I live in the have-not world of instructional design. I have for over 30 years. So, I wince when I read articles on ID that talk about the duties of the subject matter expert, the scriptwriter, the producer, the production crew members, etc.

The closest I ever came to having all of this was my first job out of school. I was the Instructional Television Producer/Director (also the scriptwriter and editor). I had an Engineer who handled all technical matters (and sometimes served as camera operator or lighting director), a graphic artist (another camera operator), an office secretary who evolved into a camera operator and, eventually, a fine assistant director (also a script editor and camera operator). And 2-3 Work Study students rounded out the crew. Instructors served as content experts and either did the research or made sure it got done. Even with most people serving double duty, we had a pretty good little operation.

It went downhill from there. Since then, the best I’ve been able to muster up is a content expert/researcher and, occasionally, another technical/production person. Often it’s me and the content provider. Or just me.

The good thing about this is that you learn a lot. Quickly. You have to. Not an easy task for my brain cells, who were old before their time. Which is why I really appreciate things like ADDIE, the acronym that reminds those with little time to accomplish the task and no time to think about process.

Early on, I had to review the explanations of the Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation stages. And I will occasionally glance at them. The important thing is that when time is precious and I am the human resource, I can focus on the task, not the process.

There are other acronymmed design systems that I’ve used (ASSURE comes to mind) that work well. Again, they free the mind from the process to focus on the task. I guess this is an extension of my love for “how-to” books, guides, and articles.

Moore and Kearsley’s Distance Education offers a great section (Chapter 5) on designing web pages, study guides, and other instructional ancillary items and activities. While not compacted into an acronym, resources such as this come in handy for those of us who design in the world of the have-nots.

In the last few weeks I’ve had the experience of “test driving” several online learning & social environments: Tapped in, Vyew, Ning, Second Life, to name a few. I have to admit my initial reactions were not very positive. Too many hands on the wheel, too many voices talking at the same time, no road map, and no known destination. But, having reflected on the situation, I now see that my early dissatisfaction was not really with the site but with the circumstances.

With over a dozen other “test drivers” participating, it was pretty chaotic–much like having a van-load of back-seat drivers, each with something to say and somewhere they wanted to go. But, upon separating the initial experience from the environment in which it took place. I have come to appreciate these types of sites and what they represent.

They are forms (forums?) of communication. And anything that facilitates dialog between two or more people cannot be all bad. And studies have shown that even in purely social environments that classmates belong to, the conversation often centers on school-related topics. Reflection, collaboration, meaning-making, and more come together in a form of back-door constructivism that the developers didn’t plan on and the students may not even notice.

So, if we can see that social environments are being used for learning, can we design for that without ruining the experience or the environment? Of course we can! But how?

Test-driving these environments allowed me to enter worlds where the “student drivers” were more familiar with the routes and roadways. I was the old man wanting to drive 35 MPH in the fast lane-I wanted to get where I wanted to go without getting lost or crashing. But, in coming to appreciate the ins-and-outs of the environments, I also started thinking about why today’s learners are attracted to them.

First of all is the connection. Not only can a student contact their friends; they can make new friends. The shyness, awkwardness, bad breath, etc. of F2F interaction is easily overcome. The user can carefully craft her or his words before sending them forth.

Next is the trappings. Whether using social sites like Facebook or MySpace, collaborative sites like Ning or Vyew, or virtual worlds like Second Life, today’s learners gravitate towards sites that meet their needs. Sure, there is an element of trendiness. But sites that catch on do so because they offer something beyond mere communication: areas for posting pictures, “walls” for leaving comments, room for favorite songs or links to favorite sites. Students choose an online “home” where they can feel comfortable and where they can be themselves… or be a representation of what they want themselves to be seen as.

Finally, there is hanging out. Just being there. And not having to “be there” constantly, offering your undivided attention to the other(s) in the conversation. Users can engage in other activities, carry on in several sites simultaneously, talk on the phone, go make a sandwich, without appearing rude. In F2F conversations, we wouldn’t tolerate someone just standing there mute, waiting for several minutes to respond to our comment or question. But online this happens routinely. Everyone understands that the other person(s) may have multiple things going on. And, users readily switch from delayed interaction to synchronous chatting.

