International Journal of IT Standards and Standardization Research will soon publish its issue 8(2), which is a special issue on LET standardisation. Editors are Jan M. Pawlowski, Paul A. Hollins and Tore Hoel.
LET standardisation â€“ framing the activity space using the JITSR special issue
The simple framework of Wand and Weber (2002) (Figure 1) could be used to position standards, methods and contexts; and the special issue on LET standardisation of the International Journal of IT Standards and Standardization Research (to be published 2010) to give us the accounts of the current state of affairs.
Figure 1 Framework for Research on Conceptual Modelling, from Wand and Weber (2002)
The specifications and standards are the â€œconceptual modelling scriptsâ€ this community work towards. However, there is no consensus on how to define these outputs among the authors of the special issue papers. Cooperâ€™s definition is wide: â€œthe word â€œstandardsâ€ is used (…) for virtually any multi-laterally agreed set of technical conventionsâ€ (Cooper 2010). Pawlowski & Kozlow reuse the 1990 IEEE definition of a standard as â€œa set of mandatory requirements employed and enforced to prescribe a uniform approach in a specific areaâ€ (Pawlowski & Kozlow 2010). This leads to the definition of a reference model as being â€œa framework that can be used as a blueprint for system developmentâ€ (ibid.). Between a â€œconventionâ€ and a â€œ(mandatory) blueprint there is space for a range of ontological and epistemological considerations. We would claim that Cooperâ€™s definition opens more up for the discursive and consensus process aspects of standardisation, while the definition of a standard as a technical blueprint is more part of technical engineering tradition looking for a true representational model of the domain.
The choice of conceptual modelling grammar is seldom raised as an issued within the standards community. â€œLanguage skillsâ€ seems to go with the territory, and information scientists are equipped with a toolbox that make it routine to turn out information and data models in notations universally understood. However, in the European discussion on concepts and standardisation in areas related to competence we have seen more focus on conceptual modelling as a means of communicating with the stakeholders and to better scope the work in LET standardisation projects.
Conceptual models provide a vital underpinning for information models, helping ensure that the concepts represented in different information models are compatible, and that specifications built on those information models will actually help with interoperability and portability. (Grant & Rowin 2010)
The broader conceptutal modelling method discussion is mostly focussed on the process aspects of standardisation, e.g., if formal standards setting bodies are the appropriate means to come up with the specifications that the LET community needs (Wilson 2010).
Related to conceptual modelling context Wand and Weber (2002) point to individual difference factors, task factors and social agenda factors. Reviewing the JITSR Special Issue related to these factors we see that we deal with a domain where the boundaries are still under negotiation. Some authors seem to presuppose that they work with sub-domains that are well scoped and where more targeted approaches could apply (e.g., approaches that could be subject to automatic conformance testing) (Dahn & Zimmerman 2010; Najjar et al. 2010, Pawlowski & Kozlow 2010). Other authors envisage a domain that is emergent, complex and unruly (Cooper 2010), that is more adapt to a pragmatic and community-driven approach (Wilson 2010), in which collaborative modelling building up common conceptual models is needed (Grant & Young 2010) to explore the new boundaries of learning technologies (Livingstone & Hollins 2010).
This short overview of the LET standardisation domain, based on recently published research, shows that there is no unified view on how we go about to design the building blocks we need to innovate learning technologies. This underline the need for a continued discussion based on models and constructs that will help us to improve both the process and product of this activity.
Wand and Weberâ€™s simple framework is a starting point for building a research agenda. The next step is to come up with an approach for building concepts to deal with the scripts and their development, the methods used and the contexts that frame the activity.