Monthly Archives: July 2013

What Does it Mean to Design Instruction?

To design instruction means to make a plan and figure out how you will implement it to create an environment via a pre-selected delivery system which best creates the conditions under which your learners can learn what you have pre-determined they should know and be able to do by the end of the instruction, and which enables you to assess whether or not such learning has taken place so that you can make adjustments to the instruction both for the benefit of the current learners and for future learners.

That is a mouthful. Basically, designing instruction must begin with a plan. If you have done your job well, you will have thoroughly analyzed your learners, their needs, the knowledge and skills they bring to the table, the available technology and resources, and the tasks to be learned. With this knowledge you are able to determine the best delivery system for your instruction. You can also write learning objectives which specifically state what it is that your learners should know and be able to do at the end of the instruction. You will also be able to design the assessments you will use to determine if the learners have acquired the desired knowledge and skills.

You can then use this information to design the instruction. Whether this instruction will take place in a traditional classroom led by a teacher who stands in front and lectures and then hands out paper-based multiple choice tests, or whether this instruction consists of student-led instruction taken via an online course and assessed through an authentic, peer-reviewed project, the process for designing it is the same.

During and following the instruction, a process for feedback and evaluation is built in to the instructional process to be used to make course corrections so that the existing learners can be successful, and so that the course is better during the next iteration of the cycle. This is a critical component of the design process because if you do not plan for the evaluation component when designing the instruction, this crucial step could be left out of the process.

To design instruction you will need skills in communication, particularly listening skills, because you will need to be able to communicate with your subject matter expert and stakeholders in the project to do a thorough analysis. You will probably need to be able to work as a member of a team, because rarely do instructional designers work alone. You will need project management and organizational skills to be able to deliver materials on a schedule and keep track of materials and deadlines. You will need to have good writing skills so that you can communicate in writing your design plan to your stakeholders, and the design to whomever might be programming the instruction. You will need to have a basic understanding of the process of instruction to create the instructional objectives and design the assessments.

Ineffective instruction is instruction which was not designed; instruction which was haphazardly created without a plan and without the proper analysis prior to its creation. Although designing instruction can be time-consuming, if you take the time to do it correctly, instructional design ensures that your product has the best chance of being effective and successful.

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If I Profess to be a Constructivist, Why do I Teach Like an Objectivist?

During the process of writing design documents for this course, I have been asked to analyze the instructional design strategies I am applying to my designs. To my horror, in both cases, I find I am applying direct instruction, a design strategy clearly rooted in the objectivist theory of learning.

Now, to be completely fair, I am not designing these two projects for myself. I am designing them for college instructors who are most comfortable with the lecture format of traditional instruction. These instructors will have a largely objectivist background and philosophy of education. It is what they are comfortable with, and I am designing to meet their needs.

Still, it opened my eyes to the way I teach many of my own face-to-face sessions. When I teach online I model what I’ve been taught. My constructivist and collaborative beliefs shine through as I encourage my online learners to find their own examples, engage in discussion, and work together on teams to solve problems. But in the classroom, I tend to be the one doing most of the talking. Why is that?

I think some of it has to do with the way classroom teaching was modeled for me. From elementary school through college, classroom lessons consisted of the teacher up front lecturing and the students listening (or sleeping) with very few exceptions. Interestingly enough, the lessons that I remember, the ones that made an impact on me, where different. There was the unit study project where we learned about Taiwan. We learned about the customs, the culture, the people. I remember making a Taiwanese village from Popsicle sticks and cooking Taiwanese recipes and wearing traditional costumes and hosting a special day for our families to come and see what we had done. That was like 38 years ago yet the lesson sticks with me. I had a college instructor who took student-led instruction to the extreme. He would let us lead the discussion. If we got off on a tangent, he didn’t pull us back on topic. He must have figured there was learning in whatever topic we were on. Our class was lively and active and we learned a lot, though not always about technical writing. It was never boring.

Yet these few instructors are not the ones I emulate. I choose to imitate those who controlled their classrooms, however ineffective that method might have been. I question whether I am ego-centric, and just like to hear myself talk, or if I fear that my students (the faculty in this case) are incapable of constructing their own learning. The last thought really scares me, and that is the thought that creating student-centered instruction is just a lot more work, and perhaps I’m too lazy to work that hard on it.

I need to reassess what I believe and what I am doing with that belief. If I really believe in student-centered, constructivist, collaborative learning principles, then I should be modeling those methods for my faculty in the way I teach them. The only way they are ever going to try new methodologies is if they see them in action, and who is going to model them if I don’t? I need to start practicing what I preach.

Managing or Regulating Oneself and Others: Path to Your Goals

To me, self-regulation and self-control were synonymous, but I took the time to Google the definition of the term. Of note was the third result, which related to education and came up on a website sponsored by The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented. They defined self-regulation as, “an integrated learning process, consisting of the development of a set of constructive behaviors that affect one’s learning. These processes are planned and adapted to support the pursuit of personal goals in changing learning environments.”

This means it is more than just controlling myself. It is applying myself in constructive ways for the purpose of learning. It is choosing to stay at my computer and work on schoolwork when I’d much rather be out watching the history channel with my husband. I move myself toward my educational and career goals by the choices I make. The communication involved is sometimes self-talk, as I have to convince myself that what I am going after is worth what I am giving up. Sometimes the communication is with other people who, though well meaning, might be creating distractions or temptations which stand in the way of my goals and make applying myself difficult, and I need to communicate my desire to complete my goals with them and get them on my side so that they help and encourage me rather than impeding my progress.

