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Universities, colleges and other types of learning institutions often pursue projects that initially start as non-credit bearing activities until they grow into accepted pedagogical practices and can become courses, or components of courses, and carry credit. These initiatives are how educational institutions transform. These are often the kinds of initiatives that make news, and often affect real change, even if that change is not readily apparent at the onset of the project. In each case, it takes multiple players to make institutional change into institutional reality.
For example, one such design is the reading program started by Alejandro Gac-Artigas featured recently on PBS here. This is instructional design, (by the way, it’s a design case, albeit a rather superficial one) teachers implemented a cooperative summer reading program with parents, a design genre that has been implemented dozens of times before (McCarthey 2000). Innovative or not, this type of attention on an in-school but out of class activity is important for gaining support and buy-in from those whose cooperation is needed to make initiatives succeed. What’s not mentioned in the video segment, but is vitally important, is the cooperative support from others at the institution. If you look closely at the PBS video segment, there are a number of indicators that this intervention is not a single-source project. The sessions happen during summer break; thus administration played a part in getting summer funding to keep doors open. There are multiple teachers teaching this curriculum, thus some other teacher volunteered to help with the teaching. There is non-junk food on the tables to keep parents and kids revved up during the activity; cafeteria staff also had a role. Before I talk about A&M Texarkana’s CATPALs, I will mention two other transformative projects that enlisted many players to transform teaching and learning at institutions where I saw this same type of in-school but out of class intervention transform the institution, in ways large and small.
Kanda University’s Self-Access Learning Centre: In 1998-99, Lucy Cooker wanted to create a space for learners that was less antiseptic, more inviting, and supportive of the motivated learner to really excel though self-paced learning. She talks about in this video. Notice she focuses on institutional support in her talk about the centre, which has now boomed to serving hundreds of learners daily from just a small 2-classroom project. Dozens of instructors supported the SALC during its fledgling years, though not all believed in the idea that a self-motivated learner could do what she was proposing. The SALC now employs several learning advisors and has transformed Kanda University from a school where learning was lock-step, to an institution that can support literally limitless language learning— in fact, several languages if a learner is so motivated. It truly transformed Kanda University in Chiba, Japan.
Indiana University’s Anti-plagiarism Test: in the early 2000’s, a number of teachers and teaching assistants at Indiana University endeavored to create a sustainable pedagogical response to help combat plagiarism. (Key members were: Theodore Frick, Elizabeth Boling, Andrew Barrett, Cesur Dagli, Rod Myers, Meltem Albayrak-Karahan, Joseph Defazio, and Noriko Matsumura). The test was supported by assistant instructors and other teachers who assigned the test, students who volunteered their skills in design, programming, or a myriad of other skills, and the university who supported the overhead. The IU anti-plagiarism tutorial (and test) now serves literally millions of students and teachers all over the world every year.
CATPALS at Texas A&M Texarkana: Committee for Annual Thematic Program and Lecture Series (CATPALS) is a whole-campus initiative designed to integrate multidisciplinary learning and community development at Texas A&M University – Texarakana. It has been spear-headed by Michal Perri, an Associate Professor of History. This year the theme is environmental issues and the University will be having lectures and providing reading materials to go along with the lectures. I will attend all the lectures I can. The projects started off with a free book (way to get professors on board!). You can pick up a copy of the book at Elizabeth Patterson’s office in the Student Success Center, UC330.
- Allen, W. (2012) The good food revolution. Gotham Books (254 pages)
Lecture dates will be publicly announced via the TAMUT website: Search CATPALS @ http:tamut.edu
Here is my challenge: Any student who is taking any course I am teaching can gain a 5% increase on their final grade by creating instruction to go with any lecture material covered in CATPALS. It can be an online quiz, a tutorial, a video (vlog, etc…), or any other form of mediated instruction, but the experience must be accessible remotely in order to get credit. We can host your developed material on our student work webpage. I will share the media with the CATPALS committee. This is a great opportunity to put what you learn in Instructional technology to good use, become a part of the Texas A&M larger community of learners, and create a portfolio item which just could be that missing link that takes you from being a job applicant to an employed instructional designer.
McCarthey, S. J. (2000). Home–school connections: A review of the literature. The Journal of Educational Research, 93(3), 145-153.
