A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to be able to attend a 'formative e-assessment' event that was hosted by the London Knowledge Lab. The purpose of the event was to disseminate the results of a JISC project that had the same title.
If you're interested, the final project report, Scoping a Vision for Formative e-Assessment is available for download. The slides for this event are also available, where you can also find Elluminate recordings of the presentations.
This blog post is a collection of randomly assorted comments and reflections based upon the presentations that were made throughout the day. They are scattered in no particular order. I offer them with the hope that they might be useful to someone!
The keynote presentation had the subtitle, 'case stories, design patterns and future scenarios'. These words resonated strongly with me. Being a software developer, the notion of a design pattern (wikipedia) is one that was immediately familiar. When you open the Gang of Four text book (wikipedia) (the book that defines them), you are immediately introduced to the 'architectural roots' of the idea, which were clearly echoed in the first presention.
The idea of a pattern, especially within software engineering, is one that is powerful since it provides software developers with an immediate vocabulary that allows effective sharing of complex ideas using seemingly simple sounding abstractions. Since assessment is something that can be described (in some sense) as a process, it was easy to understand the objective of the project and see how the principle of a pattern could be used to share ideas and facilitate communication about practice.
A highlight of the day, for me, was a description of Laurillard's conversational framework. I have heard about it before but have, so far, not had much of an opportunity to study it in great detail. Attending a presentation about it and learning about how it can be applied makes a conceptual framework become alive. If you have the time, I encourage you to view the presentation that accompanies this event.
I'm not yet familiar enough with the model to summarise it eloquently, but I should state that it allows you to consider the role of teachers and learners, the environment in which the teacher carries out the teaching, and the space where a learner can carry out their own work. The model also takes into account of the conversations (and learning) that can occur between peers.
During the presentation, I noted (or paraphrased) the words: 'the more iterations through the conversational model you do, the higher the quality of the learning you will obtain'. Expanding this slightly, you could perhaps restate this by saying, 'the more opportunities to acquire new ideas, reflect on actions and receive feedback, the more familiar a learner will become with the subject that is the focus of study'.
In some respects, I consider the conversational framework to be a 'meta model' in the sense that it can (from my understanding) take account of different pedagogical approaches, as well as different technologies.
Links to accessibility
Another 'take away' note that I made whilst listening to the presentation was, 'learning theories are not going to change, but how these are used (and applied) will change, particularly with regards to technology'.
It was at this point when I began to consider my own areas of research. I immediately began to wonder, 'how might this model be used to improve, enhance or understand the provision of accessibility?' One way to do this is to consider each of the boxes the arrows that are used to graphically describe the framework. Many of the arrows (those that are not labelled as reflections) may correspond to communications (or conversations) with or between actors. These could be viewed as important junctures where the accessibility of the learning tools or environments that could be applied need to be considered.
Returning to the issue of technology, peers, for instance, may share ideas by posting comments to discussion forums. These comments could then be consumed by other learners (through peer learning) and potentially permit a reformulation or strengthening of understandings.
Whilst learning technologies can permit the creation of digital learning spaces, such as those available through the application of virtual learning environments, designers of educational technologies need to take account of the accessibility of such systems to ensure that they are usable for all learners.
One of my colleagues is one step ahead of me. Cooper writes, on a recent blog post, 'Laurillard uses [her framework] to analyse the use of media in learning. However this can be further extended to analyse the accessibility of all the media used to support these different conversations.' The model, in essence, can be used to understand not only whether a particular part of a course is accessible (the term 'course' is used loosely here), but also be used to highlight whether there are some aspects of a course that may need further consideration to ensure that is as fully inclusive at it could be.
Returning to the theme of 'scenario', one idea might be to use a series of case studies to further consider how the framework might be used to reason about the accessibility status of a course.
There may be quite a few more connections lurking underneath the terms that were presented to the audience. One question that I asked to myself was, 'how do these formative assessment patterns relate to the idea of learning designs?' (a subject that is the focus of a number of projects, including Cloudworks, enhancements to the Compendium authoring tool, the LAMS learning activity management system and the IMS learning design specification).
A pattern could be considered as something that could be used within a part of a larger learning design. Another thought is that perhaps individual learning designs could be mapped onto specific elements of the conversational model. Talking in computing terms, it could represent a specific instantiation (or instance). Looking at it from another perspective, there is also the possibility that pedagogical patterns (whether e-assessment or otherwise) may provide inspiration to those who are charged with either constructing new or using existing learning designs.
During the course of the day, the audience were directed, on a number of occasions to the project Wiki. One of the outcomes of the project was a literature review, which can be viewed on-line.
I recall quite a bit of debate surrounding the differences between guidelines, rules and patterns. I also see links to the notion of learning designs too. My understanding is that, depending on what you are referring to and your personal perspective, it may be difficult to draw clear distinctions between each of these ideas.
Returning to the issue of the conversational model being useful to expose accessibility issues, I'm glad that others before me have seen the same potential connection and I am now wondering whether there are other researchers who may have gone even further in considering the ways that the framework might be applied.
In my eyes, the idea of e-assessment patterns and the notion of learning designs are concepts that can be used to communicate and share distilled best practice. It will be interesting to continue to observe the debates surrounding these terms to see whether a common vocabulary of useful abstractions will eventually emerge. If they already exist, please feel free to initiate a conversation. I'm always happy to learn.
Thanks are extended to Diana Laurillard who gave permission to share the presentation slide featured in this post.