Smart Learning – Guidance on Producing Scenarios

The word count range for Scenarios is up to 150 words

Consider submitting several

About Scenarios
Scenarios are succinct descriptions of events or activities. They can be about past or current situations, but equally they provide designers with a risk-free tool for imagining and clarifying the future. They enable designers to consider ideas properly, often with other people, by asking “what if…” type questions and they provide a way to coherently and succinctly explain finished ideas to other people.
Stylistically scenarios are colourful, but focused narratives which describe processes that feel real. Well-formed scenarios have a “good enough” balance of detail; enough to set the scene for discussion or creative thinking or to convey the essence of an idea.
Ultimately scenarios create concrete pictures of what is being proposed, thereby informing development.
Carroll (1995) describes a scenario as “a concrete description of activity that the user engages in when performing a specific task, sufficiently detailed so that design implications can be inferred and reasoned about.”
Why use scenarios in the book?
MELSIG has a long-standing practice of using scenarios for capturing real innovation and imagined ideas. Well-formed and generalised scenarios are a good way to capture and present the essence of an idea so that it can be understood and adapted by others.
Forming a scenario challenges the author or design team to think carefully about aspects of the idea that may not yet have occurred to them.
Scenarios are brief standalone descriptions which can be analysed and brought together in categories. In the previous Digital Voices book we organised 50 scenarios around a simple framework of media intervention which was structured according to four, good practice principles.
Scenarios make the ideas accessible to diverse people who do not need to understand a lot of detail to appreciate the idea.
Scenarios address 7 key challenges
Authoring scenarios helps idea originators to,

  • Reflect on their ideas and processes;
  • Work together creatively in a structured way;
  • Manage risk by creating something that feels real but is not yet critical to the real world;
  • Manage the fluidity of design thinking without incurring great expense or wasting time in trying out ideas for real;
  • Consider ideas from multiple perspectives;
  • Work towards and create a tangible outcome in support of idea generation activities and the development of alternatives;
  • Present ideas in a coherent and engaging way.

Four ways to use scenarios in curriculum design

  1. Collaborative design teams can use scenarios to work out, capture and then communicate their thinking. The scenario format demands that the designers make a collective and coherent commitment to resolve and express their thinking.
  2. Designers can use their scenario representations to review and compare proposed pedagogy. The format allows for objective evaluation of ideas which may have grown out of creative and impassioned debate and it can be difficult for designers to view ideas critically without appearing to judge the thinking quality of peers. Scenarios can help to provide a useful distance.
  3. The process of writing a scenario description is analytical. Scenario writing is useful, therefore, in ‘reverse engineering’ existing practice as a review method. Writing a description of an activity in a dispassionate way using an effective schematic can lead to useful reflection and evaluation.
  4. Good scenarios can be used as the basis of new pedagogy. A method used well in one place can be adapted for reuse somewhere else. In course design, where consistency across modules is needed but difficult to achieve, scenarios can provide a particularly useful way of communicating standard aspects of a course, thereby establishing a framework and basis for academic autonomy.

The characteristics of well-formed scenarios
Stylistically a scenario can benefit from a simple natural language storytelling approach written in the present tense. This can make it more engaging and heightens a sense of reality and believability.
A well-formed scenario story should include the following features,

    • Goals, sub-goals or outcomes which describe the purpose the central activity in the story;
    • A setting and context which can be thought of as the rationale, the situation, and the location that provides a ‘stage’ for the story.
    • The agents, actors or key characters involved in the story, playing both primary or supporting roles. This may involve some description of who is involved, how and why. Actors in an educational plot are most likely to be teachers and students, but can include many other roles taking centre stage or bit parts including learning support staff, clients, employers and others.
    • Then there is the plot – the story’s action sequences and events, or what the actors do and how this changes the situation set out in the plot and goals. The plot in educational scenarios may be synonymous with ‘pedagogy’ or teaching and learning activity.

Presenting scenarios
Scenarios in the book are likely to be presented as text, but not necessarily. Any method can be used as long as it clearly, concisely, and usefully communicates the main idea. Visual language can be used too: comic strips, photo stories, storyboards, annotated pictures, flow diagrams, infographics, and even maps can be used to convey narratives and represent detail. Beyond the printed page videos, audio plays, digital stories and other multimedia techniques can also be used.
Example scenario
This example uses a text narrative and incorporates the key features of a well-formed scenario: goals(1); setting (2); agents (3); and plot (4). The scenario is given a useful title (5) to persuade people to read the scenario description. It has been written for an academic audience interested in understanding how digital storytelling can be used pedagogically.

Testing theory through practice (5)
Jo (3) knows she has to find a way to get her students (3) to make connections between the theory she teaches and real world practice (1). In the revalidated module Jo had explained the importance of situating theory in practice. Today Jo will brief her students about the digital storytelling task (2) she has devised which requires them to work in pairs in the field using photography and audio to capture a dimension of real world practice that either demonstrates the theory or disproves it (4). Jo’s students will design a five minute video which presents a real world account of practice using audio, video, text and other media they decide is useful. Each student will then submit an individual report that relates the given theory to their practice.

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