October 23, 2017

Archives for May 2011

The digital future of higher education, on video

Videos have now been posted of presentations at two conferences in British Columbia, both looking at the future of digital learning.

The digital future of higher education, Thompson Rivers University

This conference was held at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops in February. It was organized by Norm Friesen, Canada Research Chair in E-Learning Practices.

Altogether there are four videos from this conference, all available from here

1. I gave the opening keynote on the topic ‘The Challenge of Change’, drawing mainly on the results from our book, ‘Managing Technology in Higher Education.’ I argued that universities and colleges were unduly cautious in their goals for learning technologies, and that it was difficult to justify the high cost of learning technologies from the results of current mainstream practice. (60 minutes with questions and discussion).

2. The second keynote speaker was Michael A. Peters, Professor of Education at the University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign). He drew a broad brush picture of social media, web 2.0 and open education. He made the point that social media/web 2.0 were primarily commercially driven, and in some ways were usurping the roles of public education, by controlling and aggregating access to knowledge and information driven by commercial goals. He argued that open education (OERs, open publishing, open pedagogy, open learning systems, etc.) offered an alternative to the commercialization of the Internet, enabling universities and the public education system to regain the role of organizing and managing knowledge for the public good. (60 minutes with questions and discussion).

3. The first panel session was on the digital future of higher education in British Columbia. The speakers were Cameron Beddome, Thompson Rivers University, Edward Hamilton, Capilano University, and David Porter, BC Campus. David Porter talked about the five challenges and five discontinuities (open education, mobile learning, engagement of learners, social learning, shared services) facing higher education, with lots of examples of the ways new technologies are changing education and how students learn. Edward Hamilton explored the history of sociotechnical systems from a perspective bridging Foucauldian genealogy and critical theory of technology. He rejected the ideological positions of ‘essentialism’ and ‘instrumentalism’ and argued that technology is a social as well as a technical process. In the context of education, he sees teachers as educational designers, both influenced by technology, and also influencing how technology is used. It is important to integrate technology use within a pedagogical framework. Cameron Beddome presented an explanation/description of the well-established principles of open learning that derive from the open university movement that dates back to the late 1960s.

4. The second panel session was a discussion/debate between Mark Bullen, BCIT, and Norm Friesen, on the proposition that the net generation will revolutionize education. Mark Bullen argued against this, and although Norm did not personally accept the opposite position, he gamely put forward the arguments of Don Olcott, Marc Prensky and other supporters of the notion.

Just ID

I’ve already posted a report on this instructional design workshop, but the organizers have posted both the report and the video (35 minutes) of my summary of the discussions at the workshop on which the report was based.


All of the above sessions dealt with the future of digital learning in one way or another. As we all know, predicting the future  is somewhat unreliable, but certainly trends can be identified, as can their implications.

These presentations really fall into two camps: theory and practice. As the psychologist Kurt Lewin said, there is nothing more pragmatic than a good theory. Michael Peters and Ted Hamilton both provided very thoughtful analysis of the underlying social and philosophical issues that underpin the Internet, the knowledge society, and their implications for digital learning, universities and the public education system. Norm Friesen and Mark Bullen discussed what this means in terms of the kind of students now entering our higher education institutions, and how we should respond. The ID workshop was all about changing practice in a rapidly developing digital environment.

I share with Michael Peters a concern about the increasing control over knowledge and information that is now being exercised by commercial companies such as Google and Apple. However, commercial control over knowledge is nothing new; it has merely been transferred from broadcasters and publishers to IT companies (and massively scaled up). The fear is that public education institutions (and universities in particular) will be increasingly marginalized with creeping privatization of learning as a consequence. Nevertheless I think that universities in particular, while aware of the changes, have little idea about how best to respond to this challenge. The open education movement is one response, but while important it is not sufficient, in my view.

The three sessions that focused on practice (David Porter’s and both mine, one at TRU and the other at the ID workshop) were attempts to offer practical ways for universities (and colleges) to respond to these challenges.

