Assembling the heterogeneous elements for digital learning

Wicked problems and the need to engage with differing perspectives

In writing the last post, I had the opportunity re-read the Wikipedia article on wicked problems. This quote struck a chord with me

Rittel and Webber coined the term in the context of problems of social policy, an arena in which a purely scientific-rational approach cannot be applied because of the lack of a clear problem definition and differing perspectives of stakeholders.

My experience with writing BIM from late last year through early this year is a good example of this. BIM is based on an earlier tool called BAM that was written as part of an institution specific system called Webfuse. As of early this year, the institution was dropping Webfuse and moving to Moodle. If BAM were to be continued, it had to be ported to Moodle. And the perspectives begin.

Stakeholders and their perspectives

There are at least three sets of stakeholders in the BIM process:

  • Academic staff wanting BIM written to use in their teaching.
  • Myself, the developer/researcher wanting to write BIM because of an interest in the approach.
  • The IT folk responsible for the Moodle transition project and supporting staff.

The academic staff who wanted BIM created, wanted it because it enabled a pedagogical practice that had been previously successful, at least from their perspective. They didn’t really care a great deal about how, they just wanted to use that pedagogy again.

I wanted to work on BIM because I believed that both the pedagogy it enabled and the model of e-learning systems it embodied were worthwhile and potentially very important for future practice.

The IT folk didn’t want BIM written. They had limited resources to use on the project and anything that was not core Moodle, was not very attractive to them. Consequently, they spent a lot of time and effort proposing methods by which the pedagogy enabled by BAM, could be enabled through various combinations of core Moodle tools. There was also quite a bit of political shenanigans being undertaken to prevent BIM being written.

Effective collaboration to enable an efficient implementation of the required pedagogy was not high on the agenda.

The winner writes the history

Obviously, the above is my perspective of what happened. I’m quite sure others involved might provide different perspectives. Especially now that BIM has been somewhat successful, at least in terms of at least one other institution using it and various people in the broader Moodle community saying nice things. I know begin to wonder what the story will be written about the history of BIM.

I no longer work for the original institution, and am fairly confident that if BIM continues to enjoy some success, that the IT folk within the institution will take some credit for an environment that enabled the development of BIM. After all, the development of BIM proves the rhetoric about the value of adopting an open source LMS like Moodle. After all the institution was able to develop a Moodle module that served an effective pedagogical purpose and is being adopted by others.

From my perspective, the writing of BIM has been achieved in spite of the institutional environment. Due to the difficulties of that environment, I had to do most of the work on holidays, had to fight individuals that actively worked against the development of BIM, and a range of other problems not indicative of an environment conducive to innovation.

But, now that I’ve left the organisation, it shall be interesting to hear what stories those that remain tell of BIM, its development, and their role within it.

The main point is that difference exists

Now all of that probably sounds a bit one sided and biased. Others might suggest a different version of events and suggest that it wasn’t so bad. They are free to confess that. Which version of events is more correct isn’t the point I’m trying to make here.

The point I’m trying to make is that as a wicked problem, improving learning and teaching within a university is going to have a large number of very different perspectives. The attempt to develop “the correct” perspective – which is the aim of engineering or planning approaches to solving these problems – misses the point. To establish an arbitrary and singular “correct” perspective of the problem and its solution, such a process must ignore and continually suppress alternative perspectives. This wastes energy on the suppression, and worse, closes off more fruitful solutions that arise from actively engaging with the diversity.

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