Archive for August, 2010

Weblogg-ed » Who’s Asking?

August 31st, 2010

Will Richardson is one of the pathfinders in this wilderness of education. He’s had a lot of interesting ideas and this is another one.

So here’s the deal with the change that many of us in this conversation are clamoring for in schools: we’re about the only ones talking it. The townsfolk down at the corner store aren’t demanding “21st Century Skills,” technology in every student’s hand, an inquiry based curriculum and globally networked classrooms. By and large the parents and grandparents in our communities aren’t asking for it. The national conversation isn’t about rethinking what happens in classrooms. No one’s creating assessments around any of this. And in fact, outside of the small percentage of people who are participating in these networks and communities online, the vast majority of this country and the world doesn’t even know that a revolution is brewing.

via Weblogg-ed » Who’s Asking?.

Is the problem so far under the radar that nobody else is seeing it?

If it’s such a hidden problem, do we know it really exists?


Design: Art, Science, Craft

August 25th, 2010

The boffins from The Obligatory What Do We Call It Dept have sent in today’s question: What is design?

We’ll have a reading for you that’s specific to instructional design, but this morning, consider the idea of designing in general. Is it an art? A science? A craft? Maybe something else?

Administrators would really like it to be a science, I think. If you could have a process that you follow and it always yields predictable and replicable results within some envelope of variability, then planning becomes much easier. If you know three people can reliably design a good course in twenty hours using a particular process then you have a recipe for success.

But even recipes have flaws–variations in ingredients, errors in measurement, and even mechanical breakdown in the equipment. Your bread won’t bake very well if your oven is broken. In theory, a recipe would be a good thing, but the problem is generalization. It’s all well and good to make a recipe for bread. You have the general wheat flour recipe, modify it for specific conditions, and you can get relatively reliable results. Notice I didn’t say “quality results” but rather “reliable” ones.

I think many educators believe design is a craft. The process combines technology, experience, knowledge, and inspiration to create a useful entity. It doesn’t matter if you’re creating a vegetable peeler or a geometry class. In this idea of craft, we find the cook. A cook takes the things he or she knows and is able to combine them using familiar techniques and tools to create meals that are pleasing to the palate and nutritious. Certainly there is a workman’s ethic in this ideal of design–even as we apply it to instructional contexts.

Personally, I see design as art. Art is an expression of the human. In the best design we go beyond the mundane craft and explore inspiration. No longer are we talking about a cook, but rather the chef–that individual who, through science and craft, creates an inspiration. In the world of instructional design, many people are willing to settle for craft, but those who understand it best know that an educational experience needs to be–by definition–transformational. The students who experience the design need to leave the experience fundamentally changed from where they began it and for that, I maintain, one must go beyond the predictability and replicability of science, beyond the product of craft, and seek the inspiration of art.


The Process

August 24th, 2010

The basic ideas of instructional design are not necessarily intuitive, even to an experienced teacher. The challenge in this instructional task, as in any other, is not merely answering the question of “How do we impart the knowledge?” There are a lot of questions that all need answering at the same time, and frequently we need the answers to some before we can get answers to others, but we go into cog-lock because we can’t know the answers to *those* questions until we get the answers to *these* and it cascades.

So we’re reduced to an iterative approach – a kind of gestalt mindset – that prompts us to try to answer all the questions at once, adjusting the answers on subsequent passes. Here are some of the questions we need answers to (in no particular order):

  • What do we want the learners to learn?
  • What do they know already?
  • How will we communicate with them?
  • How will they communicate with us?
  • How will they communicate with each other?
  • How much time do we have?
  • What tools do we have?
  • How will we know if they learned it?
  • How can we make it better the next time we try to teach?

For many classroom based teachers, a lot of the answers to these questions are already cast in stone. For others, the world is more flexible. In a lot of cases, the answers are not known, or mis-understood. The “what do they already know” question in particular is often reduced to “Have they taken the prerequisite class?” Any teacher who starts up a class with such a prerequisite requirement knows the futility of building on an assumed foundation. Even in the best of well-regulated learning environments, students outnumber scholars, and those who learned enough to pass the test are ill prepared to use that knowledge once the final grade has been assigned.

With that in mind, we’ll be spending a week or so back filling, laying down a substrate of river gravel for drainage and working toward an even foundation for us to use going forward. Some of you will pour concrete. Others might drive a stake or two. In the end, we’ll see how many of the structures remain standing when the course is over and you all move in–or move on.


Advanced Instructional Design

August 23rd, 2010

A new semester kicks off at Morehead University this morning and with it a new opportunity to explore some of the dimensions of instruction.

I’m particularly keen to get going with some of the more advanced ideas in instructional design more explicitly. The course will look at social learning, models of cognition, and models of instructional design that facilitate learner centered learning. A key to this effort will be getting the students to be learner centered after decades of being taught what, when, and how to think.

We’ll be breaking down the fourth wall on the instructional space and playing games with varying depths of instruction. We will, perforce, be limited to the digital realm, but I’m looking forward to seeing how far we can push this envelope before it breaks.