Tuesday, June 21, 2005

I got a question today from a friend asking what the most "innovative teaching methods in higher education" were these days. I had to stop and think, and felt a bit frustrated that I had no quick response. Furthermore, as I asked fellow INSYSers, I got the impression that no-one had a good handle on an answer that didn't sound like we were treading water, and grabbing at straws.

While the answer to that particular question is perhaps not exactly right up our alley, it should certainly be closer/more accessible to us than to our friends in Economics, Engineering or Dance. And certainly a quick response to such a question would be good preparation for oral comps and/or job interviews.

I am not looking for the definitive answers or Truth, but for some thoughtful, but direct, concise and plausible responses to such questions (without the academic-beating-around-the-bush-jargonny type responses we might kick around in class.

Thus I pose my friend's question (and a couple more) to my INSYS colleagues and invite you to reply...for my benefit, and hopefully yours. Thank you.

  1. What are the most "innovative teaching methods in higher education" these days?
  2. What are some innovative (effective) technology uses in higher education these days?
  3. What are some recent (you decide) significant developments/contributions of our field to teaching and learning?

-Joel Galbraith


Josh Kirby said...

By far, I believe the most innovative methods are those methods that make the snotty 18-year-old first-year college students go, "Puh-shaw, like, Dr. Jones, he, like, doesn't teach us anything. He just walks around the class and asks our small groups questions all of the time. Then when we respond his questions, he, like, just suggests to us other things that we should read and do, and then he asks us more questions. He doesn't know anything, and he makes us do his job all the time. He should be paying us to put up with him. Can you say, 'LOOO-SER'!"

Those in the instructional design community might not think this method is all that innovative. Those who've ultimately truncated their view of what comprises an instructional system might start asking, "Where's the computers? The PDAs? The batteries?" I argue that the most innovative teaching methods are those that can facilitate learning without a gadget as the centerpiece. Computer-and-gadget based instructional environments are using a cheap motivational ploy to draw in the traditional learners in higher education--basically, present learning materials via entertainment media, and hope that that's good enough for the MTV generation to get by. Extrinsically motivating, at best, for the average learner--even one from the MTV generation.

Thus, Mr. Galbraith's second question regarding effective technology uses needs to be reframed, as he posed it with the intention for dialogue about computers and gadgets at the center of the learning environment. The most innovative of their contemporary uses is when they assume a tertiary role in the learning environment, providing rich information in a rapid fashion in order for the learner to acquire and assume the discovered information into their knowledge structure on demand.

Lastly, the most significant development to teaching and learning has been blossoming over the past three decades, and that is the growing understanding and acceptance of instructional systems, especially the role that learning outside of classrooms plays with learners of all ages. The tripartite view of learning environment design, being formal, nonformal, and informal learning environments*, will play an increasing role in our consideration of instructional designs. In terms of creating the adept and ready workers of our knowledge economy, in combination with the societal need to bolster morality and traditional family values, our over-legislated and under-enabled public schools just aren't getting it done. We as a public will soon understand the need to guide and support our youths' experiences in the world with learning environments beyond the educational institution--quickly validating the need for better soft technologies (i.e. process technologies) geared for discovery and amazement to take place in nonformal and informal learning environments.

From all this, it is imperative that we push ourselves as competent instructional designers beyond the self-serving needs of computer-and-gadget technologies into the study and development of methods that help instructors of all types to feel confident and competent in facilitating learning with fewer things and more ideas.

Please, post comments. Joel's question deserves the traffic, and my comment can become either the aegis or the whipping post.

* For further reading, see this page.

Tom Iwinski said...

When I read you question regarding innovation in education, I had the exact opposite response to yours. My thoughts are this topic is so broad that it could fill a book.

The most important and most under employed innovation in education is that it can be a designed experience that optimizes opportunities while also minimizing liabilities.

There are three primary categories where you can find innovative instructional experiences:
content presentation strategies,
interaction strategies, and
evaluation strategies.
Each of these three areas has a long list of innovations that can be designed into an educational experience. Also, remember innovation can occur from combining a few “old” things in a new way and that many innovations are not points, but can be seen as a continuum from simple to complex. Here’s a short list to start with:

Communication Technologies and Devises
Reusable Interoperable Instructional Objects
Anywhere Interactive Video Teleconferencing
Distributed Learning
Greater Emphasis of Transfer and Application
High Definition Streaming Video
Peer to Peer Interactions
System Modeling

All the best,
Tom Iwinski

Joel Galbraith said...

