Last modified 2007-08-22T12:29:37+01:00

Record of Work with Practitioner Informants

What are practitioner-informants?

"Practitioner-informants" are carefully selected individuals whom we have asked to provide input into the design of Phoebe and to act as sounding boards for our own ideas. The term "informant" comes from the framework of "informant design" put forward by Yvonne Rogers and the late Mike Scaife at the University of Sussex in the late 1990s. Although they developed the framework primarily for working with children as design partners (see their  chapter in Alison Druin's edited 1999 book The Design of Children's Technology), an early version did acknowledge such a role for adults. In our conceptualisation, informant design involves the input of various representatives of the e-learning community at the specific stages of the project where their contribution will be of the most value.

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Profile of PIs

We recruited 9 PIs via three routes:

  • Outstanding contributors to the Learning Design Tools project
  • Course authors who work with TALL
  • Recommendations from JISC

The following is a brief profile of the PIs, the sector(s) of post-compulsory learning in which they work, and the special contribution which we believe they can bring to the Phoebe project. For confidentiality, they are identified by codes rather than names.

ID Sector LD Tools project? Contribution
PI01 ACL Q, W Very experienced, works in highly managed environment producing structured plans; college is pro-active re e-learning; excellent understanding of potential users in WBL and ACL sectors
PI02 HE N Online course planning; works in university department with very low penetration of e-learning
PI03 FE N Staff development responsibilities; college has a sophisticated model of learning into which e-learning is embedded
PI04 HE Q, W IT Co-ordinator for university department with relatively low penetration of e-learning (apart from Website of resources)
PI05 FE Q Knowledge of special needs
PI06 HE Q, W Learning technologist: bridge between academics and technology; university has a mature e-learning strategy and approach to staff development
PI07 HE Q, W ITT for teachers in FE
PI08 HE N Responsible for staff development; has experience of developing and maintaining the university's online resource centre for enhancing student learning
PI09 WBL, ACL Q, W Work-based learning; working in the commercial sector; excellent understanding of potential users in WBL and ACL sectors

Involvement in LD Tools project: Q = responded to questionnaire; W = attended workshop

PIs will take the role of 'critical friends' and be involved in (at least) the initial evaluation. We may also ask them to nominate colleagues to participate in the practitioner workshops.

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Methodology for initial interviews (July-August 2006)

We conducted the initial interviews over a four-week period, during which time we were also actively working on the design of Phoebe herself. So the questions we asked were not consistent across all interviews, in part also because the informants represent different sectors and specialities. We also customised some interviews in the light of what we already knew about the PI, either from LD Tools or from professional acquaintance with them.

In all but three cases, the interviews were conducted in the PI's workplace (the other three were held in Liz's office for logistical reasons), with access to an Internet-linked computer.

Artefacts used in the interviews:

  • Notes from the LD Tools interview and questionnaire data re PI's approach to D4L and the tools they use (if PI participated in the project)
  • Recording equipment (we relied on recording rather than taking notes during the interview, but jotted down anything important so that we could home in on it when listening to the recording. We did not transcribe the interviews verbatim; rather, we paraphrased the general gist and made a full transcription only of the key segments)
  • Printed checklist of the interview questions
  • JISC Effective Practice guide
  • Phoebe wireframes

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Expertise of our practitioner-informants

The interview schedules included questionnaire-style items from which we compiled a broad profile of our informants' experience of technology in their teaching and learning. Here is a summary of our findings:

  • Roles within the institution:
    • 5 people teach students
    • 5 people have a formal staff-development role (involving teaching and/or mentoring colleagues)
    • 1 person is involved in teacher training
    • 3 people have an advisory role re technology
  • E-learning roles:
    • All 9 PIs use, or have used, technology in their teaching
    • 8 have designed learning sessions that involve technology
    • 8 have an advisory role, helping other teachers to integrate technology into their pedagogy
  • Learning environments:
    • 8 people have used e-learning in their teaching at least two of the following environments: F2F (classroom), wholly online (i.e. "distance" learning), blended (mixture of F2F + online)
    • 1 person has experience of online learning only
  • E-learning technologies (in order of usage):
    • VLEs, discussion forums: 9 each
    • Search engines: 7
    • Course Web pages, chat/instant messaging, interactive whiteboards, learning software/virtual tutorials, e-assessment tools: 6 each
    • Wikis: 5
    • Simulations/games, streaming audio/video: 4
    • Mobile technologies, blogs, videoconferencing: 3
  • Rating of own experience (1 = novice, 5 = very experienced user, developer or champion)
    • 6 people gave the rating 4 or 5
    • 2 people gave the rating 3 or 3.5
    • 1 person gave the rating 1.5

So, how representative are the PIs of the population of teachers in post-compulsory education? The answer is almost certainly "not very" since the majority have placed themselves at the upper end of the scale of e-learning experience. However, what is important is the spread of their situations, both across the different sectors and in terms of the different dispositions towards e-learning that are manifest at the individual, departmental and institutional level. Also -- and this is a key aspect of the informant design approach -- they are in a position to articulate the perspectives and needs of those teachers who have travelled less far along the e-learning road. This is particularly true of those who have staff development responsibilities or work as ICT co-ordinators, and it is a positive sign that the accounts show broad agreement within each sector and concur with findings from previous projects.

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Scenarios of practice

From the interviews we have compiled eight scenarios of practice, in order to build an understanding of representative contexts in which the pedagogic planner might be used, and thus make informed decisions about its content, structure and functionality. (One scenario was compiled from the data from two informants who work in the same institution in broadly analogous, though discrete, settings.) One context which we have not been able to capture is that of the lone enthusiast striking out on his/her own within a department or institution where the overall penetration of e-learning is limited or non-existent. However, one or two such individuals have been identified to us by sources both within the Phoebe project and outside it, so we may follow up these leads should the need arise.

The scenarios have been written up in a Word document. However, although we have made the institutions and individuals anonymous, we wish to risk possible embarrassment to our informants if the institution is recognised and so we are not making the document publicly available on this wiki.

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PI Interviews in the Evaluation of Phase 1

We returned to our PIs in February and March 2007 in order to elicit their reactions to the prototype tool which we had developed partly on the basis of their original input. The interviews followed a review meeting which had been conducted as part of the Design for Learning programme meeting on 23rd January, and focused on almost identical questions:

  1. What are your first impressions of Phoebe?
  2. Who do you think could/should make use of Phoebe, and for what purposes?
  3. What, in your view, are the advantages of using Phoebe, and who will benefit?
  4. What, if anything, could help the intended users make effective use of the planner (e.g. training, guidance, time?)
  5. Do you foresee any limitations (technical, practical, logistical, philosophical) in using Phoebe?
  6. What (if any) organisational issues do you foresee?
  7. What (if any) improvements or revisions would you like to see?

We met with 6 PIs: PI01, PI02, PI04, PI05, PI06 and PI07. The others were omitted both through lack of time and because a number of common points had emerged from the earlier interviews, together with the review meeting, for us to feel that little more would be gained from additional meetings, especially as lengthy travel would be involved. Nevertheless, all nine PIs remain “on board” and we look forward to meeting them during the Phase 2 evaluation.

Once again, the meetings were recorded and the notes written up afterwards.

The findings from the meetings have been included in the main Phase 1 evaluation report.

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