Monday, June 28, 2010

Real Learning - what is it?

I came across Charles Jennings's piece the other day titled "Real learning – let’s not confuse it with completing templated exercises." It's quite a fascinating read and I encourage all of you to read through it and think about it. This piece reminded me of my Knowledge Management days as an MBA student, and as an Instructional Design student in thinking about corporate learning. A few nights ago however this piece had relevance in the academia context as well in the form of a discussion about plagiarism/academic honesty (pick whichever term you see fit - glass half-empty/glass half-full - same thing)

Charles writes:
Firstly, let’s clear something up. We shouldn’t confuse what L&D/Training departments spend a lot of their time on with real learning.

Learning professionals spend a significant amount of their time (maybe even the majority) designing and delivering content and then evaluating completions and short-term memory outputs from structured mandatory and compliance training modules and courses.

Although this activity is a necessary and sometimes important one (even if only to keep the CEO and Chairman out of the courts and prison) it has little to do with real learning.

Compliance training is primarily about recording activity and gathering data that can be provided to regulatory or professional bodies or kept for a rainy day.

In the Academic Honesty context, there is a parallel to this. Students, both graduate and undergraduate students, may have to take some sort of 1-credit or no-credit seminar that goes over research and academic honesty. Getting that one credit (or check mark on their transcript if it's not for credit) is the same as getting certified that you've gone through the mandatory training.

Does this mean that learning has not occurred? Charles writes that it all has to do with short term memory, taking a test, and then forgetting about what you learned. While I don't disagree, I don't agree either. My take on this is holding people accountable - how does this training integrate with my day-to-day work? How does one test to make sure I am complying with what I learned in that mandatory training?

If we go back to the plagiarism prevention context, let's assume that the university does its due diligence and makes sure that all students take and pass some sort of academic honesty curriculum. What happens from there? Who makes sure that students stay on the path to academic honesty? Well the answer is quite easy: the faculty who teach courses of course! They are the people who should be diligently keeping an eye out for proper citations, lists of works cited, and keeping an eye out for blatant plagiarism (copy and paste from other sources without credit). Then it's up to a university entity (a writing center perhaps?) and the professor to see if this student was:
(1) not aware of the rules (pretty hard to prove if they passed the seminar)
(2) simply forgot to cite
(3) just didn't care and tried to get away with it.

Once one of these options is determined to be the cause action needs to be taken (remedial training in academic honesty, more help at the writing center, academic probation, whatever).

The fact of the matter is that I've never noticed a consistent application of such academic honesty rules among the faculty. As human beings we are instinctively looking for ways to cut corners (in a good way of course) - to try to get the job done faster, easier, with fewer steps. Plagiarism is certainly faster (even if it's not our own work) and if students think they can get away with it, they aren't stupid! They will try to get away with it. The system needs a way of tracking whether real learning took place, and that's visible in practice. If it's not tracked in practice, the training is useless.

Which brings me back to the original article. Charles writes:

learning is a continuous personal process that isn’t measured by any form of pre- and post-assessment, no matter how sophisticated.

It seems to me that learning CAN be measured, but not ALL learning can be measured. It seems to me that he is talking about life-long learning, something that you don't necessarily do in a class. Something that you do to improve yourself because you want to, not because someone else is telling you that you have to. Learning in a classroom for certification's sake isn't learning - BUT if you tie that learning into tangible work-area benefits and have a system of checks to make sure that the learning is integrated into the work-area, then that classroom learning CAN be real learning.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

How will you grade this?

Last weekend I finished reading the book Second Language Teaching and Learning in the Net Generation. It was an interesting book, recommended for both Instructional Designers and Language Teachers alike. Some chapters as admittedly better than others, but as a whole the book was quite good (related note: follow me on GoodReads).

Hot on the heels of this I came across a post on ProfHacker called "How are you going to grade this? Evaluating classroom blogs". Instructors in our Instructional Design program drilled into us the, by now, infamous WIIFM (What's In It For Me) - learners are going to ask this before they take any course (or learning event) that you design. Well, the question that I (and my fellow students) were asking once we were in the course was "How is this assignment going to be graded?" Learning is all nice and dandy but in the end we need to achieve a certain grade and knowing the grading rubric helps us focus our work.

In any case, this post on ProfHacker was something that I did not encounter in the book I read, and I thought it was important to link these two items together. So how do you grade a blog (and it's associated blog posts)? The article is pretty good, so I won't summarize it for you (just go an read it, it's free and it doesn't take that long :-) ) but I will point out something that really stood out to me.

In this blog post (and in others about technology), it appears to me that people are constrained by existing paradigms of how things work. An example of this constraint is using the standard research paper format on a blog - just text and nothing else. When you are using some new medium (and associated tech that accompanies that medium), it is important to break out of the conventions of the older medium and have the new medium embrace and extend those older methodologies.

For instance, in traditional papers (the dead tree kind), the convention for citations is a giant Works Cited list at the bottom of the paper. In blogs, while I still think there should be references and Works Cited lists, why not hyperlink them? Instead of listing a book, why not link to the WorldCat page for that book or an Amazon listing for that book? If you got an academic article from a database, why not hyperlink to that article's persistent URL? The same principles applies of hyperlinking apply to footnotes and endnotes - you can link to other places for more information.

In addition to linking to textual sources, students can embed charts and illustrations, video and audio - some of these media types not always an option in the dead-tree-edition of a research paper :-) Using comments for constructive feedback is also another great use of a blog. Why post it online if you aren't going to allow for peer feedback?

I think that the advice on ProfHacker is really on the ball: instructors must "ensur[e] that blogging has a purpose besides just reducing the use of paper."

So how will you grade your class' blog posts? That's up to you, but if I were teaching I would ensure that in my grading rubric has a section for the utilization of hypertext's potential - in addition to other things of course.

