Club Admiralty

v7.0 - moving along, a point increase at a time

Multilitteratus Incognitus

Traversing the path of the doctoral degree

Burn those Business Schools (or...maybe don't!)

The other day Paul Prinsloo posted this Guardian article on Facebook, and it seems like a popular article because Shyam Sharma (among others in my online educational social network and PLN posted it). As usual my PLN got me thinking (and, as is evidenced by this blog post, creatively procrastinating and not really working on my dissertation proposal...D'oh! 😜).  This blog post started life as a comment back to Paul, but it got too long, so here it is - migrated to the blog!  I should say that two of my master's degrees are from a business school (B-School hereafter) and my views are framed from an emic and etic perspective (hey, why is my dissertation proposal leaking into my blog? get out! 😏)

From my own personal experience I think that B-Schools are in part complicit with what's going on, they are after part of the business landscape, but I think that they are only one part of the picture.  I am making my way through Ken Bruffee's book on Collaborative Learning, which frames a lot in terms of language, and by language I think a lot of what's encompassed isn't just how you write in specific disciplines but also (and I am not sure Bruffee articulated this) what assumptions, values, and ways of being are articulated by those disciplinary 'languages'.  Bruffee tells us that students enroll in specific programs so that they can gain access to those languages, and by extension gain access into the networks of people that utilize those discourses.

But what's the goal of the learner?  Well, it really depends on each student, but in my own (anecdotal) experience many people gravitated toward the MBA because they were driven by the promise big financial gains. Don't get me wrong. I like a good paycheck (I have bills too!), but if money is the only motivator (or the largest of the motivators if more than one exists), then there is something wrong, and short-sighted. While I do think that B-Schools have a moral obligation to improve society, they also need to teach their students about what's going out there in society. They wouldn't survive long as schools if they ignored that because students would just not come to them.

From my own class experiences, here is an example:  I was in an Introduction to Finance class for my MBA. This was just before the last crash that was brought on by bad housing loans. There were some students that were having the proverbial wet dream about these mortgage derivatives. While the professor did speak against these financial products from his own (extensive) experience in the field we didn't really discuss it a lot in the finance class, and we focused on our texts and what was on the syllabus  for that week.  This was a perfect opportunity to look at current day trends, critically analyze them, and speak for/against them.  Nope, it didn't happen.  I liked the class, respected the prof that voiced his expert opinion.  I think an off-the-cuff remark was something like derivatives are basically like going to Vegas and playing the roulette or something like that.  I see this as a lost opportunity, and lo-and-behold, a few semesters later came the crash. The crash was instigated by blind financiers (blind willfully or negligently) who were focused on just profits.

I agree with the criticism, in the article, of the curriculum (and what that curriculum signals), but the then I'd argue that you can't just 'fix' the curriculum of a B-School and call it a job well done.  Things operate in certain ways outside of the walls of academia. We need to be preparing students to change not just themselves but also those systemic inequalities in the way we conduct business, and how our laws operate in our country; anything and everything from cost of healthcare, cost of going to school, cost of housing, how those things operate, and who's pulling the strings.

We also need to look outside the B-school for solutions to change the legal aspects of how businesses run; this later part is broad because it includes things like taxation, healthcare, education, environmental health and safety, and  so on.  When you have people joining B-Schools because their goal is to make money (and they do that because that's what society signals as a core value, and everyone wants to be part of that 1%) then you aren't going to get a lot of takers to go to B-School that doesn't equip you to do that, at least one that overtly doesn't sell that brand of success.  I am not sure what's happening in the rest of the world, but the US seems very much into the myth of individual exceptionalism, hence this all about "me" and eff everyone else weltsanschauung, is what's implicitly marketed, both by schools and by politicians who want 'practical' degrees, does not really provide fertile ground for a healthy society.

I don't have a solution for this issue, but burning down the B-Schools is definitely not part of a solution that I would advocate for.  Maybe instead of having undergraduate B-Schools we should require people to study philosophy, sociology, art, and history (among other liberal arts) before they can gain access to B-School for graduate studies instead of having people go to B-School right from the undergraduate business degrees.   Maybe those graduate students would need to be connect their undergraduate studies to their business pursuits. Perhaps B-Schools could nurture connections with local, regional, and national organizations to help support the greater welfare of everyone, and not just focus on individual gain.  As another personal example, to finish off this post, while I did find international finance interesting, and the concept of arbitrage fascinating, it's a good idea to question who benefits from these systems, who has access to international markets and the capital necessary to make profits in arbitrage? And do these people who make money out of nothing help support the broader well being of a society? How about we introduce that critical aspect into the curriculum.

Are MOOCs really that useful on a resume?


I came across an article on Campus Technology last week titled 7 Tips for Listing MOOCs on Your Résumé, and it was citing a CEO of an employer/employee matchmaking firm.  One piece of advice says to create a new section for MOOCs taken to list them there. This is not all that controversial since I do the same.  Not on my resume, but rather on my extended CV (which I don't share anyone), and it serves more a purpose of self-documentation than anything else.

