Sunday, January 27, 2013

Advanced Instructional Design: Week 1

So, I wonder if it's better to address the fact that you haven't posted to your blog for months or to go on as if nothing happened. :) I'm guessing that feeling like you have to explain yourself each time you disappear probably only makes it less likely that you'll post, so I'm leaning toward picking up where I left off. I will share one update, however, which is that I am now writing from my new home in the United Kingdom. My husband and I are nearly settled and will be here for the foreseeable future working for Remote-Learner UK.

I am still taking courses as I work toward the completion of my PhD and, with my move, feeling thankful for the flexibility afforded by UNT's online program. This semester I am enrolled in CECS 6020 - Advanced Instructional Design: Models and Strategies and CECS 6512 - Analysis of Qualitative Research in Learning Technologies. As with some of my previous courses, I have again been tasked with documenting my thoughts and impressions through a series of blog posts.

For this first post of the new semester I have been asked to begin by reflecting on my experience with instructional design as instructor, designer, and/or learner. My initial thought is to ask what counts as instructional design in this context. In an instructional design course, it feels like the only things that should count somehow are those that involve the whole, drawn-out instructional design process. Really though, as we explored in the Instructional Systems Design course last summer, there are lots of things that count as instructional design, sometimes intended and sometimes not.

Taking this broader view, the bulk of my instructional design experience comes through my role as a teacher and a trainer. As a middle school math teacher for nine years, I developed and implemented lesson plans for my students every day. In the beginning and when teaching new classes, my lesson plans were more involved and elaborate, but as I became more comfortable, my plans might only consist of a few prepared examples. Teachers, in my view, practice rapid instructional design in the truest sense. :)

Since leaving the classroom, I've experienced the luxury of having more time to design and develop training materials though I'm still not necessarily in a position to utilize the instructional design process to its fullest. For example, I often know little about exactly who my learners will be and, in most cases, I am the designer and the instructor. In addition, time to develop and perfect must be balanced against available resources and timelines.

One of my favorite experiences as a designer and instructor was in designing and developing an online course for graduate Instructional Design and Technology students. I think I've successfully blocked out memories of all of the work required and any issues we had because what I remember is collaborating with Amy, one of my colleagues and a co-facilitator for the course. I remember meeting multiple times to outline our vision and the goals; both of us wanting to experiment with a social constructionist design. It was a lot of fun to have a partner who could help me explore those ideas.

As a learner, my experiences in the courses I've taken over the past six months have had the greatest impact. As a Moodle trainer, it's been interesting to be in the student role in a Moodle course and to be exposed to other learning management systems. I wonder, as I try to make my way through these other systems, whether students who are new to Moodle struggle with it as much as I do these other LMSs. Are the issues inherent in learning a new LMS? Are the issues related to the instructional design? I've also been struck, more than once, by the desire to apologize to my former students as I find myself on the receiving end of certain experiences. The experiences have just reinforced, for me, that everyone who teaches online should be a real student in an online course at least once. Note, this isn't to say that my recent courses have been bad, on the whole, they've been great, but rather, there are a number of little things that I would do differently if I were teaching online again today.

The other question presented for consideration in this post is to discuss my understanding of the differences between advanced and basic instructional design. At this point, I would say that as a classroom teacher, I utilized basic instructional design. I understood how to plan and organize a unit of instruction and lesson plans; I even had a number of instructional strategies from which to draw. I think the study of advanced instructional design moves more toward broader pedagogies and theories; a consideration of philosophies of instruction. I believe advanced instructional design may also prepare a designer to use different development models; exploring alternatives to the ADDIE model. Whatever the differences, I'm interested to see where the discussion takes us. . . I'll keep you posted. :)

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Theories of Instructional Technology: Week 1

A new semester, new courses, and a new series of blog posts! On my plate this fall: Introduction to Research in Learning Technologies and Theories of Instructional Technology. Though I'll likely mention the Research course on occasion, you'll hear much more about the Theories course here this semester.

For the Theories course, I'm required to make two blog posts each week. The first post will be early in the week, Sunday or Monday, reflecting on the reading as I understand it. The second post will come later in the week, reflecting on the same reading, after discussing it with the rest of the class. (I'll tag all of these required posts with the course number, CECS 6010.)

