ACM Logo  An ACM Publication  |  CONTRIBUTE  |  FOLLOW    

Challenging Technologies, Rethinking Pedagogy, Being Design-Inspired
The Grand Challenge of this Century

By Carlo Giovannella, Sabine Graf / February 2010

Print Email
Comments (1) Instapaper
DULP [1]
D for Design inspired learning
U for Ubiquitous learning
L for Liquid learning places (and liquid society)
P for Person in place-centred design

Technology frames and reframes our society.

Technology has accelerated our move into the post-industrial era, where the primary good is the immaterial knowledge that, thanks to the net, flows like liquid continuously in our "stay," wherever we are.

Technology is also reshaping the physical environment so that spaces and artefacts become more and more sensitive and responsive, and become more prominent in our net-lives. Technologies will—and have already begun to—enable individuals to interact in an extremely natural way using gestures, words, and emotions. A more natural interaction will then bring individuals to give less importance to functional aspects and more to the so-called "use qualities" [2] that define the significance of one's personal experience.

Consequently, new lifestyles emerge, more nomadic and fluid as the social relationships that arise are increasingly simple to start up, and yet at the same time, increasingly complex to manage. People and things are transforming more and more into active internet terminals, to which they will be constantly connected, independent of changing physical locations.

In such scenarios, new learning processes are becoming, longer, wider, more ubiquitous, more unpredictable, and more "organic" [3].

Foundations of Education
Faced with changes of this magnitude, we must reconsider the very foundations and practices of education.

What should the new role of pedagogy be? What should be the role of the technology?

We have to challenge both.

Remembering Our Pedagogical Roots
In the last centuries, the focus of pedagogy has changed dramatically. In ancient times, learning processes were centered on the anthropos (male but asexual, adult, part of majority, standard). In the 19th century children were put at the center of pedagogical interest. Then, in the 20th century, that focus was progressively replaced by women, the handicapped, and foreigners.

However, in the 21st century, in the present society—in the new liquid learning places—the center of pedagogical interest should be each individual learner, as a person living a continuous learning experience in a place [4,5]; that is, a physical space enriched by the cultural stratifications, or the DNA and the memories of our culture.

Supporting the centrality of the human experience in a liquid society means to allow the individuals to acquire the meta-cognitive and meta-design skills needed to walk on quicksand and to forge her or his own fate, means to help the students become, at the same time, a creative, reflective, and conscious designer of her or his own destiny [6,7].

In the beginning technology identified with the "machine," a word derived from the Greek mechane, machana, and had the meaning of artefact, of somewhat magic, able to augment human skill, as denounced by the roots of the word: magh and mah (increase, augment). Only later when machines became more complex and opaque, at the time of the ancient Romans, the alliance between man and machine began to crack and the word machina assumed the meanings of machinations and cheating.

The relationship between man and machine became more problematic that ever in the last century, when the machine was cause for anxiety and a generation of apocalyptic visions, or, conversely, of unbridled passions.

The situation did not change with the advent of electronic machines and computers. We think that it is time to fully recover the old friendship between the machana and the person, for the area of technology-enhanced learning (TEL).

Technologies should be developed more and more to support the one's personal experience and its qualities, and less and less the standards, the efficacy, and efficiency of the process. Naturalness, sense, and simplicity—these are the principal expectations of the people about augmented experiences and TEL. However, by now the machine is inevitably opaque, and there is no way to get back exactly to the beginning. We have to be aware that simplicity hides complexity.

Each design process that has to do with complex and organic situations has to be by itself complex. To make this seemingly simple, one must renounce a part of knowledge. The ability lies in understanding which part is better to give up, or as some designers like to say, what part of the complex problem is better moved elsewhere [8].

Surely one must renounce predicted trajectories. A complex and organic system cannot be regarded as a "black box," capable of providing a precise response to a specific stimulus, according to the provisions of the theoretical prediction. We must embrace the world of possibilities.

We must design for imperfection [9].

Holistic Approaches to Learning and Current Research Works
As we have seen, the challenge is enormous. It requires a holistic effort and the ability to intervene at many levels. To summarize, we have to:

  • consider or reconsider the learning process as an experience
  • consider the learning experience as centered on the characteristics of the person (perceptual, relational, motivational, etc.) and of the context, without neglecting their unavoidable co-evolution
  • consider the design as an essential attitude to address the liquidity and complexity of today's life, to be acquired during the learning experience along with appropriate design skills, attitude and skills that should become part of one's personal tool box, like literacy, numeracy, the scientific method and media literacy
  • re-think and design the future physical and virtual learning places, as sensitive to the characteristics of individuals and able to co-evolve; machines should be perceived as friends, supporting the natural development a person's unique life
  • identify new ways and methods to monitor and evaluate the learning as an experience, in all its complexity and richness.

We started to put all this in practice and work for the development of operative framework and network around the DULP vision, as well as to promote events useful to develop a common reflection on the theme.

To be more concrete, here are a few examples taken from our daily activities at the Scuola IaD of the University of Rome Tor Vergata and at the Athabasca University:

We are experimenting with the design of learning processes (as an example the "Organic process" [3]) to implement what we call the P-cubed BL, that is "problem-, project-, and process-based learning," within which, being inspired by the design practices, we are continuously implementing new virtual versions of well-known design methodologies, in a way that make them useful for a large spectrum of learning processes.

Of course, in the spirit of the person in place-centred design and learning, we are also engaged in the design and development of innovative on-line learning environments, like LIFE (learning in an interactive framework to experience). LIFE is a person-empathic environment intended to favor the balancing of the social experience of the net with the harmonic growth of the one's digital personality. LIFE is open to Web 2.0 services, but, at the same time, is able to support the collaborative construction of the cultural stratification of the place. Indeed LIFE can be considered a virtual learning place (VLP), not an old VLE (virtual learning environment), nor a new PLE (personal learning environment)—something different, hopefully better and more suitable to the DULP vision.

P-cubed BL processes in VLP and in contemporary lifestyles are strongly demanding more complex, fluid, and personalized learning processes, and thus, one has to engage in designing innovative ecological "evaluations" to build up reasonable models of each learner, to monitor the process and to evaluate the personal learning experience. In the past we developed a tool to evaluate, in a quantitative manner, concept maps. Recently, we started to look at the possibility of monitoring the traces of the learning processes, and we designed and integrated in LIFE two new tools: the first one to perform a real-time social network analysis, the second one to monitor the quality of the interaction by means of in-situ automatic text analysis, and what is very innovative, the analysis of the emotional nuances of the text. In the effort to set up an exhaustive as possible framework of "evaluation," we are also investigating the relationship between human perception and learning: vision and reading strategies, hearing and transmission of emotion, and so forth.

However, since our final aim is, basically, to enhance the learning experience of the real/first life, we cannot avoid challenging ourselves with the development of mobile applications and rethinking the physical spaces to design aids for new modalities of interactions among the future "internet of the things," the VPL and the people. On this track, recently, we have designed smart bags, tables, boards, musical instruments, and so on, in trying to "architect for the future."

At Athabasca University, we are conducting research on designing, implementing, and evaluating ubiquitous and adaptive learning environments, which consider learners' characteristics, needs, and current situation, and enable them to learn whenever they need, in different areas of life, regardless of space and time. Ubiquitous learning and the use of handheld devices allows new opportunities for learners, encouraging them toward more experiential learning, such as learning by doing, interacting, and sharing, and facilitates on-demand learning, hands-on or minds-on learning, and authentic learning, in the real world from real learning objects [10].

On the other hand, adaptive and personalized learning plans provide learning material, activities, and experiences that fit a person's individual characteristics, needs, and situation, making learning easier. A learning system can take different characteristics of students into account, such as prior knowledge, learning styles, cognitive abilities, motivational aspect, interests, and so on.

Some of our recent research deals with the development and evaluation of an adaptive mechanism that enables learning management systems to provide learners with courses that fit their individual learning styles [11]. Detailed investigations on the effects and effectiveness of this mechanism showed that for students with different learning styles, adaptive learning has different benefits. Currently, this adaptive mechanism is extended by making it more generic by letting teachers adjust the mechanism to their needs and their already available courses. Furthermore, the mechanism is integrated in a ubiquitous learning environment.

Personalization and ubiquitous learning complement each other very well. In ubiquitous learning environments, many sensors and devices are available which provide rich information about students' learning process. Adapting and personalizing the learning can be done with respect to the students' characteristics, but also based on their learning context, such as location, surrounding real world learning objects, other learners who are close and so on.

Another of our recent research works deals with student modelling in ubiquitous learning environment, where we collect data from different sources and services in a ubiquitous learning environment, calculate useful information for providing personalization and adaptivity, store this information in a global student model, and provide all services and components of the learning system with access to this information [12]. Such information is not only useful for providing personalization and adaptivity, but is also visualized to teachers in order to provide them with information about what their students are doing in the learning environment and what their progress is.

We do hope that many others will share our vision and join our effort and, of course, the Grand Challenge of DULP!

To open new paths one needs to observe the world through the eyes of a child ... to conceptualize the whole with the mind of a scientist ... to leave, as the artist, free rein to her/his own creativity ... to control purposes and processes with the rigor of an engineer.

In other words, one must be a Renaissance's person happy to dive in the flow of life, and to participate in the great and baroque game of the design for the experiences! —Carlo Giovannella (2005)


  • Mon, 01 Mar 2010
    Post by Joshua

    The article gives an excellent take on instructional design, going beyond the ADDIE model and breaking out the Analysis portion into a system all its own. The emphasis on learner and context analysis creates an interesting concept, especially the call to consider the pedagogic background of instructional design, something that can be overlooked as we move forward into innovative methods for designing instructions.