Archive for February, 2008


Learning affordances of the blog and aggregator

February 21, 2008

Finally we have managed to analyse some data related to learning affordances of aggregators and weblogs. The study was conducted as part of the master-level Educational Technology course at Tallinn University in spring term 2007.

We analysed students‘ visual schemes of personal learning landscapes and activity patterns, and the written explanations containing information about the learning affordances of social software.

Affordances were collected from the schemes and initially categorised according to the tools they were related to. Each particular affordance could be listed only once in relation to the certain tool.

Next, the second order categorization of affordances according to the activity pattern types was undertaken. The base of the activity types emerged from the analysis of different students‘ activity patterns in combination of tools‘ use. The list of 9 pedagogical activity types was developed.

The following figure demonstrates the different types of learning affordances related blogs and aggregators.

blog/aggregator learning affordances

Weblog affordances and implications to learning design

The main affordances of weblogs that could be categorized as supporting the activities related to assembling the learning environment were: personalization of web-pages, adding and saving data and links, limiting the access rights, and information facilitation. One of the students mentioned the affordance of relating weblogs with other mediating environment, indicating that indeed such affordances are perceived, which are evoked by the interrelations of certain tools, not only by one tool. Some students perceived that they can do a prognosis of certain resources and evaluate the usage of different tools in weblog.

Students did not mention any weblog affordances related community formation activity. This is quite an interesting result, since it is generally believed that weblogs might be a good tool for social networking. It is assumed that the course designs should try to initiate more such activities using new social software functions. Besides community formation, running the community as a creative system is becoming increasingly important.

The most frequent affordances that could be related as supporting the lecturing and presenting activity type were giving tasks and presenting information to the learners. The fact that students could see this pedagogical task-related affordance is promising for the educators who would like to use weblogs primarily as the teaching tools. Some student, however, generalized this affordance and did not mention task-specific actions – affordances what they perceived as creating information and publishing artifacts are the most general function commonly related to the weblogs.

Only one affordance was classified as supporting the information filtering activity type: understanding the information given by the tutor. However, this affordance still indicates towards cognitive information filtering, rather than information retrieval by using various technical features social software offers. The weblogs have several ways of filtering information by tags, keywords, incoming RSS feeds, tag-feeds. From the perspective of course design, it can be concluded that the facilitators need to plan more activities where students could actively try out how to use such social information retrieval methods.

A number of activities could be classified as supporting the self-tutoring activity type. Affordances such as learning, self-study, self-reflection, self-analyzis, and self-evaluation were perceived as part of weblog functionalities. This indicates that weblogs might be used actively in education for self-directed learning. Other affordances students mentioned were creating time-tables and action plans and doing homework.

Student found several affordances that could be classified as supporting the activities related to individual creative assignments. These, that could be related with one student’s learning activities were: getting tasks, browsing thematic information and analyzing information feeds, reading, reflecting on artifacts in the weblog, revising information, presenting, and improving. However, there was high number of affordances, which presumed the interaction with other student’s work, such as commenting the posts, sharing files and giving feedback to peer’s work. This indicates that the the paradigm change is about to happen in what is considered an individual work – commenting and sharing each others’ assignments during the activity shifts the emphasis from the outcome-related assignments, where students must produce a final artifact only, towards increased attention to the learning process in which students develop and dynamically change their knowledge.

A group of affordances were classified as supporting the collaborative creative assignments. Monitoring the other learners and the community reflection, communication with the co-learners and the tutor, sharing and interchange of information with learners, collecting the results from the group activity and coordinating the information among the group of learners were most frequently mentioned affordances. However, it was evident that students did not yet perceive the possibilities social software allowed to do collaborative creative assignments, such as mashing feeds, retrieving information using tags or social browsing etc. Co-construction of knowledge was not perceived as part of the social software affordances.

A small group of affordances were classified as supporting the assessment and evaluation type of activities. These were evaluation of learners knew knowledge, getting feedback and learning from the result of group activities. Notable is that the last two are related to what students can gain from assessment activities. The students were not able of bringing out many different affordances social software might offer for evaluation. This indicates that in the new social-software based course designs the facilitators should develop a bigger variety of assessment methods that originate from the functions social software offers. It is important that assessment and evaluation procedures were used for increasing students’ motivation to learn, and were not merely seen as grading instruments.

A group of affordances were classified as enhancing regulation, monitoring and support activities. Affordances related to the facilitator were monitoring learner’s action and reflection, supervising learners, giving feedback and supporting, recognizing students and giving enthusiasm. Affordance related to the student’s activity was asking the teacher.