The first part that got me thinking was the piece of advice listed that says "only list MOOCs that you have completed".  Their rationale is as follows:

"Listing a MOOC is only an advantage if you've actually completed the course," Mustafa noted. "Only about 10 percent of students complete MOOCs, so your completed courses show your potential employer that you follow through with your commitments. You should also be prepared to talk about what you learned from the MOOC — in an interview — and how it has helped you improve."  

This bothered me a little bit.  In my aforementioned CV I list every MOOC I signed up for(†) and "completed" in some way shape or form. However, I define what it means to have "completed" a MOOC.  I guess this pushback on my part stems from me having started my MOOC learning with cMOOCs where there (usually) isn't a quiz or some other deliverable that is graded by a party other than the learner. When I signed up for specific xMOOCs I signed up for a variety of reasons, including interest in the topic, the instructional form, the design form, the assessment forms, and so on. I've learned something from each MOOC, but I don't meet the criterion of "completed" if I am going by the rubrics set forth by the designers of those xMOOCs.  I actually don't care what those designers set as the completion standards for their designed MOOCs because a certificate of completion carries little currency anywhere. Simple time-based economics dictate that my time shouldn't be spent doing activities that leading to a certificate that carries no value, if I don't see value in those assessments or activities either. Taking a designer's or professor's path through the course is only valuable when there is a valuable carrot at the end of the path. Otherwise, it's perfectly fine to be a free-range learner.

Another thing that made me ponder a bit is the linking to badges and showcasing your work.  Generally speaking, in the US at least, résumés are a brief window into who you are as a potential candidate.  What you're told to include in a resume is a brief snapshot of your relevant education, experience, and skills for the job you are applying for.  The general advice I hear (which I think is stupid) is to keep to to 1 page.  I ignore this and go for 1 sheet of paper (two pages if printed both sides).  Even that is constraining if you have been in the workforce for more than 5 years. The cover letter expounds on the résumé, but that too is brief (1 page single spaced). So, a candidate doesn't really have a ton of space to showcase their work, and external linkages (to portfolios and badges) aren't really encouraged. At best a candidate can whet the hiring committee's palate to get you in for an interview. This is why I find this advice a little odd.

Your thoughts on MOOCs on résumé?

† This includes cMOOC, xMOOC, pMOOC, iMOOC, uMOOC, etcMOOC...

Curriculum Management as a Supply Chain issue?

I don't often write about my dayjob - as manager of an academic program. There are probably a lot of interesting and nuanced things to study academically in higher education administration and non-profit management, things that I also find interesting (from time to time) - but I tend to spend most of my time looking at EdTech, pedagogy, language learning, and the like (more so than higher ed administration.

Recently I saw a blog post from a friend who is also pursuing a PhD that made me put on my management academician thinking cap, and it got me in a reflecting mood as far as my dayjob goes. It also brought back fond memories of me being an MBA student in a supply-chain management. The successful running of an academic program is a complex dance between various external (to the academic department) actors, such as the admissions office, the registrar's office, the bursar's office, and the room scheduling office (if your program is on-campus). This is also in addition to internal actors such as curriculum committees, admissions committees, faculty, and advisors, and the students (I think of students being "in" the department).  If we look at it from Actor Network Theory, there are also those devices that facilitate (or put up roadblocks) for our efforts. One big actor in this network for me is Google Docs given that I use it to plan for a lot of things.

I've been in my position over four years now and it's been quite an interesting, and educational, experience. Some of our faculty are tenured, and some are adjunct lecturers - although they've been with us so long that we really think of them as one of us.  One thing that really has stood out to me, comparing the then with the now, is really how important those connections are, and the domino effect of the supply chain.  When I was a student studying supply chain management it was fascinating to see how changes in the factory output, the connections between factories, the warehouses, stores, and pricing made a huge systemic difference in what was happening in the end‡.

When I started working there had been a gap in that position for the program, which meant that there wasn't really a day-to-day maintenance that was happening (nor was there systematic improvement). One of the things that had lagged behind (seriously behind) was communications with current students and communications with prospective students.  That for me was a huge domino that had already fallen and we were seeing it's effects - lower than average applications. Why would one apply to a program if there isn't good communication?  Effective, and timely, communication is important not only with your perspective students, but also your current ones in order to ensure that prospective students find the right program for them (even if it isn't yours), and current students are on a steady path to graduation. An internal policy of 2 business days (at most) to respond to inquiries and emails seems to have solved that issue.  Email also became the preferred method of contact. This doesn't please everyone (especially those who like talking on the phone), but with limited resources it's the most efficient.  Phone conversations are available for more in-depth and tricky subjects, not "routine" questions.

