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DALMOOC 2.0 Re-Design

At some point, there probably will be a DALMOOC 2.0. I can say that with confidence because we are already having discussions about it. But the timing, format, etc are still a bit fluid right now. However, we (the DALMOOC team, not a royal “we”) have put a lot of time and thought into improvements and redesign. From my end as instructional designer, there are several issues I would like to address. This post really serves as a list for me personally, but might be of interest to others.

Instructivist Layer

  • The content later of DALMOOC had a good amount of focus on the facts of Learning Analytics (pedagogy) as well as a good focus on the how to learn about Learning Analytics (heutagogy). There is more discussion on ramping up the heutagogical side of the equation some more, which I think is great.
  • Where the design mostly fell flat on this layer was the assessments. They were tied to multiple competencies per week and left a bit open as to how to participants would complete them. We really need to focus on one assessment activity per week (or even every two weeks). This may mean reducing the number of competencies to one per week, or utilizing sub-competencies.
  • Additionally, since this is the more guided layer, the one assignment we create probably will need to have more guidance for how to complete it. That is the point of instructivism after all.

Connectivist Layer

  • This layer probably suffered the most from not have a good solid “glue” between the layers, so a lot of the re-design will be addressed in “The Glue” section next.
  • The assessment/artifact part of this layer also suffered from having so many competencies to complete, so focusing those into one artifact will help immensely.
  • The assignment bank was unevenly utilized, and that needs to be fixed. Having more focus on the competencies would help with this, also. The idea would be that the assignment bank gives various scenarios, artifact ideas, or data sources to use when working on artifacts to complete each competency. But what the bank contains could actually be different each week. One week that looks at, say, the history of data analytics could have a bank of ideas how to explain the history (video, paper, interactive timeline, blog posts, etc). The next week that looks at how to perform SNA could have a bank of sample data sets to use. Or a bank of scenarios of where to get data from. Finally, each bank would have a “do your own thing” option to point out to learners that in this layer they can come up with their own ideas.
  • Group connections and formation needs a lot of work, but the “Behind the Scenes” section will look at some of that.

The Glue

  • The original intention was to have a weekly/daily email that provided a connection point for all participants, as well as stepping out points and scaffolding for people that wanted to try out social learning for the first time. These emails never happened. And we found out that not everyone reads email (shocking, I know). So a new idea is being floated around.
  • This idea is to have a centralized website for the class. This website only displays what is being worked on that week (but with a menu to get to older content and the syllabus, of course). Basically, think a blog with a simplified theme that only shows one post at a time. This site intros the competency for the week, with options to choose which layer the participant is interested in. Selecting a layer would display links and instructions for what to do next for that layer (view videos in EdX, create goals in ProSolo, etc.). There would also be a link to a scaffolding area for people that want to try the connectivst layer but need guidance.
  • The information on this site would be blasted out to email, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Whatever avenue people want to use to be informed that a new week of the course is posted.
  • Finally, this glue site would have a list of people that it recommends for you to connect with, as well as a list of Tweets and Blog Posts that interest you. Hopefully this could be personalized for each user – based on your activity, interests, skill levels, etc. More on that in the “behind the scenes.”

Behind the Scenes

  • The biggest changes to make all of this run smoothly need to be programmed behind the scene. For example, the glue site would need to support single sign-on between EdX, ProSolo, WordPress, Google, etc. Once you sign in, any link you click on should take you to something that you are already signed into.
  • Ultimately, it would be best to create the possibility for this sign-on could be handled by individual websites, so people can own their work and data for this course.
  • A more detailed Profile would be helpful. Using profile data along with course activity/posts/tweets/etc, various programs could recommend specific people for you to connect with, or even specific Tweets or blog posts you might like to read. These algorithms/programs/etc would be working behind the scenes to help find people and content for participants to connect with. At least, for those that choose to opt-in.
  • We are also pondering if we need to add better group tools into the glue site to help people with group activities. Or maybe add that to ProSolo. Plug-ins like BuddyPress for WordPress could create all kinds of tools for groups to use, at least for those that don’t want to find their own.
  • The teams working on QuickHelper and ProSolo also have some great ideas for improving their tools – but I won’t spill any beans on those because they can explain those ideas better than I can.

The Matrix

  • We had an initial course narrative based on The Matrix, but time prevented fuller development of that.
  • The red pill/blue pill metaphor seemed to help many understand course structure. We could possibly integrate that into the Glue website. For example, click on the red pill for one layer and the blue pill for the other. Maybe even create a purple pill metaphor for the scaffolding steps between the two.
  • Other things could be added – use quotes from the movie to explain things here and there. Add Matrix like graphics to the visual syllabus and videos. Have a distracting moving Matrix background. Someone could dress up as DALMorpheus and talk in riddles. And so on. I did make a mock-up of all of these ideas for a “Glue” website. As a warning, this takes the course narrative to Jim Groom extreme levels – which I love. But others don’t, so don’t expect DALMOOC 2.0 to look anything like this. But if we went full tilt on all of these ideas with the course narrative and glue website, it might look something like this.

edugeek-journal-avatarSo, any thoughts, ideas, suggestions, etc would be greatly appreciated.