Aggregator’s learning affordances

The majority of learning affordances students related with aggregator belonged to three types of activities: assembling the learning environment, filtering information, and regulation, monitoring and support. Activity of assembling the learning environment with the aggregator is favored by the following affordances: creating an aggregator, aggregating personal interest feeds, collaboratively monitoring co-learners blogs, getting feedback and sharing the blog content. Since the aggregator was one of the central tools in the course environment, where students could monitor each other’s weblog feeds and initiate writing feedback, this was influencing strongly students’ perception of aggregators. However, students have not payed much attention to the mashed bookmark feed and bookmark tagcloud which were also accessible from aggregation page. Students noted once the affordance of discussion as supporting community-formation activities with the aggregator. The widgets supporting asynchronous and synchronous discussions were part of the group aggregator. The only affordance supporting lecturing and presenting activity was publishing feeds.

The affordances enhancing information filtering type of activities were: aggregating social tags feeds/artifacts’ information, collecting friends’/community feeds, creating personal filtering for the feeds, monitoring community reflection. Notable is that while some learners perceived information as feeds, the others named it artifacts or information. It may be assumed that this represents two types of thinking: technological (feeds, tags) and information-related (artifacts, blog posts, info). This aspect may be important if aggregators are taught to be used as personal or group learning tools. The affordances related to the aggregator express very clearly students new type of technological understanding of social software – the words feed, social tag, aggregation, and filtering appeared in most of the affordances of this group. Another interesting issue is other-directedness if thinking of the aggregators. Aggregators have commonly introduced as personal tools, while in this master course it was used as a group tool. Thus students perceived mainly the affordances related to monitoring and filtering information from other students and from the community and did not describe the widgets that might be used for mashing personal information.

Affordances belonging to the self-tutoring activity type were missing.

Individual creative assignments were supported by the few affordances like collecting information, reading feeds and selecting information.

Collaborative creative assignments were supported mainly by the affordances of collaborative monitoring the feeds or co-learners. Again the two distinctive perceptions – technological (feed) and learner-related ( co-learner, student, user) can be found when expressing the affordances.

Assessment-related affordances were evaluating feeds and getting feedback. Similarly to weblog affordances for learning, learners see two aspects of evaluation – that of the facilitator who does the evaluation and the other where student benefits from the evaluation. From the perspective of using aggregators in teaching, it is clear that there needs to be developed a new method how to assess students’ personal or group aggregators as their information gateways and activity areas.

Affordances of aggregators related to regulation, monitoring and support type of activities were: getting the instructions, monitoring co-learners or students’ feeds/learners/artifacts, aggregating feeds, sharing personal feeds, and giving feedback to the feed. Interesting was that students named affordances similarly in relation to teacher’s as well as students’ regulation, monitoring and support activities. This indicates that in new type of courses the learning situation is diminishing the difference between the facilitator’s and learners’ roles.


iCamp meeting in Istanbul

February 12, 2008

This week we have the iCamp project meeting in Istanbul to plan the next trial of the project and meet with external facilitators.

This time we will test the integrated landscape, which consists of Moodle and other social software tools. The trial will be the EMIM e-learning course in an international settings.

Start: March 2 2008

Through a series of practical hands-on activities and reflective discussions in international groups, participants will gain insight to e-learning concepts, issues, technologies, standards, methods and policies that are introduced with real-life examples and with the support of an advanced distributed e-learning environment. Special attention will be given to interoperability issues in learning technology domain, knowledge management and social-constructivist methods of computer-supported collaborative learning and networking in challenging environment. Students will apply self-directed learning principles using conversational learning contracts.


Socio-cultural and ecological explanations to self-reflection

February 10, 2008

I was reading this sunday morning the chapter from the Cambridge Handbook of Sociocultural Psychology (2007) by (eds.) Jaan Valsiner and Alberto Rosa:

Social basis of self-reflection
by Alex Gillespie


Since i have been thinking in terms of inter-subjectivity, activity theory and cultural semiotics earlier, while now my understanding has more and more shifted towards the embodied cognition and hybrid ecology ideas, i tried to see where my standing-point is and where it differs from socio-cultural ideas.

It seems to me that the basic idea in this chapter is recognizing that signs (but then also tools, since both are mediators of action what person needs to realize his objectives in an environment?) are created during culturally constrained actions as multi-perspective and inter-subjective representations, including both the actor’s and the observer’s experiences of that action.

Gillespie suggests that in different social acts we will get experiences of the both sides of the act in lifetime (learner/teacher, giving/receiving), so we can activate these perspectives simultaneously when the we need to create/activate a mediator (sign, tool) to carry out any act.

The re-using of the signs means activating these embodied experiences and switching between these multiple perspectives when using certain sign either alone or with the others in interaction.

