Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The role of theory in Instructional Design

I was reading this article a week or so ago on the role that theory plays in instructional design. Even though the study was very limited (only 7 participants, and in several different industries), I've seen similar results when working with my classmates (I should point out that this post is not meant to criticize my classmates, but to point out observations in the instructional design field as a whole)

The researchers in this study found ten themes:

  • Participant desire to use theory and report that they often do.

  • Participants expressed ambivalence toward theory (theories were “viewed as overly abstract, rigid, or complex with relatively little guidance regarding application.”)

  • The range of theories chose are “likely limited to those that practitioners know about, understand how to apply, and find useful in their work.” The researchers then suggested that “practitioners may seldom identify theories that are actually useful in their specific setting, even if a helpful theory exists.”

  • Practitioners did not distinguish between theories, models, and design processes in descriptions of their work, “possibly suggesting that – given the abstractness and complexity of many of these conceptual tools – practicing designers are offered little basis for differentiating them and may lack the ability to select ones most suitable for their purposes.”

  • Using theory as an argumentative device brings a measure of legitimacy and professional to design decisions. However, theory use was somewhat hindered by others who did not see its value. This, the researchers noted, pointed to “an interesting and often tension-filled aspect of instructional design work (i.e, the process of negotiation to arrive at a workable design plan.)”

  • Decisions are often made on the basis of intuitive judgment and practical wisdom developed over time.

Now I see these embodied in my classmates, but I don't think it's necessarily an issue with the learners, but rather the curriculum. I've certainly has a couple of classes where we've had theory, and how theory can be turned into practice, but those were probably only a couple of classes out of the whole curriculum. Most of the curriculum seems very 'practical'. I would say that in Instructional Design 80% is practice, 20% is theory, while the opposite is true in my Applied Linguistics curriculum, where we spend 80% of the time deconstructing theory and how we see it manifested in the classroom, and 20% of the time applying theory to our classroom practices.

In courses that are heavy with theory, we are also expected to do research on our own, go out there and find resources, find additional theory, see how different theories connect or contrast, and then you make up your own mind as to what works, what doesn't seem to work based on what you've experienced.

I think that theory for theory's sake is wasted time, but paying no attention to theory, and not keeping up with recent (or older!) research, and seeing how the research fits in to what you do. Like most professions, Instructional Designers need to keep abreast with what is going in the field they are in (Education) in order to keep up with developments so your skills aren't antiquated. Sure, you can learn the newest computer program, or web 2.0 doodad, however if you don't know any theory, how will you apply what you've learn with doodad-X?

The danger of just going with your gut, or practical wisdom made over time (last bullet) is that you are pigeonholing yourself to the same old practice, when in fact that practice may have been proven wrong, or there is something out there that fits your needs better than what you are using now.

I think that students in Instructional Design should be designers and researchers because what they research, what they find, directly impacts how they work.

I would be interested to see what results would be if full research on this topic were undertaken.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Heard this before...

I was reading an article recently on the Washington Post, the title of which was A Virtual Revolution Is Brewing for Colleges. Quite honestly I've heard this before, and I've been hearing this for the last ten years. Still hasn't happened.

Here's an interesting quote:
the young students of tomorrow will be growing up in an on-demand, personalized world, in which the notion of a set-term, offline, prepackaged education will seem anachronistic.

In my experience, there have been very few prepackaged classes. In all of my undergrad education we've had guidelines about what should be covered, however the classes were anything but prepackaged. We did get off syllabus, we did explore interesting tangents, and the students who were in the class did offer valuable insights.

Another interesting quote:
soon you'll see more Web sites that make it easy to take classes from a blend of different universities.

While this would be interesting, there is a problem of accreditation and making sure that each puzzle piece fits together. You can't just take some from column A and some from column B and mix them up and be able to satisfy graduation requirements. You will learn, but will you be able to satisfy graduation requirements?

Another interesting quote:
The Internet makes it harder to justify these redundancies. In the future, a handful of Soc. 101 lectures will be videotaped and taught across the United States.

