Archive for the 'Phoebe' Category

European LAMS conference

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2008

Like Martin Weller, Grainne Conole and Sheila MacNeill I was at the European LAMS conference in Cadiz last week. This proved a great chance to talk to people who are doing interesting things in pedagogical planners specifically and Learning Design more generally.

For me the most gratifying thing was that we all seem to be moving in the same direction, despite not having necessarily having talked to each other as much as we probably should have done over the last year. I think the key will be in maintaining this dialogue and ensuring we all move forward in a way which allows us to get the most benefit from each others work. Between the commitment at the OU to their learning design work, the LDSE and the projects JISC are funding in the curriculum design and delivery calls I think a lot will happen in the next couple of years, the trick will definitely be in trying to make this all join up.

It is also worth commenting that all of that is only what is happening in the UK, the LAMS group now have funding for their Activity Planner project and Ten Competance continue to do really interesting things.

I think there is a lot of willingness to keep talking, now all we have to do is to find the time….

Award winning Phoebe

Thursday, June 12th, 2008

Today we found out that Phoebe won an award at Oxford’s IT in Teaching and Learning Awards awards, OxTALENT.

This is particularly gratifying as for a long time, while awareness of Phoebe outside Oxford has been high, it has been a real challenge to get the word out in Oxford itself. There was a lot of interest in Phoebe and it was good to see many new faces at the event.

Where are planners now?

Tuesday, May 20th, 2008

Much of the last little while has been spent writing our final documentation for this phase of the Phoebe project. Although report writing is not my favorite task it has been a really valuable experience to take the time to reflect on what we have a achieved with Phoebe specifically and how our understanding of design for learning has progressed over the last few years. It feels like a very long time ago that IMS LD came out and seemed to capture something about e-learning focussed on activities rather than content, making it the first standard to address the real issues….and depending on your interpretation acted as the catalyst for a lot of the work that has come since.

Over the next few weeks, I will try and blog about some of the conclusions we have reached as a result of Phoebe, but as a very good place to start I am going to point to what other people are saying about this area.

I think the first people to mention are the team working on Compendium LD at the OU. Grainne Conole has several presentations on this subject at Slideshare, although perhaps the best place to find out what she is saying is though her blog, and more specifically her posts on learning desgin. Martin Weller, has also blogged a fair bit on this, with lots worth checking out.

There is also a lot of useful information available on the site CETIS created after our planner review day. You can access all the presentations and I would really recommend reading Helen Beethams Breifing paper, an excellent summary of a complicated space.

Lastly a lot of us will be presenting at the European LAMS conference in late June. It is worth noting while a lot of the papers are focusing on LAMS (as you might expect) many explore learning design more widely. Finally there is a whole day on pedagogical planners which if it is anything as good as last year will be a great chance to find out more about state of the art thinking in this space.

Learning designs, representation and reuse (2)

Friday, March 28th, 2008

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.

Web2rights, IPR and Phoebe

Tuesday, March 18th, 2008

A few months ago I spent a frustrating few days trying to get to the bottom of IPR and Phoebe. This is a question operating on quite a few levels as indicated below.

  1. IPR around the tool itself and how we release it to users – ok a pretty straight forward open source software issue, I think we are going to use GPL2 which seems to be fairly standard for JISC projects.
  2. IPR in the guidance within Phoebe – again not too bad, all the usual plagiarism and copyright issues, but as we produce online content all the time we know what we are doing here so not a problem
  3. IPR on the designs or templates an individual creates in Phoebe and opts to share – much more confusing. It seems obvious that creative commons or something like it is the way to go, but which one exactly?

Anyway after much trolling around it seemed there were a lot of people out there who were happy to explain all the problems in this space but not many who would suggest concrete solutions.

Hopefully this has started to change, at the pedagogic planners review meeting earlier this month Lawrie Phipps suggested I look at the Web2Rights project JISC has funded which at a first pass seems to be offering all that practical advice that was missing before.

Now all I have to do is read this all and decide what license to use and how to use it. I will try and remember to blog our final decision – or in the next month or so of course you should be able to go to Phoebe and see it in action!

Learning designs, representation and reuse (1)

Thursday, March 13th, 2008

As part of the Phoebe project we have been doing a lot of thinking about how to represent learning designs, and certainly the outputs of the Mod4L project in the D4L programme, did a lot to unpack how complicated this can be. There is no question to that we are a lot clearer about the challenges in this area than we were before the D4L work started, and some interesting ways of thinking about the problem have emerged. In particular the distinction between designs for inspiration versus designs for implementation, or anything else, which seems obvious now, certainly helped me think about this all a lot more clearly. Also I think we are better able to articulate the levels of granularity at which design operates and are starting to explore what is the same and what is different when thinking about design at the level of a course, module, unit, or activity.

Taking a step back from considering this in theory I am also interested in this on a more practical note for the Mosaic project. The main requirement for this project is to reuse as much as possible to create a course. As a committed D4L alumni I really want to see if we can reuse learning designs as well as content, but what does this really mean in practice?

Ignoring for now the possibility of reusing external designs I want to try and work out how we can reuse what we have internally. We now have about 50 online courses and 8 in English literature alone – clearly in all of this there are some learning designs that we could reuse, but how to get at them? All our courses have specifications which act as one sort of learning design at the course level – and there is no question that our authors look at existing specs and get inspiration for their course, I don’t think this is perfect but at this level I think reuse at an inspirational level is working quite well. However there are also other levels where this sort of design inspiration would be valuable, where the way forward is a lot less straight forward. In our case I think design has a part to play most importantly at unit level (1 weeks online study) and activity level.

In the case of unit level design along the way we have actually developed a very clear model across all our English literature courses – much more so here than in any of the other disciplines. However this is not encapsulated anywhere in an easy digestible format – essentially each new author has looked at previous courses and thought, hmm I think I’ll do my course a bit like that. This works up to a point but is actually becoming less scalable the more courses we have.

To take a step sideways I have tried to put the structure with the content stripped out in a word document – perhaps with the idea of using it as a unit template for authors, but I am not sure that it makes sense anymore – partly because it is too abstract but also perhaps because as soon as you start to think of it as a template for a unit you want to start thinking about the next level of design mentioned above, the activities – and that is a whole additional level of multiplying possibilities.

And of course if we have done our job right with Phoebe, anything I am trying here should be possible to model in Phoebe. I have done this with the course spec level already, and there is a sharable template for anyone who is interested (note you will need a login to Phoebe for this link to work). I think I am going to have to think harder before coming up with a unit level template, but it should be do-able. At an activity level I am not sure we if we are entering the place where Phoebe stops being the right tool for the job – although in theory it could work?

Well that is where I have got to today. Clearly I need to explore this more but I am going to put this out there anyway as if I don’t do this now it will remain in my drafts folder for ever more.

So more thinking to be done – better representation for unit level design – how to capture activity level design and how to do any of this in tools like Phoebe.

Reviewing Pedagogy Planners

Friday, March 7th, 2008

On Wednesday JISC organized a meeting to look at the two D4L funded Pedagogy Planners, our Phoebe and the LPP. Liz at the Planners review

It was a really useful day, consolidating many of the themes that had come out of our other evaluation. If you want to know more about it you will be able access all the presentations here (as soon as they are posted).

Grainne has also blogged this here , here and here , and Sheila MacNeill here.

Finding the real need for planning tools

Monday, February 25th, 2008

The concentration needed to develop our pedagogic planner tool Phoebe has necessarily brought our gaze inward during parts of the project. Over the last few weeks we have returned to looking outward, and have been talking to various people from other projects in the same space, particularly Jeff Earp from the ReMath project, Andrew Brasher from Compendium and Helen Walmsley from the Best practice models of e-learning project . It has been interesting to catch up and see where we all are, and to get a sense of how the themes that seem to be emerging from Phoebe resonate (or not) with other projects in this area. Added to this is an on going dialogue with our “sister” D4L funded Pedagogic Planner the LPP.

A key focus of all the current projects has been to develop tools that are fundamentally informed by the needs of our future users, rather than implementing a vision that is divorced from actual practice. Our current evaluations have been focusing on the practitioner level, but as our two projects come to the end of this phase of funding JISC are using this as a chance to address these questions more strategically.

As part of this Phoebe and the LPP will be at the centre of a review meeting that the JISC are organising in Birmingham on the 4th March. This will provide an opportunity to share and discuss our work with key stakeholders, and to explore how they might use the planner tools in their communities.

Blogging Phoebe

Tuesday, February 5th, 2008

Interesting blog post from Ian Harford who was at our evaluation on the 14th. Titled “Learning Networks, Learning Design and Phoebe” it looks at Phoebe from the perspective of ACL and mentions some thoughts about future directions for Phoebe especially around the community aspects.

Evaluating Phoebe

Wednesday, January 16th, 2008

Well after months of development and lots of talking to people in the design for learning community we finally started the process of evaluating the Phoebe pedagogic planner with practitioners, and at a first pass, gratifyingly seem to have created a tool that people want to use. Not that there weren’t lots of suggestions about how to make it better…..

As well as all the specific technical issues, a clear theme was the importance of the user community and how to support them. We had already given this some thought (and it is not as if there are not enough models out there to consider) but it is clear if Phoebe moves forward this is going to be one of the factors that most impacts on making Phoebe a tool that people want to use.

We are still in the early stages of our evaluation process at the moment, the session on Monday was mostly with practitioners from FE and ACL. We will be doing another two workshops in the next few weeks, the first with HE lecturers in Brighton and the second with student teachers in Swansea. We are also going to do a remote evaluation, so if you would be interested in taking part, letting us know what you think and shaping how we take the project forward, keep an eye on this blog for more information, or let me know by emailing me at