Jan 23

What is a “thick learning situation?”

In order to approach learning situations as problems to be solved, rather than topics to be discussed, I’d like to start by defining what, in my view, makes a learning situation “thick.” I’m appropriating the word and concept from Clifford Geertz and the discipline of ethnography, and I’ll attempt to apply it as a lens or framing for teaching and learning, which are, as we know, always socially situated.

From Instruction to Learning

For her chapter entitled Reviewing the trajectories of e-learning [which I summarized on this blog, tweeted, shared on social media, and shared again in my workplace] Gráinne Conole chose the word “trajectory” — a clear link to rocket travel! In keeping with her metaphor, by all indications eLearning has achieved escape velocity and settled into orbit. It certainly shows no signs of falling back to earth any time soon.

…when educators consider the people, places, ideas, and things that might empower the learner or enhance delivery and retention of the content. What technology will I make available to my learners? What have others already prepared that can assist me in explaining things better? Where can I take my learners, both physically and via the web? Can we build something together, plan for synchronicity and serendipity—consider the human chemistry that we are about to incubate? Which experts will I invite to participate? How can we draw out the expertise that may already exist amongst participants we’ve yet to meet?

Conole highlighted what she seems to see as an evolutionary development that’s taking place, from “instructional design” to “learning design.” One concrete way I see this taking shape happens when educators consider the people, places, ideas, and things that might empower the learner or enhance delivery and retention of the content. What technology will I make available to my learners? What have others already prepared that can assist me in explaining things better? Where can I take my learners, both physically and via the web? Can we build something together, plan for synchronicity and serendipity—consider the human chemistry that we are about to incubate? Which experts will I invite to participate? How can we draw out the expertise that may already exist amongst participants we’ve yet to meet?

Storytelling: a catalytic convertor for learning situations

It is becoming increasingly clear that personal and other illustrative stories, dilemmas, scenarios, etc. can act as a “catalyst” that motivates learners to relate to the content. In the language (affectionately?) known as edubabble it might sound like, “foster intrinsic motivation…, enable learner agency…,” or “to construct meaningful knowledge.” I surmise that this might be an added benefit if the educator aspires to create a situation that is memorable and transformational, rather than simply informational.

A situation leading to an inquiry

Supposing you were teaching middle school children civics, and how legislation is created. You might want to talk about “precedent,” and how laws are made or changed—laws we all have to obey. What if you took a piece of case law on a subject you feel your learners may find relevant, and that a legal expert available to your classroom community has told you helped set precedent? What if you engaged those experts and others to present the case to this class as a story, framed in language of fairness and conflict resolution?

Add thickener

So far we’ve not done much out of the ordinary. We could just give a quiz and call it a day. But I believe, and I’ll bet you do too, that that would be a very superficial assessment of some very superficial learning. Instead, what if we ask, “Has anything like this ever happened to you? Do you agree with the outcomes? Who benefits from this law? How?”

I’m interested in hearing from teachers, counselors, and educators of all sorts whether they have tried such an approach, would be willing to try such an approach, or even whether it’s a good idea. Would you care to leave a comment?


More links

Schwartz, Susan and Bone, Maxine (1995), Retelling, Relating, Reflecting — Beyond the 3 Rs, a book that does critical thinking with kids exceptionally well.
Digital Storytelling Toronto
Stories for Change
Knowledge-building community model

The Good Project
Project Zero

Jan 18

CompendiumLD for Learning Design

When the Open University funded the Learning Design Initiative in 2007 they asked about 4 specific aspects of the topic: efficiency & effectiveness of time spent designing learning; ways to represent innovative practice; access and availability of quality support for designers; the true nature of a quality design as it appears or presents in practice. With the continued support of Jisc they’ve produced a range of tools. When the OULDI picked an open source code base on which to build a collaboration-friendly tool to visually represent “a learning design” they “…considered various drawing packages, as well as more specialised mind mapping tools (such as Inspiration and MindManager).

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In the end we choose to use Compendium, a visual representation tool, originally developed for enabling group argumentation…” (OU Website).

Compendium was already the Open University’s home-grown product. They set about adapting it specifically to the requirements of learning design, and they named it CompendiumLD. Learning Design is and evolution of traditional and established “instructional design” that provides a more holistic approach (Conole, 2014). Their tool truly does offer a “…range of flexible approaches to the design process,” the interactive SVG to the right, if you’re able to see and use it, is only one example, a “Sequence Map View.” Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) is an XML-based vector image format for graphics that supports interactivity and animation (Wikipedia). If you’re getting JavaScript alert popup message when you mouse over blame them, not me!

Learning Design emerged “as a counter measure to Instructional Design. Driven primarily by researchers in Europe and Australia, Learning Design aimed to provide practitioners with guidance and support to inform their design process which is pedagogically effective and makes appropriate use of technologies. It is seen as a more encompassing term than Instructional Design, which operates primarily at the level of multimedia; in contrast Learning Design provides a holistic approach to the design process.
—Gráinne Colone, OULDI Project Lead (September 2008 – August 2011)

On the CompendiumLD corner of the Open University’s site you can also see a “Learning Outcomes View,” and a “Task Times View,” showing how you can use CompendiumLD to deliver timed assessments. For more advanced examples, see this Peer assessment using a wiki., or an example Modelling adaptations featuring open educational resources, “a design which shows how existing open educational resources can be included in an activity structure that caters for learners with different levels of skills and knowledge” created with a perhaps somewhat dated (<frameset>, <script Language="JavaScript1.2">) but nevertheless reliable and robust1 Web Export functionality that lets you share your designs with collaborators and other learners.

If there’s anything “wrong” with Compendium and CompendiumLD, you see it in these screen shots… is it perhaps a somewhat 90s, or turn-of-the-21st-century look to the icons? Never mind! Don’t let that distract you from what you can do with CompendiumLD. If it still bothers you, you can in fact change the images, icons and stencil sets, and it’s source is freely available — if you’d like to work on the interface the community will likely be grateful. Just look at CompendiumNG if you’ve any doubts there’s a next generation coming up in the Compendium family.

As part of the JISC Curriculum Design project (OULDI_JISC), four other [higher education] institutions (Brunel, Cambridge, London South Bank and Reading Universities) have been trialing and exploring the use of the OU learning design methodology. The purpose of these pilots is to determine the transferability of the OU methodology across a range of different HE organisations. In addition the pilots will provide the project with valuable feedback about the tools and resources developed as part of the OULDI-JISC project, and the approaches we have used to introduce and embed the methodologies institutionally (workshops, special interest groups and the toolbox etc). These Universities previously worked together as a cluster group for the HEA Pathfinder Project, on which Gráinne Conole was critical friend and it is expected that this work will build on, and extend on, that project.

I’ve had a strong sense of the value of these tools—and of the entire paradigm surrounding their development2 and use that seems to me so well-aligned with the long-established findings of cognitive apprenticeship—since they first came to my attention only a couple years ago. I’m truly excited to see their work expand and continue.


Further reading

Conole, Gráinne (2014) Reviewing the trajectories of e-learning, blogged chapter from forthcoming publication. Or start with my shorter overview

The Open University Learning Design Initiative “Our aim is to develop and implement a methodology for learning design composed of tools, practice and other innovation that both builds upon, and contributes to, existing academic and practitioner research. We have been working across several OU faculties and with 4 other universities to pilot curriculum design activities and relevant supporting tools and to contribute to the broader academic work in the subject.”