Before I begin my discussion of the first set of reading assignments, I want to explain that the course, in case it wasn't clear from the title, focuses a lot on philosophy, which means we have some intense reading assignments. To give you an idea . . . while reading one of my first assignments, I actually found myself, at points, highlighting things simply because I understood them. :( The writing style and the vocabulary were incredible--not in a good way. What's worse, is that since it's philosophy, even when you do understand what's being said, it's designed to be thought-provoking, so you have to wrestle with it on that level too. Definitely not the sort of stuff you read before bed. :)

Fortunately, not all of the reading is so difficult and some of it I even enjoyed. ;) This week, for example, our reading assignments included "Issues and Trends in Instructional Technology: Gradual Growth atop Tectonic Shifts" by Bichelmeyer and Molenda and "Educational Technology: Conceptual Frameworks and Historical Development" by Eraut. My general impression is that these readings were selected to provide us with a history, or an overview, of the evolution of the field of instructional technology. Eraut's discussion goes back to the 1960s and explores how the field has changed. He explains, not only how job roles and the technology has changed, but how the term "educational technology" or "instructional technology" has evolved as well. In particular, I was interested to learn more about how "technology" and "instructional design" or "learning theory" came to be paired. I'd wondered, as I completed my Master's degree in Instructional Design and Technology and, again, as I looked at the schedule of courses for this program, why the emphasis on learning theory in a "technology" program? Don't get me wrong, if you're going to apply technology in an educational setting, it's good to know a little about how people learn, but I don't believe it necessarily had to turn out this way, so it was interesting to learn why it did.

The Bichelmeyer and Molenda article doesn't exactly pick up where Eraut leaves off, but in its review of the technology trends of 2005/2006, it provides additional insight into the history of educational technology. Of the readings for the week, this one was most interesting to me because I experienced many of the trends discussed. By 2005, I'd completed my Masters degree, online using Blackboard and WebCT; started using Moodle, which is open-source, another trend of the time; and in mid-2005 I started working for Remote-Learner, which was growing due to the increasing popularity of open-source software described in the article. In addition, in my final couple of years in the middle school math classroom, I saw the implementation of large numbers of laptop computers and wireless networks. I lived the beginning of the rise in standardized testing and its resulting load on those wireless networks and, my husband and I both implemented variations on the student-support programs mentioned. Once out of the classroom, my move to Remote-Learner afforded me the opportunity to see a number of the trends highlighted in the corporate and higher ed markets as well.

It's interesting to consider how things change, but also how they remain the same. Written many years apart, about different time frames, both readings refer to the discrepancy between the technology available in corporate settings and in classrooms. In many classrooms, students don't have access to the technology they'll use in the workplace. At the same time, having worked with companies who are still using Internet Explorer version 6, I can say that not every company is ahead. :) Both articles also speak to the difficulty of change; it has been and continues to be difficult to effect change in the form of true technology integration. It's interesting to consider how many of the trends of 2006 seem to still be "in process" today. I haven't looked, but I wonder if there is a 2011 report. It would be interesting to see what it lists as the trends and issues and how they've changed from those in 2006.

Now, onto the heavy stuff . . . my reading also included the first chapters of On the Pragmatics of Communication by Jurgen Habermas and The New Constellation by Richard J. Bernstein. A significant portion of Habermas's discussion centers on "validity claims," the idea that when people speak they are doing so with the belief that what they have to say is going to make sense and that it is true. Beyond these validity claims, Habermas talks about the challenge of studying language and communication and the internal processing that influences a person's "utterances." Specifically, if I'm understanding him correctly, Habermas is saying there isn't any way to really study language and communication without language and communication getting in the way; just in the processing that takes place to take ideas from thoughts to language that can be expressed, you have interference of sorts.

In a strange way, Bernstein seems to provide the common thread. First, in referring to philosophy as a "game of language," it feels as if he's describing what Habermas has written. Bernstein seems to capture, and take part in, the joy Habermas finds in pondering this puzzle that is the study of language, communication, and argument. At the same time, Bernstein builds on this parable of the "Past and Future" in which the take-away is that in philosophy, we're always building on the work of others and that while you need to push forward and develop new theories, it can't be done without knowing what came before you. In that thought, the first two readings become all that more relevant.

So, quite a long post . . . I still feel that I have more questions than answers, particularly about the Habermas and Bernstein readings. I'm curious as to whether I'm on track with what I think I understand; even as I was writing it, I was questioning. I'd love to have a glossary with all the unfamiliar concepts and vocabulary. And, the section on Habermas's "formal analysis" still doesn't make sense. I look forward to the coming week. Hopefully the next post will reflect some clarity. :)

Sunday, August 12, 2012

What I've Learned About Instructional Design

My last post for my Instructional Design course . . . So, what have I learned?

The one thing that stands out above all else is that instructional design encompasses much more than simply writing lesson plans. Before, in thinking about instructional design, I thought of the process primarily in the context of classroom teaching and training. The instructional designers I knew were developing instruction for schools, corporate training departments, and, sometimes, for content publishers. Through this course, I was exposed to "instructional design" in many different contexts. What I've realized is that instructional design skills can be put to use in a variety of situations, sometimes intentionally, sometimes not.