So, how do we make use of this? It all boils down to pedagogy/andragogy, i.e. designing instruction to incorporate what these sites can provide. Generally speaking, this means less emphasis on formal assessment and high-stakes testing; more emphasis on public reflection and sharing of views. Fewer worksheets, more discussions. Less drilling and more modeling/simulating/experiencing. Less memorization and more application and personal meaning making. Looser schedules and more hanging out.

Admittedly, this can be like trying to shape Jello without using a mold. But, if we focus on the strengths of these sites and develop teaching strategies that parallel how students use them, we can make them our own without ruining the student experience.

Hey, we might even become the “cool” teacher.

Two of the many conveniences of the “good ol’ days” was that it was easier to define learners and the then-popular cognitive theories were easier to apply to designing for the learners.

While some people truly practiced life-long learning, the formal structures we have today were not in place in the past. Life-long learning was an individiual effort for the most part. While community colleges had started in the first decade of the 20th Century, it was not until the ’60s–when the number doubled to more than 900 (AAAC figures, http://www.aacc.nche.edu/Content/ NavigationMenu/AboutCommunityColleges/HistoricalInformation/ CCGrowth/ CC_Growth_1961-1970.htm)–that the possibility for organized lifelong learning became a reality.

Before then, learners were K-16; an overwhelming majority were K-12; and a strong percentage were K-10 or less. They were college prep (bright), business (smart) or vo-tech (average).

Behaviorist theory centered on concrete, defineable outcomes with assessment based upon observation. Without having to contend with multiple intelligences, social constructivism, and other inconvenient theories, the tightly-defined concept of “learners” was easy to design for.

Nowadays, we have an expanded and increasingly diverse learner population, whose definitions are shaped by cognitive theories, learning strategies, distributive cognition,cultural influences and language barriers. All of this is in addition to a wider range of ages, ADA accomodations, and the need for career-enhancing and career-changing skills, to name a few factors.

Not only has the learner population grown in terms of both size and scope, but the resources–and the requirements–to successfully design for these learners has expanded. No one system, approach, theory, or strategy can possibly fit all situations. It will be up to responsible and focused educational research to supply us with answers to a multitude of very specific questions. And it will be up to a cadre of very flexible designers to provide effective treatments that will not only bring fundamental knowledge to the diverse masses, but will also be able to satisfy the needs of many demographic sub-groups within our society.

I’ll admit, my early experiences with, and impressions of, Second Life were not very positive. There’s an appreciable learning curve, more options than I’ll ever use (or remember). And, when you finally leave Orientation Island, what happens?

Me & my cohorts stood around–pretty close to where we “beamed down”. No exploration, no meaning-making, no discovery. Just chat. And texting at that!

I bought a headset/microphone so that I could talk online. Lord knows my speaking skills are much better than my keyboarding. But my attempts at conversation were met with silence… except for the clicking sound SL makes as the avatars typed in their next text message.

And with over a dozen people texting…. well, you can imagine just how linear those dialogues were 😦

Working & studying take up my time; once I get my degree, once I retire, I might spend more time in SL. But right now, I’m there at the appropriate meeting time and place, ready to do whatever we’ve said we’re gonna do, then I’m off to finish some other assignment or work-related task. I don’t have a lot of “dawdle time” right now.

So, when a recent class session included time to explore, my initial reaction was “@*&%?+~, what a waste of my oh-so-precious time!” But, the only thing worse than wasting time is to have to report back to the class that I didn’t waste it effectively! So I went exploring.

And what I found was pretty cool. museum sites, resources, links to places beyond SL. I began to see the possibilities that SL held for learning. For K-5 (or -6, -7, -8?) students, SL could serve as a very effective learning environment. True, building it would take more time (and money) than doing so in Moodle or Blackboard. But, for the younger learner, the environment would be much more enticing.

As students got older, the environment would have to offer more than just a creative way to archive links and resources. But the possibilities are there.

And, the creation of a totally virtual classroom, with simulations, demos, etc. available no longer seems as quite the stretch I viewed it as, just one week ago. By properly applying a supportive pedagogy that embraced the fluid, distributed environment, instructional designers could create effective learning experiences.

