Thursday, March 07, 2013

The Big Current Issue in Educational Technology - how to fix it?

Michelle Marshall, a student at the University of Texas, asked me a question for her project which involved talking to people who work in the field of Instructional Design. She asked my opinion on what the “biggest current issues or controversial topics are in relation to Educational Technology”.

My response: Great question Michelle. There’s no magic bullet in the educational technology realm so there are always ‘issues’. The absolute biggest one in my opinion is how quickly educational technology changes. Teachers have always been very busy people. Despite what they might tell you, over time they develop mastery in many different arenas: multitasking while teaching many courses simultaneously, communicating complex ideas with learners, assessment of learner performance, and motivation of learners. The problem with educational technology is that despite all the benefits it has to offer, it represents yet another topic that teachers are now expected to become masterful at, and this one is tough to master because it changes so quickly.

So what’s the solution to overcome this big issue? My short answer is “I don’t know”. My longer answer goes something like this. To be successful with educational technology in the learning process, I believe that is it important for teachers to keep a few hallmark things in mind:
  1. Keep it simple. Learning comes first; everything else comes second. If it’s not obvious to everyone involved what an educational technology component is contributing to the course, then get rid of it immediately. Courses that are uncomplicated go a long way towards keeping the stress level of learners down during a semester. Lower stress definitively helps the learning process.
  2. Know an expert. In your school there is probably an Instructional Designer or Educational Developer whose bread and butter is to be up on educational technology developments. Never ask this person what is the new cool thing that you can add to your course. Yup – you heard me right – NEVER ask this person that question. Instead, ask a question like this: “I would like a better way to get my students to meet this type of learning objective (or learning outcome), can we sit down together and I’ll show you how I do it now and then you can tell me if you know of any educational technology element that might help me do this better in the future?” The difference is clear. Any decisions you make about integrating educational technology into your course need to stem from a need to serve a learning objective (or learning outcome). Otherwise, the educational technology element may turn out to be a useless bell or whistle.
  3. Don’t fix it if it’s not broken. If you are using an educational technology element that is two years old then some young whippersnapper might tell you that it’s an antique at this point, based on how quickly the field is changing. In my view, antique technology can still be useful. Heck – look at pen and paper for example; they’re still useful. If the educational technology element is helping your students learn then don’t replace it with something new just because you feel like it. Any replacement should be by design and not by default.
Do you have any words of wisdom for Michelle about the most important issues or controversial topics in the field of Educational Technology? If so, leave a comment below.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

The Importance of Video in e-Learning

Let’s consider distance education for a bit. First there were correspondence courses. You know – read a bunch of stuff, write a bunch of stuff, and your instructor mails you your grade. Sometimes in the setting of a correspondence course there was media involved such as things like audiocassette tapes or VHS videotapes. These audio and video media types took the edge off of correspondence courses and many students found these courses to be slightly less boring due to the variety of media used. Then there was e-Learning: where student-to-instructor and student-to-student interaction could be enhanced. Also, eLearning courses pushed the envelop of media choices because all of a sudden computers were involved. All kinds of things arrived: flash animations, java objects, PowerPoint slides, YouTube videos, podcasts, and even synchronous video chats. We have had this plethora of media choices to inject variety into eLearning courses for over 10 years now, but do most professors use them? In my experience, no. The barrier to the creation of these media objects still feels insurmountable for some instructors. Luckily, there are many “how-to” articles around the Internet that can help. But before you run into the production of your video, do a bit of research on best practices. Alison Bickford from the Connect Thinking for the e-Learning Academy reminds us that to be effective at performance support, the user will expect video “to be short, succinct and supported by visuals.” I agree with that very wise recommendation. It’s almost common sense; however, people can still miss the mark. Have a look at her short 7-minute video on Video for Organization Learning. It’s great.
If you are interested in knowing more about how to actually produce your video then Alison has a follow up video that will give you a good overview. Take special note at the 6-minute mark of this second video as she presents a great table containing the Do’s and Don’ts for video production. In addition, she has this great blog post about how to use Camtasia and PowerPoint to make video for your students.
Do you have any ideas about using video in web-based courses? If so, let us know by leaving a comment below.