Academic journal article Research in Learning Technology

Designing and Evaluating Representations to Model Pedagogy

Academic journal article Research in Learning Technology

Designing and Evaluating Representations to Model Pedagogy

Article excerpt

Introduction

Learning Design research has resulted in the development of a number of software tools to support teachers in designing learning experiences for their students. These tools include Phoebe (Masterman and Manton 2011), the London Pedagogy Planner (San Diego et al . 2007), Compendium LD (Conole 2013) and the Learning Designer, which is the subject of this article.

Design support tools are intended to help teachers through the series of decisions involved in bringing together into a learning design the aims, learning outcomes, teaching approach, method of assessment and the activities that learners will carry out in a particular sequence of learning, together with the resources needed and the constraints on the learning situation such as the learning environment and learner characteristics. The learning in question may occupy a single session (for example, tutorial, lecture, seminar or practical class), or it may extend across a module (i.e. a series of sessions related through an overarching topic of study and learning outcomes) or an entire programme.

Design can be characterised as an individual or collective cognitive activity, which is normally externalised through a series of intermediate representations, each of which can be characterised by its underlying structure, or form . The purpose of these representations is to facilitate the designer's thinking and, in collaborative design activities, to share the emerging learning design with others in a process that culminates in a final assemblage of artefacts: traditionally, a tabular representation of the learning activities and the resources that will be required during the learning session.

Several representations, with differing forms, have been proposed by Learning Design research for supporting the process and product of the design activity. They include flowchart-style visualisations of learning activities (LAMS: Dalziel 2003), a columnar arrangement of resources, tasks and supports (Agostinho 2006), and representations of the learning design in concept-map form (Conole 2013). However, what is missing from their descriptions is a principled account of the rationale behind the chosen form of representation and its associated notation: that is, how they are intended to facilitate the cognitive tasks involved in planning students' learning experiences. This is not to suggest that these representations are not effective in terms of their usability and value to lecturers. Rather, we propose that adopting an explicitly theory-informed approach to the design and evaluation of such representations is advantageous in two ways. Firstly, it should optimise the user's task and, thereby, maximise the usability and usefulness of the representations. Secondly, it should contribute to our understanding of users' differing - and sometimes contradictory - reactions to the representations, as revealed by evaluation data. This should equip us to address any shortcomings in the representations more effectively.

This paper puts forward one possible theoretical basis for designing and evaluating such representations: the framework of epistemic efficacy proposed by Peterson (1996) in his editorial introduction to a collection of papers authored largely by researchers from the cognitive science field. The framework draws on a number of schemes for classifying representations according to the factors that account for their effectiveness in supporting cognitive tasks, and combines these factors under a unified set of "general headings" that nonetheless acknowledge the "web of relations and trade-offs" entailed. It begins by outlining the five dimensions of fit that constitute epistemic efficacy, illustrating each one with examples drawn from the initial research and prototyping phases of the Learning Designer project. It moves on to show how these dimensions are manifested in representations within the Learning Designer tool that enable teachers to model their pedagogy in a constructionist microworld. …

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