I am flattered by the communications I have received over the past year asking for invitation letters to be a visiting scholar under my sponsorship. To expedite the process, please read the following prior to contacting me. This blog post will let you know how things proceed here at Texas A&M University Texarkana (TAMUT) and help you prepare for the process of obtaining a letter of invitation.
The purpose of a scholarly visit, no matter how long the stay, usually 6 months to one year, is intended for scholarship, not as a precursor to enrolling in our Masters in Instructional Technology (ITED). If you are interested in our MS in ITED, you will find that in our program we have small classes, the program is very affordable, and is also 100% accessible online, here. The university is reasonably skeptical about requests to simply come here and take classes. Rather, the university is happy to extend sponsorship to an individual looking to further research in which we are already engaged. Generally speaking, scholars who have not yet published, or who are in the process of forming a dissertation committee, face a series of other questions when asking for a letter.
So far, all the requests I have received have to do with studying TESOL learning. While this is part of my research in general, I focus on rather specific area within that topic—learning in mediated environments. I do not have access to learner data in face to face settings at the moment. To talk about those possibilities at TAMUT, contact Dr Rincon via her contact information here. If you are interested in collaborating on studies involving mediated instruction, the first step is to assemble the following documents.
- Visiting Scholar Application Form (docx or pdf). This is where the process starts. Please read the whole form prior to sending me email.
- A cover letter describing the purpose of your stay and how my research is aligned with this purpose.
- A copy of your most recent curriculum vitae.
- A 1-2 page research plan including a description of the data, proposed analytical approach and potential contribution to the field of instructional/educational technology, TESOL, or instructional design.
A few things to keep in mind
Please allow at least 30 days for this process, starting from the time you submit your application package. There will likely be some sort of interview in the process of creating the invitation letter. You will need to have a drivers’ license as Texarkana is not fully accessible via public transportation. Texas A&M University Texarkana may or may not be able to provide an office for the duration of your stay; this is contingent upon space availability. TAMUT does have on-campus housing, the details of which can be discussed during your interview. TAMUT can provide access to library resources and there is ample space in the library for scholarly work. TAMUT can accommodate requests to present the scholarly accomplishments you make while here and I can provide a letter of completion/certificate at the conclusion of your time with me.
I was asked to review Campus Pack (CP), a Blackboard overlay that attempts to improve on Blackboard functionality. Here are the issues I found.
1. Campus Pack lacks scent trails, or an intuitive design
Intuitive design is the feeling that a device makes sense from the user perspective. Campus Pack seems to challenge the user, and make even the simplest of tasks more difficult. For example, when new pages are created in the wiki, they must be accessed via linked hypertext that only appears on down scroll. Someone coming into a wiki to find new work will be hard-pressed to figure out where to access the work they are looking for. The browsing instructor can search for hours and never find the students’ completed work.
The dashboard is unlabeled and difficult to locate. Campus Pack uses a number of internally created terms which I find, and my students found, misleading. For example, “assignment dashboard” is a Campus Pack internally created term, and is the path to assignments, but it is not labeled as such and it difficult to locate. A Dashboard speaks to me as a selection of instruments gauging progress and present measurements in different areas. This seems to have a different meaning in Campus Pack. For CP, people have access via a dashboard.
Redundant features confuse users. CP contains a “directory” that neither access campus information nor BB information. Instead, it is a class roster that requires students to type in information about themselves. These types of problems plague CP. Campus Pack includes a redundant messaging, which does not disable the standard BB messaging function when activated. Therefore, the instructor may have messages they are unaware of. This duel messaging functionality cause problems because leaners who sent the instructor mail may assume their instructor checks “CAMPUS PACK MAIL” but the instructor may actually never find out about the message. Other pages are redundant and result in confusion. “Campus Pack: Course membership” serves the same function as the Blackboard Roster, but its presence misleads students to thinking that there is an alternative pathway to the wiki’s when there is not. Active hyper-linked pictures lead to spaces that appear as if they are undeveloped wikis, but are in fact a completely different content location. Students can easily be fooled into believing all their classmates’ wikis are empty. CP also includes a large, installable analog clock as a redundant feature for computers that do not have clocks. (I am yet to find such a machine.)