What appears to be lacking (particularly in Canada) is what I would term a political debate about the role of public education in a digitized world. What policies (if any) should governments be putting in place to protect free and public access to information? What limits (if any) should be placed on commercial companies in the areas of privacy, security, access to and manipulation of information? What should be the rules (if any) regarding intellectual property in a digitalized world? (Canada has been trying to change its copyright legislation, but is in a hopeless mess with it, because government and ultimately the public – you and me – have failed to lay down clear and fair principles to guide the legislation. Instead the government is trying to balance competing interest groups, not all with the same level of resources. The Canadian government – or rather their privacy commissioners – have done a much better job on the privacy side, but most of the thinking here is coming from lawyers, not from educators). How should knowledge be assessed and accredited so that the public is protected from incompetency and fraud? And above all, how should higher education be organized and managed so that it operates in the public interest in a world where information is increasingly controlled by a very small number of semi-monopolistic commercial entities?

I don’t have the answers to these questions (I’m not sure anyone does) but we need increasingly to promote discussion on these issues and bring them to the attention of political leaders, as they affect us all in our daily lives. I’d be really interested in readers’ views about this larger picture in which digital learning finds itself.

Lastly, a comment about media and format. I found it extremely useful to have access to the videos after the event. I was surprised how much I missed when sitting ‘live’ in the audience (and I missed a couple because I had to leave early). One for lecture capture systems.  However, I’ve spent four and a half hours watching all these videos. In particular, I had both a text and a video of my Just ID contribution. The text can be read in five minutes, the video takes 35 minutes.

For busy people, text will win out over video any time, in terms of condensing the message. Nevertheless, there are subtle differences between the two formats. If you really want to analyze the difference between text and video compare the text version with the video version of the Just ID presentation. Although the content is almost identical, the message seems subtly different to me, although it’s hard to put a finger on it. It should be remembered that the video presentation was done on the fly, so to speak, while the text version was carefully written up afterwards. Any reactions from readers on the difference between text and video, specially in terms of time cost-benefits?

Developing vision for teaching with technology

In this blog, I will suggest a methodology for encouraging more innovative uses of technology for teaching and learning.

The problem (as I see it)

In our study of 11 institutions in our book, ‘Managing Technology in Higher Education‘ we concluded:

‘Probably the most serious problem we have identified is the general lack of imagination about the possibilities of technology for meeting the needs of today’s students. We need to move away from the dominant paradigm of the fixed time-and-place classroom (Andrea del Sarto’s ‘silver-grey, placid and perfect art’ in the chapter’s opening quotation) as the default model for university and college teaching, and think of all the other ways we could organize and manage teaching. In particular, we need to think very concretely about what teaching and learning could and should look like in the future. Our reach should exceed our grasp, driven by our assessment of the needs of students in the twenty-first century, and not by the existing institutional requirements that they must fit into.’ (p.218)

We also found that while there were often cases of individual instructors being innovative in their use of technology, this rarely failed to spread beyond that individual’s teaching. In other words our institutions were not supporting ‘bottom-up’ innovation in teaching.

One solution

Well, there isn’t one solution. Different subject areas and different students will have different needs. The goal then should be to establish an ongoing mechanism for encouraging, developing and supporting new ideas about how to teach with technology. The aim is to develop many different ways of teaching with technology, implement them, then evaluate them, in such a way that successful innovations then spread throughout the academic areas where they are most appropriate.

Scenarios as a means to develop visions for the future

We argue in our book that the key locus for developing vision is at the program level: a bachelor’s or master’s program,  a certificate program, etc. The design or plan for a program should be driven by a clear vision about how that program can best be delivered and to which target groups. In particular, the vision should clearly specify not only what students will learn, but how they will learn, and how they will be assessed. The design or plan should also indicate how individual student differences can be handled, and how students will interact not only with the instructor but also with other students and the external world, for the purposes of learning within the program.

Scenarios are a way of identifying and clarifying such goals. The purpose of scenarios is to develop a way of identifying future possible academic goals and outcomes that are facilitated by or made possible through the use of technology. We give some examples of possible scenarios in the book, but the value of scenarios is immensely increased when they draw on the imagination of all faculty, instructors and relevant support staff within a program. The process of sitting down and discussing possibilities is as important as the outcome in terms of actual scenarios. It is essentially an educational and knowledge-sharing process.