Another area where I see supply chain as much more prevalent is course registration.  Course registration is probably the major cause of departmental firefighting (we're all familiar with putting out fires, right?). It's was also a bottleneck for hiring and assigning courses to adjuncts.  In a nutshell, prior to my arrival† students were able to sign themselves up for classes.  This left made course sign up the student's responsibility. There is something empowering about signing up for courses, but even with a late registration fee (if students registered after a certain date) many students would simply wait to register. This meant that we didn't know if some courses would run (you need to have a minimum amount of students in each course to make it viable). Not knowing if something would run also means that you couldn't commit to assigning specific courses to our adjunct faculty, which meant that they didn't have access to Blackboard and the resources they needed to plan for effectively for their courses. It also meant that for the students who did sign up early, there  might be a mad dash near the beginning of the semester to change courses if their courses were axed.  Lots of fires to put out right there!

The solution, which seems to work, is to prevent students from enrollment activity and have us (in the office) enroll them for courses, and to make sure through advising that all advising is accounted for and a month before the current semester ends students have spoken to their advisor and we know what courses they'd like to be signed up for. This gatekeeping activity has been pretty successful thus far.  About 85% of students see their advisor and are queued up for fall courses 45 days before the semester ends, and around 10 days before the late fee kicks in, 94% are signed up.  Not too shabby if I do say so myself!  Having an (almost) 95% completion rate also means that our faculty have a better idea of what they are teaching in the fall so that they can prep over the summer (if they'd like) and the college and HR departments can start processing their fall contracts earlier than before since we have confirmed enrollments. These contracts also mean that instructors gain access to university resources that they need  - such as email access!

Supply chain management may seem to impersonal in a higher education context, but I think that it has applicability.  I wonder what others in higher education admin think about this?

‡ I also hated the grading schema for that class, as I've probably written in this blog before, but the class was pretty interesting all things considered.
† I didn't singlehandedly do this - it was a team effort, but I did initiate a lot of this

EDDE 806 - Post V - The final one of the spring 2016 season

A couple of weeks after the last session of 806 for this spring aired I had an opportunity to observe the proceedings from across time and space (aren't recordings grand?).  Looking at the (small) crowd that attended the live session maybe I should have attended!  Anyway! It does should like next fall, or perhaps next spring once I am formally in 806, there might be a ton of people attending, so the check-ins might only be for people who are done with 805.  I like the check-ins as it provides me with a sense of what others are going through (the whole "suffering together" bit), but I also don't want an 806 session that goes on for 2 hours (or more).  I would almost prefer to have more sessions but have them seriously capped at 90 minutes rather than have marathon sessions.  Something for pedagogical planning I guess :-)  I plan on attending 806 sessions (at least some of them) while I am in 805, so we'll see how that goes.

In any case, this session had presentations by Lynn Farquhar (cohort 5) and Shamini Ramanujan (also cohort 5), along with a small research interlude.  I think I'll start with the interlude and then give you a quick "aha!" from the presentations.

So Lisa & Peggy Lynn shared some interesting time-related things for us to keep in mind.  They said that brevity matters, which reminds me a lot of Pat Fahy and his favorite topic: parsimony! :-)  Lisa & Peggy Lynn told us that it takes:
  • 540 minutes to read a dissertation
  • 20 minutes to defend our dissertation
  • 3 minutes to present our dissertation in the 3 minute thesis
  • 15 seconds (1/4 minute) to articulate your elevator speech about your research
The last three items I sort of knew, but the 9 hours (540 minutes) to read a! I assume that this is a "deep read" because I don't have any intent to write a 9 hour long dissertation.  Of course, I say this now before I've started the process, let's see how things shape up in the next 18 months...  Anyway, the key take-away here is that you have a message, and an audience, and context in which that message is heard.  You need to learn how to present that message appropriately for the audience and the context.

Another activity that Lisa & Peggy Lynn had for us was to consider the following questions with regard to research and our dissertation.  Since I am not at the proposal stage yet, I am going to write about a topic that I am considering on proposing.  Here are the questions:
  1. Who are you?
  2. What do you do?
  3. Who do you do it for?
  4. What do those people want or need?
  5. How they will be changed by what you do?
And here are my answers:
  1. I go by many names. Apostolos, AK, Aποστόλης, φοβερός, AdmiralAK...and a few others.  Depends on the context.  For our purposes let's call me AK
  2. I research how learners form their identity and process their learning through blogs
  3. I do this research for the learners; so that instructors can help learners be public, connected, networked scholars that are ready for lifelong learning
  4. These students need to know that they aren't the only weirdo out there learning openly in public spaces, and that learning in the open is a safe environment. They also need to learn how to develop thick skin against internet trolls.
  5. This research will show learners that they should take the leap and be public learners, and it will show instructors some traits of learners that they might want to foster as they get an opportunity to learn how public/open learning processes work.

In terms of the presentations for this recording, I'll try to be brief :-)

Lynn Farquhar's presentation was about her dissertation research. The dissertation is looking at wisdom development within online learning communities. She is using the WisCom Instructional Design Model (new to me, need to look into this, pictured partly above). This reminds me a little bit of my knowledge management course, back when I was an MBA student, but it also reminds me of EDDE 802 and 806!  Lynn mentioned looking at a shared learning space between successive cohorts of learners. So, when a new group of learners comes the work of previous groups is still there and it can be built upon by the new learners.  The previous learners can also come back and continue to contribute to the learning.  This is how 802 is setup in a sense.  While Moodle exists, and that can change from term to term, the Landing page for 802 where a lot of the course action happens is additive in nature.  This seems like an interesting project :-)

Shamini Ramanujan's project, the second presentation, is titled "Promoting self-regulation in online religious education: An ethnographic case study of Himalayan Academy" and it's looking at the educational wing of a monastery.  The educational wing's sole focus is on educating, and everything is distance education. These monks design, develop, and deliver online training, and they also create OER.  I had never thought of educator monks before, but it makes sense!  This project is looking at self-regulation in the learners and the findings are significant for anyone who learns (or teaches!) online.  Shamini said that there were two schools of thought on self-reg, one being that learners need to already have developed self-reg before they join online courses; so self-reg as a pre-req.  The other school of thought is that teachers need to support self-reg, and help students further develop and hone those skills; so instructors can't wash their hands of a responsibility to foster development of self-reg skills.

Interesting session overall. Looking forward to next fall!


On prepping for a dissertation

I must be the only weirdo who inquires about "taking" a seminar before the 'logical' or programmed sequence of the seminar.  That said, for my doctoral program the final seminar (EDDE 806) is actually open to all EdD students (and alumni) so I have been on-and-off in this seminar since I started two years ago.  When I was in 801 it was easier to attend, so I probably attended 3-4 sessions.  The next two semesters, with 802 and 803 were more challenging, so I dropped from weekly sessions.  Now, with 804 on tap (formally) for this semester, it seems easier (and more conducive) to participate in 806 again.  My goal (even though it hasn't formally been approved yet) is to get as many of these reflections done and "out of the way" as possible so that I can focus on more organic community efforts later on.  So, without further ado, the reflection for last  evening's session.

 The main presentation last evening was by Dr. Marguerite Koole of the University of Seskatchewan (who also teaches at AU). The main theme of this presentation was really about getting us to think about (and strategize on) how to survive the dissertation process.  To some extent content-based coursework is easy in that there is an external stimulus. There are specific deadlines, parameters, and content expectations; whereas in dissertation mode we set our own pace, we figure out the content (perhaps with the help of our advisors is we get lost and off the path), and we go from a more structured to a more self-directed environment. This change of gear can be daunting to students.

I think the presentation went well and there was a fair amount of chat in the text-based chat. One the one hand I am not a fan of slides + voice-over, however on the other hand I am not a huge fan of the "talking head" in adobe connect (or other webinar platforms). I guess I don't fully like how synchronous meetings are done in this format as it seems less personal.  However for presentations where you just see slides I am starting to rethinking my (slight) aversion to talking heads.  Marti, in 804, is modeling the use of the web-camera in our live sessions and she is encouraging us to also use our webcam and jump-in. I think I might take her up on it and start thinking about this as a means of presenting when my own time comes for the proposal and dissertation defenses.

In terms of content there were a few things that stood out to me. These aren't necessarily "OMG" moments, but they serve as data points from other people that reinforce a hunch or hypothesis I've had for a while.  The two things are:

  1. Being ruthlessly pragmatic
  2. The value of practice
I've written this elsewhere in my blog when thinking about the dissertation, however I think it's worth writing it again for people in 806 reading this. I don't see the dissertation as some sort of magnum opus.  I am still "young" and hopefully I will earn my EdD before I hit 40. If my magnum opus is done before I am 40 then what do I do with the rest of my career?  Hence, the pragmatic view:  The dissertation is a way for me to show that I know how to conduct and present research that I've done on my own. Research that is sound and done in an ethical way.  Thus, I am being ruthlessly pragmatic.  There is no need to pick a topic that will need many years to collect data (or analyze the data). I need something that demonstrates my capability without keeping me in school for longer than I have to. I can always work with other classmates and cohort-mates down the road on collaborative research projects once the EdD is done.

The other thing that really stood out to me is practice-practice-practive.  I remember, during the first couple of semesters in my first Masters (and MBA) where I was a nervous wreck during my presentations (they were face to face).  My hands were shaking, my voice was crackling, I was fidgeting, and forgetting key points of my presentation (I also ran over time!).  Then, I decided to practice.  I found an empty room with a data projector and I starter practicing days before my presentation was due. I worked on my timings, my body language, and more specifically eye contact (I imagined the audience in the empty room).  After I started doing this I became phenomenally better at presenting.  I think the same principle holds true for both class presentations and for the dissertation defense. 

