Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Final Thoughts!

During the course of this project, I learned a lot about communication, both digitally and verbally. The 'net generation, or learners born in the 1980's and later (as introduced by Diana Oblinger of Educause, whom I had the chance to meet earlier this year at ELI) tends to favor email, as we've grown up with the internet--or at least have had computers around throughout most or all of our lives. Our SMEs were a bit more receptive to phone calls as a primary means of communication. By the end of the Immersion experience, through improved communication with both the SMEs and team members, I think all of us learned the lesson of adapting to the needs of the client (and that this can really improve your interactions and productivity with a project, especially one focused on instructional design!).

My team was comprised half of 'net gen learners and half of adult learners (roughly). Adult learners are defined, roughly, as learners above the age of mid-20s who have multiple life roles (parent, full-time employee, spouse, etc.). Tie this in with the Myers Briggs personality type test that we took during the second week of school--I tested as an extrovert while the others were introverts--and you've got some interesting communication dynamics. Sometimes I felt that my voice was a bit ignored during team meetings; the rest of the team would remain silent when I made a comment about something that needed to be fixed or not comment on an idea that I'd stated. It took awhile to adapt to this, but it opened my eyes to different styles of communicating that I may encounter in future career and academic experiences, and gave me the relational know-how to elicit responses and answers from people with different personalities. (To read more about Oblinger's and other experts' thoughts on the 'net gen, see Educating the Net Generation, an Educause e-book.)

Finally, after hard work and many late nights, the Underground Coal Mine Supervisor Online Training System is complete. Thanks to all of my team members, professors, and SME who made the 2006-2007 school year the incredible learning experience that it was. I will never forget it!

Friday, April 27, 2007


We are making a lot of progress with our training system, but have been discovering that it is difficult it is to design without access to the target audience for evaluative purposes. Happily, we've received 11 responses to the evaluation survey--five more than last semester. I have been working on the End of Shift Duties training module, and have been learning to compromise. I have so many fun, interactive ideas for it and the tools to implement them, but not all would be easy to make Section 508 compliant in the short amount of time we have left to polish off the training system. I pictured an graphic rich image based interactive "click and respond" type module, but the general layout has to look like the other modules...and I'm not sure exactly how to implement what I want using boring old text. It will be video-based, however, and I'm excited to see the final result.

Backing up a bit, "in the beginning..." I was given a Job Task Analysis indicating the steps a section foreman is to take at the end of his or her shift. When I lay out ideas for further development of these steps, I'm told they're "too simple." However, this is all I've been given to work with, and since there is no official "end of shift" examination, Google and other searches have proven fruitless in finding out additional information about these duties. I have been tapping the SMEs for information. Last week there was a mining disaster, though, giving the SMEs some higher priority work than e-mailing ambiguous information about end of shift duties. I think I have enough information and media now, though, to develop an educational and (as much as Workforce Connections will allow it) engaging training module.

Also, Immersion has exposed to a wide array of new technologies, whether through a classmate, professor, or just simply stumbling on them by accident. It's fun. Every day, it seems, I discover a cool new web-based, usually open source, technology that could apply to our training system or that I could recommend for use in a higher education setting. Today's is "YouSendIt," which enables you to send files up to 100MB for free. It's very useful. Check it out.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

S.M.E. = Simply Making Excellent (Progress)

At the end of March, subject matter experts Jerry Vance, Sharon Casto, and Sharon Cook visited the MSHA team from Beckley, W.V. I feel that this meeting had been the most productive and helpful of all three SME meetings we've had throughout the course of the academic year. I was also humbled when they discovered a few mistakes in my scenario, like something I'd copied and pasted wrong or an image of a metal/nonmetal miner (we're developing training for underground coal miners). This visit really reinforced reinforcing the necessity of SMEs on any design project. They also inspired us, giving us more sources of relevant media. Though I'm not an expert on mining, I'm finally feeling comfortable with the material and terms like "mantrip" and "SCSR" are becoming part of my everyday language.

Also, I see how important it is to meet with the SMEs in person. There's only so much that can be done through a phone call or e-mail. When my team was face to face with the SMEs, things came together--instead of working disconnectedly and asynchronously, ideas were freely tossed around and that collaborative experience became a very valuable enhancement to the development of our training system.

On April 4, after a day full of delayed, overbooked, and missed flights, the MSHA team arrived in Provo, UT for the ID + SCORM conference, where we presented "The Challenges of Using SCORM Compliant LCMS to Implement an Online Training System for Underground Coal Mine Supervisors." Indeed, there were challenges! I learned the importance of good practice ahead of time, and that you can't always depend on a planned schedule to have enough time to get the job done. All in all, the team came together very well and made the most of the situation to present a profound lesson in developing an online training system while being constrained by an uncooperative LCMS. We learned that other designers were facing the same challenges regarding meeting Section 508 guidelines and deciding on granularity metrics of a SCO--how small is the smallest learning object or piece of useful standalone data in a training system?

We're nearing the End of Immersion. And, as I'm guessing this happens with nearly every design project, we're feeling like "If we only had more time..." My team is filled with so many creative ideas and the skills to implement them, but we're running out of time. On May 10, 2007, we present the final product to our client. Stay tuned.

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Friday, March 23, 2007

A Learning Process

Education is a continual learning process. Whether you use the word "education" in regards to educating others, as an instructor or peer, or undergoing the process of being educated, it's a constant cycle of learning. Just when I thought I knew everything I needed to know about instructional design (I know, that's impossible), the ADDIE model, etc, something new comes along and I'm constantly being amazed at how much more there is to learn about everything -- ID, effective use of content, e-learning technologies, SCORM, and being a part of a search committee!

Yesterday, my team had a meeting that lasted about two hours. Two hours - what on earth do we have to discuss that could take two hours? At first, it felt like we spent a lot of time analyzing the seemingly insignificant nitty-gritty details of the design process of our training system, but the more we discussed, the more it became clear to me how grounded in design our final product is going to be, despite the technologically-crippling limitations of Workforce Connections. Honestly, when the concept of the design matrix (aligning learning outcomes or objectives to relevant assessment questions) was introduced to me, I was baffled as to why we were doing this. Now it makes complete sense to me -- I mean, why quiz learners on concepts that aren't going to contribute to their learning of a specified topic? And if a course designer doesn't write clear or valid objectives, or if it turns out the assessment questions or objectives aren't meeting goals like increasing the learner's problem solving skills, then some element of the training or e-learning system must be redesigned so that the designer, and eventually the learner, is able to reach these goals.

A final closing thought: I jumped into the Immersion program with the goal of obtaining an instructional design or academic technology position at a higher education institution after commencement. Graduation and the 'future' of 'getting a job' are looming on the near horizon. I am still enthusiastically committed to my goal of working in higher education, and Immersion has only strengthened this dream of mine. The more involved I am in higher education, the more I hope to remain a part of the aforementioned 'cycle of education' for a long time to come.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Technology in the "Classroom" - Traditional, or an Underground Mine

After much discussion and many hours spent with subject matter experts (SME's), the MSHA project has changed directions, and myself and my Immersion teammates are in the process of evaluating, revising, and refining the content and other aspects of the training system we created and continue to develop. By spring break, we expect to have the training system ready for evaluation and validation by SME's. Shortly after spring break, we will have a "tweak week" (term coined by me!) to focus on assessing each others' guided scenarios as well as adding touches to polish the system 'til it sparkles.

I'd like to say a little bit about Education Research, the course otherwise known as EDIT 590. As an aspiring instructional designer for a college or university, I didn't stop and think that I would undertake a course quite like this. Its focus is on developing skills, insights, and understanding to perform research, emphasizing interpreting and applying research results. Most of the course readings pertain to topics such as the evaluation of teachers' incorporation of technology in K-12 settings; stakeholders' perspectives on gathering and using evaluative information about educational technology; and how to measure the difference (if there is one) that technology is making in K-12 curricula. Many of these are very difficult to measure quantitatively (i.e. using "hard" data) due to variations between schools, classrooms, resources, finances, and even the abilities of individual students. Rather, many more education researchers and policy makers are taking a qualitative approach to research, using "anecdotal" data, which are not result of systematic study -- using stories, observations, and informal interviews as a platform on which to gather evidence and draw conclusions.

One of my tasks in this course this semester is to critique several qualitative and quantitative education research papers. As I got more involved in the first assignment of the quantatitive research assessment, I really began to enjoy it and got a sense of the various research methods in use today (hey, the study I chose was 118 pages!). I must say that I'm glad I'm stepping out of my comfort zone and exploring topics I previously wouldn't have thought were important to my development as an instructional designer. Even though I may never work in it, I finally feel as though I have a good grasp on different educational technology issues facing today's K-12 world.

In other news, I have been selected as a member of a search committee at GMU to select a new Director of Learning Support Services, Instructional Technology Unit. Among many aspects of the position, the DLSS:
  • Oversees student support, faculty development support, and support for the University’s e-learning infrastructure
  • Leads, oversees and sets the vision for the Instructional Resource Center (IRC), the Student Technology Assistance and Resource (STAR) Center, and the Training in Office and Productivity Skills (TOPS) program
  • Coordinates teaching and learning with technology (TLT) activities related to GMU’s new Center for Digital Fluency and the nationally-recognized Technology across the Curriculum (TAC) program
  • Collaborates with other DoIT Directors (Classroom Technologies, Educational Media Services), as well as various technology, support and academic units of the university to ensure coordinated support for campus-wide learning technology efforts and initiatives
I'm extremely excited about this chance to meet and work directly with various GMU professors, the associate dean of the College of Health and Human Sciences, and the Executive Director of the Division of Instructional Technology, among others. Part of my responsibilities will include reviewing applications, selecting candidates for interviews, participating in the interviews and actively sharing my thoughts with the rest of the search committee. It will give me the opportunity to be on the selecting (rather than select-"ee" end), give me lots of insight into what goes on behind the scenes during a selection process, and allow me to meet and interact with various candidates who have received the higher education that I aspire to achieve someday and have held positions that I am highly interested in learning about. I'm looking forward to playing such a big part in selecting someone who is in the spotlight of IT at GMU.

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Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Obstacles and Challenges

Lately my team has encountered some of the most difficult challenges thus far in our Immersion journey. I think that one of the biggest challenges lies in working with the content. As I've mentioned before, my classmates and I aren't SMEs in underground coal mining. But how engaged with the material are we supposed to become? How much of an "expert" on coal mining should I be by the end of this project? Or should I become an expert on one aspect of coal mining, like the continuous miner or guarding? There is a disconnect between how much of the content I should fully understand about this product I'm developing and what's actually being done.

My team met with several subject matter experts last year from MSHA in West Virginia. They were extremely helpful in assessing the usability of the currently existing content/training system we developed last semester and could immediately tell us what could stay and what needed work. I was shocked when I realized the large number of pages within the training modules we'd developed that had to be curtailed, severely revised, or eliminated altogether. I'd spent at least a good week or two developing a scenario based on an existing NIOSH scenario called the "Low Coal Fire." Upon the SMEs' examination, it was deemed "too simple" for the experienced coal miner and eliminated (along with several other scenarios developed by my teammates). I'd developed three Fatalgram Analyses, which gave in-depth explorations of underground coal mining fatalities. Each had about eight parts, for which I'd found images and some media. Each of these Fatalgrams (well, the ones we're still including) is now being reduced to a page or two at the end of a relevant NIOSH scenario, and the whole structure of the training system needs to be changed.

I know that when I'm on the job, SMEs are going to be more available if there is an employer paying to have his/her coursework developed as rapidly as possible. But in academia (being on the student side) it is extremely difficult to have access SMEs, let alone access practically on demand. Over winter break, I took a Captivate course, where I learned how to make a course or web-based presentation interactive. It's very hard to be told, "No, you can't use a lot of this" because the content has to be easily updatable--especially when Title 30 CFR regulations change--by non-designer mining SMEs.

As of today, we've got about three months and a timeline to get a working, interactive, engaging, online training system off the ground and into the hands of underground coal miners. Will this disconnect I spoke about earlier close?

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Educause Learning Initiative Conference Day 3

On Monday, I walked into the very first talk to find a ballroom full of round tables encircled by chairs rather than the typical lecture format of chairs linearly set up throughout the room. I could have my laptop open, typing notes (making these posts easier to write) during sessions set up like this, but the real purpose of this format was, as we [the conference attendees] were told, was to promote dialog and continue discussing the ideas presented during the talk even after the official talk ended. “New Learning” forms were also scattered throughout tables for participants to write down new insights they may have had during the seminar. I’m really curious to find out what people said on these cards. As convener for two sessions at ELI, I encouraged people to fill these out. Convening (I didn’t fully know what it entailed until I arrived at ELI) gave me the opportunity to get to know some speakers and their areas of research/interest a little better, dig a little deeper into topics that interested me, and play a role besides Newbie Student at the conference.

The ELI 2007 conference has come to an end, but I’m being sent back to Fairfax armed with tons of information and new insights in learning and technology. Time and time again, social networking sites (particularly Facebook) were addressed and scrutinized as to how (and if) these in any way could be used in an educational setting. More statistics: 55% of online teens have created a personal profile online, but they’re not leaving everything open to the world: 66% limit access to their profiles, according to Tracy Mitrano of Cornell University (you can read her entire study here), and 48% visit social networking sites daily/more often. If (she seemed excited about this possibility) schools could adopt a model similar to Facebook, she believed it truly could be used to enhance students’ learning. It’s obviously popular with the kids. What do you think?

So to tie these postings together with my experience at ELI 2007, I’m using a method of evaluation (reflection) which was the focus of a session (Dialogical Reflection in the Digital Age) which I convened today. No, I’m not being “graded” on this post, but it really is helping to synthesize everything I just learned over the past 3 days with my previous knowledge of instructional technology concepts. Erick Marmolejo and Jim Phillips’ research revealed reflection as a catalyst to learning, but presented the many challenges with reflection. Their findings echoed a lot of the techniques I’m encountering in my graduate program. I’m required to create, maintain, and evaluate my own e-portfolio as well as evaluate the portfolios of my peers twice per semester based on a rubric given by my professor. In another class, the students are divided up into groups and, using BlackBoard, my group provides feedback to a partner group after they make a presentation (and vice versa). I’m also required to keep this blog of reflections on my Immersion experience. I think it’s very valuable and I’m looking forward to reflecting more this semester and reading the entire thing, say, a year later. The session turned into a discussion for the last 20 minutes or so, and it was interesting to hear how students, both graduate and undergraduate enrolled in different academic programs, were evaluated at other universities (and their attitudes toward evaluation). Jim emphasized the rubric idea, as well as calibration of your observers -- ensuring your students can accurately evaluate statements. For example, this would include giