A new book on learning space design

Posted by matthew on Jun 10, 2009 in education, learning spaces, research

On the 17th February, 2009 a book contract was signed with IGI Global to publish Physical and Virtual Learning Spaces in Higher Education: Concepts for the Modern Classroom.

The editors of the book are: Professor Mike Keppell, Charles Sturt University, Associate Professor Kay Souter and Matthew Riddle from La Trobe University.

We are in the process of inviting experts to become part of our editorial board and organizing a call for chapters for the book. The Full Paper Submission Deadline is September 15, 2009

For more information, see the book website:
Physical and Virtual Learning Spaces in Higher Education: Concepts for the Modern Classroom


The Shutdown Method

Posted by matthew on Jan 22, 2008 in education, research, technology

The Shutdown Method is the second of four qualitative methods we’ve been using as part of the Learning Landscape Project, and one we found very useful.  A similar approach known as the Cold Turkey Method was used at RMIT University in Australia as part of a Media and Communications course. The idea and the name were also partly inspired by the annual International Shutdown Day, a social experiment in which people from around the world are requested to go without their computer for a day. In each case, the purpose of forgoing technology is to bring the everyday experience of technologies into sharp relief. This paper might be useful if you are interested in trying something similar: The Shutdown Method: A Resource Kit.


The Day Experience Method

Posted by matthew on Dec 17, 2007 in education, research

Today I put the finishing touches on a paper outlining the research methodology for the Day Experience Method. The idea of the method is to get a snapshot of people’s everyday lives. It’s a good way to add a new, personal perspective that complements the institutional point of view. It’s based on a few other methods used mainly in different contexts, most notably the ‘Experience Sampling Method’ and ‘Cultural Probes’. The paper in the form of a generic resource kit, allowing someone to take the method and apply it to their own setting with a minimum of effort. We’re making it available under a creative commons license, so help yourself. I’m working on 3 more resource kits of this kind for the Learning Landscape Project. The hope is that people will find them useful, both within and outside Cambridge. I’ve only spoken a couple of times about it in public, and so far lots of people have been in touch with me about the method. On Friday, I’m hosting an informal seminar here at Cambridge for some of them, and meanwhile when I get time (ha ha) I will work on a journal article that has a bit more context. For now, here’s what I have: The Day Experience Method: A Resource Kit.


Research Methods talk at OU

Posted by matthew on Dec 6, 2007 in education, research

On the 28th of November I gave an invited presentation at the Open University about the methods we used during the ICT Study last term as part of the Learning Landscape Project, including the Day Experience (or Experience Sampling) method. Quite a few people have been asking for a paper, but so far the video from this session is the best I can do.  If you’re interested, go to the Webcast@OU page to view the presentation.


Desire Lines and Lacan

Posted by matthew on Nov 3, 2006 in education, eroleplay.net, research, roleplays

For the past week or so I’ve been doing a little research into the idea of “desire lines” after it came up in a discussion with my co-worker, Lee. I was talking about stories I’d heard about landscape architects waiting for people to make trails before laying down official paths, as metaphor for observing where people stray from the beaten path as a way to understand how the path is inadequate.

It occurred to me that this has happened with The Campaign. I know from talking to the students that the Mailbox function failed, and they strayed to email to take up their own interchanges there. This had the unintended effect of changing the students’ experience of the role-play, however, because they then spoke to each other out of character for the most part. This is a desire line for them — wanting to talk to each other, student-to-student. An oversight in the design of the system. An example of where the system was subverted.

What’s interesting is that they also described the fact that they knew how to subvert the system even further by getting to materials ahead of time, but they didn’t. While in The Campaign, where they knew they could be watched, they behaved. Foucoult, anyone?

Lee reminded me of Jacques Lacan’s work in relation to desires. I realise I’ve only really been in touch with Lacan through Turkle’s later work. So I’m hoping to get a hold of some of his stuff to check out what he says about desires.

Wikipedia tells me he wrote this:
The Language of the Self: The Function of Language in Psychoanalysis*, Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1968


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.