For quite some time we were searching for descriptive frameworks that would support us documenting key differences between the teaching and learning practices observed during our ethnographic field research and during our first intervention study. A targeted literature review produced no appropriate results. None of the descriptive frameworks we reviewed allowed, for example, for mapping the diversity of instruments used for learning and teaching; the shifting roles of students and teachers; various digital, material and mental artefacts; interactions and the artefact collections students and teachers utilise and/or create themselves.
Thus, we started to work on a descriptive framework ourselves to be able to describe the core ideas of our intervention. The following example is an extraction of a lesson we observed and the elements we considered important in our framework. The scenario represents an inquiry-based learning scenario.
In our framework we definitely wanted to define:
1. Actors – a teacher, a student, or students. Here it is also necessary to specify whether the activity was done in groups, with a peer, or individually.
2. Actions – any kind of action performed by a teacher or student(s) as part of the observed teaching-learning activity. To fully grasp what students are doing while constructing their own knowledge through artefact manipulation, it is necessary to specify what kind of actions are carried out, by whom, and how they are mediated.
3. Displays – physical objects in, or outside of, the classroom (for instance computer, projector, screen) that function as a “display” for content and that provide an interface for “conveyors” (see below) that support the manipulation of content. Displays are seen as carriers for other (digital) artefacts. The affordances of a display define the general range of purpose of it, but do not determine classroom activity. Their affordances impact participants’ expectations and afford greater ease of use for some functions over others. For example, overhead projectors allow for presenting something to a wider audience, but they don’t determine what this “something” is.
4. Conveyors – applications that explicitly support the mediation or creation of content items (for instance, iBooks, Prezi, WordPress, etc.) as knowledge representations in a wider sense. The perceived affordances and the level of individual and collective appropriation of conveyors limit the range of potential actions and interactions. In our specific observational context displays are generally hardware used in and outside of the classroom and conveyors are various software applications that run on tablets, computers or smartphones.
5. Micro-content collections – to steer away from pre-conceived ideas of content being generally packaged and delivered as “textbooks” within School environments, we treat all elaborate, compound content items as micro-content collections. While in traditional textbook use micro-content (see below) tends to come from the same source and authors, in the midst of the digital transformation teachers and students can now more easily integrate micro-contents from a wide range of sources or self-author items.
6. Micro-contents – digitisation enables content compartmentalisation. Micro-content are items that can meaningfully stand on their own, such as images, paragraphs, photos, tables, and so forth. They are generally mediated and produced by configurations of displays and conveyors.
7. Authors – the aforementioned scenarios emphasise the importance and growing complexity of using various micro-contents and micro-content collections developed and designed by a (potentially wide) range of authors (professional textbook authors, teachers, students, other content producers outside of the formal educational system).
This is a starting point for our search, however, we have experienced already some advantages of it.