Project Work Representation


A number of different methodologies and techniques were used by the project as appropriate to the range of activities it included. Described here is the methodology and approach used for the representation of the work of the project on these web pages. The core of the approach derives from work on what are termed pattern languages, which have been found from experience to be effective in many areas to represent and help share practice. It is not feasible here to even adequately introduce this approach and the reference below to the web site of the originator of the approach [Alexander] is a good starting point. In addition, the work of the JISC Planet (Pattern Language Network for Web 2.0 in Learning) Project [Finlay at al, 2009], in which two members of the Brain project were involved, provides an example of its application. A very brief outline will be given here of the approach and the formats that derive from it, which will be used here.

The pattern language approach originated as a way of representing and sharing architectural practice and has been used subsequently in various forms in a wide variety of areas. The key idea behind the approach is to represent knowledge of a particular domain as a set of interlinked items, called patterns. Each pattern represents the generalisation of a particular area of experience in a form which allows it to be reapplied to new requirements. In very basic terms, each pattern defines a particular problem or goal, the circumstances or context in which it occurs, and then describes the solution or means of achieving the goal. Connections between the different patterns allow tasks and requirements to be successively divided into their component parts in an analogous way to how written and spoken languages – a whole book or speech for example – can be analysed or synthesised using different rules of grammar and language construction. Note however, that the patterns do not necessarily form a simple hierarchical structure. Connections between them may be complex and include recursive ones where patterns directly or indirectly link back to themselves.

Because we are dealing with and documenting processes and systems which are being developed rather than finished ones, the approach and format used have been adapted to reflect this. For instance, to be considered for use as a pattern requires a certain level of evidence and justification, such as being supported by at least 3 cases/examples, rather than representing just the experience of a single project. The methodology and formats used here are different to ones used in more traditional applications of the approach and will be described as ” Pattern Language based ” to make this clear.

A rigid approach will not be taken to using formats and only a very light weight structure is used that reflects the pattern language based approach. Some pages (such as this one) will not use any pre-defined format, although a problem/question focused approach is employed generally.


As part of the normal documentation of the project, a means is required of representing the different aspects of the project, the issues it deals with and how it tackles these over the course of its development. It is also important to represent the practice and experience of the project in a generalised form which can be shared and used more widely both at the University and in the HE community as a whole. Over the period of the project development it is particularly important to be able to identify common elements with other projects in the VRE programme and elsewhere that allow collaboration and mutual assistance.

The pattern based approach ideally suits these requirements. It is problem and requirement focused so that the decisions and choices made by the project are explicit. One of the problems with the normal way that the work of projects are documented – in reports and papers, for instance, is that these usually cover many different aspects of the work carried out. What would be more suitable in many circumstances is something at a smaller level of granularity which could deal with a specific problem or issue. By separating out the work of the project into problem focused components the pattern format also fulfils this requirement well.


Christopher Alexander. Pattern Language Web Site,

Finlay et al, Planet Project Final Report, March 2009,