« January 2006 | Main | March 2006 »

February 26, 2006

late at night...

Late at night is probably the worst time to post to this blog, but it always seems to be that this is when I can actually sit down and pound out some thoughts. Unfortunately the reliability of said thoughts at such an hour is always questionable.

The discussion deftly provoked by Scott, Jill, and Stephanie hit pretty close to home. Specifically, it brought directly into play views held by my father (a 5th grade teacher, ready to retire in the upper half of his fifties from a small school district in a state far far away) and my wife, a media specialist in a growing suburb of the Twin Cities.

My dad often grumbles about technology being pushed on the kids without regards to their "real" needs (being much more focused on "the basics" of reading and math that his relatively lower income students need, and pretty much a technophobe himself). My wife, on the other hand, complains more about the staff that refuses to check their email or brush off her attempts at cross-curricular integration and collaboration because the classroom teacher is to uncomfortable when faced with such a complicated web interface as the Google search page.

My dad does have his valid points. To my inexpert observer's eye (though I was a product of that same school district), the district DOES have a rather wrong-headed approach to technology. It seems that most of what is being taught is touch typing, and whether the library still uses old card catalog drawers or computer terminals, the students only get about 6 hours of library instruction PER YEAR in his building. My dad doesn't have an email account and has probably only adapted to some online search engines because of the switch that the public library made to computer catalogs 15+ years ago. He is no more likely than "Phorget It" Phil to be able to integrate technology into his lessons than he would be eager to try.

My wife, on the other hand, being in her late twenties and having done her undergrad studies on a campus that required laptops for each student, then continued into a library and media education MA, sees lots of opportunity to integrate technology into teaching methods and use it to reach more students in more ways.

I guess it still comes down to what I argued last week in my post. It really has to do with how you use the technology. Just having the boxes in the building does not do what you need. On the other hand, you might really find that some teachers, good teachers, will find it to be a real crimp in their style to be "forced" into using tools that they do not themselves feel comfortable using.

February 20, 2006

Technocrappy education

Just a quick thought this week, especially in frustration over some of the discussion in class last week and the supplementary article we read this time around:

Technology for technology's sake in ANYTHING is not necessarily a good idea. Technology can seem daunting to people and actually serve as a deterrent to "getting things done" or feeling "at ease" with the process.

That said, no generation in the last century has been limited to the technology available to the one before it, and therefore there is always a "new" thing coming down the pike that younger learners "grow up with" and older teachers (as that is usually the dichotomy) "can do without".

I can think of nothing that supports keeping technology out of education in favor of the "old ways". If nothing else, the technology plays a part of the environment that the learners need to master in order to excel in the changing world, and for this reason alone should be included in the schools. Also, technology, although not always used by all people in the same ways, offers new methods of learning to students and may well reach learners previously fallen through the cracks of the "old ways".

The article that studied test scores in correlation with mere numbers of computers in the school did absolutely NOTHING to ask HOW those computers were or weren't being used. If the technology is not being used in integration with regular instruction, then there is a good chance that it is reducing the instruction of the other subject matters, but done well, it can only enhance the learning experience. THAT was not taken into account with the questions at all.

February 13, 2006

Why do we care about the learner?

Ok, so this ("Why do we care about the learner?") seems to be the question that sparked some of the most intense conversation in class last time, but I have to admit that I'm a bit confused by that. I guess I didn't (don't) see how such a question could be controversial at all from the perspective of Instructional Design. The key word in that is, of course, "instruction(al)", and that doesn't just suggest the importance of the learner in the picture, it mandates it.

Or rather, I should ammend that. The idea of "good instructional design" would seem to be defined as "the design of effective and efficient teaching tools" (that's not too subjective, is it?). At least, it seems to me that "good instructional design" is instructional design that pulls this off. In this case, both words 'effective' and 'efficient' require the presence of the learner in the equation to have any value. Ergo, "good instructional design" should definitely hold the learner and his/her/their needs as the central focus.

If we widen the scope to possibly exclude the qualifier "good" and just ask what "instructional design" is, then I agree, we start taking into consideration the other factors than those that directly serve the learner, and perhaps have more to do with the needs of the client or the designer. In this case, however, if the focus becomes out of balance (as far as the need to keep the learner central), then I would argue that we are no longer discussing what could be declared good instructional design, but rather "business design" or even "project/product design". The learner's needs are no longer being served exclusively.

