Zenon Chaczko, Venkatesh Mahadevan & Emil Wajs-Chaczko: Blogging as an Effective Tool in Teaching and Learning Software Systems Development
Zenon Chaczko , Venkatesh Mahadevan , Emil Wajs-Chaczko
ICT Group, Faculty of Engineering, University of Technology Sydney
NSW 2007 Australia
This paper outlines the strategic framework for applications of new blogging strategies and tools significantly enriched with cognitive, conative and emotive dimensions that can be used for effective teaching and learning of Software Systems Development (SSD) in large groups. Additionally, we provide features included in blogs as an invaluable source for monitoring and assessing the progress of the SSD subject. We focus on a support environment of specialised blogging tools used and comments on shared experiences in the implementation of blogging methods in the SSD subject over the last year at University of Technology, Sydney, Australia. Next, we review and assess the proposed blogs methodology for information processing as well as for subject evaluation. Then we discuss the successes of blogging, as well as the most common problems (both anticipated and experienced) inherent in using this tool. Finally, we present our knowledge, observations, comments and recommendations for the enhanced use of blogging, in a process of continuous improvement of teaching and learning of SSD.
Index Terms – Blogs, Blogging, Cognitive, Conative and Emotive Aspects of Teaching and Learning, Software Systems Analysis, Software Systems Development.
In recent years many university students have become very fond of writing and reading web log (termed blogs). An estimated 1.3 million sites identified in various research as blogs, reveals the popularity of this phenomenon One of the most common reasons for the ever increasing popularity of blogs is the anonymity and ease at which internet users can express and exchange their individual opinions on current political, social, educational or private issues. This is mainly because blogs become separate zones of cyberspace in which cybernauts can creatively publish, share and exchange theirs thoughts, feelings, opinions and information. There is also an increasing trend to utilise blogs as components of business Recent studies have however, demonstrated that the majority of web logs are not of the “topical” domain nature but more are inherently personal and used as objects of self-expression rather than self-realisation. A minority of blogs have also has struck a controversial stance with media heavy-weights (Lasica, 2003); blogging has now become a threat to the modern media platform, with media giants no longer the agents of mediation of news events in many instances (Reynolds, 2003). This includes the people involved in the teaching and learning process of subjects such as Software Systems and Development (SSD). This may be due to the reason that bloggers subvert higher education’s lofty aims with their disregard for tradition and protocol, hierarchy and even intellectual property. And worse yet, bloggers often write about their chosen medium with such unabashed enthusiasm, that there hovers about the blogging world the scent of the zealot’s evangelism [Barbara Ganley, 2004]. It was anticipated that blogging quality, modes and level of participation of students enrolled in subject would vary, yet study of socio-psychology of internet, mechanisms of effective sharing of information and opinions between peers in support of teaching a technological subject had a strong appeal to both internet users and educators. It was during these early stages of this analysis, we realised that the content of blogs is often rich in elements that could be used to assess and improve the process of teaching and learning in SSD. This has prompted and motivated us to use blogging techniques and tools to improve cognitive, conative and emotive (CCE) aspects of teaching and learning as well as a tool for the Software System Development (SSD) subject evaluation and student feedback.
The aim of this research paper is to investigate and report on our experiences at University of Technology Sydney (UTS), in applying innovative strategies of blogging in teaching large groups complex software system development. However, a secondary aim is to evaluate the outcome of students’ experiences with a blogging based reflective process at each phase of the subject, to improve the learning and teaching strategies. This includes the observations being derived from blogs related to the content of project packages, students’ perception of usability of software tools and technologies, group presentations of the implemented complex systems, exit interviews, product demonstrations, group-project coursework, discussions on student evaluation and feedback from project stakeholders. Finally, we conclude this paper with a range of future research and development topics related to blogging techniques and tools as tangible evidence of cognitive processes used in SSD.
THE REVOLUTION OF SOFTWARE SYSTEMS DEVELOPMENT AT UTS
The SSD subject at UTS is designed in such a way that, upon completion, students should be able to demonstrate competency in the following areas:
-Setting up a software development project and managing its outcomes
-Choosing representations for a software design inside greenfields or legacy systems
-Applying standards and tailoring mechanisms, dependent on the project size and complexity
-Knowing when deliverables are of sufficient quality, especially with respect to correctness (not necessarily completeness) and coherence to the major stakeholders
-Organizing a moderately sized software development project, in a team – team building
-Understanding software design and development concepts
-Ongoing development of critical and independent thinking
-Being able to function within a software development group
-An understanding of personal responsibility within the software development process
-An understanding of confidently presenting original material to an audience with wide-ranging interests
-An appreciation of the need for and value of critical reflection in one’s academic, personal and professional life.
The subject organises students into groups who undertake to complete a project started within a previous subject of Software System Analysis (SSA). The combination of the adapted blogging/activity focus method and spiral process model for teaching and learning SSA and SSD is shown in Figure1. SSA introduces methods, paradigms, tools, technologies, design concepts and introduces group participation and individual development. The role of the instructor in SSA is that of teacher, customer and project facilitator or project leader. In SSD we adopt a more laissez-faire and “constructivist” approach ,  where knowledge emerges as a result of working group activities. In the SSA/SSD projects context, learning is seen as a developmental process firstly occurring between people (in socio-cognitive domain) and later within an individual (in an intra-personal domain). We recognize that teaching and learning in SSA/SSD is to remain a constructive activity that requires dynamic reorganization of existing concepts, methods, approaches, projects needs. This is reflected by the fact the students are expected to form and manage their own groups, adopt their own methods, processes (based on their training received in SSA) and paradigms. In fact, they take total control and responsibility for their own learning. The only compulsory criterion is that participants are required to deliver a quality product on schedule, within budget and with due process as defined by the project size and complexity. The role of the instructor in SSD is principally that of a customer, tempered by assisting an optimal individual effect. The project development strategies that underpin teaching and learning processes adopted in SSA/SSD subjects synthesize on the combined best practice methodologies .
FIGURE 1 BLOGGING/ACTIVITY FOCUS METHOD VS. SPIRAL PROCESS MODEL FOR TEACHING AND LEARNING SSA/SSD
The subject is facilitated by a software system engineering team consisting of a coordinator, lecturer and tutor whose responsibilities include facilitating lectures, tutorials, laboratories, workshops and seminars, and conflict resolution for any difficulties that may arise from the group activities. Assessment consists of two major assignments as described above for group work, engineering logs for individual assessment and a bonus of up to 5 per cent for individual presentation of a researched or assigned topic. In the event of problems within the project development and group assessment being compromised, an exit interview for each individual or the entire team shall be applied at the discretion of the coordinator.
BLOGGING AS A PROFESSIONAL TEACHING AND LEARNING PRACTICE
In the implementation of blogging techniques in the SSD educational process, blogs have become viewed, essentially, as best practice methodologies. This is due to the reason that they are almost invariably and mutually guided by their individual concepts. Thus, blogging can be viewed both as an extension of instructional setting and as the next phase of teaching and learning of SSD. We describe these proposed blogging methods, as applied in the teaching and learning of SSD framework model, as combining not only the best practice methodology in aspects of software engineering standards but also in domains of CCE psychology, pedagogy, project management and economics.
A typical example of use of blogging as a tool for teaching and learning SSD in large groups is shown in Figure 2. This is the modified model of IEEE learning technology standards committee.
FIGURE 2 - BLOGGING AS A TOOL FOR TEACHING AND LEARNING SSD
A better understanding of the components of the above SSD framework model is found to be extremely important in the recommended use of efficient blogging techniques. Thus SSD utilising new blogging techniques would provide large groups of students in SSD, an exciting and appealing opportunity to speculate, interact, network and to share their explicit knowledge. This forms a basis for an enhanced level of knowledge management within the context of SSD whilst utilising those techniques. For this reason, the vision of the blogging now requires the rigorous approach of modification and better utilisation of existing techniques, which could be pervasive without being intrusive.
CCE DIMENSIONS FOR SSD
One such enhancement would have the basic components incorporated (such as content management, management of critical reflective teaching and learning methodologies etc as shown in Figure 2) by embedding the concept of blogging into the services, activities and practices within SSD not just for comparison, consolidation and manipulation of information but for knowledge management. However, knowledge management becomes trivial whilst handling and managing the issues arise by SSD processes. Without factual and accurate understanding on some of those dimensions of CCE aspects of SSD teaching and learning, it would not be possible to derive a clear roadmap for blogging support on how to proceed further as shown in Table 1.
The CCE dimensions that are incorporated into SSD outcomes include the mandatory project aspects of the project’s background study, problem scope, definition and analysis, critical thinking which involves reflective exercises and self-assessment, identification of stakeholders, and interactive decision making involving all stakeholders. This is supported by students making choices (tailoring) of effective engineering standards, processes, technologies and tools, discussing and presenting several options that might be considered for architectural/system design and then selecting the best solution according to earlier defined and reviewed criteria. It needs to be to stressed here that the pedagogical aim is not just about discussing and “covering” a variety of software systems development issues but integrating software systems knowledge, methodologies, economics, etc. throughout the SSD curriculum.
Due to the constant regeneration and redefinition of SSD specific blogging concept, there is yet to evolve an emergent SSD paradigm based on heuristics (such as usability, maintainability, modifiability and extensibility etc) that would emerge from a number of issues of concern in the Educational Intelligence (EI) pre-planning phase of teaching and learning institutions. Initially, we outlined the use of a General System Theory (GST) and General System Methodology (GSM) with the implementation of those heuristics in the critical areas of people, blogging processes and SSD integration control (Callaos.N, 2003).
A STRATEGIC FRAMEWORK FOR SSD SPECIFIC BLOGGING
This gave rise to development of a new conjoined incremental and decremental emergent SSD paradigm that is adaptive in nature. This model structured our ideas in an easily understood and interpretable format for the use of stakeholders both internally and externally. It includes developing a set of co-evolutionary loops for blogging process and SSD integration control by reiterating the user experience as a central notion. Next, we develop four major reinforcement decision points to pilot the use of the proposed paradigm shift through identification of articulating forces such as direct, react, pro-act and instantaneous.
FIGURE 3 - A STRATEGIC FRAMEWORK FOR SSD SPECIFIC BLOGGING
Figure 3 shows one such proposed emergent paradigm of SSD for implementing the innovative use of the above mentioned heuristics from the view points of collaborative people, blogging process, and SSD integration. In the realm of high level uncertainty forces involved in the actual teaching and learning of SSD, it is expected that the integration of those heuristics performs a major incremental step at the methodological level. The application of analogical thinking, for making methodological decisions that are more specific and diversified without leveraging the SDLC (Software Development Life Cycle) values of SSD for producing co-evolutionary loops in the intentional and dynamic contexts of blogging, is central to this notion.
The incremental steps involving analogical thinking and acting are dynamically related, with reciprocal dynamic nonlinear loops forming. Based on the analyses of intrinsic mutations, the inbound pressures would be identified that could propel the co-evolutionary process of SSD specific blogging. Analysis of extrinsic mutations would enable us to identify the outbound pressures either for provoking or pro-evoking the SSD to adapt in a better way within the proposed emergent paradigm. However, identification of relevant inbound/outbound blogging pressures, and critical response activities of stakeholders and their interdependence involved in the people and blogging process domain forms a basic shift towards compatible paradigms in the provinces of tradeoffs in making SSD decisions. This happens through the formation of a co-evolutionary loop for blogging effectiveness.
It is also shown in Figure 3 that, the formation of the co-evolutionary loop of SSD integration control needs a further study of market demand and technology availability in this context. These combined forces could take place simultaneously, as part of the evolutionary characteristics along with the considerations of people in the blogging process. In addition, they would accommodate the proposed emergent SSD paradigm with identification of decision points. These decision points either to propel/direct conjointly for adaptive evolutionary SSD paradigm (with praxiological and epistemological values) or to re-act (modification of blogging itself) and pro-act (modifies the SSD environment). It is also equally important to note that these co-evolutionary loops have both mutual relationships and multiplicative effects in the formation of an evolutionary SSD paradigm. This comes with a degree of criticality analysis of the hallmarks of SSD specific blogging based on induction/deduction techniques.
The hall marks or main distinguishing characteristics of use of blogging process in SSD may be listed as based on their: Usefulness, Carefulness, Scrupulousness, Degree of Exactitude, Testability, Credibility, Repeatability, Preciseness, Confidentiality, Comparability, Objectivity, Subjectivity, Generalisability, Simplicity, Parsimony.