Managing others is different. I can easily apply control over myself because I know my own goals and desires, and I know what motivates me. I have little control over things or people external to myself, and I’m not sure I know how to motivate others. I managed a couple of employees when I had my own business but I don’t know how good I was at it. One employee was never that good at her job. She got limited hours because of a sour attitude and poor work habits; my husband and I did not let her go because she was ill of health and needed the income and also because we went to church with her and her husband and we didn’t want any bad feelings between us. The other employee was bright, energetic, and motivated. She learned the business quickly, and I was able to trust her with more and more responsibility. When I took maternity leave, she worked full-time in my absence and soon became an invaluable asset to our business. I didn’t do anything differently when training her than with the other employee; her success was a result of who she was internally, and I’m not sure that I could have managed the other employee to any sort of success because of who she was internally.

I have been fairly successful at parenting but there is an inherent level of authority built in to the parent-child relationship, which, as long as you do not relinquish it, exists well into late adolescence. That authority gives you some leverage when dealing with a child that you would not have when dealing with another adult. I think before I could be a good manager I would require considerable training in that arena to learn techniques for managing and motivating people and helping them to reach their goals.

Second Life: My Virtual Education Experience

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My class and I met in Second Life today rather than via our traditional Adobe Connect session. It was definitely an unusual experience. We’re all pretty new to SL, so we had a little trouble learning to control our avatars and getting back to our instructor after wandering off to explore the first time was a bit of a challenge. Once we worked out a few of the kinks, it was really pretty fascinating.

Some of the educational benefits were pretty obvious. We explored the Stanford Libraries, where we were able to read virtual books, interact with kiosks and screens, and explore the grounds which had a lot of interesting artifacts. Next we visited Le Mont Saint Michel. This location is supposed to be a fairly accurate representation of the real place. I did find one poster which provided information about the site, but as a group, we decided tour information, location maps, opening the virtual department of ministry, or even permitting flying would have helped with the educational aspects of exploring that space. Next we went to Genome Island. That spot was rich with educational information. There was a scavenger hunt and virtual tour we could take part in, all kinds of kiosks, posters, interactive sessions, student displays, presentations, etc. There were many ways to explore the human genome from the inside and see what it is that makes us unique. Next we went to 1920’s Chicago. This site was replete with adult themes from girly shows to gang violence, and it provided us with the opportunity to talk about the ethical and moral problems of using SL with children and the potential for exposure to such graphic scenes. Finally we went to Park High School, where we watched an animation on carbon monoxide pollution (the school bus was spewing it) and then wrapped up with a group discussion.

Some obvious benefits to education include the ability to take students into an immersive environment where they can experience other places, other times, fictional or literary settings, or things impossible to explore in real life (such as the human genome). It allows them to have experiences that would be impossible or dangerous in reality, such as the ability to fly, walk on water or fire, try their hand at piloting a plane, or mess with chemical mixtures to see what kind of reaction occurs. Because of the ability to fly in SL, avatars can get a bird’s eye view of their environment, allowing them to see things from a different perspective than a person can view it on the ground. Even if you were to go to the location in the real world, the inability to fly in real life would limit your perspective.

There was also the social-constructivist element. I learned far more exploring with my class than I would have on my own. Just exploring on my own would have been interesting, but it was only when the group got back together and discussed what we had seen that the juices really got going. Their ideas spawned new ones in me, and I think my ideas helped them as well.

One disadvantage to the experience was having to type everything. One of my team members and I could communicate verbally, but the instructor could not and neither could the rest of my class. It made it difficult to learn because typing everything took three times longer than speaking.

All in all I felt it was a positive experience with real benefits for students.

Method of Loci: Memory Palace

This was an interesting method for trying to memorize something, but I don’t think it’s going to be one I use regularly. Although I can see the value of it for a visual person, I’m a verbal person. I literally see words. My memory for conversations and often for things I’ve read is closed to verbatim (although the older I get the more I find I can remember reading or hearing it but not where I read it or who said it). I am NOT, however, a visual person, and the process of trying to tie visual pictures to words for the purpose of memorizing them actually hindered my ability to memorize them rather than assisted me, no matter how relaxed I tried to get. Let me step you through the way the process ran in my head so you can see the difficulty.

First, I had to paint the picture in my mind. Even standing there looking at the scene, I was not concentrating on the overall scene, I was seeing details such as the dinner dishes that hadn’t been carried away to the kitchen yet and the laundry piled on the kitchen table. I found it was better to go into the bedroom and close my eyes and envision the house all cleaned the way it will be some time later this weekend maybe. That helped with the picture painting and with the relaxation exercise.

Next, I had to come up with my own word associations. Doc Warren’s ideas of a harmonica for practice didn’t mesh with me; I don’t play music. I do write, however, and what ended up meshing with me was the idea of a completed novel as a goal or outcome and crumpled pieces of paper as practice and spelling, capitalization, and punctuation as conventions. That mental image made it easier for me to guide my mind through the house, and since I’m quite used to “communities” of people in my home (I have 6 kids and 2 grandkids and both I and my husband come from large families), seeing them in my doorway or on my couch with picture frames above their heads was not hard to picture either.

The problem was, I got tangled up with the process of making the associations, but putting those associations back into a sentence that meant anything was another story. Seeing a bunch of people staring at the mirrors for the display cabinet on my wall and rearranging the figurines on the shelf so the shelf doesn’t fall might help me remember the concepts of observing, monitoring, adjusting, and supporting, but to try and make sense of that in any context was impossible.

So for me, it would have been easier to just take a sentence at a time and actually memorize the words. I would have learned it faster and I think I’d have gotten more out of it; personally I’m thinking more about picture frames and mice figurines on a shelf in my dining room than I am about the concepts associated with situated instructional design.