Now, there is a place and a real need for good "product design" principles when creating instructional tools, especially because ignoring factors such as time and budget could potentially be the downfall of an otherwise good project. Also, the learner's needs are never the only needs involved in a project. It just seems to me that the role of the instructional designer (a good one) falls within the scope of overall good product design (project management?), and it definitely entails focusing on the learner. All other considerations are not part of the "instructional" aspect of "instructional design".

Thus, why do we care about the learner? If we don't, then we are not designing for instructional purposes (no longer "instructional designers"), no matter what else is being considered (or whose purpose is being served). We are then talking about the (related) role of the "project/product designer".

February 6, 2006

If everything is design...

So the concept of design has been grabbing a hold on my brain much the same way my 70lb dog grabs a toy and dangles it barely being held in his mouth by two incisors. He WANTS the 45lb mutt to make an attempt to get away with the thing, but just by clamping down his jaws, he knows he'll never REALLY have to give it up.

I "get" the general ideas of what we're talking about in class, and I can really understand how each of the stages and elements involved in instructional design plays a role, but I have a hard time putting it into concrete applicable knowledge for myself moving forward in projects.

I feel like I am often being struck by seemingly random thoughts of "oh, THAT'S some good design" to a degree that my brain never really took it before: not just "cool!", but "No, really, there was some good planning on that aspect there. They must have really paid attention while conducting their learner analysis..."

Like today. I got an email that alerted me to the fact that I had, as of yet, failed to take a mandatory staff training online regarding sexual harrassment. I opted to click on the link in the email and finish it up right away. Immediately I started noticing things that might normally have ticked me off, but now really got under my skin because I could SEE myself taking steps to prevent my own annoyances, but just didn't have access to the original to make the necessary tweaks.

First off, I don't remember there being any info on time expectations. When it became clear that this might actually take more than a half an hour of my time, I began to wish I had saved it for later. I was distracted by wanting to get it over with because it became clear (like the teachers in our recent case study) that this wasn't the kind of thing I was going to find useful if I felt like it was taking up too much of my time. The training was designed so that I HAD to go through each step before it would report back that I had completed the workshop. At the same time, however, it had poor planning in areas like movie clip controls and menus.

I can understand the necessity of "forcing" each participant to view the whole movie clip, but more than once, just towards the end, I missed something because of environmental distractions, so I tried to go back and review what had just been said. Sometimes I could use the menu to jump back to the beginning of the WHOLE SEGMENT, but I never had the oportunity, having seen it once already, to just skip to the part I was interested in repeating. Also, if I accidentally clicked on the pop-up menu (think Windows START menu), it would partially visually block the segment I was in the middle of, and would NOT CLEAR without selecting one of the segments listed (the current one since it wouldn't allow you to skip ahead), and then it would start that whole segment over again! @#*#$@!

On the other hand, there were a variety of "activities" that I thought really were good examples of well-thought-out tools. Things that I wished I could save as examples for later, or refer back to as a model. The training was trying to change behavior, just like in our first case study. There were also sections that felt like they were trying to encourage a constructivist approach by letting the user view multiple video clips representing various viewpoints, and then simply asking some open ended questions to provoke thought without trying to push "right" answers. Other segments were assessments that required true-false or reality-myth distinction where there WERE right or wrong answers, and I felt like I wanted to purposefully get some "wrong" to see if the tool was designed to be adaptive or not. (I didn't want it to report that I was socially inept or pathological, though, so I didn't.)

So I find that I am feeling comfortable RECOGNIZING what goes into "good design" when I see an example of it, but applying it consciously to my work is a lot harder. I even lie awake at night trying to plan out my final project or apply some instructional design concepts to projects at work, but I find that my brain is more preoccupied with design of much less "instructional" things, such as a new wall/door partition for the bathroom, or a wiring pattern to hook up some new porch lights to an "optical eye" light sensor AND a motion sensor at the same time. I realize that some of the steps in planning are perhaps not too far off, but it feels like there's something there that I'm just not grabbing.