Social constructivist instructional design?

There are many good and useful models of instructional design, for example, ADDIE, ASSURE, CRESST, ARCS, 4CID, Component Display, Gagne’s Instructional Design Model, and so forth. These seem to me to identify some of the critical processes that instructors typically go through when teaching online.

What strikes me about these instructional design models, as the wikipedia entry on instructional design indicates, however, is that most of them are based upon cognitivist perspectives of learning. Indeed many of the originators of such models are well known for their work in cognitivism, and some specifically through their ideas about the information-processing model of cognitive learning theory.

Despite the suggestion that there is interest in constructivism amongst instructional designers, It still seems to me that most of the instructional design models still have at their core a cognitivist perspective. I’m not sure what this means really other than the processes that they walk us through likely are designed to help us create conditions for learning based upon the underlying tenets of cognitivism. So for example rather than leading us through the steps to enable a change in behavior or a change in constructed and multiple realities, they may well be leading us to design teaching and learning activities for changes in cognitive structures (such as schemata). If we have different goals, then we have different methods, and likely we have different outcomes.  These things are necessarily interrelated.

What this leaves me wondering is whether those professors who have assumed or who want to assume a more social constructivist stance to teaching and learning can gain the most benefit from these models. Or do we need a way of thinking about designing for learning, one that engenders and more constructivist approach? Does such a model exist? Or do we need a new way of thinking about course creation?

In a post I wrote what now seems like ages ago, Jason Green suggested that it would be useful to have a design model that walks us through the important questions we need to consider, rather than the processes that we should follow. This idea has resonated with me, and I wonder whether such an approach would be a good starting place.

I also wonder whether choosing instructional activities that allow students some control of their learning enough to really be constructivist? Or do we also need to allow students some control of the course itself?  If it’s the latter, how do we do that, particularly when we teach online and must have many matters settled and many decisions made before the course even starts?


What’s in a name?

I’ve been thinking lately about some of the terms that we use to describe various forms of teaching with the Internet. It seems to me that we use these terms somewhat interchangeably, at least in the literature about teaching online.

The Sloan Foundation published definitions of types of online courses that I have seen most often in the literature:

  • Online courses (80% or more of content delivered online)
  • Blended or hybrid (30-79% of content delivered online)
  • Web-enhanced (1-29% of content delivered online)

This breakout was initiallly helpful for me because it helped me to understand that there are different degrees of online-ness in courses.  I soon started to wonder, however, about the real difference in a course with 79% of content online versus a course with 80%.  Are those really courses really in separate categories?  Also is a course that has 20% of content delivered onsite, is that really a fully online course?  Is content delivery the key goal anyway?

I like Ko and Rossen’s distinctions based on coures activities rather than content delivery. It helps me to clarify at least in my mind Web enhanced courses really may only have support materials offered online, whereas blended requires both onsite and online activities.

What works for me then is to think of fully online courses as those that truly occur all online, without onsite meetings; blended courses as those that use both online and onsite components; and web-enhanced courses as, well, pretty much onsite courses that have attending and supporting materials available online, with maybe the occasional online activity.

So here’s the one that is currently stumpping me: the flipped classroom. From what I’ve been learning about it, the idea is to have the content delivery done online, likely in the form of a video lecture, as homework, and to bring the activities or the homework into the classroom.  I’ve read articles that suggest that the flipped classroom is a form of blended learning which would imply that some activities/interactions with others happen online, and I’m not sure that’s the case. Is the flipped classroom really a form of Web-enhanced learning?
Photo credit: Gatheringzero

It may sound like hair splitting, but it seems to me that the terms we use are important. They can potentially help us to communicate and to understand each other, or alternately if we are using the same terms to talk about different things or different terms to talk about the same thing, well it seems to me like the language could potentially contribute to misunderstandings. Isn’t it important for us to share a common language so that we can really discuss the issues?

In and out of the box

I like to think of myself as an outside of the box kind of thinker, whether I really am one or not. Rightly or wrongly, I do think of an LMS as a box. Indeed, the first LMS I ever heard of was “Course in a Box.” So I initially thought I would like teaching online courses or modules better without an LMS.