I set out below one methodology I have used to develop scenarios as part of program planning. There are other ways to get faculty to think creatively about teaching and learning, but I have used this method in several institutions and found it to work well under the right conditions. The best time to do this is at the start of the planning of a new program, or after a program review. The organization of the process should ideally be the responsibility of the VP Academic/Provost’s Office, working closely with the Deans.

The process for developing a vision for mentoring, teaching and learning

  1. Establish small working groups of between 9-12 people, e.g. six to eight instructors, two learning technology/IT staff, and a student representative, within each academic program
  2. Working groups are organized around common areas of interest (e.g. first year students, topic areas, or ‘streams’ within a program) reflecting overall opportunities and challenges.
  3. The dean or head of department should prepare a general comprehensive environmental scan/situation analysis beforehand (probably developed for the strategic and/or academic plan) which is made available to each group. In addition though, each group should spend 60-90 minutes brainstorming strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to their particular area.
  4. 3-4 short presentations (10-15 minutes) of innovative teaching with technology to program faculty and support staff by carefully selected presenters from outside the area (from other similar departments either within or from outside the institution). These presentations should provide examples of successful initiatives that are relevant to the group (i.e. related to the academic areas likely to be covered by the program). Ideally a series of these presentations would be presented to the groups over a period of time before scenario building.
  5. An intensive, one day workshop to build the scenario (including free lunch).
  6. Each group has a chair and reporter.
  7. Each group brainstorms to reach consensus without compromise.
  8. Each group completes a scenario by the end of  the workshop.
  9. Within one week, chair and reporter from each group meet to develop integrated scenarios for the whole program. This group has the task of providing a coherent, intellectually consistent set of scenarios for the program as a whole.
  10. Scenarios go to the whole program team for endorsement and possible amendment by vote
  11. Once endorsed, the scenarios drive the design, development and implementation of the program.

Criteria for successful scenario building

The following are guidelines to building successful scenarios and visions for the future

  1. A comprehensive environmental scan/situation analysis is done beforehand, with common agreement from all participants on opportunities and challenges.
  2. Scenarios should be developed that give stakeholders what they really want or would like – no compromises
  3. Must be creative and ambitious – a significant step forward from the current situation
  4. The scenarios must be written in concrete terms, describing where and how learners are studying and what tools they are using
  5. All key stakeholders are involved
  6. Start from where you are and build on strengths
  7. Scenarios if implemented would remove or deal with generally accepted weaknesses or shortcomings in the institution
  8. First steps towards implementing the vision can begin immediately
  9. 75%-100% achievable within a five year time frame
  10. There is a planning process that focuses on implementation of the vision
  11. Cost is NOT a consideration until the implementation stage (but see (9)).

Integrating scenarios into planning and operational processes

As well as helping develop specific programs, such scenario building is also immensely useful for budget and technology planning. Such scenarios when completed indicate clear directions and goals for the use of technology across the institution.

For this to happen though there needs to be in place an integrated planning process that links strategic, academic, technology and budget planning together. Budget considerations may cause program plans to be modified or delay the implementation of some elements of the scenarios. However, institutional planners can make decisions for priority funding based on the most innovative or dynamic scenarios and program plans, the ones that seem to best meet the institution’s and departmental goals and priorities. Scenarios provide concrete examples of what a program will do, and allows decision-makers to go beyond abstract terms to concrete realities.


This is not an easy exercise. Faculty are not used to thinking beyond the constraints of the current context in which they work (essential for creative scenario development). In universities, it requires patience and numerous examples to move faculty from abstract concepts to hard concrete examples. Many faculty have been badly burned in the past when trying to innovate on an individual basis, so there is often a deep cynicism about such ‘blue sky’ thinking and particularly the institution’s capacity to support innovative ideas about teaching and learning. Institutional leadership and support for the process is absolutely critical, as is the input of learning technology and IT support staff.

However, I believe it is essential to step back from the here and now, to move beyond adding the odd new tool to an LMS, to think about the needs of a very heterogeneous student body, the possibilities that technology allow, and the present and future needs of our students. My experience is that the best research professors are often, once the initial skepticism has been removed, and they are properly introduced to the possibilities of technology, the most imaginative about how their subject could be taught with technology, but they need a motivation and a catalyst for such thinking. Scenarios can provide such a catalyst, so long as they are an integrated part of institutional program planning and implementation, and the process is fully supported by institutional leaders.