Thanks to Josh for venturing out and being first to respond. I might just remind posters about one point in my question please keep responses "thoughtful, direct, CONCISE...without the academic-beating-around-the-bush-jargonny type" ;-)

The reason I emphasize conciseness is that we should be able to pull a concise response out of our pocket for both the lay person (mom) or the non-education faculty we often work with. (I think this applies to our field as a whole as well as describing our dissertation research, or current projects). So thanks again, and keep posting.

Rick said...

Joel -
I haven't met you yet, but I'm from BYU and stumbled on this conversation. It's a good one ... and a difficult one. I'll have to ponder it some more to come up with a suitable answer to the discussion. But I'll start by pushing you on your claim that we should be able to pull concise answers out for anyone who asks.

I don't think that's true or possible. Why? Because education is about people, not things, and as Josh says, we're really talking about systems or communities of people. Anytime you deal with people, you deal with too many variables. Answers don't fit neatly in little boxes. And that's actually okay. That's why research in our field is so important -- so we can find as many answers for as many possible variations as possible.

I mean, asking us what the "best ways to teach someone" are is like asking a sociologist the "best way people form relationships." Or asking a therapist the "best way to resolve disputes" or asking a child development professional the "best way to raise a child." These questions don't work, and they shouldn't be asked. We are not scientists looking for the one great truth, we are technologists (in the broad sense of the word) looking for ideas, tools, and solutions that may work, sometimes, with some people in some contexts.

Personally, this is why I think many people in our field struggle with defining what we should be doing and publishing about. We have too many people trying to be scientists, when really we are technologists (see an articles by Andy Gibbons in TechTrends and other places about this topic).

Anyway, I'll ponder some more and maybe post again later.

Joel Galbraith said...

Hey Rick (I'm a BYU alum),
Good points. In reference to your post as well as a couple similar email responses, I'll say the following.
I am making the gross assumption that innovative is “good”—as it should look at least “promising”. I’d also agree that innovations come usually in the form of refinements to, or adaptations of existing successes to new contexts, and are not truely novel.

I must say that I’ve had a couple responses now similar to yours, and while perhaps pushing back on the question premises is appropriate, turning the question back on the questioner can be irritating or even alienating for non-academics. So what I’m really after (in my own head) is what would I say to “normal” people, the lay person, the potential employer—for that matter, even mom or grandma.

It’s the quickie couple-liner (or 45 second) response that I’m trying to come up with in my mind, not the infinetly-nuanced philosophical discussion about what really IS learning or knowing.

What have we learned over the past 40 years about teaching and learning that we didn’t broadly know before? 4 bullet points--that don't insult the questioner.

We do ourselves a disservice if we can't come up with responses to such questions given a knowledge of those with whom we are communicating (milk before meat, line upon line...). Surely we can't believe (or tell someone) that there are no "stupid" or "wrong" questions--perhaps misguided--but as in any good ID process, we consider our audience and respond accordingly. I hope in all our efforts of discovery, that we don't lose the ability to communicate with those not playing in our sandbox.
Thanks for your post.
-Joel G.

Heather said...

While I certainly do not have the experience that the previous posters possess, I believe that in this particle instance, my status as an outsider may be beneficial for everyone to see the point of Joel's original post. I admire everyone's ability to refine the question, turn it on its head, and requestion the original statment. However, in this case, that was not the intention. Having been immersed in academia for so long, we are trained (or will be trained, in my case), to be as specific as possible. Broad, sweeping questions are discouraged because they cannot possibly address all of the relevant details needed to make sense of most issues.

However, the vast majority of the people on this planet are not in academia and don't care one way or another about the minutiae that is discussed on a daily basis on college campuses. It is necessary to bridge that gap on occasion, or all of the technical work that scholars do will have been for naught. If knowledge is not applicable to a larger audience, then what is the point? Once in awhile, scholars should, in my opinion, remember what it was like being on the outside. This comes in handy most often when talking to one's family about their job.

Joel would like a simple response to his question. The scholarly debate that he has provoked is certainly valuable and should be discussed further, but it was not the aim of his original blog entry. I encourage you to squash all of the important facts and figures learned over a lifetime into several easy-to-understand statements that anyone could "get."

Joel Galbraith said...

You go girl! What she said! :-)
Lest we've lost sight of the original questions, allow me to repost (only slightly modified)...

1) What are some "innovative teaching methods in higher education" these days?
2) What are some innovative (effective) technology uses in higher education these days?
3) What are some recent and significant contributions of our field to teaching and learning?

David Wiley said...

These are surprisingly easy questions to answer:
Q1. What are the most "innovative teaching methods in higher education" these days?
A1. The methods that work best given the situation you find yourself in.

Q2. What are some innovative (effective) technology uses in higher education these days?
A2. Uses that actually help someone learn something.

Q3. What are some recent (you decide) significant developments/contributions of our field to teaching and learning?
A3. Because all useful progress in our field is made by synergizing and applying ideas from other fields, I don't think there are any contributions our field can make sole claim to.

Josh Kirby said...

Joel, Heather, and crowd: My suggestion to you is to remove your ideas from the pop culture mindset of "simplify for the benefit of others", and work toward "build capacity in others for them to enjoy". The manifestation of systemic questions answered in bullet points can be witnessed, for a pervading example, when political officials try to legislate for improved educational practice without deferring to those involved in the educating--a burden that you are already working to combat the disasterous effects of. I have answered the questions you posed in conversations with my mom and family by spending the time to build the capacity within her and them to understand the challenges involved with educating well.

I have no use for your back-pocket answers. Neither should you. The sampling error involved with producing a numbered list of "innovative educational practices", such as the list your initial questions desired, is so counterproductive that we all would be better off if you just remained silent. David Wiley's concise answers (posted in above comment) are the best you can get in terms of conciseness, and if I were to tell those to my mother she'd be angry at my condescension.

First help others ask the right questions. Then give them some possible answers.

Rick said...

Josh is right. If we can't legitimately answer the question with a pat answer, then it doesn't do any good to give a pat answer. We'll either offend by appearing to be condescending, or look stupid because anyone (even your grandma) will know we're missing the boat with an answer that's too simple to a complicated question.

Here's how I'd answer the questions:
1) What are some "innovative teaching methods in higher education" these days?

There are many kinds of innovative teaching methods. It depends on what the situation is, but in general, we have learned that learning is more than reading a textbook or hearing a lecture, and the more innovative teaching methods involve ways of learning that are more active, collaborative, authentic, and experiential.

2) What are some innovative (effective) technology uses in higher education these days?

Well, there really aren't many. That's the problem with higher education :-). But, generalizing again, I actually just published some research (in Educational Technology, current issue) that found that some instructors were successfully using technology in innovative ways in five areas:

1. Visualization—Helping students to visualize content
2. Interactions—Promoting student/teacher and student/student interactions
3. Reflection—Supporting meaningful student reflection
4. Authenticity and Engagment—Providing opportunities for involving students in authentic, real-life learning activities
5. Practice—Improving the quality and quantity of students’ practice

3) What are some recent and
significant contributions of our field to teaching and learning?

We have made contributions in making learning more accessible to more people, and in finding more solutions for helping people learn more effectively. There are many examples. How much time do you have, and what kind of learning are you interested in?

Heather said...

I'm not advocating a complete abandonment of scholarly discourse. That would undermine all of the hard work that has been done in our respective fields. Asking probing questions is crucial in order to learn more.

While working towards "building a capacity in others" is a noble and worthwile goal, it is naive to think that that is possible for all of the people we will encounter in our lives. Perhaps I am in the "pop-culture" mindset of immediate gratification, at least sometimes. If I want to learn something casually, I should not be expected to build a base upon which to understand what could be simple questions. It's extremely frustrating to me when subjects I study are oversimplified, but it is impossible to gain depth on every topic that one wishes to discuss. I'm not saying that ignorance is desirable, just that a middle ground should be attained in some instances.

As you have with your mother, my parents have heard me talk about the Holocaust ad nauseum for the past nine years. They get it. However, for example, when I meet someone at a party and they ask what I study, I'm not going to explain the intricacies of the functionalist versus intentionalist debate surrounding the origins of the Final Solution. I appreciate their interest, but I realize that they do not share my passion for the subject, nor should they. That's why different people study different things. I tailor my response to that question depending on the person, and I don't believe there is anything wrong with that. Your high expectations may apply to those with whom you surround yourself, but it is impractical to extrapolate those expectations to everyone.

P.S. I don't think Joel's question is unfounded and unnecessary. If nothing else, it sparked this lively debate. I'm probably too far involved for someone who isn't associated with the field, but it is an issue that I have encountered as well. In certain situations, I believe that simplification can be useful, in others, it undermines the value of research. In my opinion, both sides are necessary.

Joel Galbraith said...

Rick, I love it! You did great...simplified, yet intelligent. See, we can do this! I know this is hard, but I really feel we've all made some progress here today...
...now let's schedule another appointment for...let's say in two weeks?!

But seriously, this conversation is starting to go where I hoped. We've got to start the dialogue somewhere with those whom we're trying to educate (sounds very colonial), and a drink from the academic firehose is usually not that place.

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