Monthly Archives: June 2008

Problem or no problem?

Just returned from an LTfLL project meeting at the University of Manchester. The meeting clarified a few important approaches in what is an exploratory RTD project.

However, when it came to use cases and scenarios the presented approach was to describe them in problem – solution terms, i.e. you describe what the problem is and how you (or your application or method) are going to solve it. I am not so fond of this terminology, especially in context of the exploration we are trying to do.

I feel that instead of searching for problems in current e-learning practice we are exploring and searching for opportunities that can improve current practice. So, nothing is broke here – and we don’t have to fix it. We are looking for opportunities where language technology can facilitate improvements to current practice. That’s a business case in itself.

I, therefore, suggested that in this context of breaking new ground we call it “opportunity design”. I know it is only a nominal change, but what’s in a name may influence your view on the project.

Quality Creative Processes

Now in the evening, I finally find some time to elaborate a bit on the enlightening presentation by Space Application Services (SAS) our industry partner in one FP7 project. As I have said on many occasions, HEIs have much to learn from industry when it comes to structured organised implementation.

SAS develop and deliver technology solutions to the European Space Agency and other space enterprises. They have around 53 employees and primarily fund themselves with project work (a similarity to OTEC). Needless to say that the solutions they develop have to work – space missions and lots of money, sometimes even human lives, may depend on it.

Their process for creative solutions is highly structured and well organised from beginning to end. It goes like this (my notes):

Ideation Process in SAS. Consists of

1. Goal definition
2. Ideation process
3. Evaluation
4. Action.

Goal definition:
Think about prime objective: one sentence max. three lines long that captures vision and can be understood with a unique interpretation. So everyone is orientied towards the same goal. Should be understood immediately.

Goal definition – Scope: defines what is NOT in the project. Boundaries of work.

Goal definition – Plan B approach: Plan A is wishful thinking, Plan B is what must be absolutely preserved in the results in a case of extreme crisis. Forget Plan A, apply immediately Plan B.

Goal definition – Product Tree: deliverables. What do we have in our hands at the end.

Goal definition – terminology glossary to avoid misunderstandings in the project.

Ideation – Brainstorming:
Addresses the question of when. When proposal should be written, tenders, requirement baseline of a project, company strategy meetings. Problem solving. Brainstorming has a moderator, who evaluates the outcome. Brainstorming starts few days before (announcement phase). Moderator explains requirements/constraints. Rounds of ideas that people already have. Discussion. Creative techniques happen implicitly. The Moderator might induce an artificial change of direction of discussion to widen scope. Everybody writes minutes. Use of design patterns.

Design patterns: mixing technologies (e.g. topic maps and earth technologies). Mixing tech with domains (e.g. environment and crisis management) e.g. Pico-satellite networks.

Back to prime objective.

Documentation, Incubation, Evaluation:
This is the last step. Compiling all minutes, goal refinement. Incubation: after brainstorm wait before taking first action. Evaluation: works around the promoter (who’s crazy about the idea). Promoter carries the idea forward. Each idea has a promoter. Market, profitability, company strategy are other evaluation criteria.

This process is some sort of an answer to the earlier remarks that people (and projects) in HE too often work on assumptions, assumed agreement, shyness to ask the stupid question (which actually is essential for common understanding), and on various vague interpretations. What this process most of all establishes, which can decide the success of any venture is COMMON GROUND.

Google maps for S60 phones

Downloaded the Google maps application for S60 phones to my Nokia N95. It is nice and has all the look and feel of the Google maps Webapp. One severe disadvantage, though, over the Nokia maps application is that you cannot use it offline! This is not very helpful when you are outdoors and lost and don’t have a free and open WiFi Access Point nearby.

I hope they come up with an offline working solution where you can download maps before you travel and then use the apps on the run.

Defining informal learning

Thanks for the responses to my previous rather provocative post on informal learning. I feel I owe you a more detailed explanation or definition of learning situations as I see it:

formal learning is where the objectives (learning outcomes), the method, management, and the assessment of the learning outcomes are by and large created externally.

non-formal learning is where the learning outcomes are internally defined (by the learner), maybe also the method. The assessment can be self-assessment or external assessment.

informal learning is where no concrete learning outcomes have been defined, but intentional learning happens that is self-motivated. Informal learning requires no assessment, although self-assessment or reflection are not explicitly excluded.

heuristic or accidental learning is stumbling across knowledge that results in mental intake and thus gets added to the internal/personal knowledge base.

A case of formal learning is a traditional course leading to some sort of externally accredited and recognised qualification.

Non-formal learning would be the equivalent of PDPs, where a learner defines some learning objectives (e.g. I want to become fluent in language X). This may contain more or less planning components such as a timescale (e.g. be fluent before my summer holiday in country X), and may lean towards formal qualifications to a greater or lesser extent (e.g. a language certificate). Reflection on progress may be another component of non-formal learning. A good example of non-formal learning is the study for a driving licence outside a driving school.

Informal learning encompasses learning where no learning outcome has been specified (but may incidentally be achieved) and which lacks the project management structure of non-formal PDPs. Although informal learning is unstructured in its approach, it is intentional (e.g. I want to know something about Scottish history, I want to keep up-to-date in my job, I want to solve a problem). Heuristic learning may be seen as a sub-set of informal learning which does not start from a question or problem.

In all learning situations there are different depths of learning. An approximate analogy would be “reading”: At the illiterate end, one only sees black ink patterns on white paper – this is not reading, e.g. people who look at patterns on the wall of Egyptian pyramides or a foreign alphabet might understand that they contain some meaning, but since they cannot decode it they remain illiterate. Children start reading by pulling their finger across the letters: d-o-g, only when they can extract meaning they are reading. Full reading competence is achieved when meaning and intention of the writer can be extracted from a text. There is, I would add, another level of reading which happens when you get so immersed in a novel that you forget about the reality around you.

The comparison may be slightly flawed, but what I’m trying to say is that learning starts when there is an intention put to it which allows the information to become encoded in the brains, even if this intention is ad-hoc when stumbling across something interesting. It is the intention and the immersion that results from the intention that differenciates my understanding of informal learning from other views.