Archive for the ‘designs’ Category


Meta-design framework for open learning ecosystems at MUP/PLE Lecture Series

June 9, 2011

Here is an advertisement to my lecture at MUP/PLE Lecture series podcast, at Open University of London. The podcast will be soon available.
Mash-UP Personal Learning Environments (MUP/PLE) group on TELeurope:

Lecture text muppletext(should be accompanied by slides):

From last five years, many master courses in Tallinn University, Institute of Informatics have been held as open learning courses using social software. Based on this experience with different learning design experiments, I have generalized the meta-design principles for open learning ecosystems.
My main message is how to overcome the need for the teacher control in self-regulative learning ecosystems by using meta-design principles.
I will start from the analysis of the characteristics of open learning ecosystems, and bring some examples of course designs that follow these characteristics.
As the baseline for the design of the courses in open learning ecosystems I have used the eco-cognitive view of learning. This is based on the ecological psychology foundations defined by Gibson (1977) that focus on the emergent relationships of people with the environment using the affordance concept.
For explaining which affordances each learner perceives and uses when he participates at the open learning courses with his personal learning environment, the activity theory framework developed by Yrjö Engeström (1987) appears useful.
Some central ideas of my approach are borrowed from behavioural ecology, which studies the fitness of individuals to the niches of their species. An eco-cognitive approach explains cognition through distributed representations that are partially offloaded to the ecosystem. I will conceptualize the learning niches and explain how to use them in learning design.
Next, I will introduce some meta-design approaches that involve the end-users to the development of evolving learning designs.
I will explain how the meta-design approach may be used for the course design in open learning ecosystems.
Finally, I will point to some innovative tools that we have used in our open learning master courses, and highlight some existing software limitations for the accumulation and adaptive use of learning niches in meta-design approach.

1. Learning in open learning ecosystem

An open learning ecosystem is a digital (but also a hybrid) learning environment where learners and teachers use personalized social software configurations to organize their learning.
Open learning courses are open to new learners. The learning contents, as well as, the teaching ideas, the design methodologies and infrastructures are jointly developed and openly shared among this community.
This brings variability of tools and approaches to the courses, making the learning environments complex and dynamically changing while learners try to adapt themselves to the course ecosystem.

We use the ecosystem concept, because it allows us to apply the principles of ecology in digital learning environments. If we want to apply the ecology principles in digital systems, we need to find the match between the ecology concepts and the components of digital ecosystems.

Ecology as a discipline deals with different levels of structural elements of ecosystems, both biotic and abiotic.

For example, behavioural ecology focuses on the individuals of the species and their fitness to the niche of their species. Etology studies the interrelations of individuals.
In digital ecosystems we have self-directed individual learners who create personal learning networks with other individuals, using social software, people and artifacts. In order to coexist, they need to monitor each other, navigate across their learning environments, and try to adapt themselves to the other individuals’ useful activity preferences within the shared learning niche.

Population ecology studies the variability, the abundance and the distribution of individuals within one species, and how the species adapt to their niches, create and modify these niches.
In digital ecosystems we have people with similar ideas, software preferences and behaviours for learning, who may be identified as one community or “species”. They contribute to their learning niche by co-designing and sharing learning contents, and by developing new learning behaviours.

The community ecology focuses on the coexisting communities of species, their composition, interactions, organization and succession, as well as, on the food networks among species.
In digital systems we can find similar self-regulative connectivist networks, and communities that co-exist in the same distributed software ecosystems, but using different, partially overlapping niches of it. This makes borrowing and transforming the ideas across community borders possible and creates the learning power in digital ecosystems.

The most important assumption about open learning ecosystems is that the individuals’ self-directed learning behavour, personal learning environment creation, and open publishing causes the ecosystems to be open, dynamic and evolving. At the ecosystem level the accumulation of contents, useful learning behaviours, and ideas causes the changes in the ecosystem and in the community identities, that serves as an evolutionary feedback loop that impacts on individual learners’ perceptions of their learning ecosystem.

Two pedagogical paradigms have been highlighted in open learning ecosystems.
Firstly, the Interpretivist learning principles suggest that students should be guided towards becoming independent, autonomous and self-directed learners. Their learning must rise from their own interests and situations meaningful for them.
It is important that they are not isolated but interact with other learners, acting also as teachers to the others. The learning contents, and software usage behaviours are not created in advance but are emerging and co-created as network-like structures. Every learner can contribute with its prior knowledge and experiences to the creation of open ecosystem knowledge, everyone has the voice and ability to influence the ecosystem.
This guarantees the self-regulative and evolving nature of open learning ecosystems.

One example of such course design was done in the European 6th framework project iCamp for the course eLearning. The learners and teachers from different European universities created the mixed learning teams, to learn about open learning designs and create the course prototypes and associated learning resources about their design solutions. The course backbone was run in the Moodle environment, from where the suggested learning resources and weekly activities could be found. However, all learners and teachers entered to the course with different sets of personal tools, which were to be connected into the open learning system for conducting individual and joint activities. The changes and evolvements of the course ecosystem appeared in different teams. The biggest challenge was to design and coordinate the course as an evolving open learning ecosystem.

