A couple of years ago following a JISC webinar I wrote a blog post on ‘Pedagogic Planners and Phoebe’. I have recently revisited this topic to consider whether these tools have a role to play as staff prepare for the implementation of a new academic framework from 2013 here at Kingston.
I first engaged with technology supported learning design a few years ago at the time the initial IMS Learning Design specification was published. The aim of the specification is to describe a learning design in a format that can be interpreted and played by standards compliant software environments and tools (e.g. the TENCompetence Foundation editor and player). The implementation of this specification therefore has the potential to translate any pedagogic model into a form that can be delivered online. I can certainly see the benefits to this approach and how it could additionally promote sharing and interoperability of learning designs across compliant systems. At the current time however our core learning technologies do not support the specification; we use multiple core systems (e.g. VLE, ELGG, WordPress) and personal and mobile technologies are becoming increasingly important and; our learning and teaching straddles both virtual and physical spaces. I also recently attended a fascinating online seminar organised by ALT ‘To what extent should learning design be supported computationally?’ being discussed by Diana Laurillard and Stephen Downes. Part of the debate centred on whether there is or can ever be a functionally useful neutral language that can be used to fully describe and represent learning and teaching. For these reasons, complexities and also the timescales we are working to I considered that there was greater immediate potential for engaging with learning design advisory tools. There are a number of these tools freely available. Originally I evaluated Phoebe, and although I think this continues to be a useful web-based advisory tool in most respects this had been superseded the Learning Design Support Environment. A further useful category of advisory tools have been the primarily paper based tools designed to be used in staff development workshops, e.g. 7Cs Learning Design workshop resources (Beyond Distance Research Alliance).
The issues of computational representation and language of learning design discussed in the ALT seminar still of course apply but I felt towards the end of the ALT debate there was some agreement that such tools could be useful for academics as a starting point, for prompting different approaches and re-thinking. Laurillard further made the points that to share good practice you need to be able to represent it, and if your learning design fails you do have a representation to go back to and revise. Conole (2012) argues that to effectively exploit the promise and potential of technology we need to move from belief based and implicit learning and teaching approaches to those that are design based and explicit, promoting sharing and ‘reflective scholarly practice’.
Both Phoebe and the LDSE provide this kind of support. The LDSE provides an extensive palette of learning outcomes and learning and teaching activities along with tools that provide a visual representation of sequencing, activity balance and overall summary. Both tools are able to save and share learning designs, though Phoebe has an advantage in this respect being web based and with the ability to openly share (with Creative Commons License). In the case of LDSE sharing is via an export file.
In summary I feel that learning design advisory tools have a real role to play in supporting staff in designing teaching and learning activities from individual sessions through to a sequence of activities throughout a module. This is achieved through considering the design of learning more explicitly; prompting with ideas and activities and; providing tools that aid reflection and potentially promote sharing. The use of such tools in combination with student feedback and developments in learning analytics offer academics a potentially powerful toolkit to aid teaching practice. These tools also have the potential to involve students in learning and teaching design.
For reasons as discussed in the ALT seminar these learning designs will probably not be suitable for directly evaluating or ranking against each other, at least across different academic frameworks, and will need to be interpreted in context. However with this understanding in mind they can provide rich and explicit representations of learning designs that can be readily interpreted and used to inform practice, and probably particularly useful in staff development events.