It should be noted that these new uses of older familiar terms are not defined. While a new use for an old term is in and off itself confusing, CP provides no glossary for their terms. Many items in CP are called “portals.” That’s fine, but few students have a clue what these words mean, nor how it impacts how they do things in CP. I am unclear as well. There is little use for a user to have their menu called a portal, unless the menu somehow functions differently from a normal menu.
2. Campus Pack has limited compatibility
Limited compatibility issues make CP very difficult for users, and limit its value as an addition to Blackboard. Mobile phone integration does not appear available for Campus Pack. Copy / paste functionality is not universally compatible with other programs. Campus Pack support C/P in some browsers, not on others. If your students read online, but write, and edit what they have read, in collaborative writing tasks, this will cause problems for students attempting to complete those tasks. Therefore, the software does not appear to have advantages over the most rudimentary versions of Blackboard. Students will like be unable to do any work on the fly via phones, and they cannot complete writing tasks in some browsers.
Some capability is actually disadvantageous. Campus pack includes social networking gadgets that link outside the interface, and can expose learners’ coursework to the public. SNS integration may appear an attractive feature of CP provide the instructor is protected from any type of related litigation, and does not teach in a public institution where the disclosure of learner information might potentially put the instructor in tenuous legal circumstances. Twitter, Facebook, and Flicker accounts can all be linked via CP.
3. Screen space is poorly used
While not nearly as detrimental as the two topics above, the misuse of screen real estate makes Campus Pack even more difficult to use and should be mentioned. Screen real estate is devoted either navigation, or to work space; the two functions are not integrated in one user interface. This creates problems in work flow. One cannot access, work, and save and move on seamlessly. The tasks must be broken up completely. Thus, you cannot read text in one area and write in another. Rather, navigation stretches the length and height of the screen, occupying all of it. For example, in some areas of the LMS addition, five different horizontal menus are employed while the rest of the screen is dead space.
Noam Chomsky, exposing insights admittedly not purely his own but rather present in centuries of educational theory, told the students and faculty at Arizona State University that if we knew what the outcomes were before we started teaching, it would not be education. Education, he says, is joint discovery that happens among teachers and learners. He stops short of saying what it actually is when we do know precisely what the learning objectives are- but it’s not hard to guess. Mager has made a career of instructional performance objectives. Standards and school districts spend countless hours debating performance objectives. But at what point should the learner move from instruction, to education? I think there is a midpoint, and I call that point stochastic learning objectives.
Stochastic Learning Objectives are a set of competencies or knowledge items that we hope learners with come to in the process of learning, but our instruction is not measured or focused on any single one. Rather, the instructional design is aimed at building a context where the learning of these are likely to occur. A sequence is not dictated, nor are the items contingent upon one another. This same approach is taken in a number of fields. Jackson Pollack is often credited as being a founder of stochastic art– at some point the process will come upon the aesthetically pleasing image (see public domain image to the left). A great example is the use of the word “notion” in PhD programs. In lay speech we find the term “idea” quite often, but when we switch to academic discourse, ideas seem to be replaced with notions. I would guess that notions are less rigid that ideas, but honestly, I would be hard pressed to say anything about “notion” other than academics seems to have about as many notions as everyone else has ideas. Notion is a wonderful example because while I find that graduates of PhD programs have notions, and others have ideas, I have never heard of any course or advisory bullet point directed at teaching PhD students to have notions, not ideas. In fact, it is ludicrous to think of it. Stochastic outcomes are quite common in discourse learning; at least I have had that notion for the past few years, previously I only had ideas.