Another pedagogical paradigm in open learning ecosystems is Connectivism formulated by George Siemens.
Connectivism assumes that:
Learning is primarily a network-forming process, and the dynamically appearing and changing networks form basis for the learning ecosystems

This approach cultivates the ecosystem view of digital systems. I define open and hybrid digital ecosystems based on Boley and Chang (2007). It is an open, self-organizing environment binding geographical and web based locations, individuals, social software based information services, network interaction and knowledge sharing tools along with resources that help maintain synergy among people, where each subject is proactive and responsive regarding its own benefit/profit.

One example master course, “Ecology of narratives” that used the Connectivism ideas was run in Tallinn University (Pata & Fuksas, 2009). The learning design approach was built on the idea of initiating the emergent narrative collaboration using only the self-regulated storytelling activities. The main element of this design was to provide learners with some design rules, such as determining shared tags, and restricting the behavioural rules from traditional pre-decided group collaboration to emergent co-construction in networks. The co-construction emerged due to highly connected networks created among course participants who were using friend-feeds, place-feeds and mashed tag-feeds in various interconnected social software environments.

2. Challenges for learning design

These two examples highlight the main problem in the learning design for open learning ecosystems.
We need the learning design approaches that enable teachers to regain some co-control in the learner-initiated activities and in the appearing open ecosystems for learning.

In one hand we do want learners to be self-directed in creating learning goals, developing learning activities with personal tools, and choosing and constructing learning contents. We wish to promote the bottom-up emergence of the learning ecosystems.
On the other hand, we need to coordinate our courses to some extent at the universities, if we want to use the distributed learning environments.

The theoretical background for designing open learning ecosystems comes from ecological psychology. It is assumed that for interacting with the environment, we need some cognitive anchors. Humans constantly delegate cognitive functions to the environment. We may leave these anchors by ourselves, anchors may be left by other people who interacted with these surroundings before, these may be for example culturally defined. By doing so we constrain the action potentialities of the environment and help to focus on certain action- or emotion possibilities. But it must be admitted, that such cognitive functions are not stabile design elements in the environment – we cannot assume that everyone would perceive these affordances, or that they would afford the same actions and emotions.

3. An eco-cognitive learning framework

Bardone (2011) emphasizes this ambivalence in developing these cognitive functions. He writes that human cognition is chance-seeking system that is developed within an evolutionary framework based on the notion of cognitive niche construction. We build and manipulate cognitive niches to create additional resources for behavior control. These cognitive niches are determined by affordances.
Cognitive niches are distributed between internal mental spaces and external spaces in the environment. Behavioural/emotional constraints and afforded action/emotion potentialities may appear due to previous action/emotion experiences of the learner in this or in similar environment. Learners’ actual goals may highlight and actualize some affordances. Some affordances may be embedded/highlighted by teacher through instructions or may appear due to the presence of other learners’ activities. Each learner has a different cognitive niche in certain activity, and it may change in the course of action.
This causes high variability of affordances that may be actualized in open learning ecosystem for same learning goals.

Another standing-point to identify, which affordances might be actualized in a personal learning environment, is using the activity system approach (Engeström, 1987).

PLE is distributed ecologically, integrating our minds with the environment. We may assume that at each moment a different configuration of the activity system is active. To reach our learning goals we need to actualize different mediators, such as cognitive concepts, details from artifacts, software, or rely on some community activities. Rules and distribution of labor, common to the certain community, as well as, their personal learning environments, ideas, and the joint ecosystem structural elements may afford different mediators to be available for achieving certain actions or emotions.

Affordances in our cognitive niche form a networked system. They may constrain or actualize each other. Synergy may be arrived from using several affordances simultaneously.
Some affordances may need the presence or the co-activation of other affordances to be used effectively.

An interesting aspect from the learning design perspective is that some of the affordances are offloaded to the ecosystem.
While any individual conceptualizes affordances personally, in a community such perceived and offloaded affordances may accumulate, forming the community’s learning niche.
This niche conceptualization is closer to the niche concept in biology. Hutchinson (1957) defined a niche as a region (n-dimensional hypervolume) in a multi-dimensional space of environmental factors that affect the welfare of a species. Niches have been conceptualized as the environmental gradients with certain ecological amplitude, where the ecological optimum marks the gradient peaks where the organisms are most abundant.
So, niche is not the environment itself, the habitat, but what it affords. For example the range of temperature, the length of daylight, the abundance of certain food form the dimensions for a niche for certain species.
In digital systems these dimensions may associate with the properties of certain activity systems: for example complexity of assembling, accumulating, pulling content; degree of reputation, privacy, security, surveillance, interaction, co-construction in the community etc.
Currently, there are no good tools to monitor these affordances, nevertheless the community members perceive some of the learning niche properties

In one of my open learning ecosystem courses (Pata, 2009) we asked students to associate self-defined affordances with social software. We grouped these affordances under some activity types. As a result we could find what types of affordances were more commonly perceived by everyone, and which appeared to be rare. To make a visualization of the community’s learning niche we plotted the niche as the map of affordance “mountains”. However, this visualization is also a bit misleading – the real niche should be plotted into an abstract multidimensional space. This visualization does not consider the affordances that appear due to the presence of other affordances. For example, some software functionalities (tagging) may make available other affordances only if a community uses them actively (browsing the community members’ resources).
We also found in this study, that at different years the community niche of social software affordances appeared similar. On the other hand, for individual and collaborative assignments the niche dimensions were significantly different.

