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The dimensions of context

July 18th, 2009 by Graham Attwell

In my last post I included excerpts of a paper I have written looking at the development of a Work Oriented MoBile Learning environment (WOMBLE). One of my main interests in such a system is the ability to support contextual learning in different environments. However that poses the problem of developing a model of context. And, I think, such a model needs to be based on a true ontology, rather than merely developing taxonomical lists of, for instance, different competences.

Last night I was discussing this in the pub (a rich contextual environment for learning!) with my friend and colleague Pekka Kamarainen. he came up with the following model – which he calls ‘dimensions of contextual images’ – based on the work of the German sociologist, Ritsert.

Pekka identified three main dimensions of context:

  • location
  • social meaning
  • horizons of practice

Each of these dimensions can be further divided into three categories:

  • normal
  • extended
  • transformative

Taking the dimension of practice this could be developed along the following schema:

  • Normal – what I do in this location
  • extended – what are the rules and norms which apply in this location
  • transformative = what could be done in another way

Similarly for social meaning:

  • normal- everyday life meanings
  • extended – citizenship or societal meaning
  • transformative – potentials for societal change

And for practice:

  • normal – what do I do knowing the basic tenets and operations of this practice
  • extended – what do I know about this practice as a more holistic design
  • transformative – how can this practice be transformed

I am aware that it all sounds a little abstract. But I think such a model could form the basis for an advanced learning design, capable of being implemented through mobile, ambient and context aware devices.

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