Monday, July 27, 2015

Instructor Personality and its role in education

Continuing on my quest for 'inbox zero' for Pocket, here is another interesting post that deals with the personality of the instructor in the teaching and learning endeavor. There are actually two interesting strands here, one that deals with the instructor themselves, and one that deals with material creation.  I'll tackle the material creation first as I find that this is what piqued my initial interest.  Martin Weller writes a little bit about creating materials for the Open University and taking on the role of a member of the content creation team, as opposed to having his own personality. I find this interesting on two counts.

First, in my own online education I have not, prior to starting my doctorate at Athabasca, attended an Open University. Through some of the coursework (namely EDDE 801) I got to see what some of the course packs look like in an Open University setting (assuming that some of the MEd materials shared with us are what a stereotypical course pack looks like).  I find the concept intriguing, and to some extent I wish that we could replace readers, or introductory textbooks for as many of our programs as we can with these types of course packs as a way to reduce costs.  That said, when course packs are written, I expect that they are written in a neutral tone to not indicate any of the authors personality simply because they will be read by more than just the author's students.

While I am all for author personality in the materials that are created for the course, there is one thing that is nagging in the back of my mind - and this comes from the land of the adjuncts - and that is how little notice some adjuncts get when it comes to them taking on a new course.  I know that I wouldn't take on a course where every video or piece of writing started "Hi Class! This is Dr. so-and-so..." because that would mean that I would need to go in and create all new materials for the course for free, and on the fly (which means that you are paid less per course since you sink more hours into it).   I think having all material be a-personal is a bit of a problem too, so there is a Goldilocks zone somewhere in the middle where there is some "general" material (assignments, rubrics, syllabi, reading notes, etc.) that don't offer a specific voice, but at the same time there are place for instructors to really add in their own unique voice and subject matter expertise.

Now, as far as the personality of the instructor goes, and it as a factor of success in the course, I think that this exists, and we don't need to look at MOOCs as an example of this.  Even with traditional face to face courses I've seen instances where the personality of the instructor has been a make or break element in the experience of the learner in the classroom.  Some instructor personalities will not click with certain learners, which will raise barriers (cognitive and affective) for everything else they have to do in that course.  And then there are other instructors whose personalities encourage learners to persevere through difficult materials and make it through.  Sometimes people actively seek out courses taught by certain people. This, to me, is definitely speaks to  the relevance of instructor personality in teaching.

Now as far as rockstar professors go - I am with George Siemens on this, why idolize a rockstar? They tend to do drugs, be late, and not care about others (paraphrasing something he said during a panel at the analytics conference his year)

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Dissertations: seems to be all about assessment

I am finally catching up with my Pocket reading list, again!  This seems to be a fool's errand since it just keeps filling up again with interesting things to read and ponder ;-).  In any case, Rebecca recently was pondering on her blog if Collaborative Autoethnography (CAE) is an appropriate method for a dissertation.  Rebecca, as far as I know, is currently ABD and looking at wrapping up her degree - I have no doubt that soon she will be Dr. Rebecca :-).

I think that there are many reasons why CAE is a good approach to researching certain things. I am introducing my own bias here when I say that I prefer working with others on research projects and on publishing.  I've written some things myself, and there is a benefit to the lone researcher with his readings, literature reviews, data crunching, and data analysis.  It's sort of like going to the gym on your own and working out on your own.  It has its place.  That said, despite the fact that I do not see myself as a super social person, I do prefer the company of others.  I had some of my best workouts when I trained with fellow taekwondo students.  I've had some great "aha" moments when studying with fellow classmates for my comprehensive exams, and I've had some great new insights when I worked with others on collaborative research projects (both papers and presentations).

When it comes to dissertations, however, I think that we have a bit of a problem.  On the one hand a dissertation is meant to augment the amount of knowledge that we have in our world. This is great, however I think that dissertations are under-valued if this is one of their main goals.  Dissertations are never (or super rarely) published as books as they exist in dissertation form, and they are often cannibalized and taken apart to create publishable journal articles out of them. While there is nothing wrong with journal articles (I enjoy working on them, and providing peer review for them), I do think that there are positions that are at odds with one another when we simultaneously think of dissertations as a monolithic magnum opus, and at the same time we are encouraged to write them in a way so that they are easily taken apart for standard research articles.

