Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Context is all - ensuring learning design fits

The second week of the OLDS MOOC on Learning Design was a messy but ultimately interesting and worthwhile run through the idea of contexts.
There is a lot that we take for granted in schools. Context is one of them. Obviously, when starting out in teaching in a new situation, the context in which the teaching and learning is going to take place is investigated. Soon, an understanding of what works in that context takes over and, apart from ideas such as differentiation or learning preferences, the task is about lesson planning.
At times a particular contextual topic may be raised. For example, are we doing enough for our second language learners? How can we use through-school language approaches to support these learners language development AND learning in other subjects? But it is rare to go back to basics and consider the complete contextual situation afresh.
The programme this week was tough to keep up with - one week was far too ambitious. Particularly because there was a lot to take in and then a lot to construct from the readings. Since I am still project-less, I am working through this in general and not relating it to a particular project.
The following are my notes on this area.
I take away from this week the idea that it is important to tease out all the issues involved with the contexts of the learning design. I considered the following three approaches: scenarios, "personas" and Ecology of Resources (EoR).
  1. Scenarios - brainstorming to obtain a view of the context involved:
    • Actors (who is involved?)
    • Goals (what are the targets?)
    • Settings (done where and when?)
    • Objects (what things involved?) laptop, phone, tablet, course platform, social media, mail, text, etc.
    • Actions (what happens to actors?) writing a narrative from the beginning, from seeing the course, joining it, working through it, completing it.
    • Events (what events could happen?) dropping out, falling behind
    • Results (what is achieved?)
    • Your design (what role does your design play?)
  2. Develop a narrative scenario (this is telling one story of this; really not sure if this is a good approach - how does it help beyond point 1?)
  3. Scrutinize scenarios - what claims are you making? do they hold up?
  4. Invite comment on your scenarios.
 Personas involved developing fictitious characters representing a typical person in the domain. These would be written on cards (post-its) and a process gone through to develop a "force map" (a graphical representation which illustrates the situation).
Several steps take you through the process:
Step 1: create persona cards in scenario
Step 2: create target cards - what do actors aim to achieve? what will they consider success?
Step 3: where? List material, social and intentional factors connecting/separating actors and targets.
Material: location, physical conditions, available technology, etc
Social: institutional structure, relations between actors, etc
Intentional: prior knowledge, beliefs, desires.
Step 4: place cards on a large sheet of paper thus:

                Actors                                                                         Targets

                                 Factors in between them, then link and annotate 
                                whether supporting or conflicting

Both of these approaches required a guessing of all the different types of actors, personas, that would be involved. As a learning device to get to understand the concept of contexts this is satisfactory. As a practical device to use in Learning Design I am not so sure.

The Ecology of Resources (EoR) approach consisted of three phases and seemed to be based on pedagogy - in this case Vygotsky's Zone of Proximal Development (explained here, slides 21 to 31). The idea of a Zone of Proximal Adjustment (ZPA) is used as is the idea of More Able Partners (MAPs - could this be based on Paolo Freire's "Act of Knowing"? see slides 7 to 13 from the same Slideshare presentation).
The design goal is to "redesign learner contexts so as to optimise opportunities for interactions with social and other resources capable of assisting learners perform towards their objectives" and the design is a ZPA.
The three (iterative) processes are:

Phase 1: create model of resources potentially available to assist learners and filters that constrain learner interactions with these resources. Identify forms of assistance and potential MAPs.
    • BRAINSTORM potential resources in an Ecology of Resources
    • SPECIFY FOCUS OF ATTENTION - decide which resources to focus on
      • Knowledge and skills
      • People and tools
      • Environment
    • IDENTIFYING FILTERS - things that influence availability of potential resources
    • IDENTIFYING LEARNER RESOURCES - brought by learners
    • INTERACTIONS - reviewing focus of attention to obtain OPTIMAL SET OF FORMS OF ASSISTANCE (from ZPD to ZPA)
Phase 2: identify relationships so as to better understand how these are independent and are opportunities (amongst LEARNER, RESOURCES, FILTERS). Which are influential relationships, component relationships, typology relationships, social relationships?

Phase 3: Design adjustments to make right resources available at the right time - produce SCAFFOLDING and ADJUSTMENT.

    I did find the scaffolding designed for this OLDS MOOC tight and too detailed. I accept that this was designed for many and so this approach might suit some. As pointed out by Josh in Tuesday's convergence session, these are learning processes which will generate a check list for your context, eventually.
    This type of contexts definition is useful to do even in a school setting. What are we missing or ignoring which are filters to learning?
    I wondered about the cultural contexts in particular in terms of teachers new to a particular school or country (see extract from the mindmap produced for this course). But there are other areas which are important for us to take into account when designing learning.


    Helen Crump said...

    George, I am especially struck with your introduction about context:"there is a lot that we take for granted in schools. Context is one of them....but it is rare to go back to basics and consider the complete contextual situation afresh". So when the chance does come along it would be a shame to waste it.
    I'm interested in literacy, and now with all the talk of digital literacy it seems a great opportunity to go back to basics and to holistically consider literacy afresh. Great post. Thanks

    Larry Cuffe said...

    i think a useful concept here is our structure of expectations. what we expect, what the student expects, and the alignment betwee whern students fail to complete, but they may be very pleased that they made the progress they did1n these two. As an example we may be disapointed