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Design Approaches in Technology Enhanced Learning

One of the more in-depth papers that I’ve recently encountered is a really cool paper on the many things that go into figuring out and improving upon technology-enhanced learning. It’s really a very good discussion not just on learning, but about educational thought in the context of design, technology and the sciences. The paper, Design approaches in technology enhanced learning is available from the arXiv as well as from Telearn. It was written by Yishay Mor (blog) and Niall Winters who seem to be two very intelligent scholars from the London Knowledge Lab (which has some really cool stuff going on). The entire piece left me feeling really intrigued by the challenges of effectively integrating technology and education. The paper is very well researched and although I can’t articulate it,  I reached the last page of this paper feeling really good. Maybe it had to do with the enlightened view taken by the authors. Their writing is crisp and their outlook seems appropriately upbeat given the richness of the material and subject matter covered in the paper. The document bursts with elegant and thought-provoking stanzas:

Design based research is a methodology for the study of function. Often referred to as design research or design experiments, it is concerned with the design of learning processes, taking account of the involved complexities, multiple levels and contexts of educational settings. The primary aim is to develop domain-specific theories in order to understand the learning process.

Such succulent gems of insight are plentiful in the opening sections as Mor and Winters set the stage for a comprehensive reflection on the essences of design, science and learning. They are realistic about how “The complexity of classroom situations does not lend itself to the procedures of laboratory research” as they ask “To what extent are we driven by a pure quest for knowledge, and to what extent are we committed to influencing educational practice?”. The paper continues into a very stimulating overview of design patterns and their application in the many areas of education. Though I have always liked the idea of design patterns in software, I have never been so enthralled by a discussion about the essential elements of design patterns. Also, this is the first time that I’ve heard of design patterns being used as a tool for analysis instead of construction and planning:

An important characteristic of a design pattern is that it has three facets: descriptive, normative, and collaborative. It is an analytic form, used to describe design situations and solutions, a meta-design tool, used to highlight key issues and dictate a valuable method of resolving them, and a communicative tool enabling different communities to discuss design issues and solutions.

The esteemed writers are careful to explain their thought processes without letting their comprehensive coverage become tangential. They expertly work in a mentioning of the political agendas of design pattern construction for city planning and network routing protocols to help illustrate their observations of how values influence design. This paper is awash in fascinating pointers to further exploration and while I fully intend to follow up on some of their citations, something of immediate interest is a link to a very cool site called the Pedagogical Patterns Project which established a repository of educational design patterns. I need more time to explore but what they have seems to be very cool. It’s clear that I’ll refer back to this paper frequently as I strive to better understand the interactions of education and computing.

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