Friday, February 24, 2012
Committing to Improvement in Education
Being a graduate student requires that one reads a lot of research papers. After filling a binder with research articles (printed on recycled paper, good-one-side) in my first course, I realized I needed to change my method. I couldn’t fathom filling more and more binders with research articles throughout my entire graduate program! Something clearly wasn’t working.
Even though in many ways I willingly try new ideas and methods, admittedly, I was a bit resistant to the idea of reading and taking notes entirely on screen. Reading in this way was not something I was used to or particularly skilled at doing. With a bit of reluctance, I starting using the highlighter and comment tools in Foxit Reader, but I wasn’t sure if this new way of note-taking was going to work for me.
My initial reluctance was due to my personal comfort zone. I had a system that had worked for me for many years – print articles, highlight main points, take notes. I was comfortable with my system!
It wasn’t until I could see the need to change (and save a tree … or five) that I knew that needed to learn to read from the screen.
Improvement and Change
For me, change was born out of a necessity to improve a system that was no longer efficient. In much the same way, ECMM 873, Instructional Design, was focused on solving problems to improve efficiency, this time in an educational setting. This course taught me how to examine an instructional problem through a design “lens” and through systematical analysis, work to solve that problem. The design process is not always a linear, step-by-step approach, but instead follows some basic principles. Through application of the ADDIE model, problems can be identified, analyzed and decisions can be made so that instruction is improved.
However, change, even if necessary, is not always easy.
It often demands that we step outside of our comfort zone to try something different.
Change requires honest self-reflection and commitment to improvement.
A Critical Examination of Practice
Throughout the graduate program, I’ve come to appreciate the importance of critical reflection, examining each component, weighing strengths and identifying areas for improvement.
This can be a tough task. But it is also one that we are asking of students in Saskatchewan classrooms. Renewed curriculum has built-in multiple opportunities for students to become meta-cognitive learners, to self-assess and to reflect on their learning. Often, students are harder on themselves because they haven’t learned the skill of critical analysis, perhaps misinterpreting “critical” for “negative”. Our job as educators, then, is to guide students to understand the true meaning of reflection.
The same, I believe, holds true for educators where engagement in reflective practice promotes improvement, often through thoughtful discussion with other professionals (McCabe, 2009). During ECMM 873, opportunities for reflection were provided through study questions, the application journal, and the discussion forum. As a student, I was challenged to implement design principles into my own work as an educational coach, and to share my experiences.
Through conversations with classmates, I began to think more critically about designing online environments where real learning takes place. We explored Dr. David Merrill’s concerns with shovelware, a type of e-learning experience where people simply ‘shovel” information on to the internet, substituting glitz and glamour for real substance. He argues that many online learning sites are not basing their instruction on sound design principles, and so learning effectiveness is decreased. As a follow up to this discussion, I spent time thinking about the importance of creating activities that are designed for learning, and the corresponding assessments that will reveal the level of learning that has taken place. I like to call it “how will you show what you know?” Instruction and assessment are inexorably intertwined.
Linking Instructional Design and Learning Theory
The vital link between how people learn and instructional design was highlighted throughout this course. Good design must be grounded in learning theory. Fortunately, instructional design in an online environment does not have to be limited to linear, teacher-centred approaches, but can be designed in such a manner that it is learner-centred, engaging, and authentic. The goal of instruction is to help learners acquire previously unknown knowledge or skills and by continually evaluating instruction, educators can ensure that they are providing effective learning opportunities for their students.
This course allowed for numerous connections in my job and opened up many conversations with teachers about effective teaching practices and improved design. One teacher volunteered to work with me to develop a unit plan in Science using the design principles of this course. We met regularly to talk about instructional design and to also engage in reflective conversation as she implemented the activities in her classroom. For me, sharing my learning and putting these ideas into practice was one of the most rewarding aspects of this course.