Friday, April 29, 2005

Technology if necessary, but not necessarily technology!

In 1942 during WWII, the Prime Minister of Canada, Mackenzie King, launched a plebiscite to Canadians asking them if they wanted to support mandatory military service overseas: conscription. He led the campaign using the now famous motto: "conscription if necessary, but not necessarily conscription."

A colleague of mine (Thanks Louise!) showed me that a derivative of this quote rings true today in the DE context. When I think about technology in higher education settings and about LMSs in particular, the software and product choices number in the dozens!!! Which do you choose??? Well, how about this motto: "technology if necessary, but not necessarily technology." What I mean by this is that Curriculum Developers cannot just adopt the policy of "choosing" an LCMS and then being boxed into applying the features of that product to the courses they are designing. That's a shortsighted practice: using the technology just because the technology is there to be used.

Instead Curriculum Developers should first thoroughly assess the type of course that is in question and subsequently choose the right mixture of tools that meets the course needs. For example, if I have a course which is largely pitched at the junior level with learning objectives at the Level 1 (Knowledge) and Level 2 (Comprehension) levels, it doesn't make sense for me to build into such a course synchronous video-enabled group work activity. It's over-kill!!! The technical/physical constraints and the required competencies required of students to interact in such a rich collaborative environment do not match the cognitive level of the learning objectives: Level 1 and Level 2. Those interactive and collaborative activities are better suited to higher level cognitive objectives. So just because my University might have an LCMS with all kinds of bells and whistles does not mean I *should* or *must* integrate these bells and whistles into my course.

Educational soundness of the course is attained when you line up the cognitive difficulty levels of the Learning Objectives, the Learning Activities and the Assessments. If you misalign these things you can really throw the learning for a loop! For example, if the Learning Objective is "State Newton's Three Laws" (Level 1: Knowledge) and I design a Learning Activity like "Do some synchronous group work using video conferencing to debate the validity Newton's Three Laws" (Level 5&6: Synthesize & Evaluate), and then I test learners with a question on a final exam like "Apply Newton's three Laws to solve these real life problems" (Level 3: Application), no one in this fictitious, and wildly torturous, class would pass this exam question. Wouldn't you agree? (*OUCH*)

So I always try to focus my work on analyzing the learners and their learning path within the course and I try to align everything on the same level. Only after that do I move to selecting the appropriate tool in an LCMS, or otherwise, to *support* my learning activity.

Technology is clearly secondary in my process: "technology if necessary, but not necessarily technology."

What do you think? Post a comment.

No comments: