Across the UK, as well as in the rest of the world, educational institutions are investing heavily in re-vamping, re-engineering and re-thinking their physical infrastructure to reflect strategic priorities that are increasingly focused on student engagement (Britnell, Andriati and Wilson 2009; Barrett 2017). Particularly James Gibson’s (1979) concept of affordances has been applied to the design of learning spaces, with research showing that everything from how chairs are arranged to the size of classrooms can significantly impact the ways learners and educators engage (or don’t engage) with each other (Painter et al 2013).
This principle of affordances also holds when it comes to learning technology; the design of a button or number of features can influence how a piece of software is used. However, the practical implications of software design have been explored in less detail in the context of education and learning technology. This session thus explores the theoretical design processes underlying the idea of ‘designing for participation’ and demonstrates these through a case study of the communication platform for education Aula.
The session begins with a short literature survey of what ‘participation’ means within a context of online or blended learning and the obstacles that are often faced in facilitating student engagement in the digital sphere (Cormier 2008; Siemens 2004; Siemens 2009; Rorabaugh 2012). For example, the Jisc Student digital experience tracker records that only 27% of online learners experience digital technology as making them feel part of a community with other learners and only 20% feel connected to their educators (Newman and Beetham 2017). Taking into account educational technology commentators and educators (Brown et al. 2015; Rowett 2016; Feldstein 2016; Morris 2016), this paper argues that the lack of participation within traditional educational apps and learning management systems stem largely from non-optimal design practises.
Drawing on analyses of conversational software (Andresen 2016), a case study of the conversational platform Aula investigates how underlying design principles can encourage student participation. The session presents the guiding principles that were followed in the design of Aula and evaluates the success of these using focus group results and analytics gathered from Aula pilots at UK institutions and Sky School, a high school for refugees.
Through a comparison between the recent literature on both educational technology and learning theory with the practical design experience from the Aula case study, the paper suggests that educational software fails to stimulate participation when designed primarily to deliver information. This is because this means that they do not provide other aspects important for a student succeeding and having a good experience: a feeling of support and a sense of community. If more and more learning is moving online, it is paramount that we find ways to bring all the best aspects of face-to-face communication into the digital sphere to enhance best practises and enable new forms of collaboration. As this paper argues, the understanding of design practises will be crucial for doing so.
Session content: evaluation and reflection
The theoretical elements of the session are based on a comprehensive review of the history of the learning management system as well as recent trends in the design theory concerning conversational platforms.
The session reflects on the key conclusion from the theoretical literature to evaluate the results of the pilots of Aula at UK universities and Sky School, a high school for refugees, in light of both what we would expect based on the literature and what we actually saw from engagement data and focus groups. Data will be shared with participants and input from the audience will be encouraged.
Andresen, M. 2016. ‘Conversational software will reshape education’. Learninglab. Available at: http://bilearninglab.no/conversational-software-will-reshape-education/ [Accessed 25 March 2018].
Barrett, B. 2017. ‘Designing for Student Engagement’. College Planning and Management. Avaiable at: https://webcpm.com/articles/2017/09/01/student-engagement.aspx [Accessed 25 March 2018].
Britnell, J., Andriati, R., and Wilson, L. 2009. ‘Learning Space Design with an Inclusive Planning Process Promotes User Engagement’. Educause Review. Available at: https://er.educause.edu/articles/2009/12/learning-space-design-with-an-inclusive-planning-process-promotes-user-engagement [Accessed 25 March 2018].
Brown, M., Dehoney, J., and Millichap, N. 2015. The Next Generation Digital Learning Environment. ELI Paper.
Cormier, D. 2008. ‘Rhizomatic Education: Community as Curriculum. Innovate: Journal of Online Education, vol. 4: iss. 5. Available at: https://nsuworks.nova.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://www.google.dk/&httpsredir=1&article=1045&context=innovate [Accessed 25 March 2018].
Feldstein, M. 2016. ‘What’s Really to Blame for the Failures of Our Learning-Management Systems’. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Available at: http://www.chronicle.com/article/What-s-Really-to-Blame-for/235620?cid=wc&utm_source=wc&utm_medium=en&elqTrackId=07d6847b19594207a7bfe252befe7d45&elq=ff25dc059abb47d4be82c6abee92373b&elqaid=8168&elqat=1&elqCampaignId=2614
Gibson, J. J. 1979. The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Morris, S. 2016. ‘Bean bags in the LMS’. Middlebury Digital Learning. Available at:
http://digitallearning.middcreate.net/digital-tools/bean-bags-in-the-lms/ [Accessed 25 March 2018].
Newman, T., and Beetham, H. 2017. ‘Student digital experience tracker 2017: the voice of 22,000 UK learners. Jisc. Available at: http://repository.jisc.ac.uk/6662/1/Jiscdigitalstudenttracker2017.pdf [Accessed 25 March 2018].
Painter, S. et al. 2013. Research on Learning Space Design: Present State, Future Directions. Society for College and University Planning. Available at: https://www.acmartin.com/sites/default/files/LearningSpaceDesign-L_0.pdf [Accessed 25 March 2018].
Rorabaugh, P. 2012. ‘Rules of Engagement; or, How to Build Better Online Discussion’. Hybrid Pedagogy. Available at: http://hybridpedagogy.org/rules-of-engagement-or-how-to-build-better-online-discussion/ [Accessed 25 March 2018].
Rowett, S. 2016. ‘A next-generation digital learning environment for UCL’. UCL Digital Education team blog. Available at: http://blogs.ucl.ac.uk/digital-education/2016/11/07/a-next-generation-digital-learning-environment-for-ucl/ [Accessed 25 March 2018].
Siemens, G. 2004. ‘Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age’. Elearnspace. Available at: http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/connectivism.htm [Accessed 25 March 2018].
Siemens, G. 2009. ‘What is Connectivism?’ Google Docs. Available at: https://docs.google.com/document/d/14pKVP0_ILdPty6MGMJW8eQVEY1zibZ0RpQ2C0cePIgc/preview [Accessed 25 March 2018].
Resources for participants
Summary of the main works of theory that underpin Aula’s design: http://bit.ly/whatwearereading.