The Serious Gaming group within OUNL's CELSTEC is experimenting with social gaming, for instance by implementing collaboration scripts in the game play when teachers (in training) discuss way to best design and provide teaching. It is a major challenge to establish what constitutes a good learning design and what makes a good way to collaborate and decide on this.
The last issue of JCAL (Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, February 2013, pages 15-30) features an article by Dianne Laurillard and others entitled "A constructivist learning environment for teachers to model learning designs' which might be valuable in this respect. The paper makes the case for a learning design support environment to support and scaffold teachers' engagement with and development of TEL learning, based on user requirements and pedagogic theory. It is our observation that many serious games developed so far lack these two fundaments!
The Learning Designer starts from the idea of a 'microworld' for the domain of learning design, situating the learner within a rule-governed environment constructing an entity, e.g. a lesson or an authentic task. Microworlds for example should allow users to combine objects or operations in complex ways, similar to the idea of combining words and sentences in a language, by using a (stable) computaional model of the domain. Microworlds stem from domains as science and mathematics, but have not been well specified for less stable domains such as learning and teaching. Therefor authors suggest to go beyond the classic microworld concept and use the concept of a 'responsive microworld'.
Applying a 'constructionist' approach which supports conceptual learning through practice and collaboration to teachers developing their knowledge about TEL might just proof very suitable. Especially since academics have well-developed knowledge about teaching from their own extensive practice, but this is rarely articulated and minimaly documented (besides making powerpoints!). A design tool bringing the practitioners together in co-creating and enhacing their common knowledge is highly welcomed. The Learning Designer claims to scaffolf teachers from current practice to optimal practice, starting from a good model of what the latter should be, but at the same time -and this is very important- be aware of what users might find difficult or resist doing.
To our observation in a currently running project, studying teachers collaborating on the design of authentic tasks for workplace learning in so called 'Extended Teams' (both curricular tutors and practice coaches), we stress that such tools should respond to user requirements (pull) but at the same time explicitly take tachers-designers beyond their current practice (push). (A next blog will be devoted to the Extended Teams project)
Without describing all article details of their Learning Designer tool, that also visualizes the learning design, a nice summary is given by the following list of design requirements for this (and similar) tools, that take account of both user requirements and principles for improving practice:
- Offer well-targeted, context aware links to relevant research finding;
- Recommend existing learning designs that are clearly relevant to current needs;
- Allow users to edit the content and structure of recommended learning designs in order to maintain flexibility;
- Offer a default design process to support a structured approach, the steps of which are easy to follow;
- Provide a flexible approach, allowing the user to navigate their own pathway;
- Provide an evaluation of the design and allow the user the edit the assumptions in the analytical model to fit their own context; and
- Develop an ontology of the concepts and relations relevant to the learning design.