Thursday, November 16, 2017

Conference Reflections - How Relevant is AECT?

My great friend and associate Dr. Lewis Chongwony just posted a GREAT reflection on his experiences at the international convention for the Association for Educational Communications and Technology. He asks some critical questions about AECT and its fundamental purpose and impact. I highly recommend reading the post.

I also attended AECT's convention this year, and I had some similar thoughts. Here are my reactions in bullet-point form. (You will notice that I use the term we in these questions - I am a scholar and a member of AECT and the Educational Technology/Instructional Design community).
  • What is our purpose? This is something I have wondered about for several years. What is the purpose of AECT? It feels like it is essentially focused on supporting and rewarding research related to educational technology. But, I and many others have wondered what positive result this has achieved outside our own circle of discussion.
  • How can we impact education instead of simply researching it? I am not saying that no impact has been made, but many problems continue to plague our educational system. Right now higher education institutions and typical tenure policies are focused on rewarding research and research-related activities. This is important, but it seems to be disconnected from the issues we see in the systems we are trying to understand and influence.
  • We are topic centered instead of problem-centered. The very structure of AECT is based around different topics, and as scholars we tend to ask "what is the topic of your study?" Even though we know the power of a problem-centered approach, we still think in a topic-centered way. If we want to have an impact, we must select a problem or a series of problems that we are going to take responsibility to solve.
  • How can we share our scholarship more effectively? I see this as an attempt to make our knowledge more accessible and therefore more used by practitioners. A few observations - first, academics have been trained to do a specific style of writing. It can be inherently boring, very long-winded, and hard to interpret and apply. Second, the cost of our publications can be prohibitive. I attended a session on an excellent book that had been written by some peers of mine, but when I went to purchase the book, I found that it was nearly $100 for the book. Seriously? $100? We can't figure out a way to reduce the costs of publishing that book? It didn't have any special color illustrations or anything like that, so why in the world was it so expensive? I can only assume that it was a result of some kind of strange publisher relationship...
I have considered AECT my scholarly home, and it is an outstandingly supportive community. But I certainly join Dr. Chongwony (and many others speaking at the convention) in questioning the direction we have been heading and our relevance and impact on the actual practice of education. My deepest desire is to positive impact peoples' lives and improve the nations and people I work with. Am I doing so through my work with AECT? I have found myself over the past couple of years branching out to different ways of sharing my knowledge (like this blog and an upcoming book that I have written) to make this knowledge more available to others. Will AECT as an organization make the changes it needs to remain relevant and have a deeper impact on the practice of education?

Monday, June 19, 2017

Summit Notes: Essential Institutional Capacities to Lead Innovation

I recently attended the WECT 2017 Summit on Essential Institutional Capacities to Lead Innovation. It was a very good conference that shared some best practices in higher education for innovations to improve student success. Below are some of the notes I took during the conference.

Michelle Weise - Sandbox Collaborative – Southern New Hampshire University

Michelle discussed some of the things that her university has been doing to promote design thinking and collaborative, creative problem solving at her university and as a service for other universities. They created the Sandbox Collaborative, which is a space where people can really think through their design needs and consider solutions for their work. They pulled together a variety of research-based tools and techniques from research and other organization. The space looks very open, beautiful, different, and inviting. It seems to be the kind of space that would be interesting and exciting to be in. The space and group serves as internal consultancy focused on performance improvement for the university (the current needs) and to help look at over the horizon solutions and opportunities (the future). In my experience, it is very difficult to maintain and optimize what is already existing while simultaneously planning for new, innovative systems and approaches.
She noted that they started in “stealth mode” which allowed them to develop and grow and innovate. If you are under scrutiny of others and have the existing culture and patterns imposed on you, you may have a difficult time being able to move forward and will likely lose many of your innovative ideas. Autonomy is critical in the initial phases.