So I propose that the accumulated community niches for different learning goals may indicate the effective affordances for certain communities. The community’s affordances may be interpreted and used by each learner to best adapt to the community niche for certain goal-based action. Adaptation is the adjustment of an organism to its environment in the process by which it enhances fitness to its niche.
Such interplay in which each individual contributes to the formation of his cognitive niche, but also to the accumulation of the community’s niche, and simultaneously adjusts his affordance perception to his community niche is the central idea in dynamic evolving learning ecosystems.
It is one of the key points in meta-design framework as well.

4. Ecological learning designs as meta-designs

There have been some attempts to use the affordance concept in the learning design principles. This model from Kirchner and associates (2004) determines learners’ perceived affordances from their behaviour in the learning system, develops supportive and constraining affordances for interacting with the system and monitors the effectiveness of such affordance-based cognitive tools. However, learner’s role in this design approach is passive, the design is created by the teacher. Also, the dynamic evolvement of the learning environment is not expected. So, this model has limitations from the open learning ecosystem design perspective.

Another design approach, that considers adaptive and dynamic nature of the ecosystems is a meta-design framework proposed by Gerhard Fisher (2004) and associates. Meta-design is designing the design process for cultures of participation – creating technical and social conditions for broad participation in design activities. The meta-design approach is directed to the formation and evolution of open learning ecosystems through the end-user design.

The meta-design approach is known as a methodology for collaborative co-design of social, technical and economic infrastructures in interdisciplinary teams in order to achieve synergy similarly to the symbiosis phenomena in natural environments. The meta-design, known from End User Design in computer science, extends the traditional notion of system development to include users in an ongoing process as co-designers, not only at design time but throughout the entire existence of the system.

Autonomous and self-organized designers in meta-design framework can increase the diversity of design solutions in the system, allowing diversity and variability to emerge within the ecosystem.
Hagen & Robertson visualize in their paper some meta-design models as open, community-driven, emergent and iterative activity sequences that are based on user contribution.

For example:
Figure 1. The design solution is iterated through the participation in use. For example the e-learning course may be run at different years, the affordances may be collected post-activity, as in Kirchner’s model, and the revisions of the course ecosystem could be made. If letting the accumulated contents and affordances inside the system, the next round of the course may be able to navigate in the ecosystem better than the first participants.

Figure 2. The design emerges into different directions through participation. Such designs in open learning communities may be validated by individuals, and the best, most actively used solutions will become temporally stabile as community niches. This type of design is common in swarming activities.

Figure 3. The initial design may be outsourced to the users, and appears as an assembled collage. This approach is more common in open content creation, for example in wikis.

Figure 4.The design may also be opened to the community participation throughout design, that may gradually shift the perceived niche of affordances. Such design is most common in the stabile open learning communities – some affordances will be discovered, others will be forgotten in time.

Similarly to behavioural ecology principles, in meta-design we can see the interplay between self-directed individual designers (in our case learners), and the niche (the affordances of the design solution) that appears as the result of their activities.
Learning in the cultures of participation may be characterized as the process in which learner and the system (community, culture) detects and corrects errors in order to fit and be responsive.
In this definition, learning and designing process is conceptualized as largely self-organized, adaptive and dynamic.
It may be assumed that such learning and meta-design follows the ecological principles.

Both focuses – the learning ecosystem evolution by end-user design, and nourishing the end-user design process by creating the scaffolds for designing, are equally important aspects of ecological Meta-Design. Such scaffolds may be the visualizations of the emergent community’s learning niche.

To make some generalizations from our master courses in open learning ecosystems, the following aspects might be important in the meta-design framework
Learners should be facilitated to be self-directed. For this they are required to keep personal conversational learning contracts throughout the learning process. For example they could map their goals, and how they will achieve these goals, what affordances appeared useful in action.
Learners need to dynamically integrate their personal learning environments with the other learner’s environments, in order to perform some joint tasks or allow better awareness of each other’s activities. The affordances perceived during the course may change depending of their goals.
In order to better adapt to the digital ecosystem, the learners would need meta-level guidance.
For example, the rules and conditions (shared tags etc.) that facilitate niche accumulation may be determined by the teacher. The nature of activities may be selected such that supports self-regulation-based collaboration (for example swarming activities).
The learners and the teacher should be able to monitor the state of the niche, and can adjust their learning behaviours to the niche.

So, what would the learners do?
In learning ecosystems autonomous learners continuously develop and dynamically change design solutions to support their learning.
They incorporate into their personal learning environments different Web 2.0 tools, networking partners and artifacts, and monitor the state of the whole learning ecosystem to adapt their design solutions and learning objectives to the system and to other learners.

What is the teacher’s role?
The teacher creates rules, scaffolds and incentives for the learners’ design activities that would foster the accumulation of learning niches
These include:
Possibilities for monitoring the affordances of the community
Providing learners with the options that enhance and speed up the self-directed network-formation process (e.g. tags, mashups)
Analyzing the emerging affordances within the learning community, and providing analytical guidance for them aiding to make design decisions and selecting learning activities (e.g. social navigation, semantic navigation)
Seeding learning activities into the open learning ecosystem that are based on self-organization (e.g. swarming)

Some of these designs are well supported with suitable software for open learning ecosystems. However, there is the need for dynamic accumulation and monitoring systems for learning niche formation to be used by each learner for benefiting from particular open learning ecosystem and allowing them to participate in the course design
Two options may be used:
The affordance informations should be accumulated dynamically, and this information, if well visualized, would help navigation of individual learners in the learning niches
The real-time awareness of the other learners‘ perceived affordances may appear in the systems where users are constatntly at present (such as facebook wall or twitter), however this is more time-consuming way to deduce the learning ecosystem affordances