In Gillespie’s elaboration i can see direct relations with embodied cognition and mirror-matching theories: these theories assume that we need to experience something, embody it, and only then we can observe others doing it so that it might reactivate our similar neural processes. But embodied cognition has not dealt with this constant activation of different experiences simultaneously – my own perspective as an actor, and the other’s perspective as an observer of that action.

Secondly, in embodied cognition the representational mediation, the processing of signs that represent something is excluded, and the observation, hearing or reading can directly activate sensory-motor paths that make as feel and act.

Following Gillespie, and relating it how i understand these issues, in case of conscious self-reflective activities we might simultaneously activate several previously embodied affordances of the environment (extracted dimensionalities) to do something what we wish to do (eg. my experience of learning and also my experience of teaching), then we are running these sensory-motor activations in parallel/simultaneously/one-by-one that means as a result that we sometimes suppress some affordances in the environment that we initially perceived as coupling with our anticipated affordances for doing some actions.

Rupture and the use of internalized actions as part of self-reflection in this case are the constraints we put to the anticipated affordances of actions internally before even trying to carry them out. Can it be like conscious hindering certain sensory-motor neural activation patterns as part of our decision-making of what act to perform?

Mirroring from others and the social conflict are the constraints emerging from the environment as the response to find/make use our anticipated affordances of action. It means we consciously accommodate our sensory-motor activation paths ecologically, searching in other people, in the environment for coupling affordances of our anticipated affordances for action and hindering those sensory-motor activation paths that do not find the match to become activated.

These are some ideas what i got reading the following parts from the Gillespie’s article:

Self-reflection can be defined as temporary phenomenological experience in which self becomes an object to oneself.

People use semiotic mediators, or signs by which they pick out certain affective experiences or situations, thus distancing themselves from both self and immediate situation. These signs are combined into complex semiotic systems (representations, discourses, cultural artifacts, symbolic resources), that provide even greater liberation from the immediate situation.

Such distance enables self to act upon self and the situation.

Four socio-cultural theories of the origin of self-reflection:

1. Rupture theories of self-reflection posit that self-reflection arises when one’s path of action becomes blocked or when one faces a decision of some sort.

Peirce: A problematic situation. a small irritation or rupture stimulates reflective thought (1978/1998).

Dewey (1896): in ruptured situations the object becomes subjective because the actor has two or more responses toward the object, and the self-reflection arises.
However, from Pavlov’s experiments it is shown that contradictory responses can co-exist without leading to self-reflection.

According to Piaget (1970) the problem situation forces the child to abstract and recognize his/her developing schemas when these schemas lead to unfulfilled expectations.

It was not clear from this explanation, why semiotic mediators must be stimulated.

2. Mirror theories of self-reflection suggest that the defining feature in self-reflection is the presence of an other.

The other perceives more about self-reflection than self can perceive.
The reflective distance from self which self-reflection entails first exist in the mind of other. This can be fed back to self by other, such that self can learn self from the perspective of other (Bakhtin 1923/1990).
Other provides feedback to the self same as mirror provides feedback about our appearance that we cannot perceive unaided.

The society can be a mirror as well, leading to self-reflection (Cooley, 1902). According to him, self is a social product formed out of our appearance to the other person, the imagination of his judgement of that appearance, and some sort of self-feeling such as pride or mortification.
Cooly always related self-reflection with judgements leading to emotions such as pride, shame, guilt etc.

Questions: How does self take the perspective of the other? Is other a passive mirror, neutrally reflecting back to self?

3. Conflict theories of self-reflection suggest that self-reflection arises through social struggle.

Hegel: self-consciousness arises through gaining recognition from an other who is not inferior to self. Self and other treat each other as physical objects, and thus deny any recognition to each other. Due to this denial they enter into a struggle, the outcome of which is the relation of domination and subordination, that is master-slave relation. The slave can get recognition from the master but not vice versa. Slave struggles for recognition, developing new skills and competences. Self-onsciousness arises from struggling for recognition.

Psaltis & Duveen: Explicit recognition of new acquired knowledge by other and self is needed for durable cognitive development through interaction – the interaction needs to provide mutual self-reflection.

Sigel’s (2002) Psychological Distancing Theory asserts that discrepancies introduced by utterances of others can put a cognitive demand on the child which can in turn lead to representational work and thus distancing.

Activity Theory (Engeström, 1987) assumes that problematic situation includes problems introduced by the perspective of others. Participants within an activity system prompt each other to reflect upon the conditions and rules of their ongoing interaction. Thus contradictions between different counterparts of an activity system lead to reflection.

Social representation theory (Duveen) emphasizes that there are contradictions in the bodies of knowledge that is circulated in modern societies. Bauer and Gaskell (1999) suggest that people become of aware of the representations at the points at which they overlap or contradict each other. This coexistence of multiple forms of knowledge in the society can lead to self-reflection.

Similarly to rupture theories, it is not clear through which semiotic processes self-reflection arises.

4. Internalization theories of self-reflection posit that thought is a self-reflective internal dialogue with absent others, between their internalized perspectives.

Self-reflection arises through internalizing the perspectives that the other has upon self, followed by self taking the perspectives of other upon self.

Vygotsky (1997) emphasized that the process of internalization is a process of transformation rather than simple transmission. Signs are first used to mediate the behaviours of others, and later used to talk about self, reflect upon self, and mediate the behaviour of self.

Mead and Vygotsky conceive the sign (or significant symbol) as comprising two perspectives – the actor perspective and the observer perspective.

On one hand, there is the embodied actor perspective (the response) to some object (the child reaches hand to point to an object she wants to get). On the other hand, there is the distance introduced by the observer perspective of the other on the action (mother sees the grasping gesture indicating desire to get the object). The grasping becomes pointing when the child uses both of these perspectives.

Thus the sign (significant symbol) is fundamentally inter-subjective: it evolves both actor and observer perspectives in both self and other.

Questions: if the sign is composite of the perspective of self and other, how does this composite form, how are these two perspectives brought together.

Gillespie (2005) now starts to generate his own theory. He relies on the Mead’s theory of the social act suggesting that people move amongst the positions with a relatively stable social/institutional structure (host/guest, buyer/seller).

Each social act pairs (eg. giving/receiving, teaching/learning) entails reciprocal actor and observer positions and perspectives which mots people have enacted. They have previously been in these social positions of the other. Thus we are able to take these perspectives in each social act. The self becomes dialogical, containing multiple social perspectives for each act.

The social act is the institution that first provides individuals with roughly equivalent actor and observer experiences, and second, integrates these perspectives within the minds of individuals. When both actor and observer perspectives are evoked within a significant symbol (or sign) /like in gesture/, then there is a self-reflection, because self is both self and other simultaneously.

Gillespie calls self-reflection triggered by an actor perspective self-mediation and the self-reflection triggered by an observer perspective on an actor short-circuiting.

Gillespie assumes that different socio-cultural theories of self-reflection are not in opposition, but rather theorize different proximal paths leading towards self-reflection.

The magic of social act is that it integrates the actor and the observer experiences or perspectives into the formation of signs enabling higher level of semiotic mediation. Conceiving of the sign as this integration of perspectives elucidates the logic of self-reflection.

Whenever one uses the sign it can carry self from one perspective to another continuously.
Introducing the concept of sign (significant symbol) as a complex semiotic system entails abandoning the assumption that complex semiotic systems mirror the world. Instead, it conceptualizes these semiotic systems as architectures of inter-subjectivity, which enable translations between actor and observer perspectives within a social act.

Any narrative is not just a narrative that is analogical to self’s own experience, it is an inter-subjective structure that enables translations between actor and observer perspectives. Partially integrated actor and observer perspectives are the pre-condition for self-reflection. Rupture, feedback, and social conflict can cause self-reflection because of a pre-ecxisting and only partially integrated architecture of inter-subjectivity.


Collaborative video workshop impressions

February 6, 2008

This week we had the collaborative video workshop with the Helsinki Polytechnic Stadia and Tallinn Univeristy IMKE people. We aimed to try out how does collaborative video publishing work in different Project-related activities. Second aim was to develop the Fooga software.The group-work results showed that if we have a new type of tool, it also makes us to think of totally new kind of activities, not to copy previous patterns from another kind of learning settings.

Teaming up and Introducing the members
Collaborative compilation of project materials
Presentation and evaluation of projects

My own impressions were from this last team. In spite of numerous technical problems we managed to test out a multi-perspective evaluation method with the collaborative video software.
Main idea is that new evaluation paradigms expect that participants of the activity should be involved into the development of evaluation criteria. Thus each participant can first brainstorm different evaluation criteria. Later the videos of these evaluations of an activity can be restructured, compiling together certain aspect of evaluation.

Our team filmed with mobiles the discussions of other groups. These films we made separately were uploaded to the common project area. Next each of us looked these films, cut and edit them until one clear perspective was extracted. We found two perspectives what to evaluate in the group-work: the body language perspective in teams and the way team-members use the technology in their discussions. If such clear evaluation criteria were visualised through the collaborative effort, these can be used to evaluate the activities of groups, since now there is visual evidence what to look for, what to pay attention.