Offline Role-plays Podcast

Posted by matthew on Jul 13, 2006 in education, educause, research

This second podcast is about role-plays as well, but this time the role-plays don’t use online technologies at all. The Knowledge Resource Network (KRN), sponsored by the Cambridge-MIT Institute (CMI), aims to make learning materials developed for the CMI M.Phil. courses available to other UK higher education institutions. The KRN Project identified a number of role-plays as exemplars for possible reuse. This presentation to the CARET Evaluation Group describes a qualitative research project to investigate the usage of these role-plays. Also on The Zotcast.


Online Role-plays Podcast

Posted by matthew on Apr 25, 2006 in education, educause, research, roleplays, technology

Role-play has long been used as an educational tool to provide learners with a way to understand the real world. Since the advent of the World Wide Web, online role-plays have become widely used in Australian tertiary institutions to provide students with authentic learning opportunities. This presentation profiles two examples of online role-plays developed at the University of Melbourne: DRALE Online, in which final year law students form legal teams in a dispute resolution process, and The Campaign, a role-play about journalists and political advisors following a political campaign. To see the whole podcast, visit The Zotcast.


Desire Lines and Systems Design

Posted by matthew on Mar 9, 2006 in educause, research

A very helpful comment from Jenny Reiswig on yesterday’s blog entry lead to the discovery of the term ‘desire lines’ — an evocative concept that has already been used as an analogy in the design of technical systems.

Larry Wall, creator of UNIX Perl language:

People will accept a new thing much better if it already resembles something they’re familiar with or the way theyare already thinking about things. A musician would say “A musical piece lays under the fingers — it looks hard but it is easy to play.” Another way of thinking of it is (by analogy:) At the University of California at Irvine, when they first built its campus, they just planted grass. Then they waited a year and looked at where people had made paths in the grass and built the sidewalks there. I did the same thing with Perl. I looked at the paths people liked to traverse in UNIX, and distilled them down to a language that still in many ways contains the essence of UNIX. The real driving force behind porting Perl to Windows and Macs is primarily disenfranchised UNIX programmers who want to have a little bit of the old country, and with Perl they get that. On a Windows machine, we make sure there are Windows-specific interfaces, but the notion of being able to hook everything up to everything else in a simple manner is really shoving a wad of UNIX glue into the middle of the works. (It’s about) taking a system where “you can’t get there from here” and letting you get there from here.

Larry Wall Articles and Interviews


The Tanbark Principle

Posted by matthew on Mar 8, 2006 in educause, research

Scenario 1
A newly constructed block of flats is built, and the city plans for the large number of people living there by building a bus stop directly outside, a car park, and wheelchair access to the flats. Because of the steep gradient from the street to the car park, the wheelchair ramp is built parallel to the street, doubling back on itself to create a long entry point for foot traffic. Residents at the flats become annoyed with having to traverse the ramp, and begin to step through the newly constructed garden beds and jumping into the car park below. The garden beds become trampled, and residents risk injury. The design has failed to meet the goals of the majority of the residents who use the bus.

Scenario 2
A Landscape architect is designing a new playground which will include an adventure playground with various features, a sand pit, drinking fountains, and paved pathways. They construct all of the equipment, but they decide to delay the construction of the pathways. Instead, they spread tanbark evenly around the equipment, including between the equipment and the amenities. The new playground is opened, and receives heavy use over the first 2 weeks. The landscape architects return, and map the areas where the tanbark is thinner. These pathways through the tanbark have been left by regular use of children as they move around the new playground. The landscape architect uses the map to specify where the paved pathways, which are added to the playground to complete the design.

The Tanbark Principle
Instead of trying to design something that you think will allow people to achieve their goal, observe their behaviour to see if they are already finding a good path. If possible, observe many people to map the most common pathways to these goals.


Where is the cutting edge?

