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November Design Challenge: Micro Learning Futures

Brief

The goal of this challenge is to explore the future of learning through a series short design concepts. These could be design modifications to existing tools (e.g. forums or video conferencing) to make them more conducive as a learning environment, concepts for new learning tools, ways to improve current educational institutions or learning spaces within cities, or anything which relates in some way to imagining new futures for learning.

Challenge

Each day of November I will write a small description, accompanied with mockups or sketches if necessary to illustrate (at least) one design concept.

Please feel free to participate, either by building the discussion around specific concepts you find interesting, or even to contribute some design concepts of your own!

Inspiration

A Pattern Language (#43: University as a Marketplace)
Transformative Tools for Thought
Building complex reasoning skills online through open-ended activities
Other Internet Workshops

And Keita’s Quick Ideas, a collection of quick design and gameplay ideas for the now-dead game, Glitch. Putting this here because it’s a good representation of the general format I’m aiming for with these design concepts.

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Concept #1

I find it difficult, in video chats especially because of the potential lag, when I have an idea for what to say but don’t want to interrupt the person talking. In classrooms there is the idea of raising your hand if you have something to say and the teacher will call on you when they have finished speaking.

What if there was an ‘idea ping’ or ‘raise hand’ button then you can tell the other people that you have something to say and they’ll open up the conversation to you. Just a small visual + sound cue which draws attention without creating an interruption.

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Riffing on the video chat premise:

In video chats the already high friction for participating in a large discussion is increased even more, by the latency, lack of body language etc.

One could imagine a system for limiting the time each participant can speak, either in a single stretch or a total time budget for the entire session.

Another interesting evolution of the hand rasing idea might be a way to anonymously signal that you want to hear from someone else! Which could in turn be facilitated by a way to signal what you want to talk about, maybe via popping up a little text on your video or something.

“Live” coordination during video calls essentially. I wonder if this enables any new constructions in group discussions.

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Jitsi has a feature like this.

However, whenever I have tried to use Jitsi there have been so many basic connection problems that I’ve not been able to experience more advanced features like this in action.

Thanks for sharing these links, @azlen. They’re fascinating!

Neat! I’ll have to check out how they’ve implemented it to get some ideas.

This would be interesting to experiment with! I’m not sure what the outcome with this would be: would it help people to articulate their ideas quicker knowing there’s a set amount of time, or perhaps it would increase the barrier to speak up during a conversation knowing that you’ll eat into your total allotted time…

This is exactly what I had in mind for Concept #2 :grin:

Concept #2

Similar to concept #1, but relating to the overall structure of a discussion. Sometimes when someone finishes talking or sharing, there is an awkward silence where everyone is likely thinking “ok, what’s next?”

What if in preparation for a meeting, everyone creates a list of topics to bring up or ask during the discussion. One can also add to their list of topics during the conversation to make note of an idea for later. These could show up as a little box or circle next to their video panel which you can look into/expand. Or see a list on the side of all the topics. Could possibly even be dragged out or clicked on to form a basic outline of conversation so that everyone knows what’s next.

Or perhaps, instead of everyone writing their own list, there could be a collaboratively-edited outline for the conversation on the side. Through this, at the beginning of the conversation, the group can decide on an overall plan to guide the discussion forward.

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Concept #3

When I take part in discussions where everyone takes turns presenting, introducing themselves, or sharing what they’ve done/learned this week, it can be unclear when one person finishes who should go next.

What if there are a set of tools to help structure conversation. For example when you’re done presenting or introducing yourself, press a button and the next person is prompted to begin. Or have a button to instantly split the group into random (or chosen) breakout groups to have separate conversations and then reconvene back to the main group.

Structure Tools Brainstorming

  • Everyone takes turns sharing
    • Linear — everyone knows order
    • Random — nobody knows who’s next; reduces anxiety/anticipation?
    • Choose — presenter passes ‘talking stick’ to whomever they choose
  • One-click breakout groups
    • Random — groups randomly assigned
    • Chosen — groups created, each person chooses which one to join; or chosen beforehand
    • Set topic for each group?
  • Set timer for discussion (or for each person sharing)
  • Time budgeting — suggestion @jaredpereira
  • Create shared docs or drawing pads as part of conversation
  • Icebreaker games facilitated by computer, using combinations of these structure tools

This concept might be a bit broad, but some of these structures may be expanded on in future concepts. Although maybe over the next few days I’ll take a break from video conferencing and take a look at other mediums or tools.

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Metrics Preamble

One could argue that in a sense retweets and even likes aren’t social media but asocial media because they provide no real information or context. They aren’t an interaction but merely an indication.
— Bix (source)

I have been thinking about metrics and how they affect people’s behaviour and thought. When designing a platform, special thought should be given to what numbers you show to users, and what those numbers really mean.

With forums for example, I find [# of views] rather meaningless, [date last posted] to be intimidating (inactivity breeds inactivity; feels weird to post), and likes sometimes raise more questions than answers.

