Applying a Force Map to My Learning Design Context

Graphical representation of considered elements in the design of an online portfolio for language assessment.
Graphical representation of considered elements in the design of an online portfolio for language assessment.

Three years ago, I had never heard the term Learning Design. Three years ago, I was just planning an online tool to make life a bit easier for online language programs and learners in Manitoba. This blog post is a quick background on our technology development context and the forces at play when developing an online tool we call – the Electronic Collaborative Language Portfolio Assessment (eCLPA).

In those days, 3 years ago, there were a number of interacting elements impacting how language was delivered in our part of the world: policy changes, research support for language portfolios, growing immigration levels, changes in learner educational background, increasing body of knowledge of eLearning, funding interest in workplace readiness and digital solutions, unexpected registration for online self-directed language support, and a need for online platform to deliver learning.  There is a plurality of drivers in this system and having just learnt about Force Maps in oldsmooc in January 2013, I thought this graphical tool captured the interplay of the push & pull tensions amongst all of the element variables.

Three years ago, online self-directed learning was seen as an alternative resource for learners who could not attend more traditional face-to-face classes.  The potential of online learning was embraced but the understanding of how that would be realized was yet to be determined; and, I would argue is still struggling to be understood outside of traditional models of learning.  As the only self-directed model in the province (country?), we were (and still are) facing a number of issues to demonstrate our relevance.  An opportunity arose when Manitoban language providers were required by the primary funder to use a Collaborative Language Portfolio for language assessment (CLPA) with learners.

Our organizational question was: How do we incorporate the CLPA with online learners? However, as represented in the force map, our organization was not the only voice that needed to be included.  We also had to consider the needs of affiliate organizations who were using the same Learning Management System (LMS) for online delivery of English for Specific Purposes (ESP) projects run by a Labour Union and a University.  A case was made to receive funding for developing an online interpretation for the CLPA; we were given a year to launch an electronic CLPA.

A number of decisions were made early in the process to ensure we could meet the deadline and work within budget. (I have never worked outside of these factors and I wonder if they are positive forces for focused energy or negative undercurrents that necessitates less investigation in certain areas:).  I was (am) interested in open source solutions for our technology, and investigated some open source portfolio tools, but quickly understood that we would be creating a tool that would necessitate another login and space for learners to navigate. I wanted to reduce the orientation and teaching this would necessitate both for learners and also for instructors to learn a new technology.  The Software Architect who customized our LMS was excited to help us create some new functionalities in our LMS. The positive relationship here is that our learning context and delivery needs were already understood by the programming team; however, the limitation we faced was that we needed to work the current technology and ‘business rules’ of the system.

The biggest resource for our data and research came from the online language providers themselves. As language instructors we have a common theoretical framework, but our needs and delivery mechanisms varied from self-directed, online, continuous intake and no completion required to 1-on-1 weekly sessions, blended with face-to-face sessions, semester, and requirements for completion. At the beginning of the process we each brought in examples of our inputs/outputs of our learners and teachers; these varied from baseline assessments, course objectives, self-assessments, email reflections, goal statements, and a 90 page learner ‘portfolio’.  As we started to look at the learning outcomes, we also discover that language was not the only thing we were teaching, our lessons had embedded essentials skills (computer use, working with others, problem solving, etc.) and other occupational specific requirements. We constantly referred to adult learning principles and newer practices of networked learning and autonomy. Reflecting in the present, I believe we were engaging in what I am coming to understand as identifying the unifying pedagogical patterns in our apparent difference. (Pedagogical Patterns, Pattern Languages are an area that I am still investigating, my apologies if I am not using the term correctly here). This was an interesting process of understanding different approaches and sharing best practises for online engagement.  (I must refocus this blog post, I hope to revisit this discovery process at a later time, perhaps after I have read more about patterns and software development.)

Concurrent to the discovery process described above, I did an environmental scan for language portfolios.  Critique me, I know, but this relied heavily on ‘Google’ searches. I looked at the research supporting the Common European Framework for language portfolio.  At the time I believe every European country had a paper based portfolio for language learners.  Much of the portfolio literature focused on career or presentation portfolios, and very little to do with the ‘collaborative’ or ‘assessment’ piece needed for our context.  I am not sure that having more time to investigate the globe would have helped my search; three years ago, I was a limiting force as I did not have the experience or knowledge of how to find the information; even my key word searches were limited without the language to describe what we were engaged in.  I sigh every time I think that these resources existed: Bibsonomy, ALT, or OER OU projects.  My own context had until then been as a teacher and not-for-profit advocate, not a learning technologist or learning designer. (Going forward for future iterations, it is important to me to include more academic investigation, and/or invite researchers into the process, and/or document the process with a view to understanding decisions and development.)

Instructors provided input during the design process as functionalities started to narrow.  They were heavily involved in a tedious process of testing, inputing, clicking, printing, and sorting. Pages and pages of feedback were collected for every section of the developing tool.  As changes were made, feedback forms were sent out again for every section. Timelines for turn around were very tight.  I would love to learn how others conduct this part of the development process.  Including teachers in the development, I thought, ensured buy-in, it also reduced training time on the technology because they had already invested time testing the different areas that were developed.

The live launch of the eCLPA was only four days late, April 4, 2011.  We are coming up to our two year anniversary of using the tool with learners and we have yet to conduct an extensive evaluation of the tool. Is the eCLPA helping with language learning?  How is it helping?  Which of the functionalities are working for what types of learners?  We have organizational evidence that the tool is used and helpful to learners but I want to understand how online programs are using the tool.  I want to investigate who and why some learners are add reflections, or using the self-assessment checklists. I know that programs had implementation issues because online programs were not prepared to introduce the tool and functions to learners; integrating different ‘best practices’ from other providers did not necessarily match with the delivery model of other organizations.  It is imperative to evaluate the effectiveness of this tool in order to plan for future iterations, as well as understand how face-to-face providers might use it with their learners.  It is #oldsmooc_w7, Evaluation.  I have been looking forward to this week to help inform an evaluation of the eCLPA.

This Saturday past I had a webinar to introduce the eCLPA to teachers across the country (we had 15 participants).  One person at a time.  If you have made it this far, you might be interested in taking a peek at the eCLPA, I have incorporated some of the reporting features and learner comments throughout the hour; to get to my presentation fast forward one hour.  The first hour with Joanne Pettis, will give you insight into the paper based Portfolio Based Language Assessment that will be rolling out across Canada this year.  Could the eCLPA be the digital solution?


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