Operational and dynamic capabilities defined

I have developed these concepts and definitions for use within my design research and consultancy work (mostly concerning academic technologies and academic practice):

Your operational capabilities are the means that you can readily call upon to reliably and repeatedly achieve desired results in your work or studies. For example, I can find relevant articles on journal web sites, download PDF files to my filestore, and annotate them using my iPad. This capability is an important part of my “resource capabilities”.

Your dynamic capabilities are the means through which you improve your operational capabilities, addressing deficiencies, or adapting to changing circumstances and new opportunities. For example, I can identify a need, search for, find, evaluate and adopt new software to help me with my work.

My interviews and observations start with an exploration of seven operational capabilities, as they are implemented in the practices of individuals and groups. The capabilities overlap. The relationships between capabilities are important. We consider how and why these capabilities are constrained, and the effects of those constraints. We look to identify what aspects are essential (considering the context in which they are used) or especially effective (in terms of fit, stick, spread and grow). This then provides a starting point for exploring the dynamic capabilities employed to develop those operational capabilities:

Resource capabilities provide you with an ability to find, process, store, use, share and create physical and informational resources.

Project capabilities provide you with an ability to coordinate activities over time to achieve a desired goal, working coherently on different aspects of a project.

Evaluative capabilities provide you with an ability to make and communicate accurate and appropriate qualitative and quantitative evaluations of work, people, systems etc.

Theoretical capabilities provide you with an ability to find/create and evaluate theories that can help you to understand your work, people, events etc.

Social capabilities provide you with an ability to benefit from the help of others, and in turn to benefit others.

Physical capabilities provide you with an ability to get the most out of and look after your own body and mind.

Ethical capabilities provide you with an ability to create, evaluate and apply values, concerns, virtues, principles, priorities etc – to know what is right and good.

Motivational capabilities provide you with an ability to keep yourself and others engaged and productive.

Research question refined

How can approaches used by professional designers and design-innovators be combined with research on structure, agency and change to create a viable framework for enhancing the micro-foundations of dynamic capabilities in Higher Education?

  1. What are the major challenges facing people in HE today? How can we usefully classify the nature of these challenges to aid our choice of strategy and the design of a framework?
  2. What are the common “micro-foundations of dynamic capabilities” (Teece, 2007) used in HE to address such challenges?
  3. What are the limitations of these current micro-foundations?
  4. What does the field of “design research” tell us about how professional designers and design-innovators respond to similar challenges?
  5. What is the mismatch between professional design-innovation practices and existing dynamic capabilities in HE?
  6. How can relevant research from other disciplines be used to explain the mismatch, and to suggest ways of bringing HE and professional design practice closer together?
  7. How can design research be combined with relevant research from other disciplines to create a viable framework for enhancing the dynamic capabilities used to produce design-innovations and design-change in HE?

I will demonstrate the need for a framework (concepts, instruments, methods and roles) for creating “design studies”, a framework that is effective in the many different contexts that make up the target HE setting. The studies should be able to describe, explain and predict the success and failure of design-innovations in a hyper-inventive, loosely-coupled higher education ecosystem. This will enable better management of the design-innovation process, eliminating inefficiencies and missed opportunities. Design-innovation success is evaluated through four virtues:

  1. the design-innovation achieves adequate fit with specific people in specific contexts, fitting with their practices (including skills and concepts), their projects (including projects to transform their own practices) and their concerns and values (concerning the world and their own projects and practices);
  2. the design-innovation sticks with specific people in specific contexts for a length of time that justifies the effort involved in adopting-adapting;
  3. the design-innovation spreads to further people and contexts, thus enhancing its value and its viability (through efficiencies of scale and the network effect);
  4. the design-innovation enables and even provokes further design-innovation, creating a growth in design knowledge, expanding the repertoire of available designs, and further enhancing dynamic (developmental) capabilities.

According to this schema, a successful design-innovation may be said to have achieved fit, stick, spread and grow (FSSG). The design-innovation might itself be transformed as a result, or aspects of the innovation (even just conceptual aspects) may still have valuable long or short term impacts. FSSG, as criteria for success, is a complex measure. The “design study” method is especially important as a reflective exercise that promotes growth in the dynamic capabilities necessary for further design innovation (virtue 4). Sometimes this collateral benefit might be the most significant aspect of a design-innovation’s impact. As such, it is essential that the design studies approach involves and is useful to all participants in the process of designing. In a university where design agency is radically devolved, that entails an approach to creating and using design studies that is accessible to all. It is essential that the design studies approach can itself achieve fit, stick, spread and grow.

I will demonstrate how such a framework is essential for the development of teaching and learning at all levels. This will be established as being a consequence of the deep connection between learning and design-innovation.

I will specify the challenges that such a framework must address. Frameworks may then be evaluated for their ability to address these challenges.

I will explore the limitations of a conventional “diffusion of innovations” approach, a “communities of practice” approach, and a “design patterns” approach. Based upon the lessons learned from these evaluations, combined with my interdisciplinary studies of design and designing, I will create a new framework: the Dynamic Capabilities Based View for Higher Education.

I will test my new framework by developing and evaluating a series of design studies:

“Embracing interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary challenges in technology-enhanced learning projects”.

“Developing students as design-innovators: a reflective account of the Arts E-Squad project using a Dynamic Capabilities Based View”.

“Flipping the classroom : a design study of the adoption and adaption of new pedagogy in a higher education context”.

“A report on e-portfolios : design features, uses, benefits, examples & emerging trends”.

“Pedagogical strategies and technologies for peer assessment in Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs)”.

This WordPress post was posted using Siri on an iPhone

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Here is a photograph of Kenilworth Castle that I took on the iPhone. I then created a post in the WordPress app using the photograph. The text was written using Siri, all I had to do was speak into the iPhone, and Siri would convert my voice into text.

Student as Design Thinker presentation for the HEA Conference

This is the talk that I gave at the HEA Conference at Warwick in July 2013. It will be the basis of a working paper to be published soon.

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My name is Robert O’Toole. I am a member of the Academic Technology team at the University of Warwick. As part of that role, I create designs combining technologies and academic practices to enhance learning, teaching and research. The designs cover all of the important aspects of thinking and acting, and span across the digital and the analogue.

Here is an example of our work: an online portfolio system for the Warwick Undergraduate Research Internships. It was created with Nathalie Dalton-King and Charlie Cosham from our Careers and Skills Service, with me and Steve Ranford of the Academic Technology team.

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Sometimes, as in this case, the design work uses university provided technology services. Perhaps developing them by small increments. More often now it requires serious consideration of how to fit together a range of technologies and practices from a range of different sources – things that users bring with them, or discover independently along the way. I am necessarily open minded on this. We have to be, the institution is no longer in control. People bring their own ways of working to the mix, and then they change in unpredictable diverse ways. They construct their often unique blends, increasingly independent of any specific context in which they work, carried across the mesh of intersecting contexts that make up lives in late modernity. I personally believe that the development of robust well designed individuality is good. Furthermore, Warwick is a very decentralised institution. A traditional diffusion of innovations model just doesn’t apply. We rarely see significant cases where experts design solutions and users adopt them following the patterns described by Everett Rogers.

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There are also very few strongly defined communities of practice.

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Communities of practice are not taking the lead on innovation. Instead, innovation tends to occur within ad hoc heterogeneous collaborations that come together for a short time and then dissolve.

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They are collaborations driven by the highly autonomous reflexive strategies described by Margaret Archer in her recent longitudinal study of Warwick undergraduates. My own interviews carried out with successful students, National Teaching Fellows and other award winning academics at Warwick confirms this interpretation. People are increasingly focussed on creating their own solutions in an ad hoc manner to attain their own social and economic targets. Margaret Archer also found a growth in the number of people she describes as meta-reflexive, more concerned with the ethical and social implications of the means by which ends are achieved. But I have found that meta-reflexives are not often driving design innovation and the diffusion of innovation within the university – with some interesting exceptions.

Designing for innovation in this context is challenging.

But we do have clear criteria for success. If we can hit this sweet-spot, then new designs may provide significant benefits. The criteria are:

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My car is an example of a design that fits well and sticks. I bought it in 1999, and it has always just performed the function for which it was purchased. It now feels entirely natural. I don’t ever really think about it much. I just get in and drive. But in no way has the practice of using it grown. It performs the same function today as it did in 1999. And the design has spread only in so far as car ownership has grown in general. There’s no major innovation or diffusion of innovation going on.

My motorcycle, however, is a different story. It fits perfectly, and I have had it since 2001. I’ve covered 100,000 miles in Europe and Africa. But the way in which it fits with me has grown. I have found many new things to do with it, travelling in new ways to new places. It has transformed my capabilities, opportunities and experiences. An aspect of that has spread into other things I do: the ability to manage risk, to plan, to be observant, to be in control at speed even in difficult conditions that comes with riding a motorcycle of that kind. These characteristics have spread to other people too – people who are prepared to go on adventures with me.

The portfolio system was designed with these aims in mind.

The new design had to fit with the existing structure of the scheme, and the enablements and constraints hardcoded into it. The scheme is administered by our Careers and Skills Service. Around 250 students a year are given bursaries to undertake research projects, usually based in their home departments, but sometimes working overseas. Most of them start at the same time, most of them go on for about four months. Some follow different patterns. They are expected to attend a workshop at the start, and undertake a series of reflection and planning tasks at intervals over the length of their project. You can see these constraints and enablements represented in the Ribbon interface on this example portfolio.

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Each task has a scaffolded reflection page on which the student works within their portfolio.

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They are supported by a mentor, who will give them feedback on their reflections and plans, once a task has been marked as completed. They are also supported by an academic supervisor in their department, who will want to keep a watch on progress. Finally, they make a public presentation of their work and its impact. The portfolio homepage performs that part of the task. 

Design Thinking for HEA.012 The design also has to fit with the enablements and constraints of the available technologies – it pushes our web publishing platform in new ways. And of course it needs to fit with the cognitive, social and epistemic practices of the students, as they develop interactively through the experience of undertaking the project.

The design has to be sticky for the length of the projects, for the four kinds of participant (admin, mentor, student and supervisor). We want them to keep returning to it and use it in the correct way. But we also want the planning and reflection practices to be sticky beyond the project, beyond the  portfolio and the specific technology platform. We want the students to carry on using them in their other activities.

 And ideally, we would like all of these academic practices, especially undergraduate research to spread more widely. And then to grow, for the individuals, for the institution and beyond. The design should be able to develop with these growing and spreading practices.

The design collaboration between Careers and Skills and the Academic Technologists pooled our knowledge of this particular context and the participants, along with good practice in the discipline of Interaction Design for Learning. We created a design that seems to be very good.

 So does it work? Does it fit? Is it sticking? Spreading? Growing?

 Yes, to some extent. For some students it fits well and is sticking. For others, less so. For some, not at all. Worse still, we had no certainty in advance that it would work for any of them. And we’re still not satisfied with the progress we have made, even though it is a very good design.

 This leads me to the question that got me interested in the Design Thinking strategy described by Tim Brown, David Kelley and Tom Kelley of the IDEO Design Company. An approach that has become widely used in leading American businesses and business schools. IDEO also asked the question: How can I work differently so as to create designs that fit, stick, spread and grow with more certainty? And answered it publicly. 

Design Thinking for HEA.014In his influential Harvard Business Review paper on Design Thinking from 2008, Tim Brown describes how he, and many other designers, found themselves facing these same problems, and wanting to know how to create more successful designs. The answer is simple: stop designing! Or at least, do less of the designing.

Design Thinking is a designerly conversation amongst the diverse but interconnected people who might interact with a design from their own various angles. A conversation amongst radically diverse people like our students, admins, mentors and supervisors. The aim of Design Thinking is to stimulate designerly conversations amongst all of the people who matter to a design, in a more democratic and inclusive manner. The designer hands their design agency back to the people. That’s what we need to do, to increase our chances of finding a design that works widely. Get the students, mentors, supervisors and administrators designing. And then go further – get employers and other communities  involved.

Design Thinking creates an extended community of design thinkers.

But it’s not that easy. There aren’t many people who are able to naturally think and act like designers – in the kinds of designerly ways described by Bryan Lawson, Nigel Cross and Donald Schön in their classic studies.

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There are many important strategies and techniques that designers use. We used some of them in the portfolios design project. For example:

1. Your first ideal solution will probably be wrong, don’t jump straight to implementation – my colleagues all agree that in HE this is hard, people often find that they have to hype-up a big technical solution just to get other people motivated to initiate a project.

2. Collect and listen to stories from all perspectives, try to cross-pollinate inspirations from other unrelated domains, when you think you are certain, find fresh perspectives that disrupt your certainty.

3. Keep reviewing assumptions about constraints and enablements, they will need to change as people learn through the design process and as new things become possible.

4. At the same time, get people prototyping. As Tom Kelley says, Build to Think, even if your prototypes are lo-fi creations, sketches, scripts, storyboards, toilet-roll and sellotape models – just good enough to see what fits, sticks, spreads and grows. Failure is good. As they say Fail Early to Succeed Earlier.

5. Always keep the people who can implement the design connected. People will put more effort into Design Thinking if they can see a real possibility that change will happen.

6. Guard against over-protective service owners, techies and crafts people, but keep them involved, use their knowledge and skills, and help transfer it into prototyping.

That last point is critical. Higher education is full of people with precious crafts developed through years of pain – academics for example. We need to get this into perspective and reflect upon the power and responsibility that comes with craft – Richard Sennett is a good guide on this: 

Design Thinking for HEA.016 In Design Thinking the role of the designer is to facilitate collaborators in using these strategies themselves. But it has to be a wider, more inclusive, open conversation. Brown describes how at IDEO they use a three-spaces approach to facilitate and scaffold this conversation.

Design Thinking for HEA.017The design thinking conversation takes place in all three spaces equally. We don’t rush to implementation, we aim to accumulate results over time. The Inspirations Space is of equal importance. It is the place for telling stories and sharing impressions – not just linguistic, formal and functional, but also aesthetic – anything that adds to our collective understanding and experience, and from which we can draw upon for the design prototyping experiments that we create in the more focussed, more selective Ideation Space.

In the Ideation Space, people Build to Think. Designers sometimes say that in prototyping they immerse themselves in an interactive conversation with materials and technologies, with the affordances, constraints and enabling constraints that they find in them. Sometimes the conversation flows. A prototype works well, survives our efforts to test it, and forms an object of collective belief. It should then be picked up by the Implementation Space to make it real. But even when success seems guaranteed we should return to the Inspiration Space to see if our certainties can be usefully disrupted. The conversation stays open. Experiences, prototypes and results accumulate. We collectively learn, and enrich our Design Thinking and design knowledge for the domain in which we are collaborating.

We shouldn’t expect this to always work quickly, or to result in everyone pursuing the same ideas and adopting the same practices. And we certainly should not rush the learning process that is built into Design Thinking. But also, we have to make sure that people don’t drift away. Live workshops can help to set the right pace. Maintaining the three spaces as real physical locations in which activities are accumulated is the best possible approach. However such spaces are rarely available.

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To address this, I’ve been working on a design for online design spaces. You can see it in this screenshot. The three spaces are there, with a simple scaffolded system allowing participants to add content. Here is an example.

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The online space draws all of the diverse streams of activity together. It also makes an additional dimension easier to add, an additional personal-reflective dimension. Each participant has their own personal space in which to record their actions and reflect upon their designerliness, guided and facilitated by design mentors and supporting materials. My intention is to introduce a system based on Open Badges, to give a sense of personal growth and progress for all participants.

Design Thinking fits well with the Student as Producer approach. My next case study brings the two together.

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SIBE is a student owned social innovation company based at Warwick. They have about 50 active students, working independently from the university. But they are informally supported by the Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning and IT Services. I have helped them with a room (now taken off us by the university), iMacs and camera equipment (NTF funded). They are well organised, with distinct roles and processes and their own training program. They are very designerly and increasingly meta-reflexive, but with plenty of craftspeople (film makers, journalists, programmers) to provide the essential ability to make prototypes and real products.

Here is a short video interview with the founder of SIBE, Sholi Loewenthal, describing their activities and approach. Sholi talks about a major project that included all of the elements of Design Thinking (the Hackathon approach is a good ideation exercise), even though they did not explicitly plan to use the approach. It just happened that way, as smart students worked out the best way to work.

A cMOOC investigating cMOOCs using Design Thinking and Student as Producer principles

Paul Taylor (Director of the Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning at Warwick) has given me an interesting design challenge: create a cMOOC in which we can learn about cMOOCs and design cMOOC practice. Following IATL’s principals, it has to work within the Student as Producer pedagogy. That’s OK, as the cMOOC model fits nicely with Student as Producer. It also offers an opportunity to try using an Open Badges approach in this context. Also, given that the design of the cMOOC (and cMOOC practice in general) should emerge through the work of the participants in the cMOOC, it makes sense to use the 3-Spaces Design Thinking approach described by Tim Brown of IDEO. So I’m building a prototype, and parts of it are ready for people to look at and start the process of emergent design. So far there is some basic infrastructure (profiles, a brief, a forum). Very very soon (as in later today) there will be some example content and a peer-review and feedback mechanism. And then I’ll be onto the Open Badges.

If you want to try it out, give feedback and join the design/cMOOC collaboration, then email me at r.b.o-toole@warwick.ac.uk or tweet me at @robertotoole

Here is the brief (in its current form), followed by a screenshot of the homepage:

The Brief

The challenge is to collaboratively address the question: “how can cMOOCs enhance Higher Education?”. In so doing, we will create new practice, technologies and knowledge. We will do this using a cMOOC approach (this is a cMOOC about cMOOCs). By participating you will gain awards called “open badges” that recognize your contributions and your learning. This combination of learning and creating is essential to the approach (as described by Mike Neary).

We will combine experimental, creative and scholarly approaches, using the Design Thinking method described by Tim Brown (Harvard Business Review, June 2008). You can participate in at least 8 ways:

  1. create a new entry in one of the 3 spaces (Inspirations Scrapbook, Ideas Workshop, Implementation Reports);
  2. respond to an entry created by someone else;
  3. organise a live event (online + blended);
  4. contribute to an event;
  5. create an assessed challenge;
  6. complete an assessed challenge;
  7. contribute to the forum;
  8. help to design this cMOOC.

cMOOC

Computer Science end of first year design think

Near the end of the academic year in 2013, I facilitated a design thinking session with three Computer Science undergraduates. All three of the students had been part of Christian Smith’s academic writing course groups. Christian had introduced them to Evernote based collaborative working, Screenflow presentation recording, smart boards, collaborative writing in Google Drive, and open-space working the Teaching Grid’s Experimental Teaching Space. In a focus group in Week 8, the students discussed these inspirational experiences, and demonstrated an excellent understanding of the relationship between technology practices and learning. Christian’s teaching had clearly inspired them to create interesting new ideas. This design thinking session aimed to turn this inspiration into a lo-fi prototype. We began by considering technology likes and dislikes. The students unanimously expressed a preference for well-designed, task-fucessed, uncluttered apps that would allow them to focus on the academic content and activities, and to work collaboratively where possible. These technologies should work across platforms, so that the student can work on a range of devices (phones to desktops) all kept in sync without the need for manual actions. The student were very aware of good flowing task focussed design. A narrative emerged out of this discussion of design values, concerning apps to help with getting to, working in and making the most of lectures. This was motivated by the common experience that time-flies very quickly and it can be hard to keep up!

We mapped the narrative out on the floor of the Teaching Grid, and then recorded a walk through. This is a summary of the key points (more to be added):

The action takes place in week 4 of the first term in the first year of a Computer Science course. It is 8.45, and a small group of students are in the kitchen of their halls of residence. They laugh as a variety of beeps, comedy ringtones and music tracks simultaneously plays from their various mobile devices. 15 minutes to the lecture. One of the students checks the notification: lucky they did, there has been a change of venue – Ramphal 1.3? Where? She clicks on the link to view it on the map. They had better get moving – in the direction indicated by Find My Lecture. On the way, another of the students reads through the brief description of the lecture, updated by the lecturer lasts night (it seems that they are making faster than expected progress, so the lecture plans have been updated a little). He summarises the description for the other students, and they have a brief discussion of what it might mean. But where is 1.3? Find My Lecture points them in the right direction, and by the time they get into the room more details of the lecture have appeared on their mobile devices (varying size of phone and tablet, various operating systems depending upon preference, and including a few traditional laptops).

They get to their seats just in time. Next task, choose a note taking template in the Notetaking app (Find My Lecture automatically switched over to it). They all choose the default for this lecture (recommended by the lecturer), except for one student who prefers a different layout. The slides are loaded into the template. The lecture starts. Note taking begins. For one student this means typing detailed text into the Timeline. For the others, scribbling annotations on the slides as they appear. In both cases, a system of different coloured Smart Highlights is used. For example, when a green highlight is drawn over a word, a task is automatically added to their Task List saying that they need to write a definition for the phrase that has been highlighted. They can also add keyword tags selected from the course taxonomy. The notes are added to their note taking Timeline, associated with the current slide (and eventually with the audio/video recording of the lecture, once it has been completed). To make it easier, a system of Hot Keys or Gestures (depending on device and preference) allows the students to add notes and take actions. For example, there is a Hot Key for marking a point in the lecture that is not well understood and needs more explanation.

All the time the lecturer is monitoring feedback. This might be in the form of comments and questions posted back to him, or it might be alerts based upon Hot Key selections by the students. For example, if over 50% of the students press the “don’t understand” Hot Key, the lecturer gets an alert and can take action (they can set the threshold level for this). This happens, and the lecturer decides to modify the lecture. She introduces a new slide, added to live. The new slide appears in the Notetaking app of the students. She then adds another slide, and writes a couple of multiple choice questions onto it. The students also get this set of questions to answer on their devices. Their answers are communicated back to the lecturers Presentation app, and collated. 95% get it right. Reassured, they carry on with the lecture. Meanwhile, three of the students are co-writing an idea for a project based on the ideas for the lecture. They are able to show notes to each other, switching between each others views. Alongside their notes they are co-writing a text – the pitch for the project.

The lecture concludes and the audio/video recording is saved and added to the students’ timelines. They can now review the whole thing, with their notes in sync with the lecture. Or alternatively, they can look at a summary of the lecture and their notes, generated by the Notetaking app. As a post-lecture task, and in preparation for the follow-on seminar, they are asked to add a short summary text to this, and share their summaries with their seminar groups – thus ensuring that there is plenty to discuss in the seminar.

Maximising academic technology-practice adoption by hitting the Interaction Design sweet-spot using Design Thinking – Part 2

This is the second part of a two part article, presenting the initial draft of a chapter in highly compressed form. Read the first part here.

“Innovation outruns codification and trying to catch up with it is like trying to open the fridge door fast enough to see the light come on.” (Margaret S. Archer, 2012: p.306)

In the first part of this article, we looked at some of the sources of individual and social variation that seem to be disrupting conventional models of invention and the diffusion of innovation (both expert and community driven models):

  • rapid diversification and complexification of the technosphere;
  • an evolutionary-adaptive explosion of forms driven by ubiquitous computing extending the digital into every aspect of the analogue;
  • individual social and professional lives becoming loosely-couple assemblages of heterogeneous roles and identities;
  • emergent forms of invention and diffusion, unofficial experimenters working in vertical and ad hoc heterogeneous collaborations;
  • changes in the modes of reflexivity through which people deliberate on choices, with an increase in the proportion of meta-reflexives;
  • the uneven spread of designerliness.

In any given social process, for which we might be choosing/designing technologies, we are engaging with these complexities as they have interacted over time in the massively complex system in which users are embedded. But also, as they form our own understanding, structural conditions and agentic possibilities. These complexities interactively accommodate each other in trying to form future arrangements. And all the time technological developments are accelerating the intensity of these interactions. Imagine yourself in a kayak on a river in which you are being dragged inescapably downstream on the rapids created by social and technical complexity. And suddenly you realise that you are in a nightmare – every time you try to steer with your paddles, the river reacts by becoming even more turbulent. It is what designers call a wicked problem (see for example Richard Buchanan’s 1992 article Wicked Problems in Design Thinking).

But it’s not always like that. People are able to glide elegantly through the rapids. How?

To begin with, the motivation to get it right is strong, especially in Higher Education. My personal starting-point is an assumption that I think is shared by many in HE, in various guises: the university exists as a way for us to develop practices (philosophical, psychological, biological, sociological, economic, technical etc), including knowledge practices, that allow for the sustainable and equitable optimisation of life – optimising the life academic and life beyond the university. Perhaps I am especially meta-reflexive? In small practical choices (designs) I can see the global implications for the environment, society, humanity, as they are carried by graduates and research products out of the university bubble. That’s not at all an unusual way of thinking in HE. Universities are places of constant innovation. Take a long-view from above, watching the flows of people, money, materials, ideas coming in, being transformed, reconfigured by and reconfiguring the institution, flowing out into the wider world, and feeding back so as to alter the relation between the institution and its sustaining inputs. Change has been and remains constant. We optimise this life by innovating. Higher Education is primarily concerned with the invention and diffusion of innovations for improving life. This is as true of teaching and administration as it is of pure research and the communication of research. However, the invention and diffusion of innovation follows many different patterns. As we have seen, these differences are the result of significant and ineliminable variation in humans and their innovation practices: a deep diversity stemming from epistemological, ethical and aesthetic difference.

Two key tasks face us when seeking to optimise through Higher Education: to understand diversity in innovation (innovation studies) and to find a strategy that allows us to work with that diversity. In other domains of human activity, such as architecture, designers have evolved sophisticated meta-practices to cope with and to exploit these variations in a way that produces widely and durably adopted good designs. These meta-practices are their designerliness, ways of perceiving, thinking and acting that have crystallized around a methodology called Interaction Design (IxD) – an idea pioneered by Bill Moggridge of design firm IDEO (Designing Interactions, 2006).

As with any new discipline, not everyone agrees with the term, it’s trendy acronym (IxD) or with its meaning. There is great variation in this discipline of designing for variation. But we can pick out some influential themes and concepts, starting with the notion of “optimal experience”. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s book flow: the psychology of optimal experience has for many designers defined the purpose of designing – good design enables focussed, barrier-free work (and play) to achieve personal goals. Also coming from a cognitive science background, Donald Norman’s The Design of Everyday Things (1988, originally published as The Psychology of Everyday Things) is a must-read for all designers. Norman urges designers to take a user-centric perspective, and to consider how the interfaces (informational and haptic) and processes in the everyday things that we use can be meaningful or confusing, offering affordances (ways of functionally using an object) that fit with or disrupt our mental schemas and physical capabilities. The concept of affordances is taken from the work the psychologist J.J. Gibson (The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception, 1979). Norman builds upon this with the idea that constraints (limits on what we can do with an interface) and enabling constraints (the ways in which we are channeled into courses of thinking and action by constraints) are just as important as affordances. These approaches vary in the importance that they ascribe to the role of the individual in the interaction – the role of deeply learned mental schemas in directing attention and action.

More recent work has focussed upon how we develop a longer-term relationship with designed objects and systems, based upon deeper and often less explicit cognitive processes. Norman has written about emotional design, considering more subtle and complex human visceral responses to objects and systems based upon aesthetic rather than strictly functional criteria (Emotional Design, 2005). Jonathan Chapman has introduced the concept of emotionally durable design, as a value towards which designers should work (Emotionally Durable Design: Objects, Experiences and Empathy, 2005) – where durable designs are ones to which we become attached and which stick with us, avoiding shiny-new-tech-churn. Personally, I ride a 20 year old motorcycle. I have customised it and updated it over the years, but I’m not rushing out to buy the latest BMW super-hi-tech rocket bike. It is for me an emotionally durable design. But it’s not necessarily the object that endures. I might, for example, get a different bike of a similar design. It is the design itself to which I have a durable attachment.

But “what makes something emotionally, cognitively and functionally durable?” is as complex a question as “what make human emotions, understanding and actions?”. We might track how aesthetic, social, cultural, political, economic, biological and linguistic aspects converge to make and to sustain these tendencies in individuals and groups for specific design-attachments. Sherry Turkle’s book Evocative Objects: Things We Think With (2011) follows this track. As we have seen, it is a complex problem. Interaction Design has quickly expanded its interdisciplinary connections into this complexity, in search of a more comprehensive understanding of what makes designs work and what makes them stick – much as our understanding of how learning works in practice has expanded to see it as an assemblage of all of those various planes. Increasingly, the distinction between designing/adopting and teaching/learning is breaking down. When designing a building, for example, an architect might think about the new ways of thinking and behaving that they want its occupants to learn (for example, different types of community interaction). A good architect will find out about where the prospective occupants are starting from, and how they might learn these new ways of thinking and acting. The newly redesigned and refurbished Ramphal teaching spaces at the University of Warwick are an excellent example of this kind of Interaction Design for Learning (IxDfL). The architects Berman Guedes Stretton worked as part of an interdisciplinary design team, with an English Department academic (Nicholas Monk) leading the way, but with the direct involvement of students, other academics and service providers (including Audio-Visual Services). The redesign aimed to introduce new concepts about teaching and learning, new practices in teaching and learning, and new ways of supporting teaching and learning. These ideas were encoded into the affordances, constraints and enabling constraints of the room, but with enough flexibility to allow for new thinking and adaption. It is an emotionally durable and pedagogically rich design. The Ramphal redesign was influenced by the Open-Space Learning (OSL) movement in teaching and learning – a movement that critically re-assesses assumptions and expectations about the relationship between space, physical movement (or lack of) and learning (see Open-Space Learning: A Study in Transdisciplinary Pedagogy, Monk et al 2011). OSL is fundamentally aligned with IxDfL and the emergence of a re-invigorated designerliness in education – for other good examples, see Keri Facer’s recent book Learning Futures: Education, Technology and Social Change (2011) in which basic assumptions about the shape, size, distribution, interfaces and workflows of schools are challenged and re-imagined.

Effective invention and diffusion of innovation requires such a sophisticated designerliness, especially now that the starting points are so diverse. But design-for-diversity works most effectively and sustainably when design agency is given to the people who will operate, maintain, sustain and benefit from innovations. Rather than formulating requirements analytically, or as more often happens inventing requirements to fit with current products and services, by sharing design agency out more widely requirements and designs can emerge through an informed, experimental dialogue between people and others, and between people and designs. As the design educator Bryan Lawson discovered in his study of How Designers Think (2005), good designs are edged towards through a complex, iterative dialogue with prototypes and sketches – a dialogue that must be informed by the many perspectives or stories that will eventually define the design in practice. Tom Kelley (a partner in the IDEO design company) describes how Prototyping is the Shorthand of Design (2010) – designers “build to think”. Most importantly we don’t just prototype to test possible solutions, but also to help us to get a better understanding of the problem. Requirements emerge with successful and failed prototyping experiments, as vivid stories of designs in use.

This prototyping and testing is best done with, or even by, the people who will use the design, who will be able to make the most realistic stories. This strategy of handing back design agency, facilitated by the designer, has become known as Design Thinking – a strategy for engendering and facilitating designerly practice, and consequently innovation, amongst diverse communities of non-professional designers. In an influential Harvard Business Review paper entitled Design Thinking (2008), Kelley’s colleague at IDEO Tim Brown describes their strategies for facilitating design thinking. Brown talks about three spaces that are maintained throughout the design process: inspiration space, ideation space and implementation space. They are, as far as possible, real spaces, but also social and mental in that each has its own identity and rules. Whereas a professional designer might mentally but unconsciously move between the spaces at just the right time, the diverse groups of domain specialists (e.g. doctors, nurses, technicians, administrators, patients) who make up a Design Thinking collaboration are learning to work in this designerly way – the three room approach helps them. Most importantly, they will start in the inspiration space, and spend much more time there than they might expect. The biggest challenge that faces design facilitators is that people want to rush straight to the implementation space. Typically, the initiation of the design project has been pushed forwards by a manager struggling to get their company moving. The biggest motivator for change is when someone comes along with The Big Idea. The design is already there in the minds of the people who are driving the change. The Design Thinking process has to slow them down, get them to play and to widen their vision. Inspiration inspires prototyping. We move to the ideation space, where we build prototypes to think. If we lose impetus, go back to inspiration, widen-out the vision again. Over time there should be a growth in clarity for the implementation space. Eventually, a new product, service, technology and practice should emerge, along with a broad sense of ownership, an understanding of how it fits and what new practice (e.g. social organisation) will be necessary, and where the collective are going. But that’s not all. The members of the design collaboration will have learned about themselves, their relationships and will have developed a more sophisticated designerliness, all of which will enable further collaboration and personal development. Again, we can see that designing is learning. Learning is design.

In response to the challenges discussed in part one of this article, Design Thinking is the strategy through which we collectively create designs and new practice, a strategy that has learning built into its core. Interaction Design for Learning (IxDfL) is the method by which designs are fine-tuned and evaluated, our guidelines as to what makes a good design. And again it has considerations of learning built into its core.

Maximising academic technology-practice adoption by hitting the Interaction Design sweet-spot using Design Thinking – Part 1

This is the first part of a two part article, presenting the initial draft of a chapter in highly compressed form.

Er, what exactly does that mean? and why is it so important?

Apologies for the verbose title! My problem is that I am simultaneously trying to shift the conception of what problem we are trying to solve and suggesting a radically different approach to solving it. So, let me begin by breaking the title down into its components. Firstly, my big concern as an academic technologist is that the rate of shiny-new-tech-churn is far too high, both for individuals and for institutions. At the individual level, I see a lot of new software, web services and hardware being bought or signed-up for, but not a lot of it actually “sticking”. In many cases (the iPad being the worst offender), a new technology is being exploited only to a small fraction of its potential. I see a lot of people using iPads to look at web pages, to watch TV and to read (not necessarily write) email. The rate of shiny-new-tech-churn might be high, but the actual rate at which technology change is leading to significant enhancement of practice is far too low. Everything and nothing changes. We are failing to maximise academic technology-practice adoption – failing to make change sticky. When we are choosing/designing technology-practices for ourselves or for others, we need to understand why innovation-adoption fails, and what we can do to maximise its chances of becoming sticky.

Personally my technology-practices (digital and analogue) have been completely transformed by the iPad’s capabilities. As a consequence, the kinds of project that form the basis for my life, and the concerns towards which they are addressed, have also changed for the better. For example, I have read more academic books, more deeply, and with greater consequence, since using the Kindle iPad app (annotation) and the Kindle web site (reviewing my notes). That is an example of maximum technology-practice “stickiness”. I found something of value, I adopted it and it stuck with me as a deeply embedded part of how I work. And furthermore, it was the springboard for the further development of my personal practices, projects and concerns. I am doing something right so as to maximise my “academic technology-practice adoption”.

Unfortunately, I know that I am unusual as an individual technology-practice adopter. Worse still, institutions are churning through new technologies, often at great expense and with little consequence. Like throwing mud at a wall to see what sticks. Teachers, trying to get the best out of new technologies, trying to find technology-practices that work for their disciplines and their students, are finding this to be a massive challenge. So difficult that many do not even actively try to address it. We seem to lurch between no-change and too much change. Surely there is a better way?

Yes there is, we can learn from professional designers. More specifically, we can learn from an interdisciplinary design methodology called Interaction Design (IxD), and from a design strategy called Design Thinking (DT). My own research and development work is aiming to adapt these approaches for education. In my project, Interaction Design becomes Interaction Design for Learning (IxDfL), and Design Thinking becomes Design Thinking for Learning (DTfL). What we need to do then is to use IxDfL and DTfL to find technology-practices that fit and stick (“hitting the sweet-spot”). Technology-practices that become adopted with a greater degree of durability (and lead to even greater things). Fortunately there is a natural affinity between academia and these designerly approaches. I argue (philosophically, as I am a philosopher) that learning/teaching is exactly the same process as innovation and the diffusion-adoption of innovation. But that’s another essay altogether!

Why is successful change in technology-practice so hard?

I believe that six separate but interconnected trends are behind this.

1. Technologies and the practices that they are designed to serve are changing so fast that even experts are struggling to keep up. For example, going from a desktop applications with local storage model to cloud computing is hard enough. The many variations on this new idea, with varying implications for security, privacy and reliability, pose yet another fresh stream of challenges.

2. The strictly demarcated job-for-life, is disappearing, along with rigid social roles and identities. Lives and careers are becoming more like loosely-coupled assemblages in which a single person has many different roles over time and all at the same time. In such complex conditions, technology-practices that fit a person’s own particular blend of activities, and which can be carried across different roles, have a better chance of sticking. This can have two consequences: 1. go for a common denominator; 2. adapt it to your own unique needs. The dependence upon a ubiquitous personal platform might then encourage a resistance to change. New technology-practices in one role might be incompatible with a person’s other roles. Furthermore, when we try to introduce an innovation into a role, we might be faced with little uniformity between the role-transcendent blends of technology-practice that each different person has developed. These incongruities introduce hard to predict, and consequently difficult to support cognitive challenges for users faced with new designs. We know that extraneous cognitive load is the enemy of design, especially learning design. When we work with a technology-practice that is unfamiliar and therefore clunky we have to actively think our way through it, this occupies our limited cognitive capability (attention, short-term memory) and impedes our ability to focus on the purpose of the technology-practice (for example, learning). Usually, when designing technology-practices we take this into consideration. We apply the “don’t make me think” mantra – or in its learning technology incarnation “make me think about the things that I should be thinking about”. We can design to overcome this by getting to know how people already think, their existing knowledge schemas and expectations (in long-term memory), and by easing the transition to new ways of working and the acquisition of new schemas. However, when we are designing for people who are coming to our innovation with diverse backgrounds, using a wide range of technology-practices, it is not so easy for us to design with these transitions in mind.

3. Making innovation even more challenging, there has been an evolutionary explosion in the technosphere. We are seeing an extraordinary range of new hardware, software, web services and interoperabilities being created at ever lower cost (if not free) as tech providers search for markets. There is a complementary boom in the range of situations into which people put technologies, with ubiquitous computing (that is devices and network connectivity anytime anyplace) driving the ceaseless encroachment of the digital into the analogue. Ten years ago technology was a scarce thing, mostly provided by institutions. Now, most people choose their own blend of technologies to fit their own personal ways for their own personal purposes. In return, technology providers are making yet more scope for personalisation and customisation. For example, whereas Web 2.0 made it easy for ordinary people to modify content within the templates provided by well known web applications (e.g. Wikipedia), the next generation of web technologies (Web 3.0) allows ordinary people to create their own applications, designing interfaces, workflows, data etc.

4. There is a growing variation in the social organisation of invention, reinvention and diffusion of innovations – the social means by which new technology-practices are created, modified and become adopted. The two classic models are becoming weakened. The diffusion (spread) of innovation from expert (governmental or commercial) to user (as described by Everett Rogers) is being reversed. Governments and businesses are increasingly having to respond to the unruly behaviour of unofficial experimenters and inventors, working in ad hoc collaborations whose shared interest is in tinkering with the same toolset rather than optimising a common profession or behaviour. Similarly, communities of practice (as described by Etienne Wenger) have been seen to offer a rational, effective means for innovation to happen and to spread. The idea is that people who share a practice, but who are dispersed across an institution or beyond, should take responsibility for developing their own practices, including technology-practices. Innovation would in this way diffuse horizontally amongst peers, through a community-managed workflow. But this can be weakened where practitioners find more success by forming vertical and heterogeneous collaborations – for example: an innovation in a school might be more effective where teachers, students, parents and support staff collaborate to find a local solution. As with individual emergent experimentation, these ad hoc heterogeneous collaborations are becoming much more common, if not the default mode for many people.

5. There has also been a change in how people reflect on the world and reflexively deliberate on their own history, choices and futures, affecting how they make choices and the outcomes of deliberation (sociologists use the term “reflexive” to refer to a person reflecting on their own actions, choices etc). In a series of three books, based upon a study of people living in Coventry, and a longitudinal study of Warwick University undergraduates, Margaret Archer discovered four distinct modes, each with a different impact upon how people change their practices (reproduced from Archer, 2007: p.93):

Communicative reflexives:
Those whose internal conversations require completion and confirmation by others before resulting in courses of action.

Autonomous reflexives:
Those who sustain self-contained internal conversations, leading directly to action.

Meta-reflexives:
Those who are critically reflexive about their own internal conversations and critical about effective action in society.

Fractured reflexives:
Those whose internal conversations intensify their distress and disorientation rather than leading to purposeful courses of action.

The response to innovations in technology-practice varies in relation to these at a generic level (e.g. the way in which each person responds to any new technology-practice depends upon their default mode). A specific technology-practice may also lend itself to being of interest to people with a specific mode. Communicative reflexives will, for example, use social networking in a different way, and hence prefer different kinds of social networking platforms. Autonomous reflexives have a more instrumental approach, using whatever is necessary or useful at the time so as to get themselves closer to achieving the ambitions upon which they are focussed. Meta-reflexives will often be concerned about the ethical and aesthetic implications of adopting a technology. And fractured reflexives might be better off keeping away from Twitter!

6. Finally, there are significant variations in how well individuals are able to recognise the designs that make up their technospeheres, how effectively they can reimagine the design of their technology-practices, and their subsequent ability to implement change. We might call this capability designerliness (following the title of a book by design theorist Nigel Cross called Designerly Ways of Knowing). The levels of designerliness can be roughly described as:

Design unaware.
Design aware (notices the design of things and practices, notices good and bad design).
Design active (acts to improve the design of things).
Design reflexive (thinks about and tries to improve how they do design, selects from a range of techniques and strategies).

It is also important to consider not only the designerliness of individuals but also the designerliness of the cultures and institutions in which they are embedded. It can be hard for a person to be design active in some institutions. Ultimately, the extent of designerliness will radically alter the adoption of invention and adoption of new technologies – but this is dependent on all of the other factors, especially social organisation. If we get social organisation right, then we can enable the highest level of designerliness, and make effective invention, reinvention and diffusion of innovation happen. Interaction Design for Learning (IxDfL) is a method that aims to achieve this. Design Thinking for Learning (DTfL) is a strategy for making IxDfL work. The strategy is to enhance the designerliness of communities and heterogeneous collaborations.

Read part 2 of this article, IxDfL and DTfL and how to use them to the maximise technology-practice adoption.

Case study: raising the quality and impact of feedback with screen-captured essay analysis videos

This case was created with Russell Stannard, Principal Teaching Fellow, Applied Linguistics, University of Warwick.

What, why, how? – Practitioner/Advisor Statement

My innovations were motivated by the challenge of making feedback (originally on written work but now broader) more engaging, efficient and multi-modal (rather than just text based) and therefore more inclusive. We need to motivate students to make use of feedback. This challenge is encountered generally across education.

We are now successfully addressing this, in an incredibly well received way, using a “screen-captured feedback” approach.

I was frustrated by this lack of engagement with feedback. Practice in this area was getting out of sync with other changes in HE. So I was deliberately looking for a solution. I first saw the technology in 2000, but it took 6 years to realise it was easy and doable. Then I started to experiment with Camtasia (teaching at Westminster University). I did a research experiment with 11 Chinese students, and got published in Times Higher. I won a Times Higher award for outstanding initiative in ICT.It was used in a national student teaching report for the government. I developed new techniques through a community of practitioners that grew as a result of this publicity. It has also worked well with disciplines with a design element (engineering, arts etc).

Screencasts are recorded combining a recording of the student’s work being explored on screen and a commentary from the teacher. I know use the Jing software for this, but have also used Screencast-o-matic and Camtasia. I record myself viewing, correcting, commenting and giving feedback on student’s work on screen. The recording is exported as a video. The video is then uploaded to a server, and a link is sent to the student. The feedback is personalised to the student.

The technique is used to address issues with deeper meaning and structure, allowing complicated feedback on these issues to be more easily developed. I tend not to use it to address superficial issues.

This approach is currently used by 4 academics in Applied Linguistics (almost 1/4), with 50% of students. Based on research carried out on Norway, and the priority given to feedback on NSS, this is of great significance to all students and to all departments.

I have evaluated the impact of the technique on teachers, and have found that it alters the style of feedback, with fewer ‘tick marks’ and more comment to justify. However, it is possible to end up providing too much feedback. I have tried modifying the technique by limiting myself to 5 key comments per essay.

The response from students has been excellent, and engagement with feedback has clearly improved. This should be a long term change in how the student uses feedback.

The simplicity of the approach enabling wider uptake. Software is available for free. However, even with this technical simplicity, uptake is depends upon teachers being able to establish a natural flow when speaking into the recording. Some people struggle with this. Perhaps a purpose designed screen recording tool could help with this?

The approach could also be improved if upload speed were improved (on campus). The use of Moodle (starting in 2013) which might simplify the workflow. Also, when working with large cohorts it can become repetitious, with many students requiring similar feedback. This is a constraint on wider adoption. It could be addressed with a simple mechanism for combining examples from different students. However, the personal aspect of feedback is an important part of the value of the technique, and this would have to be preserved. US users have suggested flipping the technique for student reflection. Self-review is an approach that can be used to increase the impact of the approach while maintaining the personal aspect. Students are asked to give feedback on their own work reflexively (with training and guidance on how to review), and then to share their self-assessment.

Finally, wider adoption might be constrained by concerns regarding validation by external examiners. It is not clear how this would work at Warwick, there is no official or guidance in place. In institutions where there is that official push (OU) it is more widely embedded. It might be the case that Warwick centrally is keen on this, but people still aren’t confident enough to try something new. Official guidance and encouragement might enable wider adoption.

Academic Technology Advisor’s Analysis

Summary of the design change

This is a complex innovation, involving changes in hardware, software, individual and collective practice, and roles and relationships. A core existing practice, essay feedback, is transferred from its traditional media (notes handwritten on text, and less commonly one-to-one face-to-face communication) to an unfamiliar medium (online video). There are two significant transformations:

1. in the different temporal aspect of the acts of giving and receiving feedback (Russell recognizes this as being a desired and significant effect) – rather than briefly skipping around the text and the scribbled notes, the student has to stop and engage with a feedback point in a more directed, linear fashion.

2. by establishing, through the physical presence of the academics voice in the feedback, a stronger connection between the academic, their authority, the advice, specific points in the student’s text, the actions of the student, and their ideas/skills/learning.

What led to the design change?

A convergence of the innovator being immersed in the problem domain, and keeping a watch out for changing hardware and software affordances and patterns that might be transferred and adapted to re-invent the problem domain.

How significant are its intended impacts?

This might be viewed as a superficial application of new gadgetry, but there’s much more to it than that. The shift in format transforms the acts of giving and receiving feedback, from an often light, shallow and inconsequential engagement (the student briefly looking for expected words to confirm their expectations) to a more focussed, deeper, directed engagement that holds the attention of the student. In the cases where the video based technique is applied, the difference can be very significant. If this level of engagement were to transfer beyond these cases and the video media, with the more focussed deeper engagement style being used in written, oral and peer-to-peer feedback, then the significance will be even greater. If the approach were to be more widely adopted, with all students getting some exposure to it (not necessarily for all assignments), the positive impacts could be enormous.

How was it implemented?

The technique was invented quickly, once the hardware and software became available and its affordances were recognised by the innovator. It was an individual innovation-decision, with little dependency on supporting infrastructure and agencies. Any institutional structural constraints present had little impact on the invention and adoption by the innovator. The practice is very much about improving student-teacher interaction on a one-to-one basis. It’s introduction to these relationships would have needed thought and care, along with some action to establish it as normative amongst peer groups.

How successful is the design change?

For the inventor, and his students, this has been very successful, and has become normal practice. Through national and international publicity and networking, it has been replicated by many others outside of the university. However, it might be that for the innovation to achieve its potential, and to transform attitudes and practice (by teachers and students) it needs to be used more widely and consistently.

How durable are its impacts?

Potentially life-long, if it does make a permanent change to attitudes and practices. It seems to scaffold behaviours that could become cognitively ingrained.

How transferable is the design?

Although “feedback” is widely regarded as a significant issue, there is less commonality as to the nature of the problem: does feedback need to be delivered more immediately? is more feedback needed? better quality feedback? feedback that justifies the mark? feedback that directs the student to specific improvements? – there are many views on the issue. This approach deals with the “problem” of feedback when conceived in a specific way: students not using feedback effectively, teachers not creating feedback that engages the students and encourages them to use it effectively. The definition of the problem in this way is the starting point for the diffusion of this approach. However, there are then issues concerning its compatibility (or perceived compatibility) with existing practice, especially institutional rules, norms and expectations. The technology may itself also be perceived as too complex, when compared to existing practice. However, it is argued that once the teacher is set-up with the required skills and and facilities, it is simpler and quicker. This needs to be demonstrated, made observable widely. Although the software itself is free, and the hardware is in most cases already present, additional support is probably needed to make it easy for all teachers to try it out for themselves.

Academic Technology team actions

Wider understanding, consideration, and where appropriate, adoption, would be eased through identifying and documenting the simplest, quickest technology solution. This should be documented in a simple user guide and video, and showcased in person.

Case study: using Spreeder in teaching speed reading to extend student academic capacity

This case study was created with Han-na Cha, Programme Coordinator, UG & Masters Skills Programmes, Student Development, University of Warwick.

What, why, how? – Practitioner/Advisor Statement

I use Spreeder to teach speed reading in workshops for undergraduate and taught masters students. The sessions take place in large conventional flat teaching rooms, with between 8 and 25 students. I show it on the instructor screen at the front of the class. I import a text (e.g. from the news), and as a group we practise speed reading techniques using Spreeder to control the presentation of the text. Spreeder makes it easy to change settings like words per minute and word chunk size. Students will then access it at home, personalise it for themselves, and practice further. In the classroom, this allows the teacher to easily demonstrate techniques (grouping words, decreasing fixations etc) to increase speed. The aim is to prevent habitual “back-skipping” and “sub-vocalizing” by the student. Working on a text together gets them to understand and to be confident with reading whole texts and with the principles of speed reading.

Spreeder, used in this way, supplements other approaches. It helps me to meet different learning styles, adding an additional strategy.

This is really helpful to the students faced with having to read large amounts, allowing them read more secondary material (as feedback confirms).

This approach is starting to spread to other teachers who teach speed reading. Recommendation are passing between students, and between students and teachers in both directions. It could have a wider application beyond students attending these courses. Easy free access online makes this easy for it to be adopted. There is a good blog to support its use.

Adoption might be constrained by an inability to import PDF versions of academic articles.

I discovered this approach after looking for software that would help with speed reading on the computer. I heard about it from a student (I often ask students for technology ideas). I asked the student about how it is useful and what its limitations are. I tasked a student to try it out. The student then demonstrated it and reviewed it in a workshop. At that point I knew it was right and adopted it in my teaching.

Academic Technology Advisor’s Analysis

Summary of the design change

The addition to an existing workshop of an in-class, teacher-led, individual plus peer-connected, technology-enhanced activity, using a free web-based tool, presented on the instructor’s overhead screen, leading to a change in cognitive habit, leading to improved reading capability and study capability.

The new activity was added to an existing workshop, using a free web-based tool. The activity was undertaken as a common, synchronous, shared experience (social, bodily and aesthetic dimensions focussing attention on a cognitive task). The teacher leads the whole class, focussing on shared challenges. The shared activity demonstrates to each student that the approach works for them individually, building self-confidence in their cognitive capability, their ability to read and understand whole documents quickly. This is then developed through in-class practice into an altered cognitive habit that extends reading and study capability. It also provides the capability for students to practice the technique after the class and to improve their skills further, and to apply the technique in future studies.

What led to the design change?

Teacher: reflecting on strategies, widening learning styles, inviting student suggestions, commissioning student review.

Students: actively suggesting alternative approaches, peer-sharing techniques, reviewing a technique, demonstrating a technique.

How significant are its intended impacts?

Very significant for those students taking part. They attain a cognitive capability that will significantly improve their lifetime chances of success. Any student who struggles to effetively read core texts or to go beyond core texts would benefit. Potentially significant for all students, but limited by the scale of the workshops and low awareness in the wider population.

How was it implemented?

Experiment with students. Evaluate the software. Live trial.

How successful is the design change?

Good indications: positive anecdotal feedback; students recommended to peers.

How durable are its impacts?

Not certain, but likely to be lifetime.

How sustainable is the design?

Dependent upon a free online tool not provided by Warwick University. Looks like html + javascript. Could be downloaded?

How transferable is the design?

Teaching speed reading is a specialist activity, and currently a rare occurrence within Warwick. The ease of access to the technology, and the simplicity of the approach, makes adoption more likely. Students are adopting it independently. Greater adoption of the whole-class activity depends upon the growth in the teaching of speed reading.

Academic Technology Team actions

To assure sustainability, recommend that a local copy is made so that Spreeder may be run offline, independent of the host web site.

Sociological Meta-analysis

HC has been meta-reflexive, design aware and reflexive. But horizontal routes to re-invention and diffusion are limited. So is instead more closely allied with the students, forming a participatory design collaboration.