The other issue about doing a CAE in a dissertation is the collaborative part.  From my own explorations in PhD-land (having spent 5 years looking into programs before committing to Athabasca University) is that the dissertation is seen as a final exercise of your research abilities, a culmination of the domain specific knowledge, and research methods knowledge, that you have accumulated and are now putting to the test.  This, by necessity, is a lonely path, one which the researcher/student/candidate, needs to do on their own. 

If a CAE, or any other collaborative work, is done properly it's hard to distinguish who did what part.  I saw that with the work that I've done with the rhizofolks. We produced some great work (if I do say so myself), but we've swarmed those docs so thoroughly that it's hard to say what parts I contributed.  I think that in order for any collaborative work is to be acceptable as a method for a dissertation there need to be at least two things in place:  First, the person who is defending the piece, the candidate, needs to be fully aware of every nook of the research piece. They need to live, eat, breathe, that document. Otherwise it's plain to see what parts they did and what parts they ignored.  Secondly, the other researchers who took part in the document need to write testimonials and go on the record to indicate that the candidate for the PhD did actually contribute, and they contributed to a satisfactory degree as defined by the rules and regulations of the university (which I suppose is the 3rd part, those rules and regs need to be set).  Once these three things are done, then the dissertation committee needs to approve the dissertation.

In short, I don't see CAE as a methodology that would be approved by a dissertation committee.  I think that an Autoethnography could be acceptable, however the method needs to fit within the established acceptable methodologies of your examination panel.  If your panel recognizes it as an important method and sees value in it, then you're all set!  If you have a couple of strict empiricists on your panel, then I don't think that it will be accepted.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Teaching and Instructional Design: two sides of the same coin?

This month I decided that it was high time I started preparing for the fall semester.  Sure, my third class  -EDDE803-(and third semester) of my EdD program is 2 months away, however since I have the books (thank you Athabasca for planning ahead! :-) ), why not start now that I am a little more relaxed?  The first book that I just finished is by Diana Laurillard Teaching as a Design Science: Building Pedagogical Patterns for Learning and Technology. This book was on my to-read list on Goodread for a while, so I am quite happy to finally get an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone.

The book makes, in my mind, a valid point that teaching should be approached from a design science perspective, implementing, analyzing, tweaking, analyzing some more, tweaking again, and so on. As I was reading this book I was thinking back to the process of instructional design. Instructional design is iterative in nature and there are many elements of this book (if not all of the elements) that I know from an instructional design lens.  When I finished reading the book, while it was interesting and it framed things in a slightly different way than I had encountered them before, I was left wondering two things:

1. What is teaching?  Being an experienced instructional designer, if teaching, as is presented by books on teaching, deals in most part with the instructional design aspects, then what separates teaching from instructional design?  I suppose that what I was hoping for was a more philosophical discussion on teaching, teaching as a philosophy, rather than teaching as a process.  Then again, the title does indicate that teaching is viewed as a design science, and instructional design is a design science, so I suppose the overlap is inevitable.

2.How much overlap is there between teaching and instructional design?  If you think of a venn diagram, with one circle being "teaching" and the other "instructional design", how big are the areas that are not mutual?  And what are those areas?  I suppose one area might be the analysis part: determining if there is a learning or performance gap, and if this gap can be remedied with instruction.  This would fall on the ID side of things.  But, are there elements like this on the teaching side of the diagram.  There must be!

I've been teaching as an adjunct for a few years now and I can pick a number of words that describe what a teacher does.  However, how one operationalizes these without going over into instructional design is something that I haven't been able to fully identify yet.  As I wrote above, I am wondering if what I am looking for is slightly out of phrase with what I am given and the answer is right in front of my eyes.

What do you think?  What is teaching? How does it differ from instructional design?

Saturday, July 18, 2015

What the heck is an instructional designer?

"Instructional Designer" - by AK & Net Art Generator
- for #CLMOOC
Continuing on my quest to read through what I've accumulated in my Pocket account, I came across a blog with the title Learning Experience Design: A Better Title Than Instructional Design? The title was catchy enough for me to save it to pocket for later reading (which seemed to be forever ago).  In any case, Christy seems to be making the point that people, who are not in the field of instructional design, are perplexed when someone tells them that they are Instructional Designers, or that they earned their degree in Instructional Design.  What the heck does that mean?  What is an instructional designer qualified to do? This is a good conversation to have over a drink or a cup of coffee, but since my instructional designer friends are nowhere to be found, it's blogging time!

That's a good question, and I am sure that if you ask 10 different instructional designers what they do, there will be some common aspects, and some points of divergence.  I do not think that using a different term to describe us, a term such as Learning Experience Designer, or Learning Architect, or even Learning Designer will do the trick of better explaining what we do. I know that there is a debate inside our profession about teaching (or instructing) versus learning.  One being more teacher-focused and one being more learner-focused. Of course our preference would be for being more learner focused, however I think that this distinction is really lost to people outside of our teaching & learning professions. Thus, these terms that focus on learning as they key term really don't do any better at explaining to non-insiders what we do.

Specifically, the term learning engineer, or learning architect seem somewhat awkward. Engineers build systems, architects design buildings, but that doesn't really tell us how people use these systems and these buildings.  Perhaps this is apropos because most instructional designers aren't also aren't directly involved in the teaching of the learning interventions that they design. However, there is something to be said about the usage, navigation, and paths, that learners take toward that ultimate goal of knowledge.  Using terms such as engineer and architect also feels a little cold to me, and it seems quite artificial.  The mental image that comes to mind is sanitation engineer.  People don't know sanitation engineers but they do know garbagemen.

The term learning experience designer also seems a little odd to me. Perhaps in a company like Disney or an institution like the Smithsonian this title might fly because instructional designers learning experience designers have control of the much broader learning experience that goes beyond a computer screen or a piece of paper. They can really design an experience and pull it through.  I should note that this also take coordination among many individuals with various ranges of talents.  This brings me to one of the big issues of our profession: Instructional Designer does not mean anything in specific because it means many things to many people.  For instance, by looking at 10 randomly selected job posting for instructional designer, I picked out the following general duties for across all jobs (with the same, or similar, title mind you!)

  • Project management
  • Design courses
  • Design curriculum
  • Delivery of training sessions (virtual and in-person)
  • Develop standardized course materials [this doesn't bode too well for the design part!]
  • Support development of documentation for ID strategies
  • Repurpose & expansion of previous eLearning products
  • Creation of Multimedia
  • Provide consultation for faculty
  • Remain current with trends in ID and Online pedagogy, make recommendations based on this
  • Coach others
  • Create and revise existing digital assets [videos, audio, flash, HTML5]
  • Develop web pages (e.g., pages, graphics, animation, functionality) and associated infrastructure
  • Develop participant guides, leader guides, manuals, etc.
  • Develop games and simulations
  • Conduct research

Here are some of the skills requirements for the job:
  • Knowledge of SQL, XML, HTML
  • Knowledge of MS Office
  • MA in Education, ID, Adult Education, educational technology, or similar
  • Skills in developing software training
  • SCORM
  • Technical Writing experience
  • Knowledge of eLearning programs
  • Knowledge of Web 2.0 tools
  • Adobe Creative Suite
  • Captivate, Camtasia, Storyline, etc.
  • Learning Management Systems Knowledge
  • ADDIE
  • Agile ID
  • Usability principles knowledge
  • HTML, jQuery, XML, SQL, PHP
  • 3D Modeling tools

I made sure that my random sampling included instructional design jobs for both higher education instructional designers, and for corporate instructional designers.  What's clear to me from reading these job descriptions, and (hastily) putting together these is that there is no common conception of what an instructional designer does.  What people want instructional designers to do is everything.  From server administration, to course design, to course creation, to course facilitation, to digital asset design...to...to...to...

I think that we all need to be realistic and know that someone who graduates with a degree in instructional design (or related degree) won't be able to do everything and do it well.  Some people do end up specializing in the creative aspects of ID (video, audio, animation, etc.).  Other people end up specializing in the coding aspects (web and app creation), and others end up specializing in the management and coaching aspects.  Do all instructional designers know something about everything?  Probably yes.  There are enough core courses that provide a common core of knowledge to be conversant about a variety of topics. However, to do things well you need much more practice than any one course, or even one job, provides you with.

I see the instructional design degree sort of like an MBA.  When you pursue an MBA (at least at UMass Boston where I got mine), you explored introductory knowledge in a variety of areas (IT, Finance, Accounting, Management, Marketing), and then you could choose to concentrate and focus on some of those areas, as well as other areas such as HR, International Management, Healthcare Management, Entrepreneurship (and the list goes on). At the end everyone graduates with an MBA, but there isn't one singular conception of what an MBA does, or should be able to do.  Thus, for me, it's really a moot point trying to figure out one name that best describes an MBA, that is different from MBA.  I think that the analogy also applies to instructional designers.  It's a moot point focusing on what we call ourselves. I think it's better to demonstrate what we do, and we call ourselves won't matter.

Your thoughts?

Thursday, July 16, 2015

It's the battle of the SPOCs!

"Fractured Spock"
- by me and Net Art Generator,
for #clmooc
Over the past couple of years, since the silly acronym "SPOC" was invented to denote a course that was the antithesis to the MOOC, a Small Private Online Course, I've had issues with the acronym, and took exception to this new discovery on the part of schools that newly invented this form of education, considering that there are schools that have been doing it since the early aughts.

In any case, I was finally going through my Pocket account today, trying to read as many things as I've saved for later reading since
Rhizo15 when I came across a couple of articles that really made me roll my eyes a bit and made me want to facepalm...

The first article is a featured article in Harvard Magazine, July/August issue, titled Is Small Beautiful? This was a fairly quick read, but I couldn't help but think that this was mostly a PR piece on the part of Harvard and Harvardx. There is a lot left to be desired in this article, and about this innovation in general.  For instance, when talking about  the CopyrighX, what does teaching in a "networked" form mean? Does that mean teaching online? I've written before about the application process for Copyrightx and other "limited enrollment" courses, which I think really goes counter to the ethos of Open Education, and it really doesn't take into account the diverse reasons for which learners sign up for MOOC, and their rationales and many varied reasons for the patterns in which they participate in.  Hmm... now that's an interesting topic for research: "activity patterns of MOOC participants and the motivation for learning"! Feed free to borrow this from me and do something with it ;-)

Anyway, some more specifics from the article:

Since the program’s launch, a number of courses at HarvardX have tested a simple solution to many of MOOC detractors’ biggest complaints: scaling down, not up. These experiments—which come with their own acronym, SPOC (small private online course)—enable professors to more fully engage a targeted group of learners, who benefit in turn from an intensive, personal course setting.
First of all, I don't get what the detractor is for scaling up? Is it that you can't practice the same pedagogies?  Well, that to me seems like a no-brainer. New modalities probably require new pedagogies, and those are things we need to discover. We can certainly use our existing paradigms as a base to begin with, but we need to go into this knowing that we will most likely need to adapt.  I'd like to congratulate our colleagues at Harvard for inventing something that those of us in online education have been doing for more than a decade now - the "small, private, online, course" - otherwise known as a traditional online course. There is ample literature out there for these "SPOC"s (horrible acronym) which people should really jump into and read.   Now, don't get me wrong, I think that it's freakin' fantastic that Harvard Law is offering a free course on copyright that looks and feels like something you'd get by paying good money for tuition, but let's not pretend that they've discovered something innovative in terms of pedagogy.

In the end, small courses’ successes rest on defying many of the very promises of the MOOC revolution: they might not be massive, open to everyone, cheap to run, or entirely online. But by using technology to combine the centuries-old lessons of campus education with the best promises of massive learning, SPOCs may be the most relevant and promisingly disruptive experiments the MOOC boom has yet produced.
So, if they aren't MOOCs, why do you bother comparing them to MOOCs?  Even so, MOOCs are not necessarily expensive to run, that is a design decision.  My colleague, Inge deWaard, ran 2 successful MobiMOOC cMOOCs (when cMOOCs were just MOOCs) and I am pretty sure it didn't cost her much. Ray Schroeder ran EduMOOC - again, that was most likely not costly.  We also see examples like #Rhizo14 and #rhizo15, as well as #CLMOOC and #CCourses.  Now, granted all of these are MOOCs of the cMOOC variety, but my point - I hope - still stands.  You can do a MOOC on a shoestring budget.

The other notion that is laughable (please forgive me, I appear to be in an extremely cranky-pants mood today), is the notion that "SPOCs may be the most relevant and promising disruptive experiments..." Really? You mean the thing that my department has been doing for the past 10 years (offering a fully online, accredited, rigorous, Master of Arts degree) is the most disruptive thing to come out of MOOCs? And, the irony is that my department wasn't even first to the online game. There are other departments that have offered online courses that are SPOCs.  They are not free, but nothing in the SPOC definition hints at free. I think this blissful ignorance of what's happening in education outside of the walls of some institutions is astounding.