Posted by matthew on Mar 6, 2006 in education, educause, research, technology

A lot of work in educational technology claims to be at the crest of the wave, at least technologically speaking. That is, technologies that are now prevalent in homes and workplaces are being exploited for educational uses. The original design of technologies is often adapted to achieve educational aims that weren’t originally considered. Marconi proved wireless radio communications were possible in the late 19th century, but it wasn’t until the 1950s that HF radios were used to teach school kids in remote locations in outback Australia. The internet is, of course, another obvious example. But is it always the case that educational uses of technologies need to lag behind their discovery for other purposes? One disadvantage of considering educational aims as a second thought is that we are always forced to adapt something that has been designed for some other reason. It may be that we can never really understand the way a technology will be used until long after its invention, but at the very least we could start to look at emerging technologies and their possible educational uses much earlier than we typically do. A list of emerging technologies might include:

  • Podcasts – already being used in some educational settings, but not widely
  • Blogs and Wikis – more widespread uptake for education, but not much written about it yet
  • Voice over IP – probably some uses already. Are there Skype schools of the air? Do students conduct interviews with experts, or engage in teleapprenticeship activities & long distance classroom-classroom interactions using VoIP?
  • Wireless and 3G – as wifi becomes prevalent and technologies like WiMAX sound more plausible, what will this do to student expectations and our expectations of their connectivity? What will it do to our physical spaces, and how are we going to keep up with demand?
  • Multi-touch – more on the cutting edge, the work by Jefferson Han and colleagues on Multi-touch interfaces has some exciting educational applications. Who’s considering them?
  • Roll-up computers – sounds like science fiction, but I first people like Alan Kay talking about this sort of technology in the mid-1990s.


Rolling on Role-plays

Posted by matthew on Mar 3, 2006 in education, educause, research

I’m just at the end of my 5th week at Caret, but already I feel like I’m getting my teeth into some interesting stuff. Looking back, it did take a while, but at this moment I feel as though a lot has happened. Today was a highlight, with our second observation of a role-play in action, complete with film crew and student interviews. Or interview, as it turned out that most of the students we lined up beforehand had to cancel. We’ll have to do follow up interviews next week. So why are we doing this? Well, we’ve spent quite a bit of time looking for high quality learning resources, and identified some role-plays conducted in the MPhil courses here as candidates. We want to identify key elements of these exercises, including important learning advantages of the approach, as well as any problems encountered. With that information we hope to build up a picture of how the resources that support the exercises can be used in other institutions. It’s a fun project, and the outcomes are tangible and potentially very useful, so I’m enjoying it a lot.



Posted by matthew on Feb 24, 2006 in cambridge, educause, funny, research

One of the things you can’t help noticing when you arrive in Cambridge is the architecture. The buildings with their archways and courtyards and the narrow cobblestoned alleyways. And the walls that surround them all. Signs warn that this area is PRIVATE, or that the grass is for the enjoyment of those more privileged than the reader.In fact the whole place is designed to regulate behaviour in very specific, time honoured ways so that at every turn you are made aware of your place — or rather, just how difficult it is to get to the next. I’ve enountered this not only in walking around the city, but in all of its institutions, from its bike shops to its banks. The most curious example is probably the University Library, which is a rather imposing building already, since its tower is by far the tallest building in the area. Before even arriving there, however, it was more than a challenge to discover whether borrowing rights extend to every member of staff by default. The Library website lists 10 different categories of university staff. Exactly which of these I fit into is still a mystery to me. Despite assurances from some colleagues that staff are unlikely to receive sanction from the venerable UL Admissions Office without considerable effort, I decided to presented myself to the front desk to politely enquire as to the process. I was told that I would need to return with a copy of my employment contract. Dutifully, I returned the next day with my contract, and I was directed to a waiting area outside the Admissions Office, which has a sign on it reading “Please do not knock on this door. We will attend to you at our earliest convenience.”When I was eventually invited in for my interview, I was asked a few questions about my “status”, and finally my University ID card was registered with borrowing rights. Even though I realise that most universities have procedures for all of these things, it’s the feeling you get just being here that gives the impression of exclusivity. When I finally managed to get into the hallowed building it was only under careful surveillance, in an orderly manner, through an electronic turnstyle that required a manual override from library staff. Then I realised I was out of time and left immediately.