The instructional design process is also much more circular, or iterative, than I'd truly realized. I took an instructional design course as I was completing my Master's degree so I was familiar with the ADDIE model and could have even told you that the process was circular, not linear. However, it wasn't until I used the process in a real-life, "messy," scenario that I recognized how non-linear the process really is. In completing my projects, I rarely felt as if I was working in one stage exclusively. Instead, the analysis, design, and evaluation seemed to be an ongoing process.

This course also reinforced for me the value of authentic learning activities. I came into the course believing that authentic assessment and real-life learning activities are valuable and this course affirmed that belief. I completed fairly authentic instructional design projects in my previous course, but I feel like this experience produced some "ah-ha's." Now, I can't tell you how I would have felt about this course if I didn't have the background in instructional design, maybe I would feel differently, but it worked for me this time.

As far as my project, I learned much more than instructional design. I wrestled with the database module; I thought more about Moodle course design and what a Moodle course looks like in a blended learning environment; and was reminded that just because you can, doesn't mean you should. :) Just because you have Moodle, doesn't mean every activity has to take place there.

All in all, my experiences in this course will make me a more effective instructional designer. I believe, I hope, it will also help me to be more open-minded when it comes to Moodle course design. As the Chief Evangelist, enthusiasm for Moodle is in my job description and it's easy to get caught up in that, but I also have to realize that it's not the end-all, be-all for everyone. Good instruction is good instruction whether it's in Moodle or not. :)

Defining Instructional Design

I'm nearly finished with my coursework for my Instructional Design course, which means that it's time to think about the big picture. My questions for this post are: What does it mean to design instruction? What skills do you think you need to have in order to do it professionally?

What does it mean to design instruction?
Designing instruction means creating a set of experiences or activities to help people learn, or internalize, information or develop skills. It means evaluating the content to be learned, defining goals and objectives, and understanding the needs, skills, and experiences of the learners. Designing instruction also means assessing and evaluating, not only your learners, but the instruction you've designed.

What skills do you need to do it professionally?
The answer to this question is really dependent on the setting and how strictly you wish to define the term. In practice, 'instructional designer' means so many things and encompasses so many skills that it's hard to say that to be a professional designer you need to have these specific skills. Instead, the set of skills seems to be more dependent on what a person wants to do in the field; how he would prefer to spend his days.

There are some instructional designers who focus on the more "traditional" side of instructional design, planning and designing instructional activities. In some places, these designers work as part of team, planning experiences that others will develop and implement. In other situations, an instructional designer might work alone, completing each element of the instructional design process independently. In yet other cases, the instructional designer does most of the work but outsources a few key elements, such as the graphic design.

With that said, there are people with an instructional design background and job title who specialize in development and programming. For example, an instructional designer who specializes in web development, Flash interactions, or a specific SCORM development program. Other people with an instructional design background may focus on graphic design, multimedia, or visual elements of instructional design.

Regardless of the direction an instructional designer might take or how he decides to specialize, I see a common set of skills. All instructional designers need to be able to listen, whether that means listening to the needs of a client or a colleague. Instructional designers also need to be able to analyze and interpret; to be able to take the infomration they've been presented, read between the lines, and decide how best to respond. They need to be able to anticipate questions and devleop solutions to problems that haven't yet presented themselves. Instructional designers also need to be able to synthesize information from multiple sources and then decide how best to represent or deliver that information to learners. Finally, instructional designers need to be able to assess and adapt; to evaluate their work objectively and then change direction when necessary.

What's a Teacher to Do?

Someone said to me not long ago that in the process of earning my PhD, I would become less certain of what I knew, not more so. It seems that already, even though I'm just wrapping up my first semester, this statement is proving to be true.

A little over a week ago, I had the opportunity to see a presentation by Dr. Dick Clark titled Misconceptions and Evidence About Online Instruction. In challenging some of the most common ideas about online learning, Dr. Clark has definitely caused me to question most of what I thought I knew. If you've not come across Dr. Clark's research before, you may find that a number of his findings surprise you as well.

The first misconception I'll highlight is the idea that “Students learn more from media and methods they like best.” With all of the information we've heard in the past about learning styles and multiple intelligences and providing instruction in multiple forms, it seems counterintuitive to think that you wouldn't design to meet the preferences of your learners. In his presentation though, Clark said that "30% of students like instruction from which they’ve learned less." Now, part of me thinks, well, that means 70% are still doing pretty well, but ultimately, it tells me that I shouldn't necessarily listen to what my learners think works best for them.

