In the Mosaic project we are moving on from looking at the course as a whole, to writing specific screens of content, and it is providing a good way of unpicking our assumptions about what Phoebe means for planning at the activity level in the context of a specific course. In our earliest thinking about Phoebe we always intended to have a “mind map” interface. We never did manage to implement this as we had enough other fundamental issues to address, but for me there is no doubt that it is at the more granular levels of learning where these sorts of representation have the most to offer.
As we have looked into how people design learning, both the the earlier LD Tools project that was done at OUCS, and our evaluations for Phoebe, it is clear that unless mandated externally, preferences in terms of representation are extremely diverse. A significant number of people do really want spacial map like plans, but an equal number would never plan that way, and prefer liner or tabular representations – all of which ignores those who use PowerPoint, paper, the back of a napkin….and the whole area of when designs move from just design into something you can instantiate.
So while we are working towards a tool that can cope with all the things outlined above….one day…. what does any of this mean in the shorter term? One thing that has served us well as Phoebe has progressed is acknowledging complexity, but trying to find simple solutions to the aspects of this space that can be tackled here and now.
Then chipping away at the larger more complex issues as we go….
So to take a simplifying step sideways when it comes to designing activities, in the sort of distance learning context we are designing for in Mosaic, this basically means writing instructions for students about undertaking activities that link to the tools they will need to use to accomplish them. Most of the time all you need to describe an activity is some words. So for Phoebe, just a box to write them in?
Although in the Phoebe team, we are resistant when people suggest that Phoebe is all about the guidance, I am starting to think that until we can really unpick the representation issues the most value to be found in Phoebe at the activity level is all about the right guidance. We also know that this guidance is the most powerful when it is very precisely targeted. Coming back to the reuse observations I made at a course level, our authors definitely write better activities when they start with examples of similar activities used in other course, and they write the best activities when those examples are from courses in their own discipline.
So, ok this works fine in a relatively small department such as ours – look at the other courses we have built, get some ideas – but how do you scale this for national contexts, how do you find these “just right” examples? OK now we’re back at the more complex issues – but certainly something that the wider D4L strand and other work at JISC and elsewhere has things to say about.
But blog posts shoudn’t be too long should they, and it is a Friday.