Fisher’s innovation [with CopyrightX], in a sense, was to be less experimental: using digital resources to engage students in the kind of intense learning experience expected on campus.
Wow... It seems like now we're offering a golden star to everyone ;-).  No, seriously, how can one claim "innovation" when "innovation" is defined as business as usual?

The course was designed to be demanding across the board. “I hoped, from the beginning, that it would be possible to reach these audiences without dumbing down the material at all,” Fisher says. “That was just a hope in the beginning, but it proved to be true.”
I think that there is a sense out there that MOOCs cannot be "demanding" and that materials need to be "dumbed down" for MOOCs.  There is also an assumption that MOOCs are directly correlated to the college course as that course exists for accreditation purposes, based on the credit hour.  It also assumes that the learners want to get exactly out of the course what the instructors want you to get out of the course. These are huge assumptions to make, and they are - in my opinion - largely wrong in the MOOC world.  There are many reasons why people choose to sign up for MOOCs.  Some people just window-shop.  Other people are interested in specific aspects of the course.  Heck, even in a cMOOC, in #rhizo14, we had people who were interested in reading and discussing more of D&G, and people who did not.

Why does learner choice in the matter of what they want to explore not seem to matter here? Some people seemed fairly annoyed that we didn't tackle D&G all the time in either Rhizo, but that's a choice of the learners. Neither Dave, nor anyone else, could force us to engage with the course ins prescribed way. Why should other MOOCs force a specific pattern of participation?  If I were earning 3 graduate credits from a MOOC, I would jump through hoops because I know that I would be assessed for specific things in specific ways.  But when a course is free, and I am not getting formal and generally accepted external recognition of my course accomplishments, why should I try to fit your mold?

The results of this experiment in scaling down from massive are promising. First are the benefits to on-campus learning—one of the oft-repeated goals of HarvardX. The new TF program offers students a rare chance to gain teaching experience in a law-school setting. And by assigning his video lectures as homework for his HLS students, Fisher has cut down the number of weekly class sessions from three to two. The remaining meetings, he says, now feature deeper, more nuanced discussions.
AHA!  So here is a benefit of SPOC, or at least free online courses: They can be training grounds for  people pursuing terminal degrees. Instead of putting them in a 100-level undergraduate course to teach (which they might still do), and have the university catch flak because the professors on departmental listings aren't really teaching those undergrad courses, you can now get teaching experience in SPOCs, and the pressure is (theoretically) less because those few people have been handpicked to attend a SPOC and the SPOC is free (can't complain about a free thing, right?)  Now, the whole cutting down of lecture time...well...again, I congratulate you on discovering Flipped Learning, and possibly even discovering Blended learning!

“Innovation in Health Care,” version two, launched on edX this spring, and the staff has focused on making the team aspect of the course more robust. This has required moving even further away from MOOCs’ one-to-many model. 
Again, here we perpetuate a myth, or perhaps misconception, that the MOOC is a one-to-many broadcast model.  It is not!  It can be, and we've certainly seen this with many xMOOC providers, but it's certainly NOT the only model for Open Online Courses.

Anyway, that's one type of SPOC.  But, did you know that we have competing SPOCs? In a recent (research) article titled Can SPOC (Self- Paced Online Course) Live Long and Prosper? A Comparison Study of a New Species of Online Course Delivery we learn about the new Self-Paced Online Courses! OK, as a Trek fan, and someone who can appreciate a pun, I'll give it to the authors: the title was catchy and it was a nice callback to Mr. Spock. However, that's where my appreciation for the article ends.

There are several issues in this research article, including calling the MOOC a "ore recent variation of the traditional online model". Another is the same folly as the Harvard SPOC article: trying to make something new out of something that isn't.  Self-paced coursed, be they online, offline in the form of CBT (hey, remember that acronym?), or through correspondence education have been around for a while. Heck, there are universities whose entire undergraduate experience is based on self-paced online learning.  I also remember doing professional development and earning a professional certification by learning through self-paced online learning back in 2002ish (if I remember correctly) Where is the novelty?

The conclusion of this study is that there is no significant difference between self-paced online learning and traditional online learning. This doesn't really seem like a shocker - given all the studies on the NSD. It also reminds me of the talk that Rory McGreal gave us during orientation at Athabasca last summer when he said that he didn't want to see yet another study comparing one medium to another to see which is "better" ;-)

To put an end to this long post - what do you think of the battle of the SPOCs?