Clark goes on to say that "tailoring instruction for student learning styles and generational differences" does not increase learning. In fact, he said that assessments designed to measure learning styles and generational differences "lack reliability and validity." Learners may take the same learning style inventory seven times and, each time, produce a different result. I take this idea to mean that good instruction is good instruction; meaning the process is the same whether you're teaching adults or kids, visual learners or kinesthetic ones. It's a bit scary to admit to this idea in writing, but that's kind of how I've operated. Right or wrong, I deliver training to adults much the same way I taught in the middle school classroom.

Here's another misconception that was interesting to me: “Online games and immersive simulations increase motivation and learning.” Clark says instead "most serious games and immersive simulations are more expensive and less effective for novice learners," those who are new to a topic. The fact that games and simulations are more expensive didn't surprise me, but it does make me wonder about all of the discussion about games and immersive simulations I've seen in corporate training and now, on a simpler level in K-12. To be clear, I see that Clark isn't suggesting that game play can't be effective, but he's telling us that it's not effective in all applications.

Clark goes on to discuss what works; to provide alternatives to counter these common misconceptions and research to support those alternatives. He also presents some useful statistics related to multimedia design. For example, a conversational presentation style is more effective than a formal one and narration and pictures are better than narration alone. Clark wrapped up with a discussion of motivation and how that impacts learning.

The challenge, or question for me, at this point, is what all of this research means for education and training? How do I apply this research as a teacher or trainer? Or as an instructional designer working without a team of developers, graphic designers, and programmers?

Clark talked about a model for programmed, self-paced instruction and, honestly, it saddens me to think that this model is where we're headed. It's tough for me to swallow--that what's most effective may mean the loss of interaction and authentic open-ended projects. I know I'm oversimplifying some; as Clark made clear, it's not all black-or-white, all or none, but it does make you wonder. Where does today's teacher fit into this new model?

My Thoughts on Self-Regulation, Managing Others, and the Importance of Communication

For this post for my Instructional Design course I've been asked to consider the following questions:
What does it mean to manage or regulate yourself (self-regulate) and others? How does it bring you towards goals? How important is communication in this process and what helps or impedes it?

For me, regulation in this context means taking steps to maintain focus on whatever is needed to achieve my goals, whether those are big life goals or simpler day-to-day goals like getting my laundry done. :) Whether I'm managing myself or others, the process is ongoing and is comprised of several steps. I'd say the first step is to define the goal(s) and to set priorities. If you haven't set priorities, you may work hard and be able to say you accomplished a lot, but still find yourself unable to reach your most important goals. Clear priorities help you determine, or regulate, how you spend your time; it helps you make sure you're working intentionally on those things that are important to you.

Once you've set your goals and decided how to prioritize them, the next step, as I see it, is to set deadlines; you need a target. At work or in school, these deadlines might be set for you which may also force you to change your priorities somewhat. In other cases, it's up to you to decide when you'd like to be able to say you've achieved your goal.

After you've set a deadline, set some intermediate goals and deadlines. For example, if your assignment is to write a paper, the intermediate deadlines might include collecting research, developing an outline, and writing a first draft. In my experience, many small steps are better than few big ones. I love to be able to cross things off my list; to have a feeling of accomplishment, no matter how small. :)

All of these steps work together to move you closer to your goal. In each step, you're making progress. And, breaking a goal down into parts makes it less likely you'll become overwhelmed and quit.

If working with others, the regulation process is likely more of a negotiation. A team or group has to agree on the goals, the priorities and deadlines, and how to get there. Then, the team has to decide how to manage and divide the work.

Regardless of whether you're working independently or with a team, communication is important. If you're working on your own, maintaining an internal dialogue and reflecting on your progress can help ensure success. Reflecting on your progress and the work yet to be done can be useful in helping you determine when it's time to reset expectations or adjust deadlines.

When working with others communication is helpful in keeping everyone on the same page. More importantly, communication can be used to make others aware of potential roadblocks and provide an opportunity for others to help find a way to overcome them. Fortunately, there are a number of tools available to assist with group communication and transparency. As an example, team members could post their work in a wiki or Google Docs. Task management tools like Wunderlist have group features which would allow everyone in the group to see what needs to be done and what work has been completed. Mendeley, for research management, Skype, and Evernote, are all great tools that can facilitate communication, increase transparency, and allow groups to be more effective. With these tools, it's less likely the team will come to a critical deadline only to find that someone has fallen behind.