This quote also makes education sound more like the prepackaged variety that the article seems to try to avoid. Quite honestly this person doesn't seem to get education. Yes lectures do go over certain themes, but lectures are not textbooks. Lecturers, or rather good lecturers, do change their material, they do bring new and fresh examples that illustrate the theory that you are learning. What's pertinent in Massachusetts may not be pertinent in Oklahoma or Texas or Maine. There are lots of state issues that come up as examples in these lectures that make the pre-taping and reuse of these materials no good.

When this happens -- be it in 10 years or 20 -- we will see a structural disintegration in the academy akin to that in newspapers now. The typical 2030 faculty will likely be a collection of adjuncts alone in their apartments, using recycled syllabuses and administering multiple-choice tests from afar.

I can't tell if this is tongue-n-cheek or what, but this sounds dystopian and industrial. Do we really want to learn this way?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Free food

With the beginning of the semester behind us, and the opening festivities almost behind us as well, this puts an end to the free food on campus. I guess we're back to "normal" now, as indicated by this PhD comic strip

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

5 Reasons Microsoft will buy Blackboard

I saw this article on Inside Higher Ed recently. It's an interesting concept, but I don't really buy into it. Blackboard it toxic at the moment. Many people who use it absolutely despise it. Microsoft already has image problems, having one more image problem is not something that they need to fix their brand.

If Microsoft were to buy Blackboard, they would probably buy them and end-of-life all current Blackboard products with the exception of Angel - that product seems to be loved by the people who use it, however this is unlikely. Many customers would probably prefer to see upgrades to BlackBoard Vista and CE to make them more intuitive rather than switch to another product altogether since there are course conversion costs (converting existing templates, training people, training faculty, troubleshooting, etc.), and if Microsoft were to kill off the troubled children of Blackboard this could compound on their existing image problems.

If Microsoft were to enter the LMS/CMS arena, I see them creating something from scratch, that ties into the Visual Studio, Windows Server, Zune, Windows Mobile arena.

Monday, September 21, 2009

I don't get #lrnchat!

It's been a while since I attended PodCamp Boston and met a lot of interesting people :-) One of those interesting people is Gina Minks (@gminks on twitter)

Gina informed me about #lrnchat, on twitter (you can find transcripts here) and I eagerly wanted to check things out. What is #lrnchat?

#lrnchat is an online chat that happens every Thursday night 8:30-10pm EST / 5:30-7pm PST over the social messaging service Twitter. Participants are people interested in the topic of learning from one another and who want to discuss how to help other people learn.

I haven't had a chance to participate in a #lrnchat session because when it's on I am generally tired. The morning following a #lrnchat session I feel as though my twitter stream has been spammed - and spammed badly. I only get one side of the conversation with some quotes that are just like "whaaaaaa?" and others that are awesome pearls of wisdom in an of themselves that can stand without context.

Now I can say with certainty that I don't get #lrnchat. I do get a gathering of like-minded individuals to exchange knowledge and information and participate in a panel like discussion, however I don't get the medium of twitter to do this. In the past, for such ventures, we used IRC chat, or yahoo chat, or some other chat service that was unencumbered by character limitations (twitter is only 140 characters) and does not pollute other people's twitter streams. I know that when Leo Laporte or other tech guys go to conventions I unfollow them on twitter because there is simply way too much noise coming from them and it drowns out the other people that post less but I am more connected to.

#lrnchat seems to me like another instance of using what's new and shiny when another 'older' technology would do just fine. I don't get #lrnchat, am I missing something?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Paying students for academic achievement

This months started off with a "show me the money" theme, both for pre-college and college level kids. First we had a story on NRP, asking whether paying for grades cheapens education, and then we had a story from Indiana University's Pressroom on their "incentive grants" for students who do well in school.

I fall somewhere in between the two positions of to pay and not to pay. When I was in school I did not get money from my parents for bringing home a good report card, however I did get certain allowances, like being able to play computer games (on my 68040 Performa - no FPU!) and being in a better bargaining position when it came to buying new video games. When I was in college it was expected that I was an adult and I was responsible enough to value the education that I was paying for.

Of course what it comes down to is this: Whether in K-12 or in College, we end up paying for education. Nothing is free. If you want to reward kids for doing well in K-12, encourage team building and not solo activities. If the whole group does well - reward them with an extra field trip per year or something along those line. Cash is ephemeral, I can blow it all on candy, but a field trip can be educational at least and the whole class can benefit. If you just dole out cash for grades at the school level you are encouraging one-up-manship. This isn't a bad thing to know how to be better at something compared to someone else, but it's more beneficial, IMHO, to help out your fellow man and learn those life lessons early on.