I want to explore the question: what metrics are useful, and how can we reframe metrics or redesign how we interact or react to information in an online medium?

Concept #4

Instead of using numbers, what if metrics are represented through shape, size, or colour?

Some experimentation would be necessary to figure out best mappings of data to shape, colour, size, etc.

If change in colour is part of the data visualization, a colour-blind friendly gradient/palette should be designed for accessibility.

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Manton Reece has been very intentional about this in developing Micro.blog. Here is a sampling of posts:

I notice that Bix is on Micro.blog. So am I.

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Concept #5

Instead of liking a post, what about highlighting the parts you liked or commenting on them. Of course, this is not a new idea, some blogging platforms already allow for this, but I have not seen the feature in forums or other discussion areas. Would give more context than just adding a like, and allow for types of comments and replies which would be strange to make an entire post-reply for…

Perhaps different types of highlighting / annotation:

  • Pointing out errors (grammar, spelling, citation) — only seen by OP?
  • Questions
  • Short comments
  • Related material or links

I imagine that a feature like this would be particularly useful on a forum/learning platform where participants are learning writing or fiction. Allowing for feedback on specific senteces/paragraphs.

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Concept #6

Education should focus on community. Creating an online learning platform or space of learning, the focus should be primarily on building community and rapport between students.

Most online education (and traditional university and high school education) focuses essentially on trying to download information onto your brain, like in the matrix but slow and soul-destroying :stuck_out_tongue:

I believe that one of the barriers to creating community in classrooms is the power dynamic between student and teacher. Some of the best teachers I’ve had acknowledge this and take a step down to ignite discussion between students, with them acting as the “knowledgable-but-not-all-knowing peer.”

Another barrier is classroom size, too big and it’s difficult to ignite discussion or build community, too small and it just becomes a group of friends (or a silent stare-down if they’re lost for ideas).

Some questions:

  • If the role of a teacher is removed, would students more easily build community with each other around learning a topic they are all interested in?
  • What would be the optimal a good class size for building community and discussion? For some reason the number 15 comes to mind, small enough to get to know everyone, but large enough to have a good set of idea and experience diversity among students to ignite and kindle discussions.
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Concept #7

“And now all the Hawtchers who live in Hawtch-Hawtch are watching on watch watcher watchering watch, watch watching the watcher who’s watching that bee. You’re not a Hawtch-Watcher you’re lucky you see!”
– Dr. Seuss

Something that is more active and perhaps meaningful than “liking” a post would be to “watch” a post or discussion. To signify interest in the topic and that you may contribute to the conversation in the future but don’t have anything to say just yet.

If you haven’t visited a post that you’re watching for a while, not actively reading or participating in discussion perhaps the watching marker disappears? Or perhaps the profile images could become faded, this would show that there were X amount of people following this topic, but they haven’t looked at it for a while.

If someone is timid about posting in a forum conversation, perhaps “watching” the thread would be a first step to breaking the mental barrier of joining in with their own ideas?

Concept #8

With a collaborative learning environment online, there should be an easy way to share and interact with different resources found online. If students seek out each week resources to share and discuss with each other, there should be a more convenient way of keeping track of these resources.

While it is possible to do something similar with a forum model, I think that it would be more effective to tailor the interface specifically to keeping track of these resources. Or it could be integrated into the design of a forum, but be a different mode of displaying the same information (similar to how Notion can display databases in different styles: list, table, gallery, calendar)

Different mediums of resources (books, articles, videos, lectures, research papers) could possibly be colour coded or have icons to signify the type.

Perhaps (and this is not pictured in mockup), in a similar vein to concept #7 above, there could be list on each resource of how many people have “watched” or “read” it completely, or in the case of longer resources such as books, who is in the process of reading…

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Concept #9

Asking and answering open-ended questions can be important in more self-directed learning processes. Both coming up with the question itself and going through the process to answer it and think about different perspectives.

Open-ended questions can also be important in exploring ideas for the future. In classrooms teachers can only teach what they know which involves past and present, but considering future possibilities or possible innovations typically goes beyond their area of expertise and is rarely considered. In a collaborative learning environment, there can be a larger focus on not only what was but also what could be.

I imagine collectively deciding or voting on questions or topics each week which become the main discussion and research topics for that week.

Sort of like CJ Eller’s blogging futures but collectively deciding on one to three topics each week (or if one topic is considerably engaging, continuing the discussion on to the next week)

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Concept #10

In imagining a platform of collaborative learning, where students come together to learn together without necessarily requiring a teacher, I have thought that it could be interesting to have an “imaginary class listing.” Essentially a list of class ideas, in which people can register interest, and if enough people sign up as interested (and have overlapping free-time in their schedules to meet), then the course becomes a reality.

Online education typically makes use of the internet’s scale to make courses for thousands of people, however I think that the benefit of the internet could be in bringing people together around niche topics. An imaginary class listing would bring together some of these niche ideas that people might be interested in learning and shows that these are classes that could exist.