Jeff Borden - St. Leo University – Innovation Incubator

Jeff talked about their innovation incubator, which has been a place for innovating and creating great solutions for the university. They eventually created LionShare, which is a system that pulls together all kinds of student behavior data and provides the students with a variety of supports and tools that provide just in time support to students that is strong up-front and decreases over time. “For technology to work, integration is the key.”
Does your university support innovation? Will they put money behind it? Will they support it?
If an organization or individual is rewarded for innovation, then innovation will happen.
Some reflections: to me, it seems that implementing the innovation is a major issue. Jeff addressed it with the need to consider stakeholder engagement, but there is much more to it than that. What if we never put enough resources toward solving the problem? What if we don’t beta test? What if we ignore cultural or international issues? What if we don’t use foundational project management strategies effectively?

Breakout Session 1: Identify the Talent You Have, What You Need, and Where to Discover Candidates

MJ Bishop
Dr. Bishop shared some key results of a couple of powerful studies that look closely at centers for teaching and learning.
Bishop, M., & Keehn, A. (2015). Leading academic change: An early market scan of leading-edge postsecondary academic innovation centers.
The results of the study included the following insights:
  • Institutional culture is one of the biggest challenges to innovating, along with lack of resources.
  • Innovation centers seem to be regularly undergoing reorganization. (7 of 10 interviewed were undergoing a major revision).
  • Building collaboration was a key thing organizations were doing (collaboration within campus organizations).
  • There seems to have been a shift from faculty success to student success.
  • Most teaching/learning centers started between 2001 and 2010.
  • Most leaders of these centers have had faculty experience.
  • Most report to the provost or academic affairs.
  • In most, the mission and reporting function changed a lot over the last several years.

Outreach to department chairs and financial incentives were the most effective methods for increasing faculty engagement with the center.
Christina Anderson
Christina asked a few questions that really help us gain a focus with the changes we are working to make within an organization. Some good questions here:
  • What are you trying to change?
  • Why?
  • How will you know it’s been successful?
  • When does it need to happen?
  • Who needs to be involved?

There are certainly some foundational project management/goal setting/change management principles embedded in these questions.
Jay Hollowell
Sometimes we are pushed into a swimming pool of sharks. (If you don’t know the joke, it is funny J). This is often the cause of innovation –we do it as a reaction to something in the environment. We can also do it proactively without a push into the shark pool - either way, we must react and adapt and innovate.
Near the end of the presentation, we met as a table and discussed the following question. I have added in our responses.
How must higher education institutions change to better support learning?
  • Redesign the tenure process to go the teaching track or research track. This will help facilitate improve teaching and learning.
  • Bring in additional roles such as mentors to help students move through a learning path as opposed to different courses. Western Governors seems to do this. There could be other supplements including having students provide that kind of support.
  • Incentivize faculty to design courses more effectively so that the students start effectively.
  • Faculty learning communities – faculty teach the same course and come together and have a  conversation about the course and what they are doing, struggling with, what is working. Faculty seem to struggle with the concept of community and dialogue can help instill the idea of sharing experiences and expertise.
  • Hire more full-time faculty.
  • Quality onboarding of new faculty. Be more intentional in onboarding. Focus on teaching them how to teach online and face-to-face. Create an experience of up to 12-18 months. Use quality standards and rubrics, peer evaluations, and others.
  • What role should the teaching and learning center plan in today’s learning design infrastructure?
    • We focus a lot of effort on instructional design to help support the teachers Simplicity is often key – focus on the basics of ID, teaching effectiveness. 
Again, this was a great experience. I have found, though, that very often the context of sitting in a conference is not that I am acquiring the content that is being shared, but that I am thinking alongside the presentations. These presentations often spur ideas and insights that are meaningful but that are not at all related to the presentation content! That was the case at this conference - many ideas for improving myself, my work, and creative endeavors, and the university for which I work.

Thanks, WCET, for a great experience!

Monday, June 12, 2017

Using Track Changes for Scholarly Writing

Very often in academic settings, there is a need to write collaboratively or provide feedback within a Word document. This can become very complex, but one powerful tool for tracking changes in a document is the Track Changes feature in Microsoft Word. I created this video to explain how it works.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Professional Development in Instructional Design

In the absence of growth, atrophy.

The world is constantly changing, and as a learning professional, your role is constantly shifting. To remain relevant and to have a positive impact in your profession, you must continually acquire and expand your knowledge and skills to improve yourself in your craft.

In this blog post, I will share some of my current thoughts on professional development in instructional design.

4 Strategies for Setting Professional Development Goals
  1. Be clear about how you will impact peoples’ lives. If you have this clarity, then your next step often becomes more clear. I have articulated my professional purpose in this manner: “My professional purpose and mission is to discover and share knowledge that inspires, empowers, and equips others to succeed in their careers and lives.”
  2. Envision your future self. What kind of a person do you want to be? What do you want to become?  Look at examples of people you want to be like and identify the traits you would like to develop. Who do you want to become in a year? In three years? Create a compelling vision of yourself and make it a reality!
  3. Have career goals. Your career is going to happen, so you might as well be deliberate about what you want to happen within that career. What is the next position you would like to hold? What is the dream job you want to work toward? Work to align your career with how you want to impact peoples’ lives.
  4. Create clear actions for reaching your goals. Be specific about the steps you will take – the skills you will develop, the people you will meet, and the knowledge you will gain. It is sometimes helpful to create a timeline for what you would like to happen, realizing that timelines and paths are fluid and ever-changing. Be sure to identify the most important step you must take and focus on that step.

Categories of Development in Instructional Design
There are 4 basic areas of professional development within the field of instructional design:
  1. Process knowledge and skills. These include project management and workflow, and the result of these skills is increased efficiency, quality control, and empowerment of designers. What knowledge or skills would increase your efficiency or effectiveness in your design processes?
  2. Technology knowledge and skills. These include technologies that deliver or enhance the learning experience, track design processes, evaluate learning, and manage the overall learning experience. What are your technological gaps as an instructional designer?
  3. Theory. These include research and theory on how people learn (learning theory) and how to help them learn (instructional theory). There are many theories and models for learning that are pretty innovative, and improving and refining your understanding of how to help people learn is quite important. In addition, younger generations experience information and knowledge differently than perhaps older generations do, and understanding their experiences and expectations will also inform how you design. How might you deepen or refine your theoretical knowledge?
  4. Self-improvement. You are the instrument through which all design takes place. You must make yourself the most effective “technology” possible. How could you improve and optimize your attitudes, beliefs and habits? How could you improve your health and mental sharpness? What could you do right now to make yourself a more balanced, well-rounded individual?

General vs. Specialized Development
I have a fairly high level of specialized knowledge in learning and instruction. I have been involved in teaching, learning and instructional design for nearly 20 years, now, including an MS degree, a PhD, several years of training and design experience, and years teaching ID to graduate students.  However, I have realized that I use a great deal of general knowledge and skills to make my work meaningful and useful. These general skills are not necessarily design-specific and might include communication, critical thinking, problem solving, and project management skills, among many others. Design skills are essential, but so are the general skills.

I will finish this discussion with two questions for your consideration:
  1. What design-specific knowledge and skills (e.g. technologies, processes, theory, etc.) do you personally need to develop to make yourself more effective as an instructional designer?
  2. What general knowledge and skills (e.g. communication skills, critical thinking, project management, political savvy, etc.) do you personally need to develop to make yourself a more effective professional?

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Types and Benefits of Innovation in Learning Design

Innovation in instructional design generally revolves around three major areas: Technology, Process, and Theory.