When it comes to college, and getting an "incentive grant" - well that is a different story. If the college is really interested in offsetting costs for college students, they shouldn't really raise tuitions and fees and then act like it's in the best interest of the student to do well in order to get money back. According to Indiana U. most of their students would qualify for this money. So, in essence this program is like those silly store rebates that you have to mail-in and wait 6-8 weeks for. Most people don't fill them out and there lies the money making aspect of this scheme.

So should students get money for grades? No they should not. However, there are other incentives that can be put in place. The world does not always revolve around cold hard cash.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

What is an Instructional Designer?

I was reading Inside Higher Ed earlier this week and there was an interesting list (similar to Educause's 7-things lists) about what define a learning technologists.

Out of this list these three points are quite interesting to me, and quite possibly define my weltsanschauung with regard to educational technology and my likes at work.

We learning technologists share a healthy skepticism towards the dominant commercial CMS, Blackboard. Put another way, our relationship with Blackboard is often ambivalent. Philosophically, I think many of us are drawn to open and community source platforms and business models. There is an important conversation going on in our profession about the advantages of sticking with Blackboard as our campus CMS (which there are many), versus moving in larger numbers to an open source alternative (with Moodle getting the most traction lately). This conversation will continue to dominate our profession.

Personally it's not like I hate Blackboard, it's just that it's the Microsoft Windows of Learning Management Systems. It tries to update its image and its functionality but does so in a half-hearted attempt, with it's own proprietary way, and tries to maintain backward compatibility - this can't end well. Other solutions seem to work better for some people.

We walked a wide and varied path to arrive at our profession. While many of us received graduate degrees in instructional or learning design, just as many of us are not formally trained in the discipline. [...] From my experience it seems that the diversity in our backgrounds defines us more than our similarities. I'd also say from personal experience that those of us not trained in our discipline heavily lean on our colleagues with actual degrees in what we do to teach us the theoretical and pedagogical fundamentals necessary to do our jobs.

The diversity is what really struck me when I started the instructional design program. There isn't just one type of background for practitioners in Instructional Design, but many. This diversity helps not just at work, but also to learn things from others that you wouldn't otherwise learn.

We are generalists in an age of hyper-specialization. To thrive as a learning technologist it is necessary to work with professional colleagues across academic disciplines and with technical, library, media and other administrative colleagues of varying temperaments and expertise. We like working across our institutions, getting to know folks who are passionate experts in their specialized fields. We enjoy learning about many different things, and try to bring that enthusiasm for learning to the process of designing, developing and supporting virtual and physical learning environments.

Well, here I agree and disagree. I do consider myself a generalist when working with subject matter experts, but at the same token, I do consider myself a subject matter expert in what I studied and what I did in the past, so if I do happen to work with people in my own discipline I can actually throw a few devil's advocate questions to help them better think of what they are trying to accomplish - something which doesn't come as easy when working with SMEs from other areas - just a thought

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Learning 2.0 Strategy

I was recently reading a wrap-up post on eLearningTech, which pointed me to an older post that Tony Karrer had written. In this post Tony writes about the key aspects of Learning 2.0 (briefly summarized here):

  • Start Tactical and Bottom Up

  • Avoid the Culture Question

  • Avoid Highly Regulated Content (and Lawyers)

  • Learning Professionals Must Lead

  • Prepare Workers for Learning 2.0

  • Technology is Tactical not Strategic

  • Avoid the CIO

What's interesting about this is that this is the way that I've started building out the Instructional Design network of students and alumni (and other people involved with the Graduate Program at UMass Boston), first with Ning, then adding on a Wiki and other services that can help both students and alumni.

What I find interesting is that all the members of the community are learning professionals, or want to be learning professionals anyway, but we are still experiencing the same types of issues that any organization faces: it's a real culture change to try to get people involved and to actively contribute (some) content to any outlet of our learning community - be it a link that they share with us on delicious, a blog post on Ning, an event on the Ning calendar, a comment or discussion post, or a wiki article.

This sort of reminds me of the "I'm not good at computers" post that I had last week. Yes people do experience log-on fatigue when they have to use multiple services such as different types of social networks, different types of wikis, different types of bookmark sharing services, and a whole slew of other Web 2.0 services.

However, did most of us complain when we had to pick up four or five separate history books in that HIST205 course that helped us with our major? Do we often complain that we can't find all the resources we need in one book and we have to (gasp) use two or three other references? Maybe I am being too harsh, I don't mean to be, ( :-) ) but if we as educators don't take the reigns, who will? This is not a rhetoric question :-)

Friday, September 11, 2009

Barriers to technology accessibility a myth?

I was reading an article recently on the 5 Myths of Mobile Learning. While I somewhat agree with most of what is said, I take issue with the "Accessibility and Cost Myth"

This was perhaps one of the stranger myths I encountered, that personal mobile computing devices are inaccessible because of the inherent cost barriers. Looking around me here in India at the amazing rate of adoption of mobile devices (see Mobile Learning in India) and the availability of mobile networks capable of data that now range contiguously across India (see Networks in Rural India), its obvious cost is hardly a factor in the mobile learning equation. Phones today cost far less than they ever did, do far more and are cheaper to use because network usage charges are dropping consistently. These factors contribute to increased technology availability and subsequent adoption.

I think that it depends on what the meaning of Mobile is, and even then there are accessibility constraints. Not everyone carries around an iPod, or a phone that can play back pre-recorded audio. Not everyone carries a phone with a color screen and not everyone carries a device with them that gives them access to the internet.

While phones can be cheap (free with a subscription, or cheap with prepaid), that doesn't mean that all phones have the same capabilities. For mobile learning I would probably use something like an iPhone, S60, or Android device. Those phones do cost at least $100 and if you factor in a network connection, that would set you back another $30/month at least. Can everyone afford this? I don't think so.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Missing those firedrills


First week back to classes after a summer of classes (and lots of rain) and the beloved fire drills are back

Of course I won't be participating in te firedrills because we don't have any in the library building. I remember that as an undergraduate I loved fire drills because it got me out of class. As an employee I hated them because there was always a chance that something would go missing, and now that I haven't had a firedrills on five years I strangely find myself missing them. Odd. Very odd indeed

-- Post From My iPhone

Monday, September 7, 2009

I am no good at computers

Well the semester started and I invariably got my first "I'm sorry, I'm just no good at computers" comment from someone at work. This reminded me of a post that I saw on Dangerously Irrelevant a few weeks back. I first started hearing this a couple of years back and ever got it.

This quote from Dangerously Irrelevant was really interesting:
What does this say about us as educators? As employees of supposed learning organizations who purportedly are all about 'life-long learning?'
Is saying "I'm not very good at computers" the modern counterpart to "I'm not good at math" (both typically accompanied by a chuckle and a c'est la vie hand wave as if it didn't matter)?

Personally I've never heard of "I'm just no good at math". Granted I am not the best at math, but I still do try, and I do get a correct answer eventually. I've never had a c'est la vie attitude about not being able to do math, and I've never known anyone who has (growing up in Greece anyway). It seems rather absurd to me since we do use math everyday!

It seems equally absurd that people have the same attitude about computers since we do use computers everyday! It's not the 1970s anymore where you needed to know how to punch a card and feed it into a machine to make it work. You just point and click and BAM you're tweeting or googling something. Not all math is calculus, and not all of computer usage is low-level assembly language programming.

This reminded me of this Medieval Helpdesk video. Sure you may chuckle at it and think it's silly, after all who doesn't know how to use books? Of course if we had the same attitude about books as we do about computers and math...well...then we would probably still be using scrolls ;-)

Friday, September 4, 2009

Post-hoc versus post-doc

A little Friday humor for you all

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Media Literacy for the 21st century

Here's a nice little clip of Rheingold on Media Literacy

A quick run down of his literacies:
* Attention
* Participation
* Collaboration
* Critical consumption (aka crap detection).

OMG he said crap! Personally I would have called it Bullshit detector :-) (or is that a different category?)

21st century media literacies from JD Lasica on Vimeo.