Tuesday, September 30, 2014

What could possibly go wrong? And how could it be fixed?

Why wouldn’t a hypothetical one-to-one, wifi-enabled, digitally-saturated laptop initiative imposed on a set of middle school classrooms have any effect on instructional practices?

There are several possible reasons to consider. Interestingly, they align with historical reasons why instructional media might have failed to revolutionize the educational experience, however beloved educational filmstrips were once.

While assigning responsibility to teachers’ resistance to change is convenient, it’s a blanket indictment of a group of people who may have very good individual reasons for not adapting to a changed environment.

How could this factor, if it is one, be minimized?
  • Start a smaller pilot program with a few enthusiastic or even neutral teachers. This strategy would allow an evaluation and a nimbler approach to adjustments as the year proceeded. It would also allow the early adopters to share their experience with their colleagues, pointing out ways to make the program work, before broad adoption.
  • It might also be mitigated with a suspension of the usual teacher-evaluation benchmarks. Resistance might come from fear of falling below a performance threshold. If the threshold were removed, it may free teachers to try new methods with less risk.
  • Providing more in-classroom support may help reduce the resistance. If instructors thought they would receive additional staff support to cover the start-up learning curve time they may be more willing to embrace change.
A second factor could be that the program was a top-down change mandated by administrators. Top-down directives are rarely welcomed, an finding a way to mitigate this factor would be difficult.
  • Top-down decisions could have been mitigated with a longer process to include teachers in the planning of the initiative. Allowing users to provide input all along the way increases the likelihood of success and cooperation.
  • Providing offsetting relief to balance the increased demand on teachers may mitigate the effect of a top-down order. Reducing class sizes, for example would give each teacher more time to adapt. 
A third factor could be equipment problems. Corners that were cut to purchase enough for every student may leave students with substandard equipment, and more time spent on frustrations and hiccups. Inadequate network infrastructure or difficulty operating the new tech tools also throws sand in the gears. Overcoming technical problems is often a matter of a lot of little improvements, not one big change.
  • Upgrading supporting infrastructure might be a solution to access or speed issues. A more seamless experience removes roadblocks to instruction.
  • Providing more training or access to support could help mitigate equipment problems. Assigning support staff to respond quickly, or providing staff lunchtime training sessions starts to fill in gaps in knowledge might also relieve the strain put on front-line instructors.

Monday, September 29, 2014

History holds lessons

My flickr link this week is to a photo album of historic instructional media, from a trip I made in 2010 to a German furniture company's corporate museum. The trip was sponsored by VS for a group of architects and a support person (me) to imagine the future of classroom design. More on that later, I bet.

Here's a preview photo that ties some of my interests together: 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Social Bookmarks, week 4

Potential for Social Bookmarking

I can envision social bookmarking as I experienced with Diigo would make sources on the web easier to integrate into a research assignment. Shared bookmarks could pass from instructor to student as part of an assignment. Showing a passage in context aids comprehension.

Highlighting specific items of a page is the most intriguing aspect of Diigo to me. The pop-up tool helps me separate the act of discovery from the act of evaluating during a project. Creating and editing take two different kinds of brainpower (in my head) and keeping the two tasks separated makes each better.

In a classroom, having students all socially bookmark subject matter references they find on a topic allows a teacher to see frequently-cited pages and flag any that are inaccurate. A Wikipedia page may be the top search result but could contain misinformation.

Obviously seeing what other people bookmark sheds light on a subject. The challenge is finding the time to read all the bookmarks one makes, let alone anyone else’s. For me, it’s usually a one-way street. I rarely return to prior references. There’s always a new one a click away. Diigo may help change that!

Defining the field:

Resier and Dempsey say “…the view of instructional technology as media has persisted…” (pg.2) and I share that impression. I know that every tool in the service of learning is 'technological' and my initial response is to only consider the newest, glitziest as ‘tech’. Ballpoint pens may be the most effective, time-saving tech we have–no more inkwells to spill or clean!

I can follow along with the progression from a focus on media, to process, then to theory and practice together. Followed by the expansion and increasing nuance offered by professional organizations to include “ethical” and“facilitate”.