Jisc, “UK’s expert on digital technologies for education and research”

Fouchaux, Richard C. (2013), Thick learning situations: paths towards a framework for 21st-century learning design, project, paper and various web applications [HTML]
[…demonstrating, if not quite explaining, its own subthesis—the impending obsolescence of the traditional paper—and the work left to be done in utilizing new forms, and raising them to the status of other literacies! My MRP, the birth of this site. -rcf]

  1. By comparison, I discovered Visual Understanding Environment (VUE), a similar tool from Tufts University, has advanced as far as image maps enhanced with an early version of jQuery, but I found it very easy to break by putting HTML or the wrong text characters into the Node Notes.
  2. Back in 2011 I tried to say it in 10 seconds, but it took me 11, and maybe it’s not entirely clear I’m talking about the same issues. What do you think? [video]


May 28

Make Captivate HTML5 Work in Firefox

screen shot of error dialogWith the slow but steady demise of Flash, SWF-based elearning software makers, like Adobe, have been “cramming” (a word from disruptive innovation) HTML5 into their products, like Captivate (I’m using v6.1), to keep up. Because the HTML5 spec itself is still growing in inconsistent and at times uncertain directions there are bound to be holes and gaps in the implementations. For Captivate 6.1 the first one I encountered was the “This browser does not support some of the content…” error I got when I attempted to view my HTML5 output in my browser of choice—Firefox. It was version 20, and I know Firefox has supported HTML5 audio and video tags since version 3.5 so it had to be something silly. In the proprietary software world that may mean license issues, and so it does with Firefox (Free, Open, Libre software) and the MP3 (not so much). Captivate exports only MP3s, Firefox (and Opera) play only OGGs. So until Adobe offers a checkbox on the Publishing page you can do the following, or hope your visitors use only IE, Safari or Chrome—as the majority probably do… but we’re big on inclusion around here so let’s not leave anyone out!

I quickly ascertained it’s the MP3-only audio export preventing Firefox from doing Captivate sound. As you probably know, some browsers do MP3, others do OGG. You may even remember why. Fortunately that’s the only reason Firefox won’t play Captivate HTML5. All you have to do are

  1. create OGG versions of each MP3 and
  2. edit two JavaScript files to
    1. detect Firefox
    2. provide the appropriate file extension and
    3. suppress the error message.

Simple enough you say, but I figured I may as well google it and see what others have done. I did, and found all the hints I needed in hermit9911’s answer to this post (scroll down a few). hermit just needs OGG. I want both to work depending on browser, so I had to improvise on hermit9911’s theme. Here are the steps I ended up following.

1. Create OGG versions of each MP3

There are many programs that convert audio formats. I used Audacity’s “Chains” feature (macros). Since I’ve met many more people who know of Audacity than know of its Chains feature, I’ve done a separate screencast of that process:

Made using Camstudio (screen video), iPhone (narration),
Audacity (mix/process audio) & Sony Vegas (mix/render video)
Can you suggest a good open source video editor? Please use the comments with my thanks!

2. Edit two JavaScript files

detect Firefox

Project.js is found in the root export folder. It’s “minified,” which means line breaks and extra spaces are removed and it’s pretty hard to read, but we can add our tiny bit of code right at the beginning. I don’t see any need for feature detection in this case, so I settled for user agent:

var is_firefox = navigator.userAgent.toLowerCase().indexOf('firefox') > -1; 
// converts the string to lowercase then creates Boolean, 
// true if it finds 'firefox' anywhere in the name. Otherwise : false 

provide the appropriate file extension

Once you have a question that can be answered yes or no the best syntax is usually as follows:

myExtension = is_firefox ? '.ogg' : 'mp3'; <br>// Yes? Send '.ogg' No : send '.mp3

Then just search & replace existing .mp3' with '+myExtension Everything between ”s is literal, myExtension is variable depending on the answer to is_firefox?yes:no;

UPDATED: If you have Administrator rights and access to the Adobe Captivate install folder you can add these changes to the template Captivate creates the file from. Otherwise both files are overwritten every time you publish, and you have to repeat all these steps. If you can access and edit
use that file instead (path to install folder will differ depending on operating system and installation) otherwise follow the instructions as written:
Next, open [PublishFolder]/assets/CPHTML5Warnings.js and make the two additions suggested by hermit9911. (I looked up the earliest version of Firefox that supported the audio tag and replaced hermit9911’s xx with 3.5).