Technology - innovations in technology for learning typically yield several benefits:
  1. learning enhancement - appropriately used current and emerging technology can significantly increase learning
  2. tracking - quality technologies enable us to (a) monitor and measure student learning and progress, (b) manage learning experiences, and (c) manage the processes of creating and evaluating learning more effectively.
  3. delivery - technologies enable us to deliver learning experiences quickly and efficiently to broader audiences quickly and at relatively low cost
  4. management - technologies allow learners and others to manage their learning more effectively
Process - innovations in instructional design process should yield the following benefits:
  1. efficiency to reduce cost and time to produce instruction
  2. checkpoints and controls for creating quality instruction
  3. empowerment to the instructional design team to be creative and innovative

Theory - innovations in instructional theory, or how to design what the learning experience actually looks like, yield several benefits including (but not limited to):
  1. increased efficiency in the student learning experience
  2. improvements in meeting the defined learning outcomes and goals
  3. increased student motivation in learning
  4. increased ability for students to transfer their learning to the real world

Thursday, July 7, 2016

The Critical Question: What Should I Do Right Now?

I just had an interesting and slightly stressful experience. Within about a 5 minute time period, I had the following take place:

  1. My brother contacted me about a design-related issue he wanted to talk through.
  2. My coworker popped into my office and asked me if I wanted to take a quick walk to a nearby cafeteria.
  3. I was trying to read through an article on instructional design leadership.
  4. My boss sent me an instant message asking if I could meet with him briefly about something he was concerned about.
  5. My wife called and asked me if I could meet with her the kids for an impromptu lunch.
  6. All of this happened with several other design, reporting, and management tasks calling for my attention from the back of my head.
Which would you do?

I imagine this is a common situation for many people these days. The options are endless, and the right decision is not immediately obvious. But we have to decide and move forward with confidence, adjusting our actions based on how things seem to be going. And hopefully we have guiding principles that provide us with guidance on how to move toward what is most important..

A few reflective questions:
  • How do you focus on what is important to you? 
  • What should you do right now? 
  • What will help you achieve your goals? 
  • What will uphold and support the values that are most important to you?
  • What is absolutely essential?

Thursday, June 2, 2016

The Importance of Balance

One thing I have been thinking a lot about is the need of balance in life. Just like Mr Miyagi taught Daniel in The Karate Kid (which is, by the way, one of the best films of all time, in my opinion), balance in life is absolutely critical. Yest, it can be very difficult to find a balance that is healthy and produces the positive results you desire in life.

I been thinking about quite a bit because my wife, birth-daughter and I have recently adopted 4 children. For the past 8 months, we have worked to combine two families into one. We have worked hard to establish new positive routines that will bring a sense of family, joy and satisfaction to everyone.  As a result of this change, I have been thinking a lot about life and the need to achieve a sense of balance.

How do you you know when you are out of balance?
Striking a healthy balance means that all areas of your life are sufficiently cared for. It means balancing between happiness now and working for a better future. It means balancing time at work and time at home. It means balancing between focusing on your own needs and the needs of others.
Here are some great ways to tell whether your life is out of balance:
  1. Your emotions - your feelings will tell you when you are out of balance. Common feelings associated with balance issues include uneasiness, stress, anxiety, and unhappiness. (That reads like a list of side-effects like the end of a medication commercial).
  2. Your body - Often when things are out of balance, you will become ill, feel sick, have pit in your stomach, have tense or cramped shoulders, experience extreme weight loss or weight gain. You have got to listen to your body to and learn over time to determine which of these is affecting you the most.
  3. Your family - your family members know when you are out of balance. They may not like being around you as much. They may want to see you more. Perhaps you don't spend time with them as much as you would like to.
  4. Your supervisor - your supervisor knows when things are out of balance. She will notice your performance dipping, your engagement flagging, or your attendance faltering. 
Typical Life Balance Issues
So what are the areas of life that often become imbalanced?
  1. Enjoing Now and working for the Future at the same time
  2. Taking care of your Self and Others
  3. Maintaining Temporal needs and Spiritual health
  4. Having a life and work that has Structure but affords Autonomy
  5. Work hard but enjoying Rest
  6. Balancing responsibilities and time with Work and Family/Home
  7. Maintaining Control of your environment and Letting Go of what is unimportant
  8. Striking a balance between a life of Routine and Novelty
I plan to write about each of these balance issues from time to time over the coming several weeks.

Thanks for reading!