So, that was with regard to the presentation.  At the end we started talking (briefly) about improving the 806 experience.  Susan (the 806 facilitator) did asks us to brainstorm about how we could go about creating a community without mandating that we respond to x-many posts by fellow peers.  I agree that mandating a certain number of posts (at this level) is a bit counter productive as people would just do it in order to check off a checkbox in their 806 list, and community will not have been created or fostered by this.

Again, I should point out that I am the oddball attempting 806 a full year before I am scheduled to take the course, so maybe I am not prototypical.  However, I do think it's worth having 806 as a  under-current of other courses (maybe require attendance in 1 session each year?).  I don't know how 805 works, but perhaps having an 805 and 806 hybrid, or have 806 as a co-requirement for 805?  I know that my own cohort is really active in facebook (a private group) and we often wonder about other cohorts, so I am wondering if there is a way (not on the landing) to be able to engage with people from other cohorts as well in order to foster community. More thoughts on this to come in the future :)

On simulations

One of the presentations this week in EDDE 803 was from a fellow classmate that talked a bit about simulations.  In the ensuing discussion I was reminded of a course I took as part of my MBA which used simulations.  I thought that this would be a worthwhile post for here (as well as class) - at the very least it's one chronicle of my learning journey prior to the EdD.

Queue flashback visuals and music
When I was doing my MBA, one of my courses was a supply chain management course (fun with math and probability). One of the course activities was for us to break up into groups of 4 (so we had 4-5 groups in the course) and we were manager of a widget making factory. We needed to pick production size, route to retail, and predict demand (given certain finite factors) in different stores. The goals was (of course) to maximize profit. The game sort of looked like SimCity - sort of-, so for some of us it was also a bit of nostalgia (having grown up with that game). The game is pictured to the right and can be found here.

I think at the heart of things this was a really interesting, and potentially potent, activity, and it had potential to be awesome except for the stipulation that the most profitable team would get an A, the second most profitable a B+, the third most profitable a B, and so on. This was actually quite demotivational and it lead to errors made due to panic and fear that we would be last in the class. This means that some calculations may have been sloppy - leading to choosing the least optimal path, and it lead to some team-members hijacking the game settings instead of reaching consensus - the "I know better approach".

In retrospect, thinking about game-based principles - specifically the ability to allow players to fail and restart without penalty, and keeping in mind that not everyone likes competition, I think this activity would have been better if designed differently. Having such high stakes doesn't allow for creative solutions to be conceived. Raising the stress level might simulate 'reality' but I also think it makes for a poor learning environment when you are a novice.

In the end, the instructor didn't give grades lower than a B on the assignment (if I recall correctly), but I still think it was a missed opportunity for something more extraordinary.

Conflicting perceptions on Education

One of my resolutions, just before this new semester starts, is to not neglect periodicals that come in from time to time and at least thumb through them.  Don't let too much work, of any sort, detract from the professional development of looking through work related periodicals (sounds oxymoronic, doesn't it?).  Well, at least this way they won't pile up in the office ;-).

Anyway, in keepting with this goal (let's see how long I last), I went through the July/August issue of Training Magazine.  This is something I signed up for last year when I wanted to keep more abreast of what was happening in the corporate instructional designing sector.  One of the things that caught my eye was this tidbit at the beginning titled Conflicting Perceptions on Education, which reported on a University of Phoenix and EdAssist report titled Are we playing the same game?: Employee vs. Manager Perception of Education and Career Development.

From the report itself:
Nearly half of employees said their college or university should be responsible for helping them develop specific job skills. However, only a third of managers agreed— a result that is surprising in light of the widely reported skills shortages. Instead, 93% of managers believed that colleges should teach soft skills such as how to think, learn, and communicate—and 75% of workers agreed. In addition, 73% of managers believed higher education should teach students how to collaborate with diverse peers (but only 44% of workers agreed).  (p. 8)
This, among other things in the report, stood out to me in light of this summer's Campus Technology conference, and the keynote by SNHU president who spoke about some widely reported tropes that don't seem to hold water - such as CEOs claiming that college graduates don't have the skills for the jobs in their companies.  It seems to me, at least from this report, that college graduates should have higher level thinking and reasoning skills, something that they should get by making their way successfully through college, but company and job specific skills should be left up to the employer to address.  This to me makes sense to me because the University is not an extension, or arm of, any specific corporation - and front line managers seem to agree with this point.

Another thing that stood out was this: it seems like there is confusion as to whose job it is to prepare fellow humans for career development, with people pointing the finger at each other (managers to employees, employees to colleges, and colleges to...?).  Career development seems like something really nebulous, and something that is subject to change.  As much as we, in academia, want to keep in contact with our alumni, we don't aften have the luxury of being able to do so. Developing a career plan and path is something that is a long term relationship, and it is something that is fundamentally up to the individual to plan and execute based on their own unique interests, goals, capabilities, and backgrounds. The individual has the biggest stake in this and they should take the lead role.

That said, as the report recomments to companies: be a career development partner. The employee may be at the driver's seat, but the company can be the companion and co-pilot.  When a company spends time and effort on employees that are an asset to the company it stands to reason that they don't want to see them leave the company.  It thus makes sense to develop talent from within, to encourage employee renewal, and to help develop career development plans for employees in the long run - that is if you still want them in your firm.

This has been the most management focused post I have written I think in this blog.  Your thoughts on career development and the role of academia?

What the heck is an instructional designer?

"Instructional Designer" - by AK & Net Art Generator
- for #CLMOOC
Continuing on my quest to read through what I've accumulated in my Pocket account, I came across a blog with the title Learning Experience Design: A Better Title Than Instructional Design? The title was catchy enough for me to save it to pocket for later reading (which seemed to be forever ago).  In any case, Christy seems to be making the point that people, who are not in the field of instructional design, are perplexed when someone tells them that they are Instructional Designers, or that they earned their degree in Instructional Design.  What the heck does that mean?  What is an instructional designer qualified to do? This is a good conversation to have over a drink or a cup of coffee, but since my instructional designer friends are nowhere to be found, it's blogging time!

That's a good question, and I am sure that if you ask 10 different instructional designers what they do, there will be some common aspects, and some points of divergence.  I do not think that using a different term to describe us, a term such as Learning Experience Designer, or Learning Architect, or even Learning Designer will do the trick of better explaining what we do. I know that there is a debate inside our profession about teaching (or instructing) versus learning.  One being more teacher-focused and one being more learner-focused. Of course our preference would be for being more learner focused, however I think that this distinction is really lost to people outside of our teaching & learning professions. Thus, these terms that focus on learning as they key term really don't do any better at explaining to non-insiders what we do.

Specifically, the term learning engineer, or learning architect seem somewhat awkward. Engineers build systems, architects design buildings, but that doesn't really tell us how people use these systems and these buildings.  Perhaps this is apropos because most instructional designers aren't also aren't directly involved in the teaching of the learning interventions that they design. However, there is something to be said about the usage, navigation, and paths, that learners take toward that ultimate goal of knowledge.  Using terms such as engineer and architect also feels a little cold to me, and it seems quite artificial.  The mental image that comes to mind is sanitation engineer.  People don't know sanitation engineers but they do know garbagemen.

The term learning experience designer also seems a little odd to me. Perhaps in a company like Disney or an institution like the Smithsonian this title might fly because instructional designers learning experience designers have control of the much broader learning experience that goes beyond a computer screen or a piece of paper. They can really design an experience and pull it through.  I should note that this also take coordination among many individuals with various ranges of talents.  This brings me to one of the big issues of our profession: Instructional Designer does not mean anything in specific because it means many things to many people.  For instance, by looking at 10 randomly selected job posting for instructional designer, I picked out the following general duties for across all jobs (with the same, or similar, title mind you!)

  • Project management
  • Design courses
  • Design curriculum
  • Delivery of training sessions (virtual and in-person)
  • Develop standardized course materials [this doesn't bode too well for the design part!]
  • Support development of documentation for ID strategies
  • Repurpose & expansion of previous eLearning products
  • Creation of Multimedia
  • Provide consultation for faculty
  • Remain current with trends in ID and Online pedagogy, make recommendations based on this
  • Coach others
  • Create and revise existing digital assets [videos, audio, flash, HTML5]
  • Develop web pages (e.g., pages, graphics, animation, functionality) and associated infrastructure
  • Develop participant guides, leader guides, manuals, etc.
  • Develop games and simulations
  • Conduct research

Here are some of the skills requirements for the job:
  • Knowledge of SQL, XML, HTML
  • Knowledge of MS Office
  • MA in Education, ID, Adult Education, educational technology, or similar
  • Skills in developing software training
  • Technical Writing experience
  • Knowledge of eLearning programs
  • Knowledge of Web 2.0 tools
  • Adobe Creative Suite
  • Captivate, Camtasia, Storyline, etc.
  • Learning Management Systems Knowledge
  • Agile ID
  • Usability principles knowledge
  • HTML, jQuery, XML, SQL, PHP
  • 3D Modeling tools

I made sure that my random sampling included instructional design jobs for both higher education instructional designers, and for corporate instructional designers.  What's clear to me from reading these job descriptions, and (hastily) putting together these is that there is no common conception of what an instructional designer does.  What people want instructional designers to do is everything.  From server administration, to course design, to course creation, to course facilitation, to digital asset

I think that we all need to be realistic and know that someone who graduates with a degree in instructional design (or related degree) won't be able to do everything and do it well.  Some people do end up specializing in the creative aspects of ID (video, audio, animation, etc.).  Other people end up specializing in the coding aspects (web and app creation), and others end up specializing in the management and coaching aspects.  Do all instructional designers know something about everything?  Probably yes.  There are enough core courses that provide a common core of knowledge to be conversant about a variety of topics. However, to do things well you need much more practice than any one course, or even one job, provides you with.

