Here is the text of a speech that pattern language inventor Christopher Alexander gave in 1996 to The 1996 ACM Conference on Object-Oriented Programs, Systems, Languages and Applications (OOPSLA). There is a lot –a lot— in this speech that makes it interesting and fulfilling reading (and entirely applicable to online learning and knowledge sharing). I’ll give just one example here:
What, now, of my evaluation of what you are doing with patterns in computer science. (Bear in mind, as you hear my comments, that they need to be taken with a grain of salt; I’m ignorant; I’m not in your field.) When I look at the object-oriented work on patterns that I’ve seen, I see the format of a pattern (context, problem, solution, and so forth). It is a nice and useful format. It allows you to write down good ideas about software design in a way that can be discussed, shared, modified, and so forth. So, it is a really useful vehicle of communication. And, I think that insofar as patterns have become useful tools in the design of software, it helps the task of programming in that way. It is a nice, neat format and that is fine.
However, that is not all that pattern languages are supposed to do. The pattern language that we began creating in the 1970s had other essential features. First, it has a moral component. Second, it has the aim of creating coherence, morphological coherence in the things which are made with it. And third, it is generative: it allows people to create coherence, morally sound objects, and encourages and enables this process because of its emphasis on the coherence of the created whole.
I don’t know whether these features of pattern language have yet been translated into your discipline. Take the moral component, for example. In the architectural pattern language there is, at root, behind the whole thing, a constant preoccupation with the question, Under what circumstances is the environment good? In architecture that means something. It means something important and vital that goes, ultimately, to the nature of human life. Of course, there are plenty of people who will debate whether the question is objective. Some architects are still going around saying, It is all a matter of opinion. But that is a dying breed. The moral preoccupation with the need for a good environment, and for the living structure of built environment, and the objective nature of that question, is largely accepted. I do not know whether that sort of moral component exists in computer science, or in software engineering, or in the way in which you do things
Under what circumstances is an educational experience good? What are the signature characteristics of a useful, fulfilling, and above all, morally enriching educational conversation? Can we decompose that conversation into fundamental building blocks? Can we deduce sort of generative grammar of educational experience that enables us to string together these building blocks into “sentences” of educational experience that are complete in both the functional and the humanistic sense?