In addition, I find that regularly scheduled meetings, whether you think you have anything to discuss or not, can help a team maintain forward momentum. Regular meetings provide group members with a chance to connect and quite often, in my experience, results in people asking questions or opening issues for brainstorming that they might have just wrestled with independently otherwise. These meetings can also be motivational and help group members stay on track. For instance, if I know I have a project meeting coming up, I feel a sense of urgency; I want to have something to share or discuss and to be able to show some progress.

There is a balance though. Too many meetings and too much interference from others can impact progress. The key is open, supportive communication, being available to your group members when they need you but not micromanaging. It's also important to be honest with yourself and others; consider existing obligations carefully before making a commitment and let others know when plans change so the team can work together to adapt. Also, realize that works for one, may not work for others; you have to balance your needs against those of your colleagues.

In closing, as a teacher and an instructional designer, I'd say it's useful to design some of these strategies, where appropriate, into courses you develop. In this instructional design course, for instance, rather than set one final due date for our entire project, there have been intermediate dates for several activities leading up to the final result. If students are working in groups, provide tools for collaboration; suggest roles and strategies for working together. Self-regulation and/or managing others isn't necessarily intuitive; if it was, I'd like to think we would be a lot better at it. ;)

Instructional Design in the Future

Over the past several months, and even more so these past couple of weeks, I've been hearing more and more about LTI (Learning Tools Interoperability), a new standard set forth for learning activities so when I saw the next assignment for my instructional design course was to talk about instructional design in the future, I thought this topic was a good fit.

The LTI standard seems to be getting more press in some circles than others so I'll start with a short explanation, as I understand it. First, LTI is a standard developed by the IMS Global Learning Consortium, the same organization that wrote the Common Cartridge standard, which may be more familiar. The goal of the LTI standard is to establish a common way to allow learning systems to communicate.

If you do a search of LTI tools, you may find that many of those listed are tools you already know and use. Most of the major learning management systems are on the list: Moodle, Blackboard, Sakai, and Desire2Learn. You'll also find tools like Tegrity and Mahara on the list of certified tools.

There are a number of "non-certified" LTI compatible tools as well. For example, Khan Academy and Slideshare are on the list; two tools that have been used with Moodle for years. The difference with LTI is that you have the option for a tighter integration and the ability to pass grades or data between the two systems. In the past, for instance, you might have linked to an activity or video on Khan Academy. With the Moodle logs, you could track whether or not students had clicked on the link, but there wasn't a simple way beyond that to see what students did and how they performed. With LTI, you'll be able to connect students to that same Khan Academy activity AND have the grade data passed back into Moodle. I should clarify, I haven't tested all of this yet, but this describes how I understand it should work in theory. :) I also believe some of this functionality may be on the LTI roadmap but is not yet functional.

Another example, one that has been tested "in the lab," is using LTI to deliver common assessments. Consider, for instance, a school district I know that offers a common set of assessments to students throughout their school system. With current Moodle functionality, these assessments are constructed in a set of Moodle courses managed at the district level. Individual teachers then link to those courses, or quizzes, from within their Moodle courses. For the school district using this process now, it's working well enough, but it means the assessment data is stored only in the district-managed course; there isn't a seamless way to transfer those grades to the students' primary course.

With LTI, the district will now be able to set up these assessments in a district-managed Moodle site and use that to "deliver" these assessments to students across the district. The quiz will actually run on the district site, but because of LTI, it will be presented in the interface of the student's primary course. The grade data will also be passed to the primary course so it is immediately accessible to the teacher.

On a broader scale, LTI means that content publishers can develop and deliver content and activities for instructors to use in their own courses, no matter the learning management system. For teachers, LTI means that they will always have access to the most current version of publisher content. Teachers will also be able to mix and match content from multiple sources and add their own activities, something I've known teachers to want for some time.

For instructional designers, LTI seems to offer more flexibility. Imagine, for instance, an instructional designer who really likes to design quizzes in Moodle but is working with schools who are using several other learning management systems. With LTI, the designer could continue to build in Moodle, leverage those features, and still meet the needs of users.

LTI functionality also seems to open the door to more "mash-ups." I believe instructional designers, in general, are probably a lot like teachers in that they have their own preferences and like to do things their way, but, for those who want to combine content from multiple sources, taking the best of what they have or can find elsewhere, that now seems more possible.

The standard is new and I'm only beginning to understand it myself, but it seems as if it will open some doors. We'll have to see how it develops. Based on what I've seen so far though, it seems to have some great potential for end users and instructional designers alike!

For more information on LTI, check out the resources listed below. And if I've misunderstood, or misrepresented something in how LTI works, please let me know.

IMS Global:

Gavin Henrick's blog:

List of LTI Apps (thanks to Whitney Kilgore for bringing this to my attention):