craig dennis howard

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A vision statement

I was recently asked to write a vision statement about how I saw the field of instructional technology and where i feel it is headed. So, I wrote one. I will share it here because it may spark some interest and could lead to some curious conversations.

Vision Statement about the future of Instructional Design

Prophecies of how MOOCs (Massively Open Online Courses) will revolutionize teaching and learning often praise the wrong aspects of these technologies. My vision of the future of instructional design does not see instructional designs replicating classroom teaching online. Rather, I see us educating in a way that respects the time and value of a face to face experience and taking advantage of the scaffolds that mediated instruction offers. MOOCs can deliver content better than previous technologies, but that is not all of education, nor is it much of instructional design.

Scholars warn us of the dangers of equating education with content delivery, and point to a dismal future where face to face instruction is a luxury only the rich can afford (Graham, 2012). I keep in mind the limits of technological tools and the value of the human experience when I talk about the possibilities technologies bring. My vision of instructional design is future where educators understand the limits of technology, but also understand how to manifest learning with these tools that cannot be created otherwise.

Accomplishing what cannot be done otherwise often questions assumptions about teaching. The paradigm of one teacher per classroom is deeply engrained in our perspectives of learning. However, placing learners among multiple instructors can dramatically influence how learners think. We can place learners among multiple experts in virtual approaches, but not in designs that take place in traditional classrooms. Even if we could put multiple teachers in one classroom, teachers in a classroom with learners tend to teach rather than discuss frankly among themselves. In teaching pre-service teachers, I recorded a discussion of four experts while they discussed and analyzed a video of real teaching. I placed their comments into annotations which appeared and disappeared from the viewable screen of that same video. Then, I asked learners to watch the video and discuss it. Approximately 50 learners watched the video with the expert annotations, and 50 without the expert annotations. In the learners’ resulting discussions, learners who had watched with expert video annotations used three times as much higher order thinking in their comments about the video (Howard, 2012). These learners were never told the comments were written by experts and not classmates. This is a teaching tactic available through technology that is not available otherwise. This was my dissertation study.

Another example of creating teaching and learning otherwise not possible is the use of anonymity as an instructional strategy. Traditional classrooms are not anonymous. This does not mean that the experience of critically discussing in an anonymous condition is worthless. It means there are ways to use anonymity that support learning, and potentially ways that could hinder learning. In a teacher education course that normally held design critiques, I had learners complete these critiques via a discussion board (forum). Approximately half the students discussed anonymously, and these students wrote twice as much criticism of their peers’ work. However, they also supported these criticisms with four times as much reasoning and supporting evidence (Howard, Barrett & Frick, 2010). Learners in the anonymous condition thus received and gave more criticism with reasons, an experience we want our future teachers to have. I concluded that while anonymity could have potentially negative consequences for a teacher who does not adequately prepare and monitor learner participation, anonymity also creates a worthwhile learning experience online that is not possible via the traditional classroom.

Simple email can support discussion in English for ESL learners who would otherwise never get the chance to read something written in English exclusively for them to read. While teaching in New York City (CUNY, 1998-2000), I jointly developed a small 5 week curriculum with other CUNY teachers that linked our respective students in Queens and the Bronx in pair work via email. Asynchronous pair work is not the same as pair work in class. Policies and procedures needed to be developed. However, this activity grew into a full 15 week course. I took the project with me to Kanda University in Chiba, Japan. In 2002, I received a grant for development of the project which allowed me to go to a number of our partner institutions, present the curriculum at conferences, collect interested partner schools, and create a sustainable curriculum. Since 2002, thousands of students have used the Kanda University Email Exchange Program and linked with learners at other colleges for cross-cultural pair work online (Howard, 2004; Van Moere & Howard 2002). These learning experiences were brought to life through the technology and could not have been accomplished otherwise.

Growing interest in design is a bellwether that this change is underway. Submissions of design cases to the Instructional Design Portfolio (once a feature in the Ed Tech periodical, Tech Trends) have increased so much that a new journal has emerged, the International Journal of Designs for Learning (IJDL). In 2008, there were four submissions of close analyses of specific at-a-distance learning designs submitted to Tech Trends. In 2009, another six were submitted. In 2010, the feature became a journal and seven design cases appeared in the first issue of IJDL. The number of submissions has doubled every year since the journal’s inception. For the 2012 issue, over 35 articles were submitted to IJDL (Howard, 2010; Howard, forthcoming). As the assistant editor for these publications, I witnessed the change in perspective of scholars and practitioners of instructional design from “taking courses online” to critically analyzing how the mediated instruction functions in unique and curious ways.