I see the instructional design degree sort of like an MBA.  When you pursue an MBA (at least at UMass Boston where I got mine), you explored introductory knowledge in a variety of areas (IT, Finance, Accounting, Management, Marketing), and then you could choose to concentrate and focus on some of those areas, as well as other areas such as HR, International Management, Healthcare Management, Entrepreneurship (and the list goes on). At the end everyone graduates with an MBA, but there isn't one singular conception of what an MBA does, or should be able to do.  Thus, for me, it's really a moot point trying to figure out one name that best describes an MBA, that is different from MBA.  I think that the analogy also applies to instructional designers.  It's a moot point focusing on what we call ourselves. I think it's better to demonstrate what we do, and we call ourselves won't matter.

Your thoughts?

Assessment of....?

Image from Flickriver, Brian Hillegas
A few days ago, and totally by stroke of chance, I happened upon a twitter discussion between @HybridPed@otterscotter, @actualham, and a few others.  I am not sure what the original topic was but I came in when they were discussing assessment. Do we assess learning or competency? Some regarded learning as transcending competency and some saw competency as transcending learning. It's hard to to really have a meaningful exchange of ideas in 140 characters, especially when the twitter train grows and grows.

When I jumped into this conversation I took the stance that what we assess is learning, not competency.  Competency, I would argue, is something that develops over a period of time. It is something you hone and improve.  Your skills (i.e. your competency is something) becomes improved the more your practice it. And, by practice, I mean being present while doing it and analyzing your own performance while doing the task, not just going on autopilot.    Learning on the other hand, for me, is learning distinct facts.  That the declaration of independence was signed in 1776. That the Greek War for Independence was in 1821, that many historians think of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand kicked off World War I, that π = 3.14 (and goes on to infinity), and so on.†

From what I gathered, the individuals that saw learning as transcending competency think of competency the way I think of learning - i.e. I can demonstrate that I know how to code an HTML page (got a badge for that, I haz competency), whereas learning is something akin to lifelong learning. It is a skill you acquire to continue learning and it is something that can continue ad infinitum if the learner wants.  Both positions, in my mind, are equally valid because we are defining things differently.

Some types of learning are easy to assess, at least in the short term.  Things that allow the learner to regurgitate discreet pieces of information area easy to implement (short answers, multiple choice test, and so on).  Things that require the learner to demonstrate systems knowledge can be done at the individual class level if you can find microcosms of the system skills that you want to assess and extrapolate from that some broader competency, and it's a bit easier to do near the end of one's studies through a thesis or some sort of comprehensive exam because the learner will have had a broader set of learnings to draw from in order to explain what is going on in that system.

This issue of learning and assessment is big.  It's big in many fields.  It's big money for  companies like Pearson.  It's a big question for accrediting agencies.  It's big in the field of MOOCs.  I've most recently seen it in MOOCs where some claim that watching videos is learning, and some claim it is not.  Videos are just a tool. They can be used for learning, but they can also go merrily on in the background and they can become background noise.  I've had the privilege of being able to see live videos...aka lectures...when I was an undergrad (and a grad student sometimes too!). They were just as interactive as the videos I watch on OCW or various xMOOCs.

Even in courses that were interactive and active learning took place do I still remember everything 10 years down the road?  As part of my BA, focusing on computer science and minoring in Italian (and almost minoring in German, just needed 1 more class), I took courses in Italian literature, in German culture, in world history since 1500, the history of the Weimar Republic and WW II Germany. I learned ANSI C and Java. I learned SQL, and about automata.  Do I remember everything?  Hell no.  Does this mean that my undergraduate education is null and void? I don't think so.  It was just a little building block to get me to where I am now, despite the fact that I don't remember discreet pieces of information.  Even with my most recent MA in Applied Linguistics there are things that I just don't remember any more.  There are some things that are really vivid because I know them, and some that are vivid because they still trouble me today (Processability Theory being one of them).

I agree with Maha, who joined the twitter train on that topic, who says that some types of learning cannot as easily assessed as others. Maybe they'll take my instructional designer practitioner's membership card away for agreeing (LOL), but I don't think everything can be assessed by an ABCD method (Audience, Behavior, Condition, Degree‡). This might be doable in some skills, such as firearm training, but in many topics in education there is just too much fuzziness for ABCD to work without reducing assessment to a caricature.

Maha continued with another comment, which is also quite true, that assessment is no guaranty of lifelong learning.  I am sure I did well in all those classes I mentioned (I got the degrees to prove that I didn't fail anything), but the lifelong journey I am on has little to do with those classes specifically and more with my own curiosity.  I'd expand on Maha's comment and say that assessment is no guaranty of practice in that field either.  I completed my computer science degree, but I opted to not get a job in that field. Something else came up that seemed more interesting, and I haven't coded anything in Java or C since.  The closest I come to coding is HTML and Javascript on my own website.

So, the question is this:  beyond credentialing and certification, does assessment matter?  And if if it does matter, in what ways does it matter?  Take #rhizo15 for instance. This was a course♠, but how does one assess what I "learned" in it?  Does it matter to anyone but me?

† hey, I am channeling Latour with all of these examples!
‡ an example of ABCD is "Learners in INSDSG 601 with a blank chart of the Dick & Carey model will be able to demonstrate knowledge of the names of the phases of the Dick & Carey Model with 80% accuracy"
♠ Rhizo15 was a course, wasn't it? I guess that's a whole other discussion about what makes a course...

Social Presence and Relateability

This week has been rough in the office.  We learned that our colleague - and my former professor - Pepi Leistyna passed away. Details are scant at the moment and everyone in the department is in a state of shock as his death was quite sudden and unexpected.  I was going to write a blog post about about my history with him, how I knew him as a person when I worked in Media Services (good ol' AV department) where he used to pick up VHS players on carts to show clips of films in his courses; how he influenced my development as a learner and a scholar; and finally as a valued colleague when I started working in the department of Applied Linguistics.  While I think this is valuable, and certainly part of the process, I think there is another area to home in on, thanks to this week on #HumanMOOC: Social Presence!

Social Presence is defined as:

...the ability of learners to project their personal characteristics into the community of inquiry, thereby presenting themselves as ‘real people.’ 

Here I want to talk a little about the social presence of the instructor.  I, and every other student who has been in Pepi's classes, knows that Pepi had incredible social presence. Pepi never taught online, and he was a lecturer in his style of teaching, but you never felt bored in his classes.  There was no script to follow, no monotone voice, no scribbling on the blackboard.  What you got was an intellectual engagement for the duration of the class - and that class happened to be lecture driven, in there was Pepi at the front of the room, but his style allowed for a lot of back and forth with students in the class, going "off topic" to explore related areas that are brought up, and artfully getting back "on topic" to make sure that we were all on the same page.  I don't like lectures, I've even fallen asleep in undergrad lectures before, but never in Pepi's classes.

Pepi rarely used new technologies in his course. He still brought VHS tapes and DVDs to show us parts of videos that would inform our discussion for the evening. Wikis? Twitter? Flipgrid? HA! no, that didn't happen - but it didn't matter.  Pepi also basically had one major paper due at the end of the semester, and that was pretty much what your grade was based on (at least that was the case when I took 603 and 618 with him), so not a lot of group-work in or out of class. You could submit parts of your paper in chunks, receive feedback, and rework before you submit your final version at the end of the semester, but I don't know how many people took him up on it.

Pepi accomplished his content goals, and had an incredible degree of social presence, even among alumni who graduated years ago! How did this man do this? After reading facebook posts that have come in after the announcement of Pepi's passing, blog posts from students and fellow alumns, and emails sent to our department email the answer seems simple: relateability.

Pepi could relate with others, and others could relate with him.  It wasn't just that he was energetic in his courses, even when he was feeling sick and low on energy, it was that he brought in his own personality to the courses.  He could discuss, and connect materials from class with what was happening in the world.  If students brought up an example, he could augment it by showing that he cared enough to know what they were talking about.  Yes, there is the teaching and the advising that is part of the job, but he also knew how to weave in non-class things such as his passion for music, travel, and photography.

With Pepi it wasn't all about business, it was also about relating to you as human being.  With some of the emphasis that we put on tools and technologies for our online courses we sometimes get infatuated with the sound of our own voice that we don't often enough think about relating to our learners (it should be noted that this can happen even without technology mediation in campus courses ;-) ). We might not be able to relate to every aspect of our learner's backgrounds - for instance I have a hard time relating with those who are (or want to be) corporate instructional designers. I have never been a corporate instructional designer, and don't want to be one.  However I know enough about the corporate world from my other education that I can start to relate with my learners at some level.

Being able to relate, I think, is something that cannot be taught. You can certainly learn to fake it until you make it, but it is a skill that you, as an educator, need to practice and improve. I don't know if Pepi learned it, or he was naturally a guy who could relate to others, but he certainly had mastered this skill.

I'll close two things. First, with my favorite Pepi quote: "If you are not angry, you're not paying attention".  It's not that Pepi was an angry man - for from it - he was one of the most relaxed people I've ever met. The point was that there is a lot of injustice in the world and if you are not moved by it to even acknowledge it, then you've taken the red pill.

And, finally, one of the few video lectures of him on YouTube (this is from around the time I was about to graduate from the applied linguistics program).

Pepi, you will be missed...