I’ll be at SXSWedu 2014, and I’m hoping that the event has matured a bit since last year’s “learning outcomes come second” suggestion. Austin is probably the best US city to host this event as the city itself is undergoing massive change.
I’ll be on two panels this year, and I’m really excited to participate in both. The first panel is one organized with my colleagues Tanya Joosten, Amy Collier, and Audrey Watters:
Startups Should Talk with Researchers and Educators
George Veletsianos (Royal Roads University)
Amy Collier (Stanford University)
Audrey Watters (Hack Education)
Tanya Joosten (University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee)
The second panel is a meetup organized by Coursetalk:
Jason Palmer, Deputy Director, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
Dr. George Veletsianos, Canada Research Chair/Associate Professor, Royal Roads University
Stephanie Banchero, National Education Writer, The Wall Street Journal
Jane Swift, CEO, Middlebury Interactive Languages
In a recent interview, Noam Chomsky commented on the relationship between technology and education and one of his thoughts was the following:
As far as technology itself and education is concerned, technology is basically neutral. It’s like a hammer. The hammer doesn’t care whether you use it to build a house or whether on torture, using it to crush somebody’s skull, the hammer can do either.
I admire Noam Chomsky and his brilliance. I agree with this perspective, but this perspective does not paint the whole picture of what happens when we use technology in education. I’d like to unpack this just a little bit because there is a more accurate picture of technology use in education available to us. The broader picture I describe below helps us understand how technologies are used, why they succeed/fail, and how we can design better learning environments. From my observations of technology use in education, my research, my colleagues’ research, and my reading of the field’s research, here’s what I understand:
- Technologies can be as neutral as described above. For example, Twitter can be used as a broadcasting medium, a conversational medium, or even a 1-1 support tool. YouTube can replace the VCR used in class. Or, it can bring together people from different locations to discuss topics of common interest. In this sense, technologies are neutral in that they can serve various needs and can be used in different ways.
- Technologies themselves are rarely neutral. How can that be, you ask, when the bullet point above stated the opposite? Technology is not created in a vacuum. When technology is created, it is built with the developers’ worldviews, values, beliefs, and assumptions embedded into the technology and revealed through the activities supported and encouraged when individuals use the technology. For example, social networking sites (SNS) structure relationships in specific ways (e.g., followers, friends) and perceive privacy in different ways. Technologies hold particular views of the world, and in this way, they are not neutral. This is true for technologies that we repurpose for educational means (e.g., Twitter, YouTube, Ning, Elgg, Facebook, Flickr, and so on) as well as for technologies created specifically for educational purposes. For example, Learning Management Systems (LMS) espouse certain beliefs about the educational process and their default settings and suggestions may shape how they are used. Whn introduced in educational settings, said technologies tend to introduce tensions and conundrums (e.g., The way the LMS or SNS structured instructor-learner relationships vs. the way faculty envisioned instructor-learner relationships may be in conflict, leading to low uptake, rejection of the tool, etc).
- Technologies can be put to different uses, but not all uses are productive or effective. A hammer doesn’t care whether you use it to “build a house… or crush somebody’s skull,” but it will do a poor job if you try to use it in lieu of a screwdriver. The problem arises when entrepreneurs, designers, instructors, etc treating the hammer as a tool that can help them address all needs. A recent example of this is Udacity treating its product as a solution in search of a problem.
The ways that technology is used on the ground are complex and negotiated. In preparing instructors to use technology in education and designers to envision ways that technology can support/enhance education, we need to expose them to skills and mindsets that allow them to use tools in creative and inspirational ways. We also need to help them understand the assumptions and beliefs that technologies espouse and remain cognizant of the pressures and tensions that these may introduce.
* References pertaining to technology being not-neutral:
Whitworth, A., & Benson, A. (2010). Learning, Design, and Emergence: Two case studies of Moodle in distance education. In G. Veletsianos (Ed.), Emerging Technologies in Distance Education (pp. 195-213). Edmonton, AB: Athabasca University Press.
Hall, R. (2011). Revealing the transformatory moment of learning technology: the place of critical social theory. Research in Learning Technology, 19(3), 273-284.
Lane, L. (2009). Insidious pedagogy: How course management systems impact teaching. First Monday, 14(10).
Crook, C. (2012). The “ digital native ” in context: tensions associated with importing Web 2.0 practices into the school setting. Oxford Review of Education, 38(1), 63-80.
A facebook conversation from yesterday encouraged me to share one of the assignments that I developed for my instructional design course. The goal of the class is for the students to understand, experience, and apply instructional design in a variety of educational contexts.
One of the assignments I developed for asked students to enroll in a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) and analyze the instructional materials within the course using one of the rubrics provided by Dick and Carey (the instructional design book we use in class). It was a lot of fun and the students appreciated the exercise. Given the lack of presence and voice by instructional designers in MOOC happenings, the lack of valid, reliable, and serious research that exists on the topic (though Rita Kop’s work on cMOOCs is admirable), and my desire to engage students in contemporary events, I came up with this assignment to embed MOOC analysis in my course. The assignment is available for download on https://dl.dropbox.com/u/2533962/instr-materials-veletsianos.doc and posted below for those who just want to skim it without downloading it. Enjoy and feel free to use it:
Instructional Material analysis assignment
Individually, you will examine and report on the instructional materials of one popular digital learning initiative. An analysis matrix will be provided to you, and you will use that to matrix to evaluate these initiatives.
Length: Minimum 500 words.
|Criteria||Levels of Attainment||Points|
|Written analysis (evaluation)||
This task requires a few hours of research before you can actually complete it. Even though this is an individual task, if you would like to discuss the assignment with any of your colleagues, please feel free to do so.
First read the chapter and the rest of the materials for this week. Without reading those, I can assure you that your understanding of the issues presented will be superficial.
Second, examine the rubric provided by Dick & Carey for evaluating instructional materials (p. 250-251 – see below for the rubric). You will be completing this rubric for a digital environment, and it’s a good idea to understand what it encompasses before you proceed.
Third, select one course provided on one of the following platforms to examine:
- A course on Coursera (select a course that is occurring right now or has been completed. DO NOT select a course that has not started yet): https://www.coursera.org/courses
- A course on EdX (select a course that is occurring right now. DO NOT select a course that has not started yet): https://www.edx.org/courses
- A free course on Udemy (select a course that includes at least 5 “lessons/lectures”): http://www.udemy.com/courses
You can also choose to examine DS106: http://ds106.us/ I am including DS106 on its own because it is a course as opposed to the above (Coursera, EdX, and Udemy) which are platforms. If you pick any of these three (Coursera, EdX, or Udemy), then you should also pick a course (e.g., Within Coursera a possible course is https://www.coursera.org/course/friendsmoneybytes).
Once you have made your selection, it’s time to research your course. Spend time looking around, examining and evaluating the instructional materials provided. You will use the rubric to keep track of the criteria that need to be assessed, and then using this rubric you will write a report assessing the instructional material for the course.
You should start your report by stating the course and its provider. A link would also be helpful. For example, using the example above, I would start my report by stating the following:
“I am examining the course entitled Networks: Friends, Money and Bytes (https://www.coursera.org/course/friendsmoneybytes). This course if offered through Coursera and is taught by Mung Chiang who is a Professor or Electrical Engineering at Princeton University. The course is an introduction to the topic of X and its objectives are XYZ.”
Your report should be specific and detailed in its evaluation of instructional material, and should be guided by the five criteria families discussed by DC: Goal-centered, learner-centered, learning-centered, context-centered, technical criteria. I would like to see that you understand each criterion and that you are capable of applying it to evaluating your course. For example, at the very least, I would expect to see statements such as the following:
Instructional designers use five criteria families to evaluate instructional materials. Learner-centered criteria focus on XYZ and refer to X. The instructional materials for this course appear to be adequate for this criterion because <provide list of reasons here>. The course could be improved in this domain by <list of additions/revisions here>. However, because item X was not disclosed in the course, I am not able to evaluate Y.
Let me reiterate that to complete this assignment you will need to do background research on the course and the platform. For example, your background research on Coursera will reveal that some of these courses have more than 80,000 students from around the world. This fact alone will impact your evaluation!
Instructional Material Evaluation Rubric
Rubric is copyright of: Dick, W., Carey, L. & Carey, J. (2008). Systematic Design of Instruction, (7th ed.) Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
A. Goal-centered Criteria:
Are the instructional materials:
|1. Congruent with the terminal and performance objectives?|
|2. Adequate in content coverage and completeness?|
|6. Objective in presentations (lack of content bias)?|
Are the instructional materials appropriate for learners’:
|1. Vocabulary and language?|
|2. Development level?|
|3. Background, experience, environment?|
|4. Experiences with testing formats and equipment?|
|5. Motivation and interest?|
|6. Cultural, racial, gender needs (lack bias)?|
Do the material include:
|1. Pre-instructional material?|
|2. Appropriate content sequencing?|
|3. Presentations that are complete, current and tailored for learners?|
|4. Practice exercises that are congruent with the goal?|
|5. Adequate and supportive feedback?|
|6. Appropriate assessment?|
|7. Appropriate sequence and chunk size?|
Are/do the instructional materials:
|1. Authentic for the learning and performance sites?|
|2. Feasible for the learning and performance sites?|
|3. Require additional equipment/tools?|
|4. Have congruent technical qualities for planned site (facilities/delivery system)?|
|5. Have adequate resources (time, budget, personal availability and skills)?|
Do the instructional materials have appropriate:
|1. Delivery system and media for the nature of objectives?|
|3. Graphic design and typography?|
|6. Audio and video quality?|
|7. Interface design?|
Reddit is one of the communities that I follow for professional and personal purposes. For professional purposes specifically, it serves as a site for my online ethnography on networked participatory scholarship and digital scholarship. As part of that work, I am trying to make sense of the meaning of open digital participation for learning, teaching, scholarship, and education. One of the most informative and enjoyable aspects of Reddit is the IAmA subreddit in which individuals with interesting stories answer user questions. For example, one individual shared intimate details of his/her work and experiences with for-profit education, and another discusses teaching high school science and the misconceptions surrounding the teaching profession. The other day, Salman Khan (of Khan Academy) answered questions on the site, and I thought some of you might be interested in reading the Q&A, not just for Khan’s answers but also for the types of questions that were being asked. Though my vision of education differs from Khan’s vision of education, I appreciate that numerous students and teachers have found value in his efforts and I welcome any initiative that opens up conversations about what the future of education should look like. In any event, here is the Q&A with Salman Khan.
* Reddit logo courtesy of Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Reddit_logo.svg
One thing that I don’t usually post on this blog is information related to my research on pedagogical agents and virtual characters, which is one of the research strands that I’ve followed for the past 4 years. I am breaking away from that mold by posting this note : )
Specifically, my colleagues (Aaron Doering and Charles Miller) and I developed a research and design framework to guide smooth, natural, and effective communication between learners and pedagogical agents. Our reasons for developing this framework were varied, but after four years of research and design in the field, I became convinced that to push the field forward, we needed guidance. I use the word “guidance” as opposed to the words “rules” or “laws” because we “anticipate that designers, researchers, and instructors will adapt and sculpt the guidelines of the EnALI framework into their unique instructional contexts, ultimately kindling future research and design that will expand the framework foundations.”
The framework (called Enhancing Agent Learner Interactions or EnALI) is grounded on three major theories: socio-cultural notions of learning, cooperative learning, and conflict theory. In this, we have tried to bring a humanist perspective and encourage designers and researchers to move beyond the use of pedagogical agents as dispassionate tools delivering pre-recorded lectures… but I’ll save that information for a different post. The paper is to appear in the Journal of Educational Computing Research as: Veletsianos, G., Miller, C., & Doering, A. (2009). EnALI: A Research and Design Framework for Virtual Characters and Pedagogical Agents. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 41(2), 171-194 [email me for a preprint].
The framework is posted below, but if you want a full explanation of the guidelines, please refer to the paper. As always questions, comments, and critique are appreciated:
1. Pedagogical Agents should be attentive and sensitive to the learner’s needs and wants by:
• Being responsive and reactive to requests for additional and/or expanded information.
• Being redundant.
• Asking for formative and summative feedback.
• Maintaining an appropriate balance between on- and off-task communications.
2. Pedagogical Agents should consider intricacies of the message they send to learners by:
• Making the message appropriate to the receiver’s abilities, experiences, and frame of reference.
• Using congruent verbal and nonverbal messages.
• Clearly owning the message.
• Making messages complete and specific.
• Using descriptive, non-evaluative comments.
• Describing feelings by name, action, or figure of speech.
3. Pedagogical Agents should display socially appropriate demeanor, posture, and representation by:
• Establishing credibility and trustworthiness
• Establishing role and relationship to user/task.
• Being polite and positive (e.g., encouraging, motivating)
• Being expressive (e.g. exhibiting verbal cues in speech).
• Using a visual representation appropriate to content.