Friday, June 18, 2010

DDC and it's utility in Public Libraries

So here is a library related post :-)

A while back (a long while back according the date!) I came across this article on LIS news - a short essay on the utility of the Dewey Decimal System in public libraries.

For as long as I can remember there has been debate in the public library sphere as to whether to continue to use the Dewey Decimal System (henceforth: DDC) or if they should switch to something called BISAC. If you've ever walked into a bookstore in the US (and probably in Canada as well) the shelves are organized by the BISAC system. The argument for BISAC is that it's easy for people to find books, whereas in DDC (or in LC numberings) it's not as easy. Now don't get me wrong, I don't think that Dewey is infallible, it is after all a man-made system and as such it has flaws, however I could not really put my finger on why I would not like my public library to switch to BISAC. And then I read this:

“Customers often comment that when they visit bookstores, they can find things easily and would like that ease of use in libraries.” This statement is unsurprising. Bookstores, along with the public relations and marketing firms that guide their corporate philosophies, have invested heavily in selling an experience to customers. That experience includes the notion that the customer has found exactly what was wanted or needed: a manufactured need. Whether or not the item the customer takes home is what the customer wanted or needed in the first place – if, in fact, the customer wanted or needed anything in the first place – is irrelevant, because bookstores are designed to make the customer take something home

This is what I could not place my finger on! A bookstore is designed to sell books, it doesn't matter what they sell you, they just want to sell something to you! I often don't go to bookstores if I am looking for a specific book because I have a hard time finding what I want! I have an easier time on Amazon. If I just want to browse, then I go to the bookstore (which isn't very often, I must admit!)

It all comes down to goals: Libraries (for the most part) are repositories on knowledge, information and entertainment. When you go to the library you are looking for a specific title (book, CD or DVD), you don't necessarily go to browse - If it's hard to find a book, the solution isn't a whole new system - it's using text to replace numbers! In DDC for example the 400 range is "Language" - Why write 400? Why not put "LANGUAGE" at the end of the stacks and then further label the dictionaries, the research, the French, Italian, English and German sections? In essence you are accomplishing the same thing as converting to BISAC without the expense of converting.

Furthermore, there can be (and there are!) temporary holding locations for new stuff and stuff that you want to move around - just like a store. You can have your back catalog in the main stacks, but items you want to showcase can be up front, near the entry of the library (I know my public library does this).

So in the end, what have we learned? All this talk about converting to BISAC and handwringing on whether DDC has reached the end of its useful life is just a bunch of worrying (from where I sit). It's not the system! It's the marketing and user experience that's the problem :-)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Facebook or Tattoo?

A while back this posting came out from the Chief Security guru at the UMass Boston campus regarding the information you post on Facebook and how, by using it, you may potentially self-sabbotage future opportunities at jobs (or ever higher education). While there is some good advice given in the article, namely:

Make sure that you allow only people that you know for sure as friends and give them the access you want them to have. You never know when some stranger is looking at your personal information.

the blog post, in my opinion, fails to demonstrate that this is not just a shortcoming of facebook, but rather something that every web user has to know. Before facebook (and a lot of other Web 2.0 types of applications) only a few knowledgeable people were able to put stuff on the web. They knew that what they posted was public, and eventually what they found out was that someone was archiving it! If you know a URL and want to see what a website looked like in the past, go to the WayBackMachine at and have a look for yourself. Just because you pulled something off a server, it doesn't mea it's completely gone.

I think that we ought to teach our kids and our learners what the cautious way is to putting out information about ourselves, instead of fearmongering over one platform's security choices - after all, we may leave facebook, but there are other places out there that we post our info that can be problematic down the road.

As a side note, when I was a kid I thought a bobble bubble tattoo or a super mario tattoo would be cool ;-)

Friday, June 4, 2010

ID Research vs. Application

One of the articles lingering in my Google Reader for a while has been this blog post. The topic piqued my interest since I've written (or talked a lot about) the role of research in practice in the ID field over the past few years while I was a student in ID (graduation today - yay!).

One of my criticisms has been that professionals in the field (based on my observations) don't pay much attention to research being done and how that research can benefit your organization. Of course research itself does have caveats and certain conditions that were true in the research study that may not be true in your organization, thus it is unwise to actually take research on face value and implement it wholesale without doing some critical analysis of what the research environment was like, how that environment compares to your environment and without doing your own experiments before you implement something throughout the organization.

I do agree with the author that the gap between research and practice needs to not be so wide, but it's all about how your roll it out rather than the methodology itself. We need to get away from our method fetish - we should realize that there is no cookie cutter approach that works in every situation and that quite often methods need to be mixed and matched to fit your specific environment and your learners.

Which brings me to ADDIE...
Here's a quote:
For example, if someone researches and writes about the ADDIE theory and I have to implement it in my organization, it is most common that I will not able to implement it as it is defined in books.

Now first off, ADDIE is not a theory. ADDIE is a framework, a methodology, a systems approach to design. Analyze, Design, Develop, Implement, Evaluate (and start all over if necessary). This is an example of the methods fetish. There are many wars (or skirmishes) on the use of ADDIE (or Dick & Carey, or ASSURE or...or...or...). People are missing the point. These are models, not theories. They guide the design process, they tell you nothing of the learners and your environment. You also don't need to implement something as it is in a book.

Sure a Subject Matter Expert wrote the book (we hope so anyway), but that doesn't mean that that SME knows your specific environment! We shouldn't be mindless automatons using a cookie cutter ID model, or implementing some new fad because one or two research papers dealt with it - these things need to be critically analyzed through the lens of your environment. If they are deemed good, then you need to plan to see how all the pieces fit together.