The first time I taught online (way back in 2004), I actually taught two courses: one in the box (with WebCT) and one out of the box, just out there on the Web, so I had a direct comparison of two different approaches. (I thought I’d blogged about this experiences previously, but now I can’t find the post! If I’m being redundant, many apologies everyone!). While they both had some good features and they both had some challenges, when push comes to shove, the one I liked the most was in fact the one outside of the box. I liked my DIY approach (incidentally I developed the course with the full support of our Faculty Resource Center and around 6 staff members who took care of different things like art, music, video, programming, etc.– very DIY on my part) 😉

Because I don’t want to be put or kept in a box, Lisa Lane’s article Insideous Pedagogies really resonates with me. I think absolutely the tool drives many decisions. I absolutely think that the default settings drive some pedagogical decisions. I may not be getting this right, but it seems a form of functional fixedness that limits not only what we really can do but also what we think we can do.

So on a soapbox I’ve been, raging against the machine, in this case the LMS. And then one day, a student asked me if I could post the syllabus for an onsite course in our then LMS, eLearning. I said no thanks, that I didn’t use an LMS, but that I’d happily email it to everyone. In a different course, a student asked me if I could post my ppt (which I don’t use often, but when I do, there’s a good reason for it!) in our LMS. I said no thanks, because I wasn’t using an LMS, but that I’d happily email it to everyone. In a different term, some students asked me whether instead of emailing my readings, which I did in large part because I was using open source readings and wanted them to simply be able to click the links rather than retyping them, I could post them to our LMS (BB by this point). Another student request was whether instead of linking student blogs to my blog, I could post all of the URLs in BB. Over and over and over time have come the requests for me to use my LMS. I started to wonder: what gives???

Did I jump in the box and start using an LMS? You betcha! But not before talking to the students to figure out what on earth was the deal. In addition to trying to stay out of the box, I also was trying to use technologies that they use in their real lives. Email, blogs, and so forth. Trying not to impose one for which they would have little other use. I could not figure out why on earth they seemed so into the LMS.

What I didn’t realize was that they use the LMS, and they use it _often_. In many classes, over many semesters, over years. They simply know it. They are familiar with it. They like it. They go back to it after the semester ends (I tend to leave things open). They want some commonality across their educational experiences, their educational tech. In short, an LMS is in fact tech that students use in their real lives, their real educational lives. It finally dawned on me that using one could be helpful to them.

I have found what is the most useful for the students I teach is to put resources on the LMS. Having a syllabus there, having readings there, having links there, it all provides a central repository of information. So an LMS can serve an important function. (Discussions, reflections, games, etc. so far seem to work better outside of the LMS; perhaps I will learn otherwise at some point).

So for now, as I’ve apparently always been, I’m both in and out of the box. I’m ok with that.

Schrödinger's cat in a box
Photo by Michael Rosa

Time and teaching online

I’m working on a book chapter about time and teaching online. In this chapter, I consider the way in which time changes when teaching online. Some of the themes I see are these:

Amount of time: The amount of time you spend teaching online is likely increased. Even if it is the same amount of time as you would spend onsite, it at least feels like it is an increase in teaching time.

Fragmentation of time: When you teach online, rather than having a block of time dedicated to teaching (3.g. 1.5 hrs two times per week), the time is much more fragmented (e.g. 5 minutes to answer an email, 30 minutes to develop a 5 minute video, later 10 minutes to post an assignment, later 30 minutes to respond to discussion boards, with spaces in between the activities), so teaching is stretched over a longer period of time

Siphoning of time: The strectched time occurs over a longer period, so we may be less efficient. That means that time that could have been spent for other activities (researh or service) is lessened.

I think these are themes I see in the research anyway. Do research and practice align in this case? Do online teachers experience these changes?

I’ve been thinking about how to manage such changes effectively. The materials provided by POTCERT this week are very useful. I also found these videos from the Sloan Consortium:

Part 1:

Part 2:

While I thought these were useful, I thought it was interesting that they also felt quite long to me! I wanted text so I could move more quickly through the information…and thus make better use of my time!

I chair dissertations.

Lots and lots of them.  The last time I checked, I had 8 students signed up for dissertation research with me in a single term.  That’s actually down a bit…

I’ve known for some time that I need to somehow streamline the information that I share with students. I always worry that I provide some information to some students but forgot to give others with the same information. There is just so much to remember to tell them!

For that reason, I was determined to make my assignments for PedagogyFirst, weeks 15 and 16, count.  It was my chance to do something that actually could benefit dissertation students! If I was going to take the time to develop a screencastomatic and an FAQ, which I probably wouldn’t normally do for the blended types of courses I’ve been teaching lately, I wanted them to be useful.  Not to mention the fact that it would be nice not to have to say the same thing 8 different times in one semester!

The challenge was that making it useful meant that I had figure out how to post this information. It didn’t fit in which the blog structure I had developed. Did I need a separate blog?  Did I need to add pages to the one I had?  How do I even add pages to pages?  I found even thinking about it daunting.

I don’t know if I made the right call, and I may well change my mind down the road, but I decided ultimately to add pages to my existing blog, in large part because I’m not sure I really blog enough to make another one work!

So here is my main page with three reconsidered/reconfigured pages.  The one called Major dissertation information contains new content that I developed for this assignment. In the section titled parts of a dissertation proposal, I embedded a screencastomatic in which I demonstrate how to use ERIC to find empirical research articles.  I also developed an FAQ to include.

I would be truly pleased to have suggestions for other information dissertation students might need as well as suggestions for other questions they might have!




My first time teaching online

was ages ago. Nearly a decade. Wow. But I recall my decision-making process fairly well….well, at least I think I.

I’ve created a brief overview of the experience, which I’ve presented by way of slideshare, as follows:

Reflections on the experience of creating the slideshare:

I found it fairly easy to upload my powerpoint, but I wanted to use music instead of me talking as the audio. That I found to be fairly difficult to do! In fact, I had to have help to figure out how to upload an mp3 (thanks Ted!).

Also, if I ever try this again, I will need to do much, much better with the timing. I either need many more slides or a much shorter music track!

A room of my own…

…would be pretty cool.  As it is, my work seems to be spreading out in our home, creeping across and into spaces formally designated for cooking, dining, living, and so forth. A pile of papers here, a stack of books there, an unattended computer displaying a page I was viewing at some point or another.

Photo credit: Ted Major (but I did upload it to my new flickr account!)

Ah, who am I kidding?  Even if I had a room of my own, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t stay put. Isn’t that what better tech is all about? Access to information, the ability to connect and create, anytime and anywhere?

Glad to be getting back into the swing of things this semester!

Summary and reflection

Hello potcert people,

I offer you my mid point summary and reflection:

Week 1 Interesting times: I learned how to set up a blog!  It was a good experience to do it, and I’m planning on adding another one next term, on dissertation writing!

Week 2 Ko and Rossen’s overview: I wrote two posts this week, one just reporting my “where am I results” and this one. I picked this one to include in my reflection because it’s where I realized that people were actually paying attention to what I was blogging…which was an interesting realization that I think changed the way I wrote future blogs…writing as self reflection is different from writing to encourage discussion!

Week 3 Course design: What are we missing? I enjoyed writing this post because it really made me think about the process of course design, but even more than that, I enjoyed discussing the ideas about course design and the questions we should be asking with colleagues. I thought the people who wrote comments had some great points, and one of the things that I really liked was thinking about course design as a set of questions.

Week 3 Thinking about a course on college and university teaching. Wow I had forgotten all about this post!  In it, I was noodling around with the idea of “what is a course” or what a should a course be.  I wonder if what a course is onsite is something fundamentally different than what a course is online (one of our questions asked about this, I think in the mind point survey).  I think I think that it is! And I think I need to think about that idea a bit more.

Week 4 On multimodality and course design. This week, I became more aware of Todd Conaway’s ideas, and they have informed my thinking. I like his ideas of space, and aesthetics, and art and how those related to teaching online.

Week 5 Just enough and not too much. This week, I learned that not all courses taught through an lms have to look exactly the same.  Jim and Lisa’s video about the interactive syllabus was pretty eye opening about the possibilities (and limitations) of an lms.

Week 6 Open and distributed learning.  This week I learned that having different paths to the same goals is actually an intentional _feature_ of some online classes!  You know, I talk the talk about that in my own writing, particularly about collaborative learning and problem-based learning. But I’ve realized that in those methods, there still can be a good deal of control, even if you are trying to let go of it. Online, there really may be multiple paths and we may not get everything. If I don’t Facebook, for example, I’m missing out on part of the conversation of this course.  Am I ok with that as a student? Am I ok with that as a teacher? It’s an idea that’s definitely taking me some time to adjust to (even though I’ve championed it myself). So I guess the take away for me is that talking the talk and walking the walk really are different things.

Week 7 Neither here nor there. This week, I worked out that we really don’t have an understanding of what community online is or how to get it; I mean we have some good ideas about it, but it’s a bit elusive, isn’t it? Pilar’s video made me think about the relationship between physical community and online community. One of the best things for me this week was that Laura P pointed me to a book on online community that I had overlooked during a full-scale search for stuff on online community.

Week 8 Be there or be square. This week, I learned that it’s possible and perhaps likely that an instructor could inadvertently squash community, but that at the same time, the instructor may not be able to induce it. Lisa had some great insights into this point that really made me think.

Week 9 On vampires and bunnies. In week 9, I learned more about teaching persona, and I met Cris and found out about her cool work in SecondLife.

Week 10 come again? This week, I learned that I’m not so savvy on the techno terms as I’d like to be.  I’m still pondering the multiple meanings of “open.”

Week 11 Free the fractals–but tell us where to find them. Nearly there now!  I learned that I”m more in favor of open resources than I realized. This realization will likely have a big impact on my future work (as a writer). But I also realize that there’s a challenge that attends openness.  That is, there is so much information, that it’s easy for things to be lost in the deluge. How do we siphon through the noise to find what’s good and useful?

A note on quality: Our instructions ask to talk about the quality of our posts. I confess that I’m not entirely sure how to do that. I don’t know how to judge the quality of a post.  Is it whether it’s useful to me? If so, I’d say that my postings were strong…I learned a good bit from doing them.  Is it their utility to others? If so, then I don’t know the answer to that. I think I had some good exchanges with some interesting people, but who’s to say whether they found them useful? I hope so, anyway. Or does the quality of the post have something to do with the form and style? If so, I hope that I have improved since that first post, and I hope that I’ll continue to do so.

TL/DR: I have learned way more from other folks than from anything I have done on my own.  Thanks potcert people!

free the fractals–but tell us where we can find them

I love fractals. The symmetry of them appeals to me.  So when I set up my potcert blog, I wanted to use fractals for the banner image. I found some really great ones online. Perfect! Gorgeous! So satisfyingly symmetical. I was set.

The only problem was that I couldn’t actually use them. They were copyright protected and not freely available for use. I couldn’t just cite the source and move on.  Drat!

I next turned to Flickr. I know that there are some really cool things out there that are free and available for use, some requiring attribution and some not.  I tried to search for fractals under a Creative Commons license there, but I didn’t turn anything up. Surely there must be something?

I next turned to a Google search, where I simply put in the terms “Creative Commons” and “fractals” and “public domain” and searched. A little more digging there, and I did in fact turn up some nice images that I could use (from Flickr; why didn’t they turn up in my search?).

It strikes me that much of what I come across related to IP is about what we can’t do. I like to read about things like Creative Commons and OER (as Ko and Rossen discussed in their chapter) about what we can do.  It makes me happy to think that people want to share their art and other works, to let others use it.

I think an issue that warrants consideration, however, is related to access, and I mean a different kind of access that what we (potcert people) normally mean when we say access. It strikes me that those things that are free and available for use are not always the easiest things to find. So they are available but perhaps not so accessible.

To provide an example of what I mean, I recently had been working on a book chapter on online community.  I had scoured databases, catalogs, bibliographies, Web sites, etc. for works on community in online courses. I thought I had done due diligence.  Then Laura P left me a nice comment on one of my blog entires about an open access book on online community.  It had not turned up in my searches.

I wonder how we will strike the balance between open access and easy accessibility. How do we let information be free without it overwhelming us? Without us creating or having so much of it that we cannot manage it?


You’re invited!

Hello fellow potcerters,

I have a guest speaker coming to talk about intellectual property to my “technology in higher education” course tomorrow (it’s a course we offer through the doctoral program in higher education administration). Chad Tindol will be our speaker; he’s the Director of Risk Management for the University of Alabama System (in short, he’s a lawer-type who does stuff on IP in higher ed; he’s also a nice guy and a fun speaker).

I would like to invite you to participate in this synchronous session by joining us through Blackboard Collaborate. Here are the details:

Date: Tuesday, November 13th

Time: 2:00pm Central (check the World Time Clock for time in your area)

Access: Join the session by clicking on the following link:

Hope you can attend the session!