For a video that resulted from scenario building, see:

Learning Technologies @ UBC, 2005 (8 mins)
A vision for teaching and learning with technology in higher education
1 meg/sec
56 kbs/sec

Note that this video was made in 2000, and was used to support a report that resulted in a number of strategic directions for the use of learning technologies at UBC.

What the security services know about e-learning

One of the great things about e-learning is that it pops up in the most unexpected of places. This month’s New security learning, Issue, No. 5, 2011, is full of fascinating accounts of the way security, defence and emergency services are using e-learning or ICTs.

For example:

Online mentoring

Bruce, A. (2011) The Master’s Voice: Learning through Mentoring New Security Learning, Issue No. 5

This is a very good introduction to mentoring, its value and when it is appropriate. For instance:

One of the noted aspects of training and skill acquisition in traditional security environments has been the need to develop training standards, methods, materials and assessment systems in often rigidly hierarchical environments. The real contradiction is that most security and emergency situations do not themselves follow such pre-ordained and routinised procedures. The random and chaotic is more the norm. In such contexts, a premium is placed on very different skills: initiative, intuition, risk-taking and innovation in a contextual mix of experience and recalled best practice.

The article argues that mentoring provides an alternative route to ‘standardized’ approaches, then goes on to list some of the factors associated with successful workplace and school-based mentoring. Of particular interest is a report on the author’s experience from a European Commission funded project, ‘Sink or Swim’, in which virtual learning environments were used for workplace mentoring. [Note: I could find no links to the Sink or Swim program: I hope it hasn’t sunk. If you have a link, please let me know]

VLE supported mentoring has a number of defined benefits that include:

    • Provision of 24 hour access for communication
    • Accessible anywhere that has internet availability
    • Provides a platform that does not require face-to-face communication
    • Progress of the mentor/mentee relationship can be monitored by project leaders

As a result of the project it was felt that when using a virtual learning environment (VLE) it was important to consider a number of questions:

    • Can VLE supported mentoring be used in an educational context to help motivate and retain students?
    • Is the VLE to be used in a context in which personal issues are discussed which are perhaps not be suitable for the  online environment?
    • Can the VLE be confined to supporting real mentoring and not abused as some kind of supervisory tool by senior management?

The Sink or Swim project outlined the following needs which should be considered when accessing VLE supported mentoring:

    • How and when mentors/mentees access the platform
    • How frequently project leaders access the VLE and their role
    • How and when mentors and mentees communicate across time zones to other project participants

The project demonstrated the need for a constant presence in the VLE. A meaningful relationship had to be established online if the VLE was to be used on a regular basis by the mentors and mentees. The choice of VLE software used in the project could also play a role in whether their relationship was well established.

Altogether, a very interesting article about the role of mentoring in workplace training.

E-learning for radar image interpreters

Streicher, A. (2011) E-learning for radar image interpreters, New Security Learning, Issue 5

This article is about an e-learning program that teaches German armed forces personnel how to interpret satellite radar images, which have the advantage of penetrating cloud cover. (I use SAR myself, when planning my cross-country flying – it identifies clearly for instance exactly where and how hard it is raining.)

Two examples of e-learning for radar image interpreters are shown. The first, SAR-Tutor, is an e-learning system with content about radar image interpretation. The second, ViSAR, is a radar signature simulator that allows image interpreters to understand various radar effects.

Facebook for criminals

Rosthorn, A. (2011) Manhunt technology: from the Unabomber to Osama bin Laden, New Security Learning, Issue 5

It seems that a favourite game played on smart phones these days by British holidaymakers in Spain is called: ‘Spot the escaped criminal.’