However, in the management of blogging enhanced SSD areas, it is not always possible to assess and review, unlike in the traditional project management areas. This is mainly due to the fact that the outcomes expected will not be exact or error-free. This is primarily because analysis and measurement of CCE dimensions might encounter the blogging enhanced SSD paradigm with many difficulties. For an example, it is always not possible to meet the hallmarks such as comparability, consistency and wide generalisability whilst utilising the blogging process in SSD. The unintended consequences of these hallmarks could lead to the review of hypothetic-deductive method chosen for a SSD specific problem area. A timely realisation of the value of the proposed strategic framework would enable the stakeholders to understand and readily accept the need for good blogging. This in turn would offer numerous opportunities for the stakeholders to effectively solve complex blogging integration problems encountered during the SSD. The facilitators would also realise the choices and trade-offs among the various criteria of this investigation to obtain valid outcomes for enhanced SSD.
THE FEATURES OF SSD SPECIFIC BLOGGING
Teaching and learning in SSD follows the selection and implementation of blogging techniques in various scenarios within the proposed strategic framework. Careful and balanced selection and implementation of those techniques in various changing roles allows students, as well as lecturers, tutors and other participants, to have a conceptual growth and a deeper understanding of the topics, which will last over an extended period of time (possibly through their professional lifetime). Such methodology is to encompass both context (experience, knowledge, environment, application) and content (didactic units, composite didactic units, sequence, steps, implementations). We hold a firm belief that the proposed framework would assist us to create conceptual toolkits for blogging that both teachers and students will be able to apply in order to improve the execution of subsequent subjects, lectures, tutorials, etc.
The stakeholders of SSD engage in the first step of the blogging process by placing the learning resources on the on-line course repository using dedicated servers in the SSD Lab. The SSD subjects’ metadata (project specs, guidelines and toolkits for running the subjects/projects) are kept in a work package folder. A variety of blogging techniques in addition to software configuration and problem tracking programs, simulation and testing support facilities etc are installed on those dedicated servers.
From the blogging point of view, by doing so, stakeholders of SSD get an opportunity to:
-Define the new SSD requirements from a space of alternatives. In particular, the deficiencies in the existing SSD methodology must be addressed with specific proposals for improvement
-Design the proposed methodologies for SSD. Plans regarding resources could be laid out concerning the physical construction, hardware, operating systems, programming, communications, and security issues
-Develop a set of new selective and efficient procedures for SSD. However, we need to ensure that the proposed new components must be obtained, installed and tested. In addition training and experience of stakeholders in particular needs further testing of their proficient use. If necessary, performance adjustments needs to be made
-Put the blogging process into SSD into use. This can be done in various ways. The new methodology could be phased in, according to the requirement and the old methodology gradually replaced. In some cases, it may be more cost-effective to terminate the use of the old methodology and implement the new system all at once
-Evaluate the new methodology once it is up and running for awhile. Monitoring of blogging methodologies must be kept up rigorously at all times. Stakeholders should be kept up-to-date concerning the latest modifications and procedures
-Recognise and evaluate the existing SSD problems
intelligently whilst performing some teaching and learning tasks. In addition, this process would enable them to identify the deficiencies usually through interviews.
SUPPORT ENVIRONMENT FACILITIES FOR SSD SPECIFIC BLOGGING
Identification of components of support facilities needed for SSD specific blogging tools would enable us to develop the most efficient integration control. However, all the components within this environment would have a subset that supports the teaching and learning strategies. Once the facilities are defined and reflect those teaching and learning strategies, they give everyone in the SSD project a clear picture of what is important and what they need to achieve from the collaborative outcomes. It is the responsibility of the supporting environment to be more focused on meeting or exceeding those limitations and making postings on the blogging web site. In which case, blogging process could even show us the target for each facility besides showing the progress toward utilising them. This would enable the people to be motivated to optimise the use of those corresponding facilities at any time. The eight typical components or facilities of a supporting environment of a SSD specific blogging process are identified as:
-Run time knowledge extraction facilities (such as communication, coordination and collaboration etc)
-Integrated and retrospective reasoning facilities
-Automated situational and context awareness
-Automated problem-solving facilities
-Automated decision making facilities
-Automated reflective and regenerative
However, we realised that the exploration, description and hypothesis testing of those blogging facilities depends on factors such as SSD variables, access-oriented methods, stake holder’s interpretation abilities, logic execution, meta-knowledge about use and control of SSD paradigm, and formalisation of knowledge.
KNOWLEDGE CREATION IN BLOGGING COMMUNITIES OF PRACTICE
Stakeholders of SSD are not very convinced about the favorable circumstances that stimulate people to create, retain, share or utilise knowledge. Application of teaching and learning theories needs to be validated in a respective philosophical system, such as SSD specific blogging, however it is still a challenging area of research. It is demonstrated throughout this paper that, emergent SSD paradigm is seen as a strategic place where we can drill down these theories to close the theory-doing gap, as part of the best practices approach. This is mainly due to explore new methods for SSD specific blogging strategies and bridge the gap between the identities of SSD and evaluation levels of knowledge.
Research into epistemology is needed to explore new methods for knowledge creation and bridge the gap between our knowledge and semantic information provided by blogging. Epistemological theory in the context of SSD specific is identified as the study of foundations of the nonhuman nature of knowledge, typically expressed in prepositional forms in formal logic. In contrast, the theory of knowledge creation sees strategic knowledge as a dynamic human process of justifying personal beliefs as part of an aspiration for the truth. The CCE dimensions focus on the importance of knowledge related to human action as part of a serious reflection on behaviorist psychology. The analysis of active and subjective nature of knowledge which forms a basis for the theory of organisational creation of knowledge is represented by belief, trust and commitment, concepts that are deeply rooted in the value systems of individuals (Smith D.E, 2000). This insight is could be useful for interpreting the SSD specific strategic formulation within emergent SSD paradigm. It is expected that this could give more explicit recognition to tacit knowledge and related human aspects, such as ideals, values, or emotions, for developing a richer conceptualisation of knowledge retention.
The study of ethnography could be useful in recognizing the specialized cultures within a work place (Blomberg. J, 1993). The descriptive understanding of the observed behaviors of knowledge professionals would allow them to uncover and articulate the tacit, invisible set of their shared work practices (Bannon, 1996). This would enable us to view the emergent SSD paradigm as a human community capable of providing diverse meanings through post-hoc reflection. Action research could be another influential theory for the performance measurement of organisational learning of knowledge professionals through reflection and re-examination of the premises under which they are operating. The ultimate purpose of action science is to produce valid generalisations about how individuals and social systems, whether groups, inter groups, or organisations can design and implement their intentions in everyday life. These generalisations should lead the users to understand reality and to construct and take action within it (Argyris, 1982). However, this theory resembles ethnographic methods of observation and qualitative descriptions rather than those quantitative ones. They diverge in how the empirical results are used. Ethnographers prefer to take a neutral position on imposing any value judgment on what they observe; action researchers on the other hand aim to have change, for the better, the team’s behavior and performance. Action research enters into a study of a team with a belief in the value of bringing in interventions in order to assess patterns of activity (Smith D.E, 2000). Applied ethnography with its insights and intuitions could be useful while translating its empirical results into design, development, and in the implementation phases of SSD specific blogging. This theory could even be applicable for identifying the new SSD opportunities and evaluating the existing technologies, besides providing input to their design specification. This requires a collaborative effort between ethnographers and application designers (Smith D.E, 2000). Their other responsibilities include implementing new, flexible technologies and systems that support and enable blogging communities of practice, through informal and semi-informal networks of internal employees and external individuals based on shared concerns and interests. Application of theories such as ethnography, action research and applied ethnography are recommended and used for the development of knowledge architecture as part of the knowledge retention phase of this study.
Ontology in the context of SSD specific blogging is assumed to be the study of relationships that give rise to meaning of expressions of knowledge professionals. On the other hand, ontology is defined as a systematic account of existence. It could be even seen as an extension of hierarchical structuring of knowledge that subcategorises things according to their essential (or at least relevant and/or cognitive and non-cognitive) qualities. Ontological dimensions along with CCE dimensions could play a major role in the organisational knowledge creation process for distinguishing several levels of social interaction that take place within the emergent SSD paradigm. This could be achieved through assessment and review of stakeholders who are closer to the action while simultaneously ensuring that they have the skills and authority to execute decisive responses to changing SSD conditions. In addition, such practices could be continuously refined through peer review. This would ensure SSD practices were aligned with the dynamically changing informal blogging communities. These ontological and epistemological dimensions of knowledge creation could be applied in the knowledge transfer and knowledge expansion within the emergent SSD paradigm.
