|Industrial Logic Papers A Learning Guide To Design Patterns
What Is A Study Group?
Over the course of my school days and professional years I've come to recognize and appreciate the study group as one of the best instruments for improving one's understanding of anything complex or profound.
The summer before my first year of college, I was required to read Homer's Illiad for a freshman seminar. I was hiking that summer and would read Homer by flashlight before I went to bed each night. When I had finally finished the epic tale of Achilles, I remember that I was not all that impressed: I essentially considered the book to be a war novel.
When school started, I attended my first seminar on a warm evening in August . The seminar room had high ceilings and many windows and contained a long wooden table, surrounded by wooden chairs, with a chair at either end of the table for the two "tutors". One tutor was charged with asking the opening question.
This question took several minutes to ask, but when the tutor had finished, I knew that I had only touched the surface of the Iliad.
The opening question pointed to a more profound and sophisticated level of meaning and over the course of that evening, our group endeavored to answer that opening question. In searching for an answer, we questioned our original ideas, questioned the ideas of our peers, and ultimately worked to understand the Illiad on a deeper level. By the end of the two-hour seminar that evening, we learned far more than we had in our individual readings.
Definition of a Study Group
A study group is a collection of individuals who gather together regularly to improve their understanding of some non-trivial subject, such as a body of great literature, by participating in a focused discussion.
Individuals meet around a table or in a circle for 1 to 2 hours, and group size varies from 3 to as many as 16 inidividuals. Group size is limited by space or table size and whether folks can see and hear one another during discussion.
The study group organizes and maintains an agenda of readings. Prior to each meeting, participants have read and reflected upon the reading and may come prepared with questions, ideas about, or explanations of the reading.
One individual, who is sometimes called the "moderator," asks the opening question at the commencement of each meeting. This individual is charged with guiding the dialogue during the rest of the meeting, but this individual is not a teacher. He or she is simply considered to be the most advanced student with respect to a reading. If an individual is more advanced than others in the group, it makes sense for that individual to perform the role of moderator for several meetings until others feel comfortable in that role. Should a debate get out of hand or a dialogue stray or lag, the moderator will help refocus the discussion, often asking if the opening question has been answered or stepping in to make sure that statements are properly validated. Some further thoughts on opening questions and sample opening questions may be found below.
Study groups work best in quiet, aesthetic places that invite reflection: a centrally located cafe, a room with a magnificient view, or some nook or corner of a hotel or lodge.
The Design Patterns Study Group of NYC has found that an architectually rich environment is well suited to the study of design patterns. The group has declined numerous invitations to use uniformly illuminated corporate locations, but has instead continued to congregate at a spacious and soothing SoHo gallery/espresso bar that exemplifies Christopher Alexander's Sitting Circle (185), Different Chairs (251) and Pools Of Light (252) patterns (see Alexander's A Pattern Language).
Study Groups vs. Lectures
It is important to note the differences between study groups and lectures, since the vast majority of software groups (SIGs - Special Interest Groups) currently use the lecture format. This paper argues that the study group is a superior forum for learning.
A study group, as we've defined it above, is quite different in form and purpose from a lecture. While there is nothing wrong with lectures, they have a tendency to create passive learning experiences for attendees. If one is interested in simply gathering information, a lecture may be a fine place to do it. But if one really wants to understand something (to "get your hands dirty"), there is nothing like a study group.
While attendees of a lecture may seek information, attendees of a study group seek transformation; they want to make what they study not only something they understand, but something they may use in their everyday lives or work. The study group thus acts as a bridge, helping people move from passive to active learning.
While "experts" are often asked to give lectures, study groups prefer to invite experts to participate in a group, to ask opening questions and be an active member in a dialogue. The focus here is always on great literature, be it an important paper, article, or book. The group's dialogue revolves around getting to a better understanding of the issues.
Nuts & Bolts
If you are interested in creating your own Design Patterns Study Group, the following two sections on Navigation and Opening Questions offer concrete advice about how to go about doing it.
The Navigation section offers a path through the book's 23 patterns, and is designed to help a group stay focused and move intelligently from pattern to related pattern.
The suggested Opening Questions will help a group moderator consider what to ask at the commencement of a meeting.
Finally, it is important to note that what is being offered here is merely a beginning. The patterns literature is large. When groups within the Design Patterns Study Group finish their study of the Design Patterns book, they go on to study many excellent papers, articles, and books , covering object-oriented patterns, non-object-oriented patterns, concurrent, architectual, and analysis patterns, communications and organizational patterns, and many more. In a future work, I will present a suggested navigation along with opening questions for the broader range of patterns and pattern languages that are regularly read and discussed by the Design Patterns Study Group of NYC.
When one begins to study the patterns in the Design Patterns book, it soon becomes apparent that there is no predetermined way to navigate the 23 patterns. The book's patterns are broken up into Creational, Structural and Behavioral categories. These categories help one quickly find different types of patterns, but aren't particularly helpful in giving people an idea of where to begin studying and how to proceed from pattern to pattern.
Patterns in general are seldom used in isolation. The Iterator pattern is often used with the Composite pattern, the Observer and Mediator patterns form a classic bond, Singleton is used with Abstract Factory, and so on. When you begin to design and program with patterns, you soon discover that the real art in using patterns is knowing how to combine them.
The authors of the Design Patterns book suggest the connections between patterns, but do not offer a navigation through them. Many of the patterns show up all over the book, so it helps to learn some before others. And some patterns are quite a bit more complex than others.
Over a number of years now, the DPSG has had several groups study the patterns over a 23 week period. Each group has experimented with, discussed, and modified the navigation to make it work for them. Over time, one suggested navigation has emerged that is now used by every new group that studies the book. This suggested navigation is designed to help novices move intelligently from pattern to pattern with the goal of mastering all 23 patterns. Please note that this suggested navigation continues to be improved, and your suggested improvements are welcome: please email suggestions to email@example.com.
Design Patterns Navigation
Opening questions are extremely important to study groups.
Opening questions sometimes make groups rethink what they thought they understood. And that is usually the sign of a great opening question.
Opening questions may uncover nuances in meaning, reveal contradictions or even errors, or highlight possible ramifications of an expressed idea.
Opening questions may contrast what has been said with what someone else has to say on a similar subject.
The Moderator's Responsibility
A moderator must formulate and ask an opening question or questions. A moderator must also ensure that others have listened to and understand their question, even if it involves rephrasing the question or offering an example to help illustrate it.
But it is not always necessary for a moderator to be an "expert" on the selected writing for a group session. While it certainly helps to be an expert, there is nothing wrong with having a partial understanding of a writing and asking sincere questions in order to gain a better understanding of that piece of writing.
At the end of a session, moderators often ask if their question was sufficiently answered. When a question has not been answered, moderators sometimes ask their question at a later meeting on a similar topic. Or, to check the validity of an answer (or answers) to an opening question, moderators sometimes seek out the author(s) of a writing to ask them if their group got it right (i.e. came to a correct conclusion).
The opening questions provided below are suggested questions and are by no means a complete list. Feedback is welcome and encouraged (please email firstname.lastname@example.org).