Learning topology and Mirandanet

Apr 29, 2006

Miles Berry

Another inspiring meeting of the Mirandanet Inspirationalists at the IoE today.

The Institute of Education, London

We’re working towards a set of journal articles, including one collaborative paper, for next February, so this was largely a progress meeting. It was good to meet up with folk, and particularly to see Dale Jones again, one of the HUGToB team.

Mirandanet’s leader, Christina Preston spoke about some of her research using concept maps as a tool for evaluating CPD, using both qualitative and quantitative methods, this latter taking the ratio of links to nodes as a measure of a maps connectivity – I’m sure I can’t be the first person to realize that this can be applied to websites, and indeed Moodle courses, too.

Wilma Clark gave a good overview of some of the software available for concept mapping on the web; particularly impressive was The Brain, which as well as a concept mapping tool can work as a file browser, much like the one in Minority Report or Lawnmower Man. Wilma also mentioned a flash front end for the splendid, open-source Freemind, that I piloted with Year 6 last term, and shared some of the freemind work she’s been doing with her Year 10 AS class (yes, that’s two years early!)

Christina had asked me to present on “VLEs, Elgg and beyond” which you might think was a bit off topic for this particular meeting. I put together a few slides expanding the notion of ‘learning topology’, by comparing some of the visual representations folks have used to describe learning management systems, VLEs, PLEs and MLEs, and attempting to draw some parallels with mapping and navigation, torturing the metaphors of ‘learning journeys’ and the ‘learning landscape’ to an extent that might well be described as cruel and unusual. There’s a 3MB pdf of the slides online for those interested, but it doesn’t really make much sense without a proper commentary. The key point really is that there’s more to genuinely personalised learning than merely tailoring a sequence of activites to a pupil’s learning style or ability – that learners can, in fact, be trusted to find their own way through the landscape, with directions from those who know the route where appropriate.

Because activity branching and sequencing is coming late to Moodle, what we have at the moment is a VLE that actually provides something far closer to the semilatice that Christopher Alexander talks about, especially when the various autolinking filters are turned on. This is far from obvious though, as Moodle’s relatively text heavy, list style layout rather obscures this – I’m interested in the notion of using concept maps as an interface to Moodle courses – at the very least, embedded flash mindmaps can provide one way to navigate around the course, but it would be really cool to find some way to create maps like these automatically out of the course structure, or even use a visual interface like this to author the course – beyond my coding skills, I fear, but worth exploring I reckon.