References for slide texts

•Bardone, E. (2011). Seeking Chances. From Biased Rationality to Distributed Cognition. Springer, Heidelberg.
•Boley, H., & Chang, E. (2007). Digital Ecosystems: Principles and Semantics, published at the 2007 Inaugural IEEE International Conference on Digital Ecosystems and Technologies. Cairns, Australia. February 2007. NRC 48813.
•Crabtree, A., & Rodden, T. (2007). Hybrid ecologies: understanding interaction in emerging digital-physical environments. Personal and Ubiquitous Computing, Online First: DOI 10.1007/s00779-007-0142-7.
•Fiedler, S,; Pata, K. (2009). Distributed learning environments and social software: in search for a framework of design. In Stylianos Hatzipanagos and Steven Warburton (Eds.). Handbook of Research on Social Software and Developing Community Ontologies. (145 – 158). Idea Group Reference.
•Engeström, Y. (1987). Learning by Expanding: An Activity-Theoretical Approach to Developmental Research (
•Fischer, G., Giaccardi, E. Ye,Y., Sutcliffe,A.G., Mehandjiev, N. (2004). META-DESIGN: A MANIFESTO FOR END-USER DEVELOPMENT. COMMUNICATIONS OF THE ACM September 2004/Vol. 47, No. 9 (33-37 .
•Gibson, J.J. (1977). The theory of affordances. In R. Shaw & J. Bransford (eds.), Perceiving, Acting and Knowing. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
•Hagen, P. and Robertson, T. (2009Dissolving boundaries: social technologies and participation in design. Proceedings of OZCHI 2009, ISBN: 978-1-60558-854-4
•Kirschner, P., Strijbos, J. W., Kreijns, K., Beers, P. J. (2004). Designing electronic collaborative learning environments. Educational Technology Research and Development 52(3), 47–66.
•Pata, K. (2009). Modeling spaces for self-directed learning at university courses. Educational Technology & Society, 12 (3), 23–43.
•Pata, K., Fuksas, A. P. (2009). Ecology of Embodied Narratives in the Age of Locative Media and Social Networks: a Design Experiment. Cognitive Philology, 2, 1 – 21.
•Pata, K.; Merisalo, S. (2010). SELF-DIRECTION INDICATORS FOR EVALUATING THE DESIGN-BASED ELEARNING COURSE WITH SOCIAL SOFTWARE. Dirk Ifenthaler, Dr. Kinshuk, Pedro Isaias, Demetrios G. Sampson, J. Michael Spector (Eds.). Multiple Perspectives on Problem Solving and Learning in the Digital Age (343 -358).Springer
•Pór, G., & Molloy, J. (2000). Nurturing Systemic Wisdom Through Knowledge Ecology. Systems Thinker, 1 (8), 1–5.
•Põldoja, H., Laanpere, M. (2009). Conceptual Design of EduFeedr – an Educationally Enhanced Mash-up Tool for Agora Courses. In: Mashup Personal Learning Environments: MuPPLE 09, Nizza, 29.September 2009. (Eds.) Fridolin Wild, Marco Kalz, Matthias Palmér, Daniel Müller. Aachen (online):, 2009, (CEUR Workshop Proceedings; 506).
•Siadaty, M., Gasevic, D., Pata, K., Milikic, N., Holocher-Ertl, T. (2011). A Sematic Web-enabled Tool for Self-Regulated Learning in the Workplace. iCALT 2011 proceedings (xxx-xxx). Athens, Georgia, USA: IEEE Computer Society Press [in press]
•Siemens, G. (2006) Knowing knowledge. URL.
•Zhang, J. & Patel, V.L. (2006). Distributed cognition, representation, and affordance. Distributed Cognition: Special issue of Pragmatics & Cognition 14, 333-341.


Participatory design experiment: Storytelling Swarm in Hybrid Narrative Ecosystem

November 27, 2009

I have struggled in formulating the narrative swarming in hybrid ecosystem as a participatory design experiment. It can be it is not yet simple enough for the intended book :(, but i feel i cannot cut away much more too. It is hard to present visual data in the papers, but i feel some of the evidence needs to be presented too.


This paper describes a participatory design experiment that is influenced by the swarming activity. The paper introduces a new approach to writing narratives in virtual learning communities of the social Web 2.0 and contrasts it with traditional storytelling approaches. In the participatory design experiment we developed a hybrid virtual storytelling playground that augments the real world – a hybrid ecosystem of narratives. It consists of social software tools freely available in the Web, such as microblogs, social repositories of images, and blogs, the real locations in the city, and the storytellers who leave their digital contents. The results of writing narratives as a swarm in a hybrid ecosystem are presented. In our experiment, instead of bending old novel formats into the hybrid ecosystem, the evidences of new evolving narrative formats of this hybrid space were explored.


Intervention model components in eLearning

October 30, 2008

Analysis of iCamp project’s three cross-institutional case studies enabled to model the necessary components of an intervention model at institution, facilitator and student levels:

institutional level

Intervention model: institutional level

facilitator level

Intervention model: facilitator level

learner level

Intervention model: learner level

In the application of an intervention model, facilitators and students have a crucial role in changing institutionally accepted practices.


Interpreting hybrid ecology in augmented reality

January 20, 2008

A draft of my major ideas.