this.BrowserEnum.FIREFOX_MIN_SUPPORTED_VERSION = 3.5; // sets minimum version, used in code below

suppress the error message

Finally at the very bottom of the file you will find a series of IF and IF ELSE statements… add the following after the closing semicolon of the last one:

else if((this.browser == this.BrowserEnum.FIREFOX) <br>  &amp;&amp;<br> (this.browserVersion &gt;= this.BrowserEnum.FIREFOX_MIN_SUPPORTED_VERSION )) <br> lSupported = true;

Browse to index.html in Firefox, press Play and watch your movie. With a bit of practice this will add all of about 5-10 minutes to your publishing routine. Alas, you’ll have to redo Project.js—and convert all your audio files— every time you publish.

As an extension activity, make this work for Opera (yes, you can use find/replace but watch case-sensitivity. Do each separately… firefox/opera and FIREFOX/OPERA). Use flow control instead? (Hint: yes) Look back at the code above and explain why you need to do that. Would you change the variable name? To what?

My entire solution instructions and code snippets
(including my answers to the extension questions)

/* ADD TO TOP OF Project.js */
var wantsOggsOverEasy = ((navigator.userAgent.toLowerCase().indexOf('firefox') > -1) || (navigator.userAgent.toLowerCase().indexOf('opera') > -1)), myEXT=wantsOggsOverEasy?'.ogg':'.mp3'; 
/* nb comma/semi-colon usage - I declared 2 local vars in 1 dec */

/* This is the text to search for
   .mp3' and change it to '+myEXT
  FROM: src:'ar/Mouse.mp3',du:182
       TO: src:'ar/Mouse'+myEXT,du:182

IF you have Admin privileges find the Captivate install folder and edit the warnings file found in
[InstallFolder]\HTML\assets\js\CPHTML5Warnings.js. Otherwise you can save these changes in a safe place and you'll need to replace [PublishFolder]/ar/CPHTML5Warnings.js in the published location every time you publish. (Project.js is generated programmatically by the publishing engine, so to the best of my knowledge it must be fixed after each publish, also protect your OGG files.)  */

/* In CPHTML5Warnings.js 
(somewhere between lines 19 and 20) non-destructively ADD:  */

        this.BrowserEnum.FIREFOX_MIN_SUPPORTED_VERSION = 3.5;
        this.BrowserEnum.OPERA_MIN_SUPPORTED_VERSION = 10;

(approximately line 112) AFTER final 
          lSupported = true; AND BEFORE

          return lSupported; non-destructively ADD 

		else if((this.browser == this.BrowserEnum.FIREFOX) && (this.browserVersion >= this.BrowserEnum.FIREFOX_MIN_SUPPORTED_VERSION))

            lSupported = true;	
		else if((this.browser == this.BrowserEnum.OPERA) && (this.browserVersion >= this.BrowserEnum.OPERA_MIN_SUPPORTED_VERSION))
            lSupported = true;


N.B. Post was edited for clarity since first publishing.

Jan 19

Mind mapping for learning design

UPDATED: when you’ve read this, see my latest update on Gráinne Conole’s latest contributions to these ideas, linked at the end.

Mind map of CompendiumLD showing Getting StartedThe past 30 years in education research has seen the influx of big ideas from computer science, social anthropology, design and even architecture. We now say learning is situated in authentic social contexts many call communities of practice.

This has had some pretty significant effects on research itself (e.g., ethnographic case studies, action research), and learning design tools, themselves designed to reflect this current situation, but for reasons I won’t waste any more time pondering, the uptake still seems relatively slow. Gráinne Conole, with others at the Institute of Educational Technology, Open University UK, looked into an idea/concept/mind mapping tool, Compendium, that was already under development there, and in yet another demonstration of the efficacy of open source, created CompendiumLD, Compendium “Learning Design,” allowing designers to visualize the many connections that exist within learning situations. I believe such tools will play an increasingly important role in the design, planning and implementation of learning experiences.

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