The non-governmental British-based agency Crimestoppers recently used information from Britain’s Serious Organised Crime Agency to break ground with powerful “wanted” posters for the world wide web. SOCA supplied a list of 50 persons wanted in connection with serious crimes and believed to be sheltering in Spain on what was once known as the Costa del Crime. Millions of surfers scrutinised the faces on the Operación Captura page. Of the 50 names and mugshots displayed on the initial web page, 36 had been arrested by the end of 2010. Another five have been arrested this year. Crimestoppers marked successes in red crosses on their web page. (If you recognise any of these men, tell Crimestoppers, not me).

The article also discusses how the Unabomber was caught, plus several other interesting articles that really weren’t about e-learning but still very interesting to read. Much more fun than reading academic journals – and also more useful.


France moving in the right direction with universities?

Guttenplan, D. (2011) France Reinvesting in Universities, Education Minister Says New York Times, May 22

This article, an interview with Valérie Pécresse, the minister for higher education and research of France, suggests that the French government’s HE policy is in sharp contrast to the British government’s. (See The calamitous state of higher education in England and Wales and U.K. public universities become privatized while the banks become state-funded).

Some of the main points:

  • priority to teaching and innovation while integrating research and teaching: Pécresse:

First there is a political choice: to give priority to teaching and innovation. But if we wanted to give this priority, then we had to reform the universities. Why? Because we have a very separated system. [She is referring to the elite Grandes Ecoles, and to the separation of research and teaching in different organizations in France]

  • more flexibility in program choice, to build on student success rather than failure. Pécresse:

we have selection by failure. We have pupils who have been scarred for life because they failed. And they would not have failed if we had taken proper care of them. In medicine, we take 20 percent after the first year.

  • more investment in universities: Pécresse

Forty percent of our real estate was out of date. So we are going to rebuild the campuses, starting this spring. And then we have an investment plan for the future, that we put in place during the [financial] crisis, and although the crisis arrived, this is €22 billion [about $31 billion] for research and innovation — a big increase over the next 10 years

  • low tuition fees: Pécresse

[in British education, … the number of university places is being reduced, and students have been asked to pay higher tuition fees]. It’s not the French model. I’m not opposed to tuition fees for lifelong learning. Lifelong learning has to come into the universities, but when it does someone has to pay for it. But for first degrees the French model is quasi-free [French undergraduates pay tuition of €174 a year.] This is our national culture. This is what we pay taxes for…..So I stand up for a model where tuition fees are not high. We were so late in investing in universities. We were so late in reforming universities. And it’s difficult to do reform without financial incentives.

For me, these are welcome changes to a French higher education system that was badly in need of reform. Too many students were failing and there was little accountability. However, the need for reform has not been used, as in Britain, to attack the model of public higher education. As Valérie Pécresse says: It was really important that universities understand in France — and French people understand — that reform is not always punitive.

Instructional design: the times they are a’changing


The Barber Learning Centre, UBC

Last week I attended a very interesting workshop, called Just ID,  at the University of British Columbia. The workshop was organized with the support of BCCampus and the Educational Technology Users Group of British Columbia. This was the same group that organized a similar workshop in Victoria last year.

This year’s event was attended by about 50 people with interests or jobs in instructional design from around the province. The meeting was organized as a set of rotating discussion groups, with 5 themes, and 2 tables per theme, with 20 minutes discussion at each table.

I had the honour of trying to capture and report on the discussions. Although I was able to observe and participate in discussions on each of the five topics, I covered only half the tables, so this summary captures less than half what was discussed. However, groups did leave summary points on paper sheets on each table, and I incorporated some of these comments from other groups. I have coloured those comments that I really liked.

Theme 1: Innovation/creativity and instructional design

This was interpreted in two ways:

•     the need to teach creativity as a skill: how do you do that?

•     the need to develop innovative or creative teaching: how do you do that?

On teaching innovation and creativity as skills, it was recognized that these are often now learning goals in many subject domains, not just in the creative arts (e.g. being innovative or creative in business of engineering). However, it was also recognized that creativity in particular not an easy thing to teach. Creativity by nature is not predictable and often emerges as a reaction against ‘conformity’; thus to foster creativity means sometimes approaching it indirectly, by creating learning environments that encourage critical thinking and new ways of looking at issues. Nevertheless, instructional designers should be thinking of how to foster innovation and creativity as learning objectives in all subject areas.

In terms of fostering innovative and creative teaching, it was recognized that focusing on innovation in teaching usually acts as a motivator for instructors. They are likely to respond to the challenge of doing something new or different from their colleagues.

There was some discussion around whether learning management systems inhibited creativity or innovation in teaching. Some felt LMSs inhibited innovation by providing a ‘standard’ approach to teaching; others believed that LMSs were flexible enough to enable or even foster innovative teaching. It was recognized though that some technologies tend to reinforce conventional teaching (e.g. clickers) while others fostered more innovative teaching (e.g. smart phones). The idea of a fixed course structure was also considered another factor inhibiting innovation in teaching.

It was also pointed out that innovation in teaching is not always necessary for good teaching. There are many tried and trusted ways of teaching that work well within well defined contexts and these should not be abandoned because they are not new or different.

Often instructors thought that just using a new technology was ‘innovative.’ but it was argued that innovation is not necessarily about using new technologies, but developing new ways of teaching, or thinking about learning. There was a tendency when focusing on new technologies to re-invent the wheel, by ignoring research and experience with similar earlier technologies. For example, many of the mistakes identified with using audio cassettes were often repeated with podcasting.  Successful innovation depends on building on what we already know as well as doing something different.



Theme 2: Web 2.0, Social media and instructional design

The question was asked: are social media different from other technologies in education? One answer was yes: social media exist outside the control of the instructor. They exist independently of the formal learning process.

The question then becomes: as an instructor or instructional designer, can you take advantage of social media by encouraging your students to enter that ‘separate’ world; or can you ‘bring in’ the world of social media to your teaching? Most seemed to agree that there was certainly value in fostering authentic learning through social media.

However,a  distinction needs to be made between formal and informal learning. We could do more as instructors/designers to foster informal as well as formal learning, through encouraging/facilitating communities of practice. It was pointed out that (as with other technologies), the issue was how much direction should students be given by an instructor, and how much should they just ‘roam free’.

Nevertheless, some felt that social media should be optional for students – for security and privacy issues you can’t require students to work in such spaces. Also the value and appropriateness of using social media will depend on the needs and the age of learners.

There was also some discussion about whether web 2.0 embodied more than just social media. Tools such as mobile phones and iPads, e-portfolios and blogs were somewhat different from social media such as Facebook and could more directly be used for formal learning, and indeed allowed for more learner-centered teaching and more learner control within a formal learning environment.

Some concern was also expressed about web 3.0, where information collected through the use of web 2.0 tools is aggregated to give individually focused ‘directions’ or pointers, such as identifying your preferences for hotels, holidays or shops. Privacy and security are becoming more rather than less of an issue through the use of these tools, even or especially in education.



Theme 3: Mobile learning and instructional design

As with social media, participants showed some caution or reservations about mobile learning, not so much the principle, but the current practicalities. For instance some participants recognized its value for informal or vocational learning, but questioned its value for higher education, where some thought it would remain an ancillary rather than a primary form of teaching.

There were also concerns that tools such as the iPad did not currently have sufficient functions to make it a core technology for teaching and learning (although the larger screen made it more appropriate for education than the small screens on smart phones), and the lack of common technical standards and interoperability made it expensive to develop educational apps that would be universally available on all makes of phones/pads, and that the simpler, low-cost first generation phones available to the majority were limited for educational use.

These arguments suggest that we need to focus particularly on the specific affordances of mobile devices. They are valuable for quick access to small chunks of information, e.g. contacts and procedures at an emergency scene. It was important to look at mobile devices’ value for two-way, instant, and media rich communication, allowing the learner to collect local data and communicate with a central ‘expert’ for immediate or quick feedback (one example was the use in Africa of mobile phones by farmers to provide data such as photos of bugs and soil samples for analysis to a  faculty of agriculture in the capital city). Indeed it was pointed out that much of the innovation in mobile learning is taking place in Africa, driven by necessity [see: Arnquist, S. (2009) In rural Africa, a fertile market for mobile phones New York Times, October 5].

