Each Design Challenge you discover needs to be handled. One option is to prune the scenarios so that challenges are eliminated, but that is not a very fruitful approach and should only be used if nothing else works. It’s better to see opportunities within the challenges: How, by designing something differently (a tool, a service, a practice in the school), would the challenge be solved, avoided, made unimportant, or otherwise manageable? These are Design Opportunities, potential solutions to the challenges.
These Design Opportunities are derived from the iTEC project’s cycle 1, and the Design Challenges identified in it. Other opportunies will surely emerge from other sets of challenges, but these applicable quite widely and illustrate how challenges can be solved through design. For more details, you may want to read D3,1. the 1st Report on Design prototypes and design challenges for education from the iTEC project.
Theme 1: Guiding for design
The first theme consists of design opportunities that are general guides to the design process and actually influence all other themes as well.
Intuitive navigation saves time
Technology: Low sharing possibilities, Limited access to technology, New technology replicates old teaching
Time resources: No time for reflection, Multitasking teachers, Time consuming viewing of documentation, Ambiguous time value balance
Improved interface and interaction design of digital tools (e.g. small number of steps for sharing media pieces or a structured walk through the media production process) can minimise time resource consumption. Interfaces that guide teachers and learners through learning activities or visually simplify navigation may lower the learning curve and facilitate the management of concurrent projects, such as the media production process or digital documentation of learning achievements. This opportunity will be elaborated more concretely in the following themes. Here it is important to note that interfaces commonly used allow for significant improvements through visual simplification and proper UI design.
Clearly state motivations, durations and learning outcomes
Time Resources: Ambiguous time value balance
Teachers choose meaningful learning activities from a pool of learning activities by balancing available time, learning outcomes, and motivations. To support them in their choice it was recognised that teachers can reach an informed decision more quickly when the approximate performance time, the explicit motivation for teacher and learner, as well as concrete learning outcomes of each learning activity are stated clearly. Furthermore, we recognized that teachers would benefit from an overview of all available choices at one glance.
Value adding technologies
Technology: New technologies replicate old teaching
Based on the summaries of the participatory design workshops, teachers recommend that the iTEC design process should consider what activities are difficult to perform with only non-digital tools. Examples of these: building on other learners’ work; collaboratively contributing to the same goal; gaining knowledge and inspiration by watching the works of earlier groups. Technologies, teachers recommend, should add value to learning and present activities that would not exist without the use of technology.
Design towards change of the role of the teacher
Social Schools: Changed teacher roles
Technology: New technologies replicate old teaching
Changing teacher roles is a slow process that can only be mediated by a change of practice, which in turn requires change in the organisation of each school. Introducing change is likely a longer process than what the iTEC project can offer alone. However, the prototypes as well as learning stories and activities piloted in iTEC can contribute to the process of change by presenting interfaces that support advanced learning activities, requiring teachers to act as guides, listeners, advisors, or mediators. Examples that were discussed during the workshops are ad hoc matching of learners, online calls as well as live chats between classrooms and to online outside experts. Teachers also suggested that, instead of class teachers transforming into technicians, resource teachers could take this role.
Theme 2: Media production
Researching and creating content for multimedia work presents subject learning opportunities, but also the possibility of acquiring media production skills, such as creating a digital video. These skills will results in additional ways in which to navigate the world and to express insights or opinions. The ability to create digital content can be seen as a form of an additional literacy and a tool to support learning.
Transparent and guided media production
Learning Process: Complex media production process
Time resources: Multitasking teachers
During the participatory design workshops, teachers noted that media production follows a complex process that is difficult to perform with the entire class. During the project it is important to know what activity follows which and to have clearly defined roles. A large part of the preparation for a media project goes into preparing a step-by-step plan. Although teachers recognise that there are similar steps for each media project, they are not well versed in the process. This leads to creating the step-by-step plan anew for each project to suit the project’s specific needs.
Teachers expressed that a guide explaining the process in simple words would support them in guiding the class. Relevant here was also that the guide should include an overview of the successive steps and that it should be adaptable to individual situations and projects. According to the teachers, being able to mark tasks as complete could add to learners’ and teachers’ transparency and satisfaction of the process, reminding both that every phase includes a learning purpose.
The teachers also mentioned that open ended project work might be completed by learners in a very short time. A guide should take this into account and lead learners to engage in their project with sufficient depth.
Recommending documentations to others
Assessment: No assessment criteria for informal activities
Time resources: Time consuming viewing of documentation
The amount of time required to view an individual learner’s documentation of their voluntary out of school learning activities is not motivating for teachers. An automatic way to assess and still recognise individual learning achievements would be valuable and save time.
Teachers are practicing and are open to social assessment methods, such as self-assessment, peer feedback, and collaborative assessment criteria development. Hence, recommending documentations to individual teachers based on their area of expertise was identified as a social practice that could draw the attention of a teacher to a particular work and save time spent on irrelevant material.
Recommending a documentation to someone requires responsible consideration of the work and time of the addressee and the documentation at hand. If everyone is able to recommend documentations to anyone, the subjectivity inherent in this method will be mitigated.
Although the matching of projects and expertise are addressed this way, questions about how many times and from how many angles the same documentation and project may be assessed are left to be answered.
Translating meaningful tasks of librarians
Assessment: Incomplete and unfair assessment, Individual assessment is time consuming
Social schools: Libraries and librarians are scarce
Digital literacy skills and being able to select relevant information independent of the medium may lead to more critical reading and can deepen subject understanding. Two scenarios included learning activities in which learning of digital literacy is strongly tied to libraries and librarians. However, changes to the set-up of school facilities, regarding furniture, wall arrangements or libraries are not in the scope of the iTEC project.
The summaries of the participatory design workshops suggest that learning digital literacy does not need to focus on libraries and librarians. Understanding the meaningful tasks of librarians and translating them into other learning activities was an important revelation. For example, a skilled librarian uses online databases and the Internet as a tool for information reference. Providing learners access to library resources, such as online databases and catalogues from outside of the library and the school systems could allow learners to search for resources on their own, in groups or with the teacher at any time and place. It may also be possible to use the iTEC person registries to provide learners and classrooms with access to properly skilled professionals, if their own school lacks them.
Being able to access information alone is not enough for learning digital literacy skills. Teachers mentioned the importance of sharing and networking capabilities to support learners in their research. Learners could recommend, cite and compare relevant sources and references and comment on the reliability of references. Teachers further noted that presentations and feedback are important for self-assessment and motivation. Sharing knowledge through different forms of documentation, such as individual and collaborative writing, referring, and linking, can be motivating for the learners. Teachers concluded that peer evaluation, taking active part in defining evaluation criteria, and self-assessment can build digital literacy and cooperation skills among learners.
Design towards wider access to technology
Technology: Limited access to technology
Policy changes, budget allocations and interference with the home learning culture would have to be considered in order to fully address the learner’s limited access to technology. iTEC alone might not be able to answer this challenge in its piloting activities, but these barriers could be brought to the attention of policy makers for consideration.
However, the limited access to technology can be taken into consideration in the design of iTEC prototypes and learning activities, for example by decisively supporting sharing of digital technologies. Another possibility of addressing the challenge is offering alternative ways of performing a learning activity. In the “Learning stories and learning activities” document used for pre-pilot testing in cycle one this opportunity was already seized.
Teachers recommended to manage technological equipment in schools by way of rental service points that assign equipment to learners, teachers, or a class based on learning activities and needs, instead of following the current assignment of equipment to locations.
Attribution tips and copyright practices
Social schools: Limited understanding of copyright
When working on media production projects and similar learning activities, learners and teachers quickly stumble into copyright issues. Often, learners and teachers cannot tell how and if a media piece downloaded form the web can be used. Considering the vast amount of public domain and Creative Commons licensed material on the Internet, it would be supportive to automate attribution (along the lines of Scratch or YouTube video editor) and to present recommendations for best practices to learners and teachers. This could sensitise teachers and learners to copyright and the consequences copyright poses to their work.
Theme 3: Forming small teams
Forming teams is a prerequisite in six of the nine scenarios. Here, teams are considered to be groups of people that share the same goal and a sense of togetherness. Each individual member contributes to the achievement of the goal.
Supporting team work
Learning Process: Elaborate rules of advanced techniques
Time resources: Multitasking teachers
Motivation: Difficult to form interest driven teams
Social schools: Team work is not familiar
Keeping an overview of several small teams in the classroom can be time consuming and pose a threshold to performing teamwork. Teachers should be supported with the management of several small teams. This is especially important for teachers who are not used to working with teams in the classroom.
One way to guide teachers towards working with teams is to help them to form teams quickly. A visual overview of teams and their current status could support teachers in managing several teams and their works, allowing teachers to focus on the development of the learners instead of managerial and administrative tasks. Furthermore, a visual overview of teams could also support teachers to perform advanced learning techniques with elaborate rules, such as jigsaw or progressive inquiry, because the visual clues can represent the relations between teams.
The traditional methods available for teachers are learners self-organising into teams, the teacher selecting the team members subjectively, or randomly assigning learners to teams. Self-selection often results is poorly performing teams and teacher selections may meet with resistance. Teams that are formed by an external authority such as a computer may be better accepted by learners and can potentially create better team configurations than random assignments.
Teams based on the interests of learners
Motivation: Difficult to form interest driven teams, Free-riders in teams
Social schools: Forming teams based on friendships
Working on a topic that is personally relevant to a learner is motivating and offers the opportunity to focus on the learning outcome. Teams that are formed based on learners’ interests fluctuate and learners learn how to work with different people. They are unlikely to be based on friendship alone.
While personal interest refers to a topic or skill that a learner would like to learn about, it also refers to what is best for the personal development of each individual learner. Teachers develop tacit knowledge about their learners, such as what languages a learner speaks, their special skills, personality traits, or the social circle of a learner. The tacit knowledge is noted down mentally by a teacher, possibly into a private note book. These mental notes indicate and affect the way teachers work with the learners. Externalising the mental notes and automating their use for team formation may facilitate forming of teams based on the interest of the learners. Making the practice of using mental notes as criteria for teaming up learners widely available to other teachers may result in forming teams that support the learning outcome, motivation and development of learners.
Forming teams based on topics or skills that a learner would like to learn about, as well as the skills learners already have could also reduce the amount of free-riders, because of the rising motivation and the highlighting of their individual expertise. Highlighting an expertise as opposed to assigning roles may lead learners to take responsibility over a particular task or role, without limiting their activities to the same.
More directly, when the learners are split into teams, each tackling a common theme from their own viewpoint, taking learners’ personal interests into consideration will improve motivation. Some facilitating solution is needed to take into account the personal interests of all the learners and finding the optimal team configuration.
Theme 4: Reflecting on documentation of learning
The third theme we recognised in eight of the nine scenarios was ‘reflecting and documentation of learning’. Documentation of learning refers to something like a portfolio. The Italian Ministry of Education has actually unsuccessfully introduced portfolio work into everyday school learning activities in 2004. The memories of the teachers connected to this attempt are negative, and the notion of an e-portfolio may carry unintended meanings in Italy. Here, we use the more descriptive term learning documentation.
Documentation of learning achievements can give learners the opportunity to reflect on their learning process. Reflecting can be a tool for learners to understand how their past learning activities can inform what they would like to learn or would have to improve in the future.
Guided and fast documentation
Learning process: Learning goals are difficult to document
Assessment: Individual assessment is time consuming
Time resource: No time for reflection, Time consuming viewing of documentation
Through recommendations, the amount of time spent in evaluating and assessing learners’ works can be shortened. Time requirements can be cut even more by limiting the way learners document to a particular format and time-frame. Framed and timed creation of documentation minimises the time used for creation, and may support the establishment of documentation as an everyday practice. Learners may be motivated by a simple and easy to access documentation format that can be shared with different communities across different media with minimum effort.
Learning process: Learning goals are difficult to document
Assessment: Overlooked learning opportunities, Incomplete and unfair assessment, Individual assessment is time consuming
It was recognised that asking learners to identify their learning goals before starting a learning activity is too challenging for them. However, reflecting on documented learning goals and their change over time can result in meaningful insights for learners and teachers. A way to address this challenge could be regular documentation of steps taken during a learning activity. Reflecting on this step-by-step progressive documentation, for example by comparing starting points and present point in a learning journey, could make personal future learning goals easier to recognise, frame, and phrase.
The documentation of project steps can also be used for assessment. Teachers consider that they can assess the presentation and negotiation skills that learners develop as they explain the tasks their hobbies involve to a teacher. To learn the humility and courage needed for presenting a project, the learners could consult with the teacher about what could and should be presented and clearly define the expectations together, before presenting their work during an exhibition.
Teachers suggested that young learners require commitment from their parents to document out of school activities.
Visible learning achievements and learning journeys
Assessment: No assessment guidelines for individual learning
Learners may enter a learning activity with different sets and levels of skills. They may also approach the learning activity with a different challenge level, for example trying something that they have never tried before as opposed to deepening an existing skill. Unless the teacher follows the learners in the class carefully, these elements may be hidden to the assessment of a teacher. It is seen as an opportunity and a guideline to the design of iTEC prototypes to consider making both the learning achievements and the path visible to the learner and the teacher, so that assessment can take both into consideration. It should be noted that assessment sources may differ from learner to learner.
Furthermore, the documentation could serve as evidence of currently invisible learning or as reference points for discussions. Including explicit information about the way a learning activity was approached and the decisions that were discussed and taken to reach the final result could conduce more complete and fair retrospective analysis and present the individual progress of a learner or group of learners in a more transparent way to the teacher.
Immediately perceived value
Motivation: Documentation is a formality
Time resources: No time for reflection
To avoid documentation of learning activities to be considered a formality and only for earning credits, it was recommended to design an activity to be otherwise motivating and immediately rewarding to learners. It is important to address the multitude of requirements the learners have for documentation. For example, some learners may prefer a school-provided space, while others may want to use their own blog or other social media environments. These goals may be reached by supporting the learners with a channel through which they can share their learning outcomes and transfer their knowledge to a larger community in school, their parents, and friends outside of school.
Theme 5: Other relevant opportunities
This section contains opportunities that do not fit into any other themes.
Formal support for learning networks
Social schools: High threshold for collaboration, Learning networks are closed
Formally introduced communication and sharing tools could lower the threshold for teachers to establish learning networks, getting teachers to comment on resources, and to improve them. Europe-wide school-supported teacher learning networks could help the informally established networks of teachers to become part of the everyday learning and teaching culture. According to the participatory design workshops, this would turn the profession of the teacher from an individual and isolated to an open, informed, and collaborative profession that strategically embraces contacting outside experts as well as sharing, commenting, and collaboratively improving learning resources. Changing the competitive culture in some European countries would need accredited formal networks and sharing to be valued as professional assets.