A digresssion:
These additions sound like something a professional organization would do if they are feeling an economic or legislative need for more stature, or whose members are feeling pressure to show results. I’ve been involved in organizations facing economic headwinds, and these same ideas bubble up when a group of professionals feel undervalued. Next up, a push to license practitioners or start a certification program if it’s not ongoing already.

The rise of instructional design coincides with the rise of advertising and graphic design as professional practices. I am more familiar with those sectors than this one, but the similarities helped me make the leap in understanding the way it evolved. I like the authors’ choice to land on the combined term of 'Instructional Design and Technology'.

What strikes me as surprising is the annexation of human performance improvement into the instructional technology field. Do human performance practitioners embrace the definition that includes them? It’s hard to tell from the book, and I wouldn’t expect that detail here. Maybe a later chapter will connect the dots for me.

And then a leap that opens my mind:
“Use a variety of instructional and non-instructional means to improve human performance in the workplace.” (Summary 5., pg. 6,) Non- instructional? Isn’t anything that leads to learning instructional?  I’ll await further exploration in a future chapter. But I’m intrigued.

My Diigo page is here: Diigo

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Diigo account created. Annotate bookmarks.

I created a Diigo account. Annotations make social bookmarking more valuable.


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

We could get so much done together!

© Joe VanDerBos
Organizing data will never go out of fashion.
Wikis could be so effective. 
Collaboration tools are so appealing. 
If only everyone would organize information like I do. 
We could get so much done together!

And so I have thought over the years. I came close once. I convinced a group of architects to use basecamp to plan a European think-tank trip with teleconferencing and document sharing. We shared some files, plans, draft design work and I made lots of lists. And then made lots of phone calls to explain basecamp. A wiki might have been more effective.

What I learned is that people need a reason to use a wiki or anything like it. The motivation has to be equally spread around. It needs to solve a problem no other tool will, in the words of Postman (1992).

Wikis solve problems:
  • Gathering large amounts of content from many people
  • Keeping information organized and stylistically consistent
  • Spreading reporting requirements from one person to many
  • Tracking changes over time
  • Distributing information quickly, to many places
  • Incorporating edits from many sources

But if you look at any of those problems solved, someone used to do it for pay: editors, designers, administrative staff, project managers. There are a lot of people with a vested interest in seeing collaboration tools fail. I can't imagine a stampede to agreement when you say "let's use a wiki."

How they would be useful to me right now:
 A 30-member student group I work with has a leadership team and three large committees. If everyone responsible for reporting would use the wiki to track meeting notes, schedules and planning any of us could check in at anytime for a snapshot of progress on all efforts. Brilliant, and motivating too! If I were the leader I would be tempted to try it.

I plan two big events for fall welcome every year. I could keep all my notes there and anyone wanting to be updated could check in. We could almost eliminate meetings altogether. Receipts, lists, emails, volunteer schedules—all could be contained in one place. Organized and always current!

Why doesn’t this happen?
Learning curves. It’s just easier to keep doing what I've have been doing: email a list, email a reminder, ask someone to send a list, remind them to do it. I don't want to have 10 conversations asking people to use a new tool.

Motivations are not equally shared. If the events get rocky, it’s largely me who bears the pain. The organizing committee won't look for a solution. The student group will always carry on or even thrive on tools they already use. Even if a better one could make it zoom.

My thoughts on how it works best:
If you have the authority over a group who will do what they are told, and all share the burden equally, wikis work. If everyone in the group has a similar motivation, and interest level, it could be the tool needed: software developers, massive global project teams are probably using wikis or Sharepoint, or basecamp or some other proprietary system). Along the way, users learn what incremental changes other users make. "Oh, I see how that is better". A learner builds on existing knowledge and adds a bit of new information.

With all due respect

A group with energy, ready to learn something new, able to cooperate, equally motivated (mostly), share a similar standing in life that share responsibility well would make the most of a wiki as project organizer. Maybe fifth-graders are the ideal users. 

Can I get a fifth grader to help me? They sound like the ideal project partner.