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Concept #11

Going in a slightly different direction today; looking at language learning mnemonics.

One type of mnemonic is too associate a word in a foreign language with a more familiar word in your own language. For example the french “poisson” (fish) with the english word “poison”. And while creating associations like this can be helpful, it can also be misleading at times. It may lead you to misremember the definition (perhaps poisson is poison…) or to misremember the pronunciation (excuse me sir, I would like to order some poison).

To improve on this existing technique, I suggest breaking each word down into smaller phonetic components and associating familiar words with each. For example, the spanish word “mundo” could be broken down into “mun+do” and then associated with english words “moon door.”

Then, to make it more memorable you can turn the associations + the definition into a little story. Perhaps you see a door standing in the middle of a field and you walk through it straight onto the moon, and you look up and see the whole world, planet Earth floating above you in the sky.

Like this you will more easily remember the pronunciation of a word, and have more associations which makes it easier to remember later. And in my experience, more associations actually decreases the likelihood of confusing one of the associations with the definition of the word, especially when you put them all together into a story.

In theory it should also be possible (I know because I’ve tried) to write a computer program which can generate mnemonics like this between any two language pairs. Of course it probably works better if the languages share similar sounds or have a very diverse set of sounds. All you need is a big fat list of nouns and some sweet command-line IPA transcription.

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During an interview I did with @bts we talked about something similar. A way for learners to signal that they want to learn something, so that someone with the right inclination could create a learning structure for them.

I wonder how much this actually is a filter on learning online. How many people are just waiting for someone to put out the right kinda signal for what they want to learn.

A difficulty here, as with all kinds of aggregation platforms, is people communicating their interests in a way that allows aggregation. i.e the platform would need to be able to merge imaginary classes that were the same, or at least pull them together somehow.

This strikes me as a very useful foundational tool.

Thanks for sharing these @azlen, lots of great ideas here! Gonna respond briefly to a bunch at once…

Not exactly this but Crowdcast has some similar cool features, e.g. viewers can submit questions (and I think others can vote), and the host can mark when they’re answering so they’re timestamped later. More one-to-many than classroom oriented though I think.

Cool idea! Particularly if editable so if you record the video you also end up w/ a matching outline of minutes so you know what was actually covered.

This actually reminds me of Discourse (software that powers this forum) — e.g. on the main topics list view, the replies and views counts change color as kind of a heat map to indicate the most active conversations (example)

I guess quotes (like I’m doing w/ this post) kind of serves this purpose? Could be cool if there were different types of quote or alternate ways to style them etc.

For in-person events, I think 6-10 people is a great size, big enough to have lots of viewpoints and robust conversation but small enough for everyone to sit in one circle together. For online, I think a little bigger may be better particularly if it’s asynchronous communication, to have it feel like there’s enough going on.

Just a note that you can kinda do this in Discourse too — button towards the bottom, below the blue reply button — but it’s more just for your own notification settings, I don’t think you can see others’ watching status…that would be a cool addition!

Oh yeah @cjeller1592 proposed something similar on the antilibraries forum: https://athenaeum.antilibrari.es/t/book-clubs-reading-groups-open-call-for-experiments/162/5?u=brendan (I still need to give this a try!) — hypothes.is does seem like a cool tool for this but also would be nice to have it more integrated w/ the rest of the forum. Could probably hack up some way w/ Discourse + tag taxonomy to approximate something here… I like the ideas re: categorizing and tracking who’s read / engaged.

Could be an interesting direction for hyperlink.academy! I’d be interested — earlier I tossed out a couple ideas for courses but don’t have something concrete planned yet…if I knew at least a few others signaled interest in one of my niche learning ideas (e.g. Oulipean hip-hop poetics) it’d be great motivation to put something together e.g. about :slight_smile:

Cool! Reminds me of Chineasy, similar but w/ pictographs instead of phonetics.

Wow, thanks for all your thoughts!

Yes! I think that if the outline or meeting minutes/notes are convenient to use (and possibly if someone is in charge of making sure they’re updated, or taking time-stamped notes throughout the conversation) it would be possible to go back to the recorded conversation later and find exactly the recorded sections that you’re looking for.

And perhaps these meeting minutes/video can be integrated into the forum in some way. Like just how I can quote things that you write here on discourse, maybe it could be possible to quote snippets of videos.

Discourse is certainly a huge step up from older forum software and message boards. And I think that they have put a lot of thought into similar concepts of how to improve forums in different ways.

I think that perhaps a good way to test some of these concepts out would be to write custom plugins for discourse to modify the interface.

Oulipean hip-hop poetics is something that I never, ever would have thought about learning. Niche topics like this have their own kind of allure, I have never thought about studying oulipo or hip-hop, but oulipean hip-hop poetics actually sounds very interesting! As @jaredpereira said, “How many people are just waiting for someone to put out the right kinda signal for what they want to learn.” I think that putting some of these niche learning ideas out into the world, there will always be people who’ll be interested in joining in on the learning journey.

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