(image credit: Flavio Takemoto, obtained from freeimages.com)

openonlinelearning

Can We Create Machines to Scale Teaching and Care?

Using machines/algorithms/computers to teach seems to be popping up a lot recently, with many people expressing concern over the idea that we can program computers/machines to make qualitative decisions (ie – care about the students enough to effectively teach them). The reason we want to create teaching machines is, of course, based on the seemingly insatiable desire to scale human behavior to thousands… while hiring less people to do so.

Of course, using machines to scale our empathy and care is nothing new. Answering machines are one example of scaling care – those that use answering machines care about catching phone calls while they are gone, but don’t want to hire a personal assistant to stay at their house and take messages. So in way, they are able to scale the care that they have for talking on the phone to the number of incoming phone messages that they can’t cover. Generally, if you know the person that owns the machine and you know they want to hear what you have to say, you feel that this machine is extending the communication of that empathy into the times when that person is not physically present to answer the phone.

Something about the intent, design, and personalization of answering machines makes some aspect of communicating care scalable beyond the person behind the machine.

However, somewhere between the answering machine and computerized teachers, there is a disconnect for many in feeling what they see as the necessary level of real care and empathy. Despite this, some people just want to continue down the path of computerized teaching, feeling that perfecting the program/numbers behind the system will change that disconnect. They are spending millions of dollars to create program to write custom curriculum for each student, which is ironic seeing that we used to pay human beings $10-15 an hour at Sylan Learning Center to hand write personalized curriculum plans for each learner. Maybe instead of trying to perfect computerized teaching to the point that most actually feel “cared” for – what if we tried to figure out what people actually want to have computerized and what they don’t?

For example, many people really hate how answering machines are scaled to take care of customer service calls at large companies. So what makes that usage different than the basic home consumer answering machine? There are times when people want a person and times when they don’t. For example, if you just want your account details confirmed over the phone, you may not want to talk to a person who might have no business knowing those details.

So instead of trying to force all teaching into a computer algorithm that many might not be happy with, maybe we should look at what parts learners want to have automated and what parts they don’t.

For example, if you teach online, you have probably run into at least a few posts in the Help forum that start with “I’m embarrassed to post this here, but…” followed by a basic question about procedure or other things in the syllabus. Maybe that person would prefer an automated system that answers their question without public embarrassment?

edugeek-journal-avatarOf course, what learners want automated is often different for each learner. But it seems that the general idea is that we need to focus our research and money more on “answering machines” and less on “virtual teachers.” We need things that help us connect with people at a distance, not that replaces the people in the distance process with virtual non-people.

(image credit: Sanja Gjenero, obtained from freeimages.com)

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Is It Really Possible to Re-do Ed Tech From Scratch?

Jesse Stommel and Sean Michael Morris asked an interesting question at Hybrid Pedagogy a couple of days ago: “Imagine that no educational technologies had yet been invented — no chalkboards, no clickers, no textbooks, no Learning Management Systems, no Coursera MOOCs. If we could start from scratch, what would we build?”

I’m a bit perplexed as to where to start. Its a great question. But would it even be possible to surgically remove educational technology from the larger world around them? So much of our technology is connected to external contexts that it may be impossible to even consider. Can we really imagine a world without books? The line between textbook and book is so blurred… probably not.

My concern though is that our field focuses too much on “how technology is shaping us” and not enough on how much we shape our technology. All technology tools have underlying (and often times not so underlying) ontologies, epistemologies, and so on. We could start from scratch, but if we don’t get rid of the dominant mindset of “instructivism/behaviorism as the one-size-fits-all solutionism” that is so prevalent in Ed Tech – we will end up with the same tools all over again.

However, I wouldn’t start over from scratch with technology as much as I would with theory. I would put active learning as the dominant narrative over passive learning. I would pull ideas like connectivism and communal constructivism up to the same level as (or higher than) instructivism. I would dump one size-fits-all positivism and replace it with context-morphing metamodernism. I would make heutagogy/life-long learning the ending hand-off point of formal education, as opposed to having formal education with a pedagogical “end goal.” I would get rid of the standardization of solutions and replace this ideology with one of different contexts and different solutions for different learners. I would go back in time and make people see the learner as the learning management system instead of a system or program. I would switch from instructor-centered to student-centered at every juncture. And so on.

edugeek-journal-avatarIf we don’t get the right theories and ideas in place in the first place, we will just continue evangelizing people to the same tech problems we have always had, even if we are able to somehow start over from scratch. In other words, the problem is not in our technologies, but our beliefs and theories. Our Ed Tech follows our theory, not the other way around.

(image credit: Gustavo Fiori Galli, obtained from freeimages.com)

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Psuedo-Buzzword Soup: Metamodernism and Heutagogy

I learned a hard lesson this week: don’t tweet details about conference proposals before they get accepted. People will get excited about seeing the session, and then you might get rejected. Then you have to go back and break the bad news to everyone.

I have been rejected for conferences many, many, many times, but this one was the first one that was very hard for me. I spent more time and late nights on it than I probably should have, crafting a specific proposal to (in my mind) perfectly match the conference goals. One of my co-workers was visibly shocked that it got rejected. I guess both of us were giving the proposal more credit than it deserved :)

However, since some people on Twitter were interested in it, I decided to share this idea and let my ego take the hit it probably deserves when people see what it was actually about (I’m kidding, but would appreciate any feedback whether you like it or hate it). So, here is the title, the abstract, and some thoughts on where the paper would have possibly gone:

Embracing Heutagogical Metamodernist Paradox in Education: Self-Regulated Courses with Customizable Modalities

Abstract: Most formal or informal educational experiences tend to follow a linear pathway through learning content and activities. Whether these experiences are designed as student-centered or instructor-centered modalities that construct or deconstruct knowledge and skills, learners are still required to stick to a singular pathway through content with the instructor in control of the modality at every point of the course (even if several side paths or options are given). However, new instructional design ideas are challenging these single pathway designs in ways that truly transfers power from instructors to learners. Based on the often overlooked theoretical lenses of heutagogy and metamodernism, these new designs create true learner-centered experiences that utilize customizable pathways through self-regulated courses. This conceptual paper will examine the theories of heutagogy (learning how to learn instead of what to learn) and metamodernism (a cultural narrative that paradoxically embraces modernism and postmodernism), as well as how these ideas relate to education. These theoretically lenses will be used to lay out the basics of dual-layer course design that allows for customizable course modalities. The goal of a customizable modality course design is to encourage learners to self-regulate their own learning through various modalities (layers) by choosing one modality, all of the modalities, or a custom combination of different modalities at different points in the course. The challenges, limitations, desired contexts, and possible benefits of these designs will also be examined. The goal of this paper will be to lay the groundwork for current and future research into dual-layer customizable modality course design.

The bigger picture behind this is that when most people talk about change in higher ed, they are thinking of a specific lens, viewpoint, paradigm, etc. These usually range anywhere from “burn the whole thing down” to “we are on the right path, we just have to be patient because change takes time.” These specific lenses are usually presented to people with the same lens, but rarely do people take into account how their lens doesn’t work for those with other lenses. Their lens is presented as the One Lens that will rule all other lenses. Even beyond that, sometimes the narrative is that those other lenses have to be thrown out to accept the One True Lens.

This, of course, does not sit well with those that accept another lens or set of lenses. And this is probably why we often see slow progress on actual change in education – we are looking for one lens or set of lenses to fix everything – but everyone has different needs, perspectives, etc.

The emerging ideas of metamodernism and heutagogy are not necessarily trying to replace older ideas of modernism and post-modernism or pedagogy and andragogy, but are rather a call to expand those ideas to include the others. They are both pragmatic ideas that basically say “the old ideas had good and bad points… but the parts that were good and bad also tend to change depending on context… so let’s learn when to use these various lenses, when to combine them, and when to reject them on a context by context basis.” In other words, the answer lies in accepting that all solid answers are possible answers at different times.

edugeek-journal-avatarI know I sound like an old hippie strung out on some drug we still don’t have a name for, so I get why these ideas are a hard sell in educational circles. Educators want neat, tidy ideas with clear objectives, no chaos, minimized complexity, and for goodness sake – don’t confuse the learners! We have to teach them to think for themselves by removing every possible obstacle that would cause them to think for themselves to overcome. Wait… what?

(image credit: Patrick Moore, obtained from freeimages.com)

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What If The Problem Isn’t With MOOCs But Something Else?

Is this another post about how MOOCs are misunderstood ideas that the critics all get wrong? Not quite. There are problems with MOOCs, but I’m still looking at the conversation about MOOCs in general (continuing from my last post kind of). The general conversation about MOOCs (and for that matter other ed tech innovations such as flipped learning, gamification, etc) tends to be all over the place: insightful, missing the forest for the trees, really odd, kind of just there, etc. All of that is great and makes for interesting discussion. One of the concepts that seems to be getting more traction the past few weeks is “motivation.”

The article about “Why Technology Will Never Fix Education” has already been the subject of many insightful observations. I want to zoom in on one part:

The real obstacle in education remains student motivation. Especially in an age of informational abundance, getting access to knowledge isn’t the bottleneck, mustering the will to master it is. And there, for good or ill, the main carrot of a college education is the certified degree and transcript, and the main stick is social pressure.

I don’t think we can just pass over that last statement with just a simple “for good or ill.” There is a lot of “ill” with that carrot that needs to be unpacked. In an article that very correctly examines the problems of inequality in education, a huge systemic problem is skipped over.

Of course, this article is not the only one. Many other articles have pointed at “student motivation” as being a huge problems with MOOCs. MOOCs are like any other education idea: subject to good and bad instructional design. So you shouldn’t blame the overall idea when learners are just getting bored with bad instructional design. But even beyond that, the above quote speaks to how our system in the U.S. relies on motivational techniques that are predominantly extrinsic in nature. We spend decades indoctrinating learners with this context, and then when an idea comes along that relies mostly on intrinsic motivation, we blame the idea itself rather than our system.

What if MOOCs are just a mirror that shows us the sociocultural problems we don’t want to deal with in our system?

What if the problem is not with the learners, but the way they have been programmed through the years? Grades, credits, failure, tuition, fees, gold stars, extra recess for good grades, monetary rewards, etc are all programmed into learners from a young age.

You can say MOOCs are failing because they lack sufficient “student motivation,” but what if it was actually the case that society has been failing for decades and MOOCs are just exposing this?

Of course, we all recognize many ways that society is failing in education. But what if there are other ways? What if relying on too much extrinsic motivation is a failure? What if we are failing to embrace all of the current and historical research in motivation? What if we know a lot about motivation, but fail to real utilize any of that knowledge? On Twitter yesterday, Rolin Moe pointed out that he never reads discussion of Herman Witkin, cognitive styles, field dependence/independence, etc in relation to motivation. In my circles, I have heard Witkin brought up, but to be honest – I can’t recall anyone trying or applying his ideas (kind of in the same way people in education rattle off Skinner or Bandura and then just don’t really use any of their ideas). These are all ways that our educational system was failing just in the area of motivation for decades before MOOCs (or many other Ed Tech ideas) even came along.

Yet what happens is that the ideas like MOOC are blamed for the historical failure of the system, and those that feel more comfortable within that system recommend pulling the wild ideas back in to make them look more like the existing system. Just think about it: what are the recommendations for fixing “student motivation” in MOOCs? Find a way to add back extrinsic motivation!

I would say: no. We need to find a different path. In fictional entertainment, one of the foundational constructs is to reach for is “suspension of disbelief.” You have to help the readers come to a place of either gaining interest in your story or believability in the fiction elements so that they suspend skepticism and engage the story. Traditional education has typically sought for a “suspension of laziness” – looking for ways to get learners to get off their rears and learn (because we always assume that when they don’t want to learn it is their motivation instead of our design). Newer ideas like MOOCs are going past that, to what I guess could be called “suspension of extrinsic motivation” (for lack of better words). What does learning design look like when you remove all of these carrot sticks (or actual paddling sticks) and leave learners to just pure learning? Well… maybe purer learning than what we had.

edugeek-journal-avatarThere are many, many more angles to explore here (not to mention problems with extrinsic/intrinsic motivation constructs), but I am already getting long-winded. The important idea to consider is that instead of pulling emerging technology and design back towards the tradition of what we already know (which is actually a power struggle by those in power), we need to push forward towards the direction that we already know we need to go.

(image credit: Manu Mohan, obtained from freeimages.com)

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Metamodernist Instructional Design and the False Goal of Primacy in MOOCs

This has been an interesting year in the MOOC discussion realm, with everything from MOOC 4.0 to arguments about who controls the conversation about MOOC research. But a strain that has always seemed to existed in the discussion about MOOCs is the idea of making MOOCs more like a traditional college educational experiences. A recent entry into this stream by the title of “Why is the University Still Here?” caught my eye, and want to address some of the issues that are brought up in this article.

First of all is the idea that “those who wanted to be educated had the means to do so” because of libraries and expensive video lectures. I’m not sure there is much social research that would support that claim, since many people don’t have access to libraries, and even if they do, they run into a complex organizational system that becomes a barrier to entry. If people who wanted education could get it, we are all barking up the wrong tree to improve access in the first place. Why change anything if the people that wanted it can already get it?

Second is the idea that “education is simply not as native an activity for many adults today.” Those that research the blurred line between pedagogy, andragogy, and heutagogy would disagree. People are always learning in many informal and formal ways and always have been – maybe its just that the mainstream of education is finally catching up with this idea. At their most basic levels, the original MOOCs and connectivism tap into the idea that most adults are native to learning and are doing it all the time – its just the formal constructs of behaviorism and constructivism don’t seem to tap into this native learning (for many, many reasons that really have nothing to do with the constructs themselves but the ways many use them).

These two problems lead into the third and biggest issue I have with what the article identifies as the big problems with MOOCs: loss of primacy and motivation.

“Primacy is making education the primary activity of a student’s day, or perhaps more specifically, the primary thought activity of the day…. Primacy is deeply connected to motivation, since it makes learning the default rather than a conscious decision that we make throughout the day…. When we attend a physical university, we automatically give primacy to education…. There is also financial primacy that comes from paying large tuition bills…. New forms of online education like MOOCs lost both forms of primacy at once. By making them free, students had few incentives to not quit any time the course materials got boring or difficult. Without a physical presence, there weren’t the social peer effects of friends encouraging us to attend our classes on time, or shaming us about our poor performance.”

I’d love to know where these peers are that encourage and shame us to do better. I had professors that do that – but peers? They were usually skipping classes and study sessions with me :)

Basically, this is saying that traditional education works because educators have the big sticks of grades, passing, and keeping our money to force us to do good in classes, so our instructional designs are working because we can threaten learners with bad stuff if they don’t do what we tell them to when they get bored. And – bonus! – they will peer pressure each other to submit to this threat by putting them together in a campus.

To me, one of the greatest things we can learn from MOOCs is “what does it mean when we lose primacy and the threat of grades and failure?” What does your teaching or design look like when you can’t rely on bad things happening if learners don’t comply? How do you design for that?

But let’s look more at the ideas of primacy through the lens of how adults now natively learn.  The idea of primacy is a construct that came about through decades of modernist and then postmodernist thought that leads many people to think in black and white either/ors. Depending on who you listen to, postemodernism stopped being the dominant social paradigm sometime between 1975 and 2000, replaced by the idea of metamodernism. For those not familiar with metamodernism, the “meta” is not the same as we see in “meta-tag” or “meta-study”, but related to Plato’s “metaxy” (a swinging back and forth). It is the idea that our society no longer chooses either modernism or postmodernism, but combines both of them – often at the same time. Paradox and juxtaposition are one of the ten basic principles of metamodernism. Cultural theorists Robin van den Akker and Timotheus Vermeulen describe metamodernism as

a continuous oscillation, a constant repositioning between positions and mindsets that are evocative of the modern and of the postmodern but are ultimately suggestive of another sensibility that is neither of them: one that negotiates between a yearning for universal truths on the one hand and an (a)political relativism on the other, between hope and doubt, sincerity and irony, knowingness and naivety, construction and deconstruction.

Many see this as the dominant mindset of our current society, whether we recognize it or not.

What does this mean for education? People no longer have a primacy in their life. Or, more accurately – they have several all at once. Education, jobs, family, hobbies, etc no longer compete for primacy, they all have primacy at the same time. Education is both native and non-native, because people are often learning formally and informally at the same time. People can want education and still not have access to it. Paradoxes are real and embraced.

(I can hear all of the pragmatists out there shouting “no duh!)

edugeek-journal-avatarWith the rise of the non-traditional student on physical campuses, this is also the case for traditional courses. This is the new educational world that we are designing for online and face-to-face. This is the future of quality university experiences. This is how humans are, how we have been for centuries really. We are finally getting to throw off the shackles of either/or black or white thinking (or maybe more accurately, more of us can join those who have been doing so for centuries). This is what MOOCs can teach us (and what they are actually doing a great job of teaching us). Instead of looking for how to re-create traditional education’s accomplishments online, we need to learn to embrace the paradoxes and juxtapositions that have always existed in successful education. This is the challenge for metamodernist instructional design: not instructivism or connectivism, but both. Not content or social interaction, but both (as #rhizo15 has put it: content is people!). Not andragogy or pedagogy, but heutagogy (which combines both informal and formal learning). We should embrace the paradox and reject the thinking that you have to choose between two options that actually both work.

(image credit: James Kunley, obtained from freeimages.com)

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Non-Linear Instructional Design

A great Twitter conversation recently got me thinking about non-linear instructional design. Now, of course, we often look at instructional design itself as a non-linear process, but that is not what I am referring to here. Most of the instruction we see in formal education is almost always designed as a linear road-map to be followed in exact order from beginning to end. And for some topics, this is great – I don’t want engineers skipping steps when designing solid bridges. But in many other topics, there aren’t really ultimate steps that have to be taught in a certain order as much as there is really just a preferred order that many in the field lean towards that becomes a default “sequence” for all learners. Which, unfortunately, leads to very little room for improvisation, flexibility, emergence, etc. A lot of this can be attributed to our formal education systems that often encourage behaviorism and pedagogy over connectivism and heutagogy. Too many times the education system looks at “planning” as a linear week by week script.

We often end up with two problems in this kind of system. One is that people come up with an outline that they stick with even if the course isn’t flowing that way. And when the course isn’t flowing well, instructors get bored or distracted and they put off planning specifics until the last minute. They tell learners that they are improvising, but learners can often tell the difference between lack of planning and planned improvisation.

The other problem is that instructors do plan well, but then think of something better at the last minute and change plans. Which usually ends up being a great lesson, but also means they wasted a lot of time on a plan that wasn’t used and might not ever get used.

However, designing a course in a non-linear manner can allow for courses to be well-planned as well as being emergent, flexible, and student-centered.

The first step is to actually make space in your course plan for flexibility, rabbit trails, new ideas, and extended time on more interesting ideas. What I mean by this is cut back on the number of weeks of content overall. If you have a 15 week course, only create 10 weeks of content. Just flat-out force space into the schedule and leave it there.

The second step is to stop looking at your topic in a linear fashion. Make a list of ten topics you want to cover, but don’t number the list. Intentionally shuffle that list. Think of it more as a jigsaw puzzle, with each piece being a topic / week. Once all of the pieces are together, then you have a full picture of the topic of your course.

The idea would be that you would sit down and talk with your class to socially negotiate an order to go through the topics. As a course, you could come up with the order that your learners want to go through. Or even more advanced – don’t even have a pre-defined list, but take time each week to figure out where to go next week.

Finally, you need to do the instructional design. I know that seems weird to say that right after I just said let the learner choose the topics, but you as the instructor still need to be prepared for what ever topic could be chosen next. You can still create something akin to an assignment bank that you choose from depending on what topic is being covered that week. In fact, you would probably need to design a large ranges of fairly open-ended activities that could fit in with a wide-range of topics within your field. Instead of a jigsaw puzzle, you are really looking at your class like a Lego project or play-dough sculpture that is being built by several people at once. You have several specific pieces (activities) that you add at certain moments when the learners choose to pull out certain other pieces (topic).

Another way to a look at this idea is like this. Most courses are already designed in pieces, but these pieces are part of a specific path that has one way in and one way out. They generally look like this:

Wooden-Train-Track-Amazon-Toy-Deals

One way in, one way out – linear in design. Which works well in many situations, but not in others. To accomplish non-linear instructional design, the pieces of the course have to take on different structures:

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edugeek-journal-avatarA play-dough design would be a more malleable design where the different pieces have the ability to shape into different directions and even blend with other pieces. The Lego design would be made of smaller more defined pieces that connect easily with other pieces to form changing designs and pathways as the learners define the path. There is really not a major distinction between the two – just different ways of looking at the design theory. If you look at the different assignments in the ds106 assignment bank, you can see hundreds of activities that are designed in either Lego or Play Dough fashion to connect with or plug in to any part of the ds106 course.

(header image credit: Dima V, obtained from freeimages.com)

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So You Think You Know Theory and Design?

Sometimes I want to create a TV game show based off of “Are you Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?” called “So You Think You Know Theory and Design?” It would pull in a bunch of online instructors, administrators, and others that always tell me “oh, I know theory and design; I just need to find cooler tools and tech training!” and put their knowledge of online learning theory and design to the test.  Most people don’t really know much beyond what I teach college juniors about theory and design, so it would be hilarious to watch. Well… at least for the instructional designers out there that know this irritation all too well.

The truth is, instructional design is not the way to fame and fortune in Ed Tech. Its not really even the route to getting a lot of people beating down your door for advice (no matter how many times they have epiphanies that sound suspiciously like something someone might have told them already). Of course, some of the problem is just bad marketing, really. Many people have blogged for years about the ideas that were recently referred to as “MOOC 4.0” to little attention, but give it a silly number (that ignores 3-4 years of MOOC history) and suddenly the bloggers lose their minds! :)

The funny thing is, to an instructional designer it doesn’t matter if MOOCs work or not. We know how to make it work: good theory and design. Same thing goes for any concept out there: flipped classrooms, blended learning, you name it. We can already tell you how to make it all work – if you really want it to work. Sometimes you want to ask people: “are you designing the course to make one specific student fail, or are you just aiming for the highest possible failure rate?”

Of course, there are also the times you just kind of want to say “sure, blame the discussion board for the bland responses” and call it a day. You have seen enough new, shiny tools come along to know that by this time next year, people are going to be talking about the boring, rote responses they get to VoiceThread activities. That has happened with every online tool so far, and you know too well how the bad designs and theory used to insert the newest tools into the same paradigm and theory is going to produce the same results. What was that Albert Einstein said about this cycle?

The truth of the matter is that most people in online education have mediocre design skills and minimal theoretical knowledge at best, even after going through a Ph.D. in Education. They think they need more tech training to help them discover that golden child tool they need to revolutionize their classroom. Instructional Designers take one look at their class and know that’s not the case: its about needing better theory and design.

Of course, some bad design is driven by the massive number of students they have to teach, and control over that factor is out of their hands. When administration forces bad contexts on instructors, of course bad design is going to emerge.

But a lot of this goes back to what I have been thinking about Ed Tech conferences lately. To be honest, I was probably going to wind down going to any, because its all the same old, same old: old bad ideas re-packaged as shiny new start-ups with the same bad pitches or old bad ideas repackaged as “latest and greatest” conference sessions.

This was until I went to the OLC Emerging Technologies conference (#et4online). Yes, there were some old bad ideas re-incarnated, but there was also sessions on heutagogy, post-modernism, humanizing the MOOC, and a whole host of other design issues scattered amongst the shiny, new, refurbished dud ideas. So I emerged from that week encouraged to stick to the path of what I know best: learning innovation should be driven by innovations in design and theory (which sometimes means actually doing old ideas that we have ignored all along).

Now, don’t get me wrong: I still like new tools, and think we need to push to build better ones (like the crews behind ProSolo, Reclaim Hosting, Known, and others are doing).

(notice that I listed new tools that are based on theory and design more than hype and buzzwords?)

edugeek-journal-avatarSo that is why I am excited about the upcoming Digital Learning Research Network’s 2015 conference in October (#dlrn15). Many of the people that made #et4online a ray of hope are also getting involved with #dlrn15. The people that did the good sessions at #et4online are putting together proposals for #dlrn15. The Call for Proposals actually uses the word “Sociocultural”! And FYI, my name is on the committee list, but I had nothing to do with the CFP – even though it uses ideas and terms that I have been confusing people with for years.

So maybe there is some hope out there yet on the conference circuit?

(image credit: Sara Karges, obtained from freeimages.com)

Call for Proposals for dLRN2015

A very interesting call for proposals (dlrn2015) looking at “Making Sense of Higher Education: Networks and Change”:

Learning introduces students to practices of sensemaking, wayfinding, and managing uncertainty. Higher education institutions confront the same experiences as they navigate changing contexts for the delivery of services. Digital technologies and networks have created a new sense of scale and opportunity within global higher education, while fostering new partnerships focused on digital innovation as a source of sustainability in volatile circumstances. At the same time, these opportunities have introduced risks in relation to the ethics of experimentation and exploitation, emphasizing disruption and novelty and failing to recognise universities’ long-standing investment in educational research and development.

The networking of higher education requires a research lens in order to make sense of its implications for learning and knowledge, particularly for learners who are not well served by the existing system. The Digital Learning Research Network (dLRN), funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, explores how digital technologies are impacting all aspects of education, including research, teaching, learning, assessment, and support for underrepresented students.

The dLRN Conference – Making Sense of Higher Education 2015 – hosted at Stanford University on October 16-17, will offer a state of the field assessment from top international researchers and educators. This call for papers will be of interest to researchers, academics, and practitioners who are exploring the many nuances of the complex and uncertain landscape of higher education in a digital age.

What are the most pressing uncertainties, and the most promising applications of digital networks for learning and the academy? What agenda should be set for research in the near term? How best can researchers develop and share insights that will achieve practical outcomes and address systems-level challenges facing higher education, while establishing and applying robust standards of ethical practice?

We are keen to invite participants to evaluate current practices in digital and networked learning, whether formal, self-regulated, structured, unstructured, or lifelong. In particular, we are calling for papers that help make sense of what networks mean for the changing environment of contemporary higher education.”

See the full CFP for more details – abstracts due June 1st!

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Which Came First: The Learning Design or the Tool?

Back in the day when I taught 8th grade Science, I worked at a school that most would label “inner city.” I had a room that was not designed for Science experiments, a small stash of equipment (most of which didn’t fit the state standards at the time), and $200 to cover all supplies and experiments for the whole year. Which doesn’t go very far considering the price of Science equipment, even back in 2000.

Oh, and I was fortunate that at some point they had replaced the standard school desks the other classrooms had with those huge black science desks that re-arrange more easily.

So I was forced to get creative (i.e. cheap) with my lab experiments. My favorite experiment was using a handful of dirt to explain the big bang theory. All you need is a white poster board and a handful of dirt and pebbles from outside. The handful of dirt represents the universe before the bang as you squeeze it your hand. Throwing that handful of dirt at the poster board represents the big bang. The resulting splatter on the poster board shows what happens after the bang. Simple, effective, and low cost.

Sometimes people think when I refer to “teaching the big bang with a handful of dirt” I am insulting something, but the truth is its really just a reference to doing the best you can with the tools you are forced to use. If I had had a better classroom set-up (with sinks), I could have let the students do the experiment. More money would have meant being able to buy kits that do the same thing, but that make a better “splat” (big bang) on a piece of paper. Even more resources and flexibility would have meant being able to show computer simulations on an overhead projector so that the students could have compared their splats to the model. And so on.

This post is inspired by a Twitter conversation with Whitney Kilgore, which I think eventually indicated we were talking about different angles on the idea of what drives design. Ultimately, I hope Whitney saw that I wasn’t disagreeing with her or debating, but saying that out of the two over-arching ways to approach design, I prefer one over the other while not thinking one is better than the other.

To explain what I mean, I’ll start off by looking at how we as instructional designers really have two over-arching approaches when we design courses: one where we are have to let the tools drive the learning design because of various limitations, and the other where the learning design drives the tool selection because we have many options. One is where we make do with what we have, and the other is where we get to do whatever the design dictates.

You can design really good courses either way. However, when you are limited in your tool selection due to budget or even campus policy that says you have to use a specific tool, you have to make concessions to get those tools to work for the design.  Most of us that are in education have been used to being either limited by budget or administrative decisions for so long that we don’t even realize the concessions we are making based on these limitations.

A lot of what I am talking about here was covered by Jim Groom in his “there’s more to education than the LMS” keynote at the OLC Emerging Technology conference last year. Its not that the LMS is evil – all technology has its possibilities and its limitations. Being forced to use a tool like an LMS means being forced to accept those limitations, even if your learning design will suffer immensely from those limitations.

Of course, there are also those courses that work well within the possibilities of an LMS, and others that use parts of the LMS in connection with outside tools very well. I teach a highly rated college course for the UT Brownsville Ed Tech department that just uses the LMS, a discussion board, a textbook, six pages of content (including syllabus) and four projects. This course was very well designed by the staff at the University (I am an adjunct for the course, so I can’t claim the design :) ), and almost always receives glowing responses from the students. This is because good course design is not about finding new emerging technology to make it “work,” but using good theory to design a solid learning experience. The course that I teach is also highly rated because it’s designers let the learning design drive the tool usage, instead of letting the tool drive the learning design.

For those that are curious, this course only uses the LMS to collect and grade the projects that students create, which are everything from videos they create to webpages they design. Other than that, the course is mainly in WordPress. Oh, and we also usually get really good responses on the discussion board.

This is probably where I go all metamodern on my five readers, but neither method is necessarily “better” by default. When I worked as an instructional designer, I designed award-wining classes that resided entirely within the LMS. There are also really, really bad classes that ditch the LMS and do a horrible job in the open web. Whether you let the tool drive the learning design or the learning design drive the tool selection – that is no indication of design quality. It just dictates what possibilities and limitations you deal with, and whether it is your choice to choose tools that match the possibilities and limitations you need for the design or if that choice is made for you regardless of what your design needs are.

Of course, as we found out at Jim Groom’s keynote last year – you start mentioning the limitations of the LMS and those that love the LMS will push back. As Jim pointed out, all tech tools are designed by people for a specific purpose. This means that they have a certain paradigm or theory coded into the design. Audrey Watters and many others have written and spoken on this also. These biases don’t mean that you shouldn’t use those tools, but we should all be aware of these very real limitations that exist.

One of the reasons I get frustrated with LMS companies is that they slap some social tools in their LMS and suddenly claim that they are social constructivist or connectivist or active learning or whatever the current buzzword is. Adding a social element to your course does not suddenly mean its social constructivist in nature. Instructivism just means that the instructor is the center of the course, and discussion boards, Twitter, VoiceThread, etc can all be designed in a way that still makes the instructor the center. But there are other claims that also don’t live up to the claims. Giving students the ability to click on more links does not make something interactive. Inserting YouTube videos does not create an active learning experience. I could go on and on, but I rarely see tools in the LMS that truly count as connectivist, constructivist, interactive, or active by themselves. Which wouldn’t be that much of a problem if the LMS companies weren’t claiming otherwise.

edugeek-journal-avatarSo the question is, which one is better: letting the learning design determine what tool possibilities and limitations you teach with, or letting the tool drive the design? In a real world scenario, you usually end up with a mixture of both. Even if you are forced to use an LMS by institutional decisions, there are many tools to choose from within that LMS. However, even when you are allowed to choose what ever tool you want, you may still not find the perfect tool. In that case, you would still have to let the tool drive the design in some ways once you have let the design considerations drive the tool choice. In the real world, these are not Yin/Yang opposites that never cross over into the other. You will use elements of both in most learning contexts. Metamodernism to the rescue!

(image credit: Gozde Otman, obtained from freeimages.com)