But at-a-distance learners are challenged with this type of bridge between instruction and education. Clear performance objectives and lots of support via examples and supplemental material are common recommendations for online and at-a-distance designs, but instructional designs that lack an element of exploration will stop short of education, stuck in instruction. No amount of supplemental material will prepare learners for some of the learning needed for instructional to become education. The example of “notion” in PhD programs is typical for discourse learning, but other examples abound in other areas as well. For example, a recent activity I assigned asked for learners to collaborate via a wiki. A specific learner, through no fault of her own, experienced some of the less attractive attributes of wiki collaboration, namely her work being saved just moments prior to another student’s saving a different version of the wiki page- effectively deleting her entire contribution. A second experience revolved around incompatibility issues that resulted in her screen showing something completely different from the wiki saved on the server. Both of these experiences strike me as valuable lessons to learn about wikis. While both possible situations could have been included somewhere in the literature I gave learners about using wikis, no amount of preparation can lead someone to recognition these are negative attributes of wikis when one is in the driver’s seat. These must be experienced for the concept to be learned. As a teacher, while I did not intend for students to delete one another’s work, and made some comments hoping to avoid these experiences, I did want learners to learn both the positives and negatives of the wiki. I don’t know how effective my explanation of this was for the learner who experiences the anger of “saving” only to find garble return on the screen. At-a-distance learners are focused, so when the technology fails them, even if the result is solid stochastic objective learning, it’s not easy. They like their learning to be broken up and dished out one concept at a time.
The term itself comes from discussions around my dissertation with two of my four advisers. Elizabeth Boling and Ted Frick both identified that I was trying to teach stochasticly before I did. Teaching discourses, the gateway into communities of practice, is so much the air I breathe that I failed to even recognize how it is different from teaching concepts and procedures. In truth, they were the first to put the terms together, not me. Incidentally, if you would like to stop education altogether, skip instruction, and go directly to the conferring of degrees, Craig Nakashian offers degrees at a significant discount – 50$ for another PhD was a bargain I thought, until I heard the catch. He includes a gentle disclaimed that the degree in conferred without reference to education or instruction. Curiously, Nakashian’s perspective jives well with Chomsky’s, “It doesn’t matter what we cover, it matters what we discover.”
I am gearing up to start teaching again and thinking that the how of my approach is going to be just as important as what I have to say to my students. So, I am looking around to some scholars that I really admire and just keeping a note here. Kennon M. Smith has a knack for taking complex ideas and complex situations and making it all seem so simple. I just love the way she presents these complex ideas that I have to grapple with to digest. I had the opportunity to present with Kennon a few years back and noticed that even in responding to questions she could slow down, pick the right words, and delivery them slowly so people could digest what she is saying. In the clip I am linking here, Dr Smith puts instructional design in a larger perspective, situating it among fields of design. This lays the groundwork for thinking about instructional design a little differently than we normally do. I’m saving it here because it’s a great introduction to dealing with these complex ideas of what we call research in instructional design, a course I will be teaching in the fall for Masters Students at Texas A & M.
Another person who says it well, but in a totally different way, is Patrick Lowenthal, an instructional designer at Boise State. He uses media remarkably well, and in this video, he and Joni Dunlap offer eight insights they learned about teaching online through their own experiences. I have taught in face to face settings for over ten years, but only a handful of times online. As part of my preparation to teach online, I am looking for some guides—something to fall back on when I am not getting the results I want. I’ve always been a little skeptical that we can teach with a real connection to students in the online setting. (I talked about this in an Elearn article) and Dr’s Dunlap and Lowenthal seem to recognize this in their prescriptions. What I really like about these prescriptions is that they are not phrased as prescriptions. They are not coming saying “do it this way” as much as they are saying, “we’ve been doing this a while and here’s what we have learned; these ideas guide us, take them or leave them.” I interpret the central message is BE THERE; HERE’S HOW. Do you get the same message?
Just posting some slides from a recent talk. I enjoyed pulling it all together and having a keen audience. Pulling back and looking at the big picture now and then forces one to question what all this study is about and what purpose it is serving. That’s a good thing because I wouldn’t want to get so wrapped up in all my research that I miss the big picture about where it is all going. From where I stand now, i can see the purpose of the PhD spelled out clearly from the time I was a language teacher as a substitute at Gateway Residential High School in Buffalo in 1994 to now. I have always been looking for ways to help people *discuss* better. Here are the slides: The features of Instructional Design(s)
Soon I will be stepping out my research shell a little to talk about instructional design cases. This is meant to be a one-hour lesson, but I can see it going longer if students are interested in developing their rudimentary design cases into more complex descriptions of something they designed. I start the talk with a few buzzwords, but this talk is not about a transient aspect of instructional design. Rather, it’s about how we get to the designs that are really groundbreaking, and how we, as ID’s, grow. If anyone is interested in an audio of the talk, drop me an email. Link to the pptx: Instructional Design Cases.