Friday, October 24, 2008

Week Seven: Instructional Design and Connectivism

Wow! A lot to consider this week. This was the week to which I had looked forward because it addressed instructional design and now I'm not sure how or where to begin. Perhaps it would be best to consider my view of instructional design prior to this week's materials and then move on to what changes I now need to make.

My Instructional Design (that's upper case "I", upper care "D") paradigm
I've always seen instructional design, that's capital I, capital D, as the construction of a a path to learning. Most of the tools we currently use at Pima tend to reinforce that concept: the LMS (Blackboard), the chunking of materials into modules, even the introductory materials we give to our SME's emphasize a fairly straight and narrow path to design and to learning. This is not to say that I have ever believed in a formula strategy. I don't believe there is one path that if every student follows it, learning will necessarily occur, but we do treat the process of learning as, well, a process.

One concept I've learned in my current position was developed by my esteemed colleague, Len Thurman. It is the concept of the three C's as we loving call it or Clarity, Consistency, and Community. All expectations, directions, rules, and materials must be clearly stated so that the student immediately understands what is expected. In other words, we try to keep a steady keel for students and not throw in some curve ball in the middle of the course by suddenly changing the way things are submitted or an expectation of the level of work (without warning). The course has consistency in navigation and in expectations. Student always know where to find this week's work and it has a predictable format. And finally, the student has a sense of being part of something larger than themselves, something in which they can contribute. Usually this takes the form of discussion questions, but is increasingly becoming group projects. We find that using the 3 C's helps our design process and has been very successful with many of our courses. Our post-baccalaureate teacher education program uses these concepts in all the courses and its graduates are 98% successful in passing the state requirements for teaching.

ID as a path to evaluating instruction
In many ways, instructional design is necessary to assure growing public and legislative interests in the outcomes of education. "How do we know they know" is heard so often in the halls of academia, especially among institutions, like ours, that is in the midst of the re-accreditation process. North Central accreditation depends on assessment of student outcomes. Schools depend on their accreditation because they are literally not worthy of attendance without it. Additionally, those who finance education want to know the bang they get for their buck. so there are outside pressures on institutions to "prove" that learning occurs. This pressure trickles down to the classroom where teachers look for ways to prove themselves and their strategies in a world that is not particularly ripe for "knowing." "How do we know they know?" We often don't, but we have to find some way to let others be assured that something went on in the minds of the people that attended this class!

And so Instructional Design comes to the rescue. Read this, view that, discuss this, turn in that, and then answer these questions and we will "know" what you know. Of course, it's not as simple as this, but when I look at courses not developed by instructional designers, I literally get sick. No discussion, no written assignments, just PowerPoints and multiple choice quizzes with lots of flashy, blinking graphics and clarifications all over the place. How does a student navigate THAT? It feels more about glitz than content.

OK, so I've got this very invested and comfortable view of Instructional Design with all its little ducks lined up in a row, when along comes Connectivism and Connected Knowledge. How do I assimilate all this new material into my workings or do I need to chuck out everything and start anew?

I'm back to the question of learning vs knowledge. Stephen Downes states that knowledge and learning consists of thousands of little pieces which we cannot possibly measure. There is no way to measure every single related bit of information a person possesses coming into the course and equally, we cannot measure and compare those pieces of information for each person at the conclusion of the course. So what do we look for? As instructors, we search for the underlying patterns that demonstrate knowledge. Using the dart throwing analogy that Downes suggested we ask, does the person consistently throw darts in the right direction or does the dart wander into the correct position by luck? A consistent pattern of throwing would indicate that the individual has some measure of underlying knowledge.

Knowledge grows with learning and learning means that the knowledge connections are new or deeper or stronger...more complex in some way. We look for the patterns of response to change or grow. We look for the student to become more confident about their knowledge and be better able to cope with new situations or at least cope with the same situations in new ways. This process has to come from within, but there are external circumstances can enhance or hasten the process. And which processes are those? Well, that's the $64,000 question, right? If we can't know the pre-existing knowledge held in a student's brain (but we can guess), matching tools and information to the student's need is almost impossible. Providing a wide range of tools allows the student to create their own personal learning environment. But arrrrggghhhh! How can we possibly do this for all students and somehow point them in the right direction?

instructional design (that's lower case "i", lower case "d")
At the beginning of the week, George Seimens proposed his view of id which includes 4 domains: Analysis & Validation, Ecology Design & Network Fostering, Adaptive Learning, and Review & Evaluation. Keeping in mind that throughout each domain are impacting factors such as context, readiness, resources, and time to name a few, the id process is the cyclical process of analysis, design, learning and review to which I am accustomed. However, one area that I began to see differently this week was what Seimens calls "ecology" of the course. I think what he means is the entire intertwined environment of the course taking into account the strengths and weaknesses of the students, the tools built into the course, the content and related materials, the desired outcomes, and the instructor's (and those others who hold stakes in the outcomes) expectations. Siemens maintains that by allowing greater flexibility in the outcomes we expect, we increase the chances of success.

As someone wrote in the chat in Friday's session, this looks less like building a house and more like planting a garden. Yes, more like preparing the soil, providing the nutrients and water that the seeds need and then hoping that the seed sprout and take root. Building an architecture for learning may make us feel more like we are constructing learning, however, that's not how learning is really accomplished. If knowledge is held within the connections and each person comes into the class with a different network of connections (neural, social, and conceptual), then learning occurs when we expand those networks and integrate nodes not previously established. As we design instruction, it is important to remember that we're not building a path or constructing a house as much as we are nurturing a garden. It is the designer and instructor's responsibility to weed out those tools and content that are misleading and irrelevant while nurturing the bits of learning actively taking place within the course.

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