Background theory

Concepts: embodiment, neural representations of sensory-motor actions, action potentialities, affordances, anticipated goals, action, mediation, coupling, tool, hybrid ecology

The basic ideas in Activity theory (Leontjev, 1975) relate ‘people who want to reach some goals’ with their ‘mediating tools for realising activities’ necessary to ‘reach the goal’. Mediating tools can be cognitive (eg. language, gestures, content of narrative artifacts or pictures etc.) or material artifacts (tools, objects etc.).

Discoveries in cognitive and neuroscience about the functioning of mirror-neuron systems (Gallese et al., 1996), claim, that cognition is embodied through grounding knowledge directly in sensory-motor experiences without the mediation of symbolic representations (Pecher & Zwaan, 2005).

From observation of others and the environment (Rizzolatti et al., 2001), from listening narratives (Rizzolatti & Arbib, 1998; Iaccoboni, 2005) or from reading narratives (Scorolli & Borghi, 2007) and looking everyday images of objects or works of art (Gallese & Freedberg, 2007) we perceptually activate certain multi-modal action-potentialites to mediate our purposeful and goal-directed actions (see Gallese & Lakoff, 2005). These embodied dimensions are activations of neural representations located in sensory-motor areas in brain.

Hommel (2003) assumes that action control to all behavioral acts is ecologically delegated to the environment – when planning actions in terms of anticipated goals, the sensory-motor assemblies needed to reach the goal are simultaneously selectively activated in the environment, and bind together into a coherent whole that serves as an action-plan, facilitating the execution of the goal-directed actions through the interaction between the environment and its embodied sensory-motor activations.

My understanding of affordances sees them as the emergent constraints in the activity system dependent of various system components and interactions. I interpret them as action potentialities. However, affordances can also be potentially embedded into mediating tools due to cultural use of language or due to culturally defined activity potentials objectified in artifacts and tools.

Our hybrid nature

Hybrid ecology binds together into one inseparable whole the subjects aiming to do something, the surrounding environment with its objects, and the mediating tools of their action. In this view all external entities of the person can be considered as an environment (eg. living and nonliving things and their causal and structural interrelations).

In this symbiosis we can see that in any activity there is no clear and distinct border between subject and the environment. The mediation between the personal (internal) and environment (external) is a dynamic two way process of embodiment of environment’s dimensions, and expressing the embodied in the environment.

Any action can be taken only on the basis of embodied dimensions of the environment.

Environment becomes a place for action if we accommodate it with our tools, if we embed part of our embodied sensory-motor experiences to the external environment and if we reuse it constantly matching our internal embodied sensory-motor action potentialities and action potentialities that couple with it around us.

Extending and accommodating ourselves to the environment

To be purposely navigating and acting in the environment, persons need to embody part of the environment in order to toolisize it, and start using it for their action. This is not necessarily a conscious and goal-driven process. Also the environment with its culturally defined action potentialities in relation to persons’ previously embodied action-potentials and emotions can evoke certain goals for action. In such case certain aspects of the environment may be extended above the others to the range of the persons’ perception.

People can also toolisize the environment by externalizing their internal imaginations, emotions and sensory-motor action patterns to the environment as objects for use for themselves and the others.In a way it can be seen as making the environment as part of their symbiotic being where they can find and use the common sensory-motor action potentialities over and over again.

Toolization is not necessarily merely a process of symbolizing meanings. If toolization of the environment is done by language, or making narrative or visual artifacts it is done by using symbols as carriers of sensory-motor action potentialities. But toolization is also direct activity carried out in the environment, when the objects of the environment and some perspectives of the environment are actualized to express and carry out goals-directed action plan, which has sensory-motor neural correlates.

Creating new tools

Our usual acting in the personally accommodated environment is based on the preferred perception of affordances that match with our sensory-motor action correlates of previously embodied emotions and actions. Basically we repeat ourselves to feel safe in the environment. We actualize the affordances that we define for ourselves as the members of certain culture, those that enable us to take active part in this culture.

affordances get clustered

However, some of the affordances, that are very distinct from the usual affordances, may also be perceived and may start intruding the activation of embodied sensory-motor paths. These affordances can be viewed as the noise to be ignored or noise to be considered.

Some of the noise we try to ignore, telling to ourselves that it is the similar affordance to some other usual affordance. Similar affordances are coupled with the previously anticipated sensory-motor action potentialities.

Some of the noise we perceive as analogical affordances. Analogy is accepting the difference in nature but making the relation on the basis of some features. In this case partial coupling of anticipated affordances with the actualized affordances happens, which may activate only part of the previously embodied sensory-motor neural correlates or even some new ones.

Looking for the noise to activate different sensory-motor experiences is an important aspect of our creativity. Looking for the noise may lead us toolizising the environment for us differently. We basically create new tools to accommodate ourselves into the environment with our usual goal-directed plans. Or, the creation of these new embodiments from the environment would lead us to the totally new set of goal-directed action plans. We shift from one set of anticipated affordances we are looking for in the environment to another set.

Tools we create from tools left to the environment

Lev Manovitch has pointed out to some trends of tool designs in modern environment.

Manovitch deals with ‘interfaces’ enclused to ‘objects’. There is a new trend in design: disappearance of technological objects as such, which become integrated into our spaces. In such cases the previous culturally accommodated tool or artifact and the previously culturally accommodated technological interface may together start triggering different potential affordances for action.

The action potentials technology offers through ‘interfaces’, and the action potentials that the objects had in another previous culture, can be contraversial and may cause certain “battles” between what action to carry out, evoking the necessity for internal grounding between the different sets of affordances. This would result in not using these new devices most effectively as planned by the designers and visioners of new technology, because we would be triggered simultaneously by the affordances evoked by two different cultures.

Basically what we need, is immersion of cultures, becoming these new ‘immersive technology generations’ and we will no more distinguish the potential affordances the objects evoke as old and new activity potentials. Rather we will shift out internal immersed and augmented intentions into the environment activating combined affordances.

Do we need new designs to obtain the new culture or would the new culture emerge in using currently not ideally integrated technologically enriched objects and augmented reality? If so we will just start evoking different affordances in this environment and the design and immersion of old and new should not necessarily be melted to each other organically, we would do it by ourselves, with our perception and imagination.

In this case we can act in the current environment we are used to, but we can see, if we want so, in this environment also this virtual, technologically added space – we will get hybrid, augmented or ecologically defined environment for totally new activities, where we can go or not go depending our intentions.

Manovitch assumed that another trend in design is that tools are vanishing and becoming into seamless interfaces. It seems that in interaction with new technological and hybrid tools affordances of the activity-side become stronger and stronger perceived, while the affordances of the previously recognized tool or artifact sides, where interface is embedded, are decreasing in the perception of the user.

In the PhD thesis of Elza Dunkels “Bridging the Distance: Children’s strategies on the Internet” (2007) she conducted online interviews in chatroom to ask about how children perceive the Internet environment. She wrote: From 8000 words in the interviews kids actually mentioned the word computed 19 times, and only at 2 occasions this was initiated by the child. Communication and fun themes, rather the use of technology per se prevailed.Kids totally forgot that technology is there as a mediation tool of their action goals!

To interpret these results, it seems that the actualized affordances of Internet seemed not to depend of the objects, computers, technology with its functionalities and limitations, but instead these ‘information age immersed kids’ had real life and very warm and alive activity goals and thus they perceived in the technology environment other affordances than the grownups from earlier generations. Kids actualized for themselves the ‘communication and interaction affordances’ and did not consciously actualize the affordances of the technology as something that mediates their actions.

Hybrid beings interact

Interesting perspective emerges if the person, who externalized the embodied sensory-motor action potentialites (basically their tools as mediation devices) for themselves to the environment, is viewed from aside by another person. For the other person two versions of the environment may appear.

One is where he can see the other subject together with its mediation devices. The studies of embodied cognition indicate that it is highly likely to embody and directly activate the sensory-motor patterns they view the others doing in the environment – thus what is happening is the culturally defined selective embodiment of the action-potentialities (tools they make from the environment to use it)of the others. Evolutionary, this can be viewed as some kind of reuse or optimization strategy, getting the same result without using the energy what was initially used on creating the initial interrelation between the person and the natural environment.

Vyas and Dix (2007) suggest that sets of affordances exits at the level of person, group/community and culture, and that the interactions between these affordances may influence each other.

Second is if only these man-made objects (various cultural tools eg. texts, patterns, images, artcrafts etc.) and other type of traces of their activity are left to the natural environment, but their initial originators have left the scene. Now, it is the question of culture to couple the previously experienced sensory-motor action potentialities with those that are recognized in the environment. It is highly likely that this kind of embodiment and toolization of the environment for purposeful action is always partial or even completely transforming the initial action-potentialities of the tools.

The notion of meanings in activity-centered view to hybrid ecology needs to be elaborated. Meaning is the result of embodiment of environmental entities partially as sensory-motor action potentialities. Meaning-making is a more or less conscious search of action-potentialities in the environment that can be coupled with previously embodied ones in the process of making them mediating tools. What is meaning making for an individual in these situations when he/she can see only the environment toolisized by someone else?

First is, when does the person notice that the environment is actually toolisized – perhaps this is a culturally defied process of noticing certain affordances, coupling it with embodied affordances and taking action if there is a match of affordances. Noticing affordances and actualizing something from the environment as tools similarly as other people depends of whether they are part of this community and culture.

It can be assumed that cultures leave traces of activity potentials as patterns to the environment which can be actualized if the pattern is strong enough, frequent enough and matches with some of the anticipated affordances for the person. It is clear that if these patterns are left to the environment without perceived interrelation with their creators, they are harder to be actualized similar way by other people.

Hybrid ecology in augmented environments

The previous aspects of hybrid ecology are quite general and deal with the nature of individuals acting in an environment.
What happens if the environment too becomes hybrid?

Recent trends in the Web development have caused the immersion of borders between the real and virtual spaces, giving rise into the new potential learning environment. New kind of social software eg. blogs, wikis, social bookmarking services, social artifact repositories enable user integration into democratic content-development and publishing. Mashup technologies allow publishers to syndicate their data into machine-readable RSS feeds to which readers can selectively subscribe with free social software. Geotagging systems make it possible to create locative content by mobile devices, situated both in real and virtual environment (Tuters & Varnelis, 2006). Locative content is digital media applied to real places, any kind of link to additional information set up in space together with the information that a specific place supplies, which is triggering real social interactions with a place and with technology (Tuters & Varnelis, 2006; Hanzl, 2007, Kaipainen & Pata, 2007).