It was also pointed out though that it was not instructional designers driving the use of mobile phones for learning but the IT and mobile phone industry, who were developing apps usually without educational input. Most instructional designers are operating without a theoretical framework for the design of educational applications for mobile learning, although David Porter pointed out that the GSMA Development fund has developed such a framework (see http://www.gsmworld.com/documents/mLearning_Report_Final_Dec2010.pdf)

Although some of the institutions represented at the meeting were doing small scale pilots in mobile learning, some participants felt that we needed to do much more experimentation and research in this area, but institutions were reluctant to free up resources for this.



Theme 4: Learning environments that aren’t courses

This is an interesting topic that could have covered a number of areas, such as open educational resources, personal learning environments, the integration of virtual informal learning within formal education, new forms of assessment (e.g. assessment by learner-managed e-portfolios or by challenge). However, the focus of the group that I attended was on communities of practice, and questions were again being raised about the factors that lead to the success or failure  of communities of practice.

There seemed to be general agreement in the group that people just forming a group around an area of common interest does not necessarily lead to a successful or sustainable community. The discussion then focused on factors that seemed to make a difference. One was that participants should not wait for others but should jump in with their own ‘passion’ about the area of common interest. This is likely to provoke a good response from others.

There was also quite a bit of discussion about process. There was agreement that usually a moderator was needed, and some structure, such as a regular sharing of information from all participants and a focal point or topic that might lead to action of some kind by the group. It was also important that there are people within the community that have knowledge and expertise that is of value to other members of the community. It was also agreed that many communities of practice serve a useful purpose then just die; this should not be construed as a failure.

Most of the discussion though focused on the evaluation of learning in communities of practice. Several felt that self-evaluation of learning was often unsatisfactory and that participants in communities of practice often needed some way of independently assessing and accrediting the knowledge they have gained. It was argued that better tools for self- or peer-evaluation are needed that go beyond multiple choice questions or automated testing. However, no solutions were suggested.



Theme 5: the future of instructional design

For some in the training sector, the demand is for whatever is cheap and fast, e.g. rapid prototyping. In the post-secondary sector, the future lies in developing sustainable and cost-effective methods of designing teaching and learning. One participant indicated that little innovation based on sound instructional design principles was taking place in the k-12 area. In all areas, more rapid and more flexible design models are needed.

In the group I attended there seemed to be general agreement that although it has served education well, the old systems-based ADDIE model needs to be replaced with something lighter and more adaptable to a much wider range of learning contexts. What that instructional design model would be was less clear. However, creating frameworks or environments that support learning, and a focus on identifying and making explicit the underlying structures and sequencing of knowledge in different domains will remain important tasks for instructional designers.

Developing appropriate means of assessing learning, especially in an increasingly connectivist world where content is open and of variable quality, and where learners have increasing control over their own learning, remains a key challenge and responsibility for instructional designers. Building new design models or frameworks for this new world of learning remains a work in progress.

Lastly, I was interested in what was not discussed. For me the elephant in the room is the design of campus-based learning experiences when much can now be done online. For what kinds of students, and for what areas of a subject domain, is online learning appropriate or when would it be best to use the campus, and for what? Are we really fully exploiting the campus experience in a world of online learning? What theoretical frameworks or design models do instructional designers have that will help with such decisions?



A personal summary

I came away from the discussions with five main conclusions:

  • education is rapidly opening up into a wide range of different learning environments, all of which are inter-related and are interacting with each other, e.g. formal and informal, teacher controlled and learner-controlled, place-based and virtual, static and dynamic, content and skills, and above all a continuously developing set of technologies that open up ever more opportunities and challenges for learning
  • recent technology developments allow for much more learner-centered teaching, with learners able to demonstrate learning through powerful multimedia; we have not harnessed fully this potential yet
  • we need more flexible design models for teaching and learning that allow for ‘design on the fly’, meet the needs of increasingly diverse learners and hence allow for greater individualization of learning, and offer greater productivity (more learning at less cost)
  • quality and the assessment of learning remain important challenges, even though the context of learning is rapidly changing
  • we need better theories and models for teaching and learning to help us navigate through a post-systems world where teachers and institutions have less and less control over the learning experience (acknowledging that there ARE already models and theories out there, but they are either not generally known or are not yet accepted in the mainstream of education)

All these issues were resolved in the pub after the meeting, but unfortunately no record was kept.