In my previous post, I introduced with painful brevity the three disciplines that shaped the redesign of my department’s instruction program: Dee Fink’s approach to instructional design, human-centered design, and design thinking.
Today, I’m going to begin to tell the story of this redesign, but I must first make one very important disclaimer. I am going to skip over literally thousands upon thousands of details, factors, considerations, obstacles, and insights that would rightfully belong in this narrative, were it a true case study. This is because of the “Why?” of this blog series. I am not setting out to provide a transcript of my thought processes, or even a summary of my notes, my brainstorms, my fits of inspiration, my dead-end ideas. I want to tell you a brief, hopefully interesting story about this design adventure, focusing on the elements that turned out to be the most profound in their impact on our final strategy. If you have questions about something I don’t discuss here, leave a comment, email me, tweet at me, throw something at me. I’d be thrilled to share anything and everything with anyone and everyone. Just ask!
Ok, so with that out of the way, here follows the tale of the Gelardin instruction strategy, or “Learning how to teach how to learn how to learn.”
Since we’re following Fink’s model, we begin with looking at “Situational Factors,” the stuff we can’t change. And this is a HUGE category. There are literally thousands of situational factors that impact our instructional strategy, and each sort of competes for attention when you start looking into this.
But in our case, there was one particular factor, one that might have slipped through the cracks if not for the influence of Human-Centered Design, that really stood out as critical to our design process. And it starts with something we all can agree on. Technology has developed…rapidly is not a strong enough word…EXPLOSIVELY over the past century or so. I mean, look back, ten years, say, and there are so many things that we take for granted today, that were inconceivable then (e.g. there was no Facebook. Or iPhone.)
These devices, these programs, these platforms, have become ubiquitous. You just can’t get away from them. No matter what your career is, in the United States, and most of the planet, you will be required to use a device that did not exist a decade ago. Whether that’s a tablet computer, or a social networking platform, or a solar energy source, or a new medical device. Not to even mention the untold gadgets our kids will be using in 20 years.
The reality, whether we like it or not, is that technology is everywhere. And it shows no signs of slowing down. It will continue to develop, continue to evolve, and sometimes…every now and then…there will be another explosion; another disruptive development that will significantly change the game and require us all to learn to use something that no one ever thought would exist.
So if we agree that we will all be using technology for the rest of our lives, and that technology will continue to grow and change, sometimes disruptively, for the rest of our lives, then we have to agree on something further, something that will change the way we view technology education.
We will all be learning new technology for the rest of our lives.
When a student comes to one of my iMovie workshops, for example, I’m not just teaching her how to make cool videos. I am guiding her through a rather complex, sometimes intimidating process of learning and discovery, that she will have to repeat over and over again for as long as she is alive. Because, if I’m honest, I know that in two years or less, it’s very likely that iMovie will look and function completely differently than it does now, if indeed it even exists anymore. And when she graduates and gets her first job, she may very well be required to learn to use InDesign, or WordPress, or manage a corporate Facebook page. All of which will be significantly different than they are today, and will change radically again several years down the road.
When it comes to learning technology we’re chasing a moving target. And this will have a major impact on our learning goals, to which we turn now.
And we start by looking at Fink’s taxonomy of learning, which aims at describing and classifying the different kinds of learning that happen in a given learning experience. He gives us six categories, which are:
- Foundational Knowledge
- Human Dimension
- Learning how to learn
For us, in looking at where our department stood at the beginning of this process, we saw that we put a lot of energy and emphasis into Foundational Knowledge and Application. And this is pretty normal for a department like ours; we basically focused on teaching students how to use Photoshop or Final Cut, and how to create good projects on those platforms.
But is that the best we can do? Is that even the right thing to focus on? Given the insight we just discussed, we begin to see part of the problem with this approach. Considering the ongoing need to learn new technologies that we and our students face, is learning to use Photoshop CS5.5 really the most important thing?
And is that even working?
You see, we also asked ourselves what kind of impact we were really making on our students who came to our workshops. And we discovered a trend that was unsettling the more we looked at it. We noticed that we were getting a large number of requests for individual consultations from students who had previously attended our workshops. Not such a bad thing, really. Repeat enrollment, right? Well, in looking at those requests, we noticed that a disturbingly large number of those students were saying something like this:
“So I took a Photoshop workshop last semester, but I basically don’t remember anything from it, and now I have to do a graphic design project and it’s due next week and I need help ASAP! Help me!!”
We took two conclusions from this. One, our students forget most of the specifics of what we teach them in our workshops. And two, when our students run into questions or trouble, they think the solution is to ask us for help.
We’re not ok with either, and we decided to do something about it.
We have reoriented our goals around the category Fink calls “Learning how to learn.” Now, our overall instructional goal is to increase digital fluency among students, faculty, and staff at Georgetown University through workshops, online training, and consultations. And we define digital fluency as the ability to effectively produce and consume digital content, and to learn to use new technologies as they emerge.
As we look forward to assessment and instructional activities in the next post, this goal will become central to our strategy. We have established the “Why?” What remains now is to dream “What?”; to explore ways to equip and empower our students to face the ongoing learning challenges of life in the 21st century.