This new learning environment – an augmented reality/virtuality – consists of distributed virtual spaces generated by social software tools, and of the real spaces and objects, in which locative content has been added with mobile devices. Augmented reality, the reality overlaid with virtual reality, and virtual reality, in which representations of the real world have been embedded and contextualised, is enabling interactions both in real and virtual spaces. Lonsing (2004) suggests that an augmented reality system generates a composite view in real time – a combination of a real scene viewed by a user and a virtual scene generated by a computer, where the real scene is submerged with additional information in order to enhance the perception of the user.

Rich layers of embodied knowledge and practice in the real spaces, and authentic context triggering activities and knowledge-building in virtual spaces, makes augmented space into a potential learning environment with new challenges for the learners. This new learning medium is a distributed activity space in which learners meet other learners, knowledge artifacts and practices.

New augmented learning environment provides novel tools and triggers new types of activity patterns in this distributed space. Possible learning patterns involve both actions in real and virtual spaces – thus we need to view this space as one whole.

Several community-activities with new technologies can be built upon the relationships between real spaces/objects, people and meanings:
Space with dynamically embedded meanings (eg. spoken narratives, movement) entails action potentials. The embodiment of these action potentials is a process of coupling affordances evoked by internal imagination and goals in one hand, and the perceived and culturally predefined external affordances from the environment, on the other hand. As a result, this space becomes into a place for new interpretors and starts triggering activities.

Question is of course when can persons in such places perceive the patterns of activities, when can they perceive affordances of the certain culture to interact with this culture?
(eg. How much geotagged content at places/virtual content in blogs, social repositories there needs to be, that it would reveal activity potentials for triggering certain community activities. What happens if the activity potentials coupled with different anticipated activity potentials, how do such creative threads and activity derivations emerge and influence the augmented reality activity potentials?)

In which areas of the augmented reality (real or virtual) can the activity potentials be actualized, will the proceeding activity take place in the same dimensionality or can it cross the imaginary border of these spacial dimensions of the augmented reality?
(eg. i can add geotagged content in real place, but later it starts my virtual activities in virtual space, that in turn can be traced as activity patterns from the real place)


expectations to new social learning tools

November 13, 2007

Social software is generally recognized as tools, which development is highly dependent of users‘ mutual interaction with the mediation of these tools, involving group processes such as discussion, mutual advice or favors, and play (Shirky, 2002).

Any activity is always mediated by the tools that we create in the process of actualizing certain affordances in our goal-directed and enculturated actions – when making something from the environment into our own or when bringing something of our own ideas into the environment. More than at earlier times, current social tools are the creation of communities. While the artifacts and meanings, created and distributed with social software, obtain in the process of use the community-defined folksonomical dimensions, the activities what are performed and evolve in these systems as a result of community interactions, have yet remained implicit, and are not well observable for the users of social software. Social software still lacks the means how to make activity potentialities of tools, and activity patterns, which emerge in the communities, more observable. What we basically lack, is the soft ontologically defined constraints/possibilities of actions determined by the communities who use social tools.

When using social software for learning at institutional courses, but also for personal self-directed learning attempts with other learners in the Web, the explicit socially defined action potentialities within activity systems would enhance the selection of communal tools for common objectives. Some of the recent developments, such as Friend of a Friend (FOAF) technology that aims at creating a Web of machine-readable pages describing people, the links between them and the things they create and do, seem to promise that the action-based automated search of learning partners would soon become possible. The best practice of the tool-use for certain learning activities is, thus, disseminated giving a valuable input for the others and narrowing down their choice of appropriate tools for particular learning goals. For example, it is suggested that the super-peer networks would enable the learners to observe, record and share their activity practices with artifacts through networks (Clematis et al., 2007). If FOAF and similar specifications could read personal action potentialities with certain social software, their communities and artifact types, which we described earlier, the decision processes at constructing collaborative landscapes for learning purposes, could be supported by technological means.

Tools that support the construction of group landscapes from distributed personal tools play an important role in the application of new Learning Environment Design model. The new generation of aggregation and mashup tools is anticipated to support the construction of distributed personal and group learning landscapes, using the affordance-based activity system model. The mashup of the learning environment from distributed feeds will be realised, considering, in one hand, the anticipated affordances for action, and personal activity preferences, which may be described with FOAF kind of scripts, and on the other hand, the socially defined action potentialities of tools would enable the mashup tools to automatically select a suitable set of widgets for certain learners or groups. In these mashup tools learners would pertain full control over the selection of feeds – eventually they can ignore or close some tools and even add new tools. Such user-activity can be, in turn, used to update the semantic models refining the activity-tool relations, improving the tool recommendations.

The critical factor of effective use of distributed social landscapes and scaffolding in such systems is the possibility to monitor the use of landscape elements and the information flows between them in the cause of action. New developments at social software systems enable already to visualise the folksonomy based meaning-building dimensions in the communities (see Klerkx & Duval, 2007). What is yet needed, is the visualisation of activities and learning landscapes for the learners. This may be realised through visualising the mashed learning landscapes as affordance-based activity systems in which the distributed social tools would convey also the socially defined activity potentials. Certainly, this may not indicate, which of these available activity potentialities were put into action. For understanding this, interaction within specific social tools, and the content of feeds between tools must be analyzed (eg. which regulatory, social or content-creation types of action potentialities were put into action). But that seems even more complicated issue.

