Content vs Context – a contradiction?

Peter Baumgartner reminds us about the role of usage context for quality assessment of learning materials:

In all the projects funded by the German BMBF we have tried to deliver excellent e-Learning content. As chairman of the “audit commission” I led a group of experts who recommended the ministry a change of gears: Instead to focussing on the creation of correct and well presented content a new call for bids should concentrate on the quality of the didactical integration of this content. We coined the saying: Context instead of Content.

I’d call this “content without context approach” a “corpus centered approach” (while corpus is the material body: texts, images, articles, assignments, etc).

The problem with the context hypothesis is this: Do we really have a good understanding about what context we are talking about? I think it would fall too short to read it as “learning situations”. I’d approach the “context” notion much more fundamentally.

So if Peter suggests

One impact could be that we do not have to put all our forces in “excellent” presentation of content. Instead we should design content for certain situations (context).

then I think we should have a very clear understanding about these situations. I suspect this is in part a reason why “personal web publishing” and “weblogs in education” are an ongoing discussion among educators: To some degree the weblogging activity is about learners can start to actively create own context.

But what is “own context”? I have to admit, that I currently lack the time to think (and write) about it. But I’d currently suggest to think of it as the opposite of a “reality distortion field” that affects personal aspirations and motivations.

Educational scenarios

Will Richardson on Weblogs Creating a whole new Campus Culture:

Article about the Weblogging program set up by a student at Reed College in Oregon where any student who wants one can have one. He’s got 147 going right now. An interesting read that gets to both sides of college level use of blogs and points to a number of other heretofore unknown colleges that are starting to use them, one even for recruitment purposes!

Blogging is a relatively small but quickly growing phenomenon in the world of Internet users, and, like other online technologies, it is slowly invading college life. Professors are using blogs to teach and publish. College administrators use the diaries to recruit. Students use them to learn, to opine (and whine), and to network. In the Reed case, blogging has led to a student community beyond the borders of the campus, a community that Reed administrators can’t control but can peek at.

What they didn’t teach me in Design & Usability school

Scott Berkun was program manager at Microsoft for Internet Explorer. He wrote a nice essay about what he missed in university (and what might have been the reasons for it). Looking back on his work experience he summarizes what is important:

The challenge is that what makes you credible to a developer, marketing executive, documentation manager, or any other person you have to deal with might be different for each one, and what earns you credibility won’t always be tied to your design or usability brilliance. Instead, work towards helping the team get stuff done. Be useful. Then when it comes time to bring your grand design vision to the table, you’ll have built the respect and trust necessary for them to be helpful to you.

Tinderbox in class

Jon Buscall describes how he uses Tinderbox in class:

“As a teacher, it takes ages to create a set of worthy lesson plans. If you keep lesson plans/details as a hard copy you often have to make changes, can’t get a quick overview of your work and they tend to get tatty stuck on your shelf. It can also take a lot of time sifting through your email program, print outs, handscribbled notes to keep track of what you are doing.
Once you start to use Tinderbox you realise that you can simply drag everything into this nifty program, set attributes to categorize your information and set up agents to organize your work into subject or date related fields or anything that you care to use.”

I am sure I am going to use Tinderbox more (since I started to publish the weblog with it). It is definitely helpful to read about best practices. I have started a section with my own experiences as well.

Constructivism, Education, Science, and Technology

Moses A. Boudourides: “The purpose of this paper is to present a brief review of the various streams of constructivism in studies of education, society, science and technology. It is intended to present a number of answers to the question (what really is constructivism?) in the context of various disciplines from the humanities and the sciences (both natural and social). In particular the discussion will focus on four varieties of constructivism: philosophical, cybernetic, educational, and sociological constructivism.” [via Weiterbildungsblog]


One of the seminars I had in mind for quite some time is starting this semester: »Simplicity«. Conceptually it is a sequel to the “Density” seminar that went very well and was insightful for students and me as well. Like “Density” the new seminar is dealing with a particular but general design strategy that seems to be a constant challenge for designers (not only students).

At the first glance there is nothing special to know about “simplicity” as a design strategy. Of course designers need to break complexity and to chop the matter into communicatable, comprehensible and digestable chunks. On the other hand I hear myself (and my collegues) often argue “Keep it simple!” if a student seems to have difficulties to do the chopping at a given stage of a project. Why is it that the process of simplification sometimes makes something elegant and effective and sometimes primitive and boring?

Structuring elements in knowledge creation processes for classes

Spike Hall describes some structuring elements in knowledge creation efforts in classes:

  • Formal Debate
  • Each participant committed to active participation with a reward for doing so.
  • Moral Dimension of Student Product: Students were assigned to an
  • advisory committee advising a business on the negative impact of
  • business activity on public health.
  • Student activity within advisory committee constrained within a series
  • of production stages.
  • First stage: identify facts, debate solutions and propose a synthesis.
  • Next three steps: Test the solutions against a prescribed set of principles.
  • Final Stage: Provide an [executive] summary

This resembles some of the principles in a course guide (german) I have put online for my own seminars.