Parts of me is glad that I don’t have to become SL-proficent in order to participate in my classes. But, having been fairly well bruised and battered by behaviorist teaching strategies, New Math, and the earlier years of standardized testing, another part of me wishes I’d been born 40-50 years later. So that I would now be at a point in time, and in my life, where exploration was an integral part of eduction, resources were readily, and almost randomly, available, and I could fly to class.

Interaction & Engagement

February 1, 2008

In the article “Interaction and Engagement in LEEP…” Ruhleder identifies several possible problems dealing with having simultaneous audio broadcasts and chat room postings. Those who have worked in the CRG environment can testify to the dual threads that can run concurrently, but not in parallel.

Synchronous online environments change the instructors’ role and control of the class while allowing for more interaction & engagement by the students. However other questions arise:

As the focus of the two threads diverge, can cognitive overload be avoided? Some will say that 21st Century Learners are multi-taskers and can handle multiple input streams. While this may be true, how much is absorbed in real time & how much gets picked up by reviewing the session log?

The technology offers instructors flexibility and spontaneity; but at the expense of control. A pedagogy can be developed around this synchronous form of delivery so that the discussion stays on subject, inaccurate statements get corrected, and learning can take place. But it involves the students taking on more responsibility to make this happen. The course must be designed to include activities that foster a sense of community early on. Peer monitoring can be more effective than heavy-handed didactics. This is more true in the synchronous learning environment. The instructor cannot monitor activity on both streams But the students can. By loosening the reins, the instructor may be able to exercise greater control.

Ruhleder, K. (2004). Interaction and engagement in LEEP: Undistancing “distance” education at the graduate level. Duffy, T. and Kirkley, J. (eds). Learner-Centered Theory and Practice in Distance Education. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Two of the many conveniences of the “good ol’ days” was that it was easier to define learners and the then-popular cognitive theories were easier to apply to designing for the learners.

While some people truly practiced life-long learning, the formal structures we have today were not in place in the past. Life-long learning was an individiual effort for the most part. While community colleges had started in the first decade of the 20th Century, it was not until the ’60s–when the number doubled to more than 900 (AAAC figures, http://www.aacc.nche.edu/Content/ NavigationMenu/AboutCommunityColleges/HistoricalInformation/ CCGrowth/ CC_Growth_1961-1970.htm)–that the possibility for organized lifelong learning became a reality.

Before then, learners were K-16; an overwhelming majority were K-12; and a strong percentage were K-10 or less. They were college prep (bright), business (smart) or vo-tech (average).

Behaviorist theory centered on concrete, defineable outcomes with assessment based upon observation. Without having to contend with multiple intelligences, social constructivism, and other inconvenient theories, the tightly-defined concept of “learners” was easy to design for.

Nowadays, we have an expanded and increasingly diverse learner population, whose definitions are shaped by cognitive theories, learning strategies, distributive cognition,cultural influences and language barriers. All of this is in addition to a wider range of ages, ADA accomodations, and the need for career-enhancing and career-changing skills, to name a few factors.

Not only has the learner population grown in terms of both size and scope, but the resources–and the requirements–to successfully design for these learners has expanded. No one system, approach, theory, or strategy can possibly fit all situations. It will be up to responsible and focused educational research to supply us with answers to a multitude of very specific questions. And it will be up to a cadre of very flexible designers to provide effective treatments that will not only bring fundamental knowledge to the diverse masses, but will also be able to satisfy the needs of many demographic sub-groups within our society.

Welcome to my blog

January 23, 2008

Greetings. I hope to use this to brainstorm, post my thoughts on school and work. I’ll also use this as a repository for works that I hope to include in my academic and professional portfolios.

                           Blackoard/WebCT Course Web site

                           https://ecampus.unt.edu/webct/urw/lc5122011.tp0/cobaltMainFrame.dowebct

 

While many find fault with the WebCT/Blackboard LMS, I have found that it more than adequately meets my needs as a learner. It allows for both synchronous (chat) and asynchronous (mail, discussion boards) communications. The layout can be manipulated by the user so to better organize it. If desired by the instructor or designer, it can offer course administrative tools (syllabi, schedules, assignments, calendar), content resources, pre-recorded presentations, links to supplementary material, a repository for work and tools. Assessments–even high stakes exams–can be built as to allow learners instant feedback as to their performance, along with details on where they failed to perform. Its inclusiveness and modularity make it a strong distributed/distance learning system.