The DialogPLUS Toolkit is a web-based application that guides the design of learning activities. Developed to support the project’s geographers, it incorporates well-researched pedagogic taxonomies that are presented as drop-down lists with associated ‘help’ pages. Toolkit users are encouraged to consider and specify factors including learning and teaching approach, environment, aims and outcomes, assessment methods, learner and tutor roles and requisite skills as they design any number of tasks within a learning activity and select the tools and resources needed to undertake them. The output from the toolkit is a design template that can then be used to guide the instantiation and implementation of online learning activities. The designs are saved within the toolkit, forming a database of designs, which other toolkit users can view. This chapter will present the rationale for the toolkit and the detailed taxonomies. It will describe and illustrate the software design, development and implementation, including the approach to contextual ‘help’, provide examples of learning activity designs created using the toolkit; and present and discuss feedback from users.
Practitioners are faced with a potentially bewildering array of tools and technologies to support learning and teaching. However, “while it is clear that technologies are having an increasing impact on institutions … it is equally apparent that their potential for enabling new styles of learning is not yet being realised” (Conole et al., 2005, p. 3). Practitioners designing and creating learning activities need to make a complex set of inter-related decisions. Examples of the questions they ask themselves, and others, include:
Which tools should I use to promote dialogue between students – chat, a discussion forum, video conferencing?
How can I set up an activity to encourage students to collaborate on a shared problem?
What is the best way to create a collaborative shared space of resources?
Some practitioners are confused by the ever-expanding range of tools and theories and need support in deciding which might be appropriate for a particular learning activity. As a result, in recent years there has been considerable interest in gathering examples of good practice and providing scaffolds, or design support, to aid practitioners as they create new learning activities. However, defining case studies of good practice and articulating the steps and processes involved in learning design is far from trivial. Our aim was to create a toolkit which would guide teachers through the decision making process of creating learning activities. This built on previous work (Conole & Oliver, 1998; Conole et al., 2001), with the intention that the learning activity toolkit would be designed to present relevant information to the user on a needs basis. The output would be an outline design of a learning activity and the key associated components. This outline would be held in the toolkit database so that it could be searched by other users.