The assumption that knowledge is created through conversion (transfer through blogging) between tacit and explicit knowledge allows us to postulate four different modes (Nonaka, 1995) as follows:
-Socialisation (tacit to tacit knowledge conversion)
-Combination (explicit to explicit knowledge conversion)
-Internalisation (tacit to explicit knowledge conversion)
-Externalisation (explicit to tacit knowledge conversion)
Socialisation is connected with theories of organisational culture, while combination is rooted in information processing. Internalisation has associations with organisational learning while externalisation is part of learning psychology still under development (Smith D.E, 2000). It is important to note that tacit knowledge is influenced by both the variety of individual’s experience and the collaborative high quality experiences with new perspectives. We consider this collaborative high quality experience as QoE (Quality of Experience) for knowledge utilisation. However, the limitation of the CCE view of QoE is considered as embodied action rather than a mere representation. This includes an increased level of realisation of the differences in perspectives of stakeholders that may have a very positive role in innovation. Promotion of individual autonomy in SSD specific blogging experimentation and learning could be characterised by some management individuals as creative abrasion.
Once the knowledge is created, acquired and transferred as a continuous process within the SSD, the next major step is to move to the next higher level beyond the SSD boundaries. This could be done by building a knowledge network. This depends on the extent to which the knowledge created is consistent with stake holder’s perceptions relating to the theories of adventure, romanticism, aspiration and aesthetics. This includes convergence of knowledge with the self-reflective initiatives of multiple and qualitative inducements. As part of developing the knowledge network, network theory maps the relationship between social context and structuration theory and makes provision for stability and change needs a definite focus. Social structure in the structuration theory refers to the rules and resources used in interaction. This model is similar to the definition of social context in terms of regularised relations of interdependence. Adaptive structuration theory can also be used for examining group decision making (Poole, 1985). These theories could be useful in terms of identifying the introverted/extroverted knowledge professionals within the social context of SSD specific blogging. Social information processing theory accounts for social influences on media use (Fulk, 1993). It is also assumed that the findings of this study would be in line with identity theories by showing the importance of organisational, social, technological and professional affiliation and perceptions of stakeholder’s behavior during SSD. Identity theory could utilise psychological and physiological evidence within and beyond the emerging SSD paradigm.
However, this directs provision of theoretical support to analyse the identified methodological problems for SSD specific blogging which could be modified in the near future. This is necessary due to the limitations of available off-the -shelf that give rise to controversial teaching and learning issues that still require an advanced theoretical research. This necessitates researchers engaging in constructive debates in SSD specific blogging that can envisage a more stable foundation on which they can implement their SSD ideas.
CURRENT AND FUTURE WORK
Much of the research in this area is in its infancy, so the available resources are scarce. We use our own experience to illustrate blogging technique ideas in several areas of SSD. We think it is also important not to confuse blogging with simple knowledge management as there are parts of blogging that far outweigh the benefits of the same in relation to ownership and ease of publication/record tracking/reverse chronological tracing and time stamping. The use of knowledge management theories in the current work is to create the awareness among the large groups of facilitators and students of better utilisation of those techniques. It is also important to note that the methods proposed are to represent and analyse knowledge management in a way that is independent of any complex SSD issue. However, this work is not intended to provide a complete solution and focused only on some problems that would be addressed and, at least partially, solved during the current research initiative. The expected results would assist those stakeholders involved in extended SSD practices and those who have an interest in building prototypes similar to this.
The future technical work would mainly focus on the challenges to face in developing and adapting these new technologies for SSD. The main thrust of the work would therefore be directed towards the development of a rediscovered blogging model taking into account those specific features for creating a new SSD service portfolio.
This paper bridges the gap between theoretical and practical approaches in the application of modified blogging techniques in educating large groups of students in SSD taught at UTS.
This study examined the importance of understanding the effect of complexity characteristics of application of blogging with their relevant technical and non-technical teaching and learning issues. This is crucial in terms of providing insights and intuitions on SSD specific blogging regarding how these techniques can be constructed and used. Our continuing research in this area includes making use of other modified methodological blogging techniques as a benchmark to reveal several teaching and learning advantages. These advantages include enhanced collaborative outcomes that may be offered through descriptive and measurable outcomes over a wide range of scenarios and evaluation conditions.
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