Now is an excellent time to be starting an online program. Established programs in instructional design and technology are retooling to meet the needs of learners who are both more informed about what they can learn using these tools and at the same time in greater need for guidance to navigate a sea of information at their fingertips (Boling, 2008; Howard, 2010). My vision for instructional design is respectful of the timeless scholarship that has brought the field of educational inquiry to where it is now, and excited about possibilities technology begs us to explore.


Boling, E. (2008). From students to scholars: Revision of the doctoral program in Instructional Systems Technology at Indiana University. In, M. Orey, J. McLendon & R. Branch (Eds.). Educational Media and Technology Yearbook 2008. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

Howard, C.D. (2012, April) The Impact of Modeling and Staggered Participation in Video-annotated Pre-service Teacher Discussions. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association (AERA), Vancouver, BC. Canada.

Howard, C.D. (2010) Obstacles to the credibility of online learning. eLearn, 12(1), online.

Howard, C.D. (2004) Identifying the role of corpora in EFL materials design. The Journal of the Rikkyo University Language Center, 11(1), 39-47.

Howard, C.D., Barrett, A.F. & Frick, T.W. (2010) Anonymity to promote peer feedback: Pre-service teachers’ comments in asynchronous computer-mediated communication. The Journal of Educational Computing Research, 43(1), 89-112.

Graham, G. (2012, October 5). How the embrace of MOOC’s could hurt middle America. The Chronicle of Higher Education. pp. B22-B23.

Van Moere, A. & Howard, C.D. (2002) Introducing Email Exchange in a Freshman Curriculum. The Journal of the Research Institute of Language Studies and Language Education, 12(1), 99-117.

Blogs and often visted web sites

In a conversations with Colin Gray and Rod Myers, we talked about the many blogs that we follow and how easy it is to have them fed into an email address. Unfortunately, this could become very cumbersome. At the AECT early career symposium, David Wiley talked about the importance of blogs and his perspective that the media of blogging has replaced the scholarly article’s roles as a distribute of new information. Now, the scholarly article represents vetted information, and the bog represents new information. I don’t read as many blogs as I should, possibly because I know writing gets better as it is vetted. I am wondering what ways we have to slim down the information vortex in ed tech and focus just on new posts and blogs that are useful. One idea I am toying with is editing a blog with a nonprofit organization, instead of trying to conjure up my own content on a  regular basis. That organization will most likely be Unlock learning.

Linking to a specific point in a video

Sometimes knowing little things can make a big difference. Here’s a competency some readers may not be familiar with– linking to a specific part of a video. Let’s say I want someone to go to an exciting part of a discussion, and skip the parts prior to that exciting part. Rather than telling them to start watching at the 2 minute 39 second mark, one can just link to that spot in the video. Linking to a specific place in a video on YouTube is easy. I am sure there are numerous ways to incorporate this hypertext skill into online discussions about videos.

Here’s it what you do:

  1. Select the minute and second in a video where you would like the browser tab to open.
  2. Copy that URL.
  3. Place this at the end f the URL: “#t=_m__s”
  4. In the space where you see underscores above, change that to the minute and second where you would like the browser to open
  5. Link will look something like this:
  6. Insert like any other URL to make a link

For the time being, this is a nifty trick, but it won’t be long before readers expect someone to be able to do this. It can be annoying to use the scroll bar to get the place in a video where someone has asked you to pay attention. As we use more and more video, I expect skills like this to become more and more important. Nobody wants to mess with scanning for a specific point if they don’t have to.

Try it out here

AECT highlights

A few meetings at AECT made it really memorable. I was able to spend some time with three people I met previously – Andrew Tawfik (website), Heng (Patrick) Lou (website) and Patrick Lowenthal (website). One thing which was stressed was the importance of blogging. I have always had a lot of fear for putting unedited text out there for public view. I think I need to get over that. Most of the scholars I met this year at AECT blogged in one form or another. We also brainstormed blog themes in the Early Career Symposium- the ECS at AECT was an excellent networking and learning experience. More on that later…. redirects here. I am hoping this location will last for quite some time. The IU home page I built with dreamweaver in 2007 had a good run- 5 years. But, I am hoping this one will last longer than that. Soon that IU page will be retired– probably in August of 2013, so the archive has to move before then.

Here are some other places on the web where people find me: