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.
CORE MESSAGE FROM THIS THEME:
BECAUSE OF THE CHALLENGES OF MASS HIGHER EDUCATION, INNOVATION IN TEACHING IS ESSENTIAL, AND SHOULD BE A CORE STRATEGY/OBJECTIVE IN EVERY INSTITUTIONAL ACADEMIC PLAN. HOWEVER IT HAS TO BE APPROPRIATE INNOVATION (i.e. leading to better learning), NOT INNOVATION FOR ITS OWN SAKE.
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.
CORE MESSAGE FROM THIS THEME:
SOCIAL MEDIA RAISE THE ISSUE OF THE EXTENT TO WHICH LEARNING SHOULD BE UNDER THE CONTROL OF A TEACHER AND HOW MUCH UNDER THE CONTROL OF THE LEARNER. AS INSTRUCTIONAL DESIGNERS WE SHOULD BE FOCUSING ON HOW THESE DECISIONS SHOULD BE MADE IN THE BEST INTEREST OF THE LEARNER.
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.
CORE MESSAGE FROM THIS THEME:
THE TREND IS TOWARDS CONSOLIDATION ON MOBILE DEVICES. ALL DESIGNERS SHOULD BE THINKING OF HOW NEW COURSES AND PROGRAMS CAN WORK ON MOBILE DEVICES. INSTRUCTIONAL DESIGNERS NEED TO TAKE MORE CONTROL OVER THE DESIGN OF EDUCATIONAL APPLICATIONS AND DEVELOP A SET OF COHERENT DESIGN FRAMEWORKS FOR MOBILE LEARNING BASED ON SOUND EDUCATIONAL PRINCIPLES AND THE UNQIUE AFFORDANCES OF MOBILE DEVICES. IN PARTICULAR WE NEED MUCH MORE EXPERIMENTATION, EVALUATION AND THEORY DEVELOPMENT IN THIS AREA.
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.
CORE MESSAGE FROM THIS THEME:
COMMUNITIES OF PRACTICE MAY BENEFIT FROM DISCUSSING AND IDENTIFYING CLEAR GOALS OR OBJECTIVES FOR THE COMMUNITY AND SHOULD MAKE SURE THAT THERE ARE EFFECTIVE PROCESSES FOR MODERATING AND MANAGING THE COMMUNITY OF PRACTICE. MORE FOCUS NEEDS TO BE PUT INTO IDENTIFYING APPROPRIATE MEANS OF ASSESSING OR EVALUATING KNOWLEDGE GAINED WITHIN COMMUNITIES OF PRACTICE
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?
CORE MESSAGE FROM THIS THEME:
THE TIMES THEY ARE A-CHANGING. WE NEED NEW THEORIES, MODELS AND FRAMEWORKS TO MEET THE CHALLENGES OF NEW TECHNOLOGIES AND NEW ATTITUDES TO LEARNING.
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.