaiwriting.50megs.com/classroom-ed.html
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