The joint learning situations would also pertain the use of asynchronous or synchronous interaction tools when working with artifacts. Some of the tools like Gabbly chat can now be easily integrated with different webpages, social software applications and masup tools. Yet, the develoment of tools, which keep the interrelations between the talked content and the productive actions made at artifact, should enhance learning at distributed landscapes. The future of using distributed social software elements for self-directed and collaborative learning purposes is in mashing selectively the evidence from different activities eg. weblog posts and commentaries with certain tags, artifacts purposfully created and stored in different repositories, wiki-contributions, discourse logs etc. In these places (hubs) where our distributed knowledge meets again, we propagate ourselves as the connectors between the communities. If we mix our distributed self with the knowledge of our community members (like in micro-blogging feeds of Jaiku), these mashed feeds may work as triggers for learning. They enable to access knowledge community-wise and transfer it to other community spaces.


An ecological approach in inquiry learning environments

November 9, 2007

Some ideas from the paper i try to write. I am especially grateful to Anatole Fuksas for triggering me to think about embodied concepts rather than training for knowledge and competences in inquiry systems. It seems that this new approach is well in accordance with my previous ideas of the systems as emergent semiotic ones in which the learners are creating perceptionally translation borders between the artifacts in inquiry steps. This new idea relates well with this translation part where learners with perceptional translation problems are unsuccessful in performing certain actions of the inquiry process.


Recent findings in neuro-science enable to consider the interrelations of the components of learning environments, inquiry actions and knowledge construction, uniting all these into one ecologically defined perceptual-action system.

At traditional sensimotor schemes of information-processing, an action is often seen as the late step caused by stimulus processing (Prinz, 1997). This means that depending of input information from the environment (e.g. learning materials and problem statement), and learners‘ previous knowledge, the inquiry actions are planned to solve the problem (Hommel et al., 2001) (see fig. 1).

The traditional view to information-processing has assumed that people constantly process mediated representations of information from outside environment and information retrieved from the long-term memory, in their working memory in order construct dynamic mental models that mediate their awareness of themselves and phenomena, and trigger action performance.

inquiry learning environment eclkogy

Hommel (2003), however, assumes that action control to all behavioral acts is ecologically delegated to the environment – when planning actions in terms of anticipated goals, the sensory-motor assemblies needed to reach the goal are simultaneously selectively activated in the environment, and bind together into a coherent whole that serves as an action-plan, facilitating the execution of the goal-directed actions through the interaction between the environment and its embodied sensory-motor activations.

The former idea could be translated into what would happen in the learning environment: the learner has previous experiences with similar actions and situation elements, and this enables them to anticipate certain action goals and their sensory-motor correlates in the learning environment, which in turn would constrain and guide learners to embody certain sensory-motor activity patterns and perform appropriate inquiry actions in the system. Goals and proceeding actions are, thereby, not sequentially deduced from the input information and previous knowledge, but they are ecologically emergent from coupling between anticipated goal-directed action potentialities and the features perceived in the environment as affordances for these actions.

Discoveries in cognitive and neuroscience about the functioning of mirror-neuron systems (Gallese et al., 1996), claim, that cognition is embodied through grounding knowledge directly in sensory-motor experiences without the mediation of symbolic representations (Pecher & Zwaan, 2005). We perceptually activate certain multimodal action-potentialites of embodied symbols to mediate our purposful and goal-directed actions (see Gallese & Lakoff, 2005). These embodied dimensionalities of symbols are activations of neural representations located in sensory-motor areas in brain.

The embodied view to concepts as activity patterns makes learning in authenitc contexts even more meaningful – when activating information of objects, we have had direct emotional and action-related experiences with, the same neural areas are involved than when activating sensory-motor circuits of the brain on performing actions with their mediation (Gallese and Lakoff, 2005).

From the ecological viewpoint, complex multi-representational learning environments are built on the supposition that people should be constructing knowledge and inquiry competences in the process of moving from authentic and perceptually known narrative or visual settings through inquiry actions to the abstract narrative or visual settings, in which the objects and events are highly abstract and do not have direct perceptual correlates in sensory-motor system. When planning for inquiry actions, various artifacts embedded to the learning environment provide action potentials that the learner can embody. In the sequential or iterative process of inquiry, perceptually embodied concepts related to the problem will be coded through inquiry procedures into different semiotic registers (Duval, 2000), and tied with the arbitrary theoretical semantic knowledge.


That is so far abstract of my new ideas of complex multi-representational systems. I intend to use some example cases of showing how the wrong selection of affordances at narrative and visual artifacts in learning environment defined inquiry actions with the narratives.

In one paper we have collected evidence of changes of awareness of learning objects’ affordances in complex inquiry system, which could be used as evidence of learning environment as an ecologically defined system.


balance in ecological tool-action system

October 8, 2007

I just got an interesting idea when rethinking of Manovitch lecture and the reflections of my own affordance thoughts.
Let us suppose that within activity system the affordances emerge as constraints allowing/restricting some actions among many. Let’s imagine this as a trading process where internal goals make us to expect certain affordances for some actions in one hand, and the external environment with its objects and persons sort of extends some affordances culturally above others, when we perceive this environment. This is working like the balance between two systems.
Now if we think of Manovitch example, we move from toolisized theatric interface world to the seemless interfaces for actions. The balance moves from embodying externally theatrized affordances from tools (eg. mobile phones, computers) for action, towards externalizing internally created action affordances and acting them directly to the environment using seemless interfaces, bypassing the tool side.

What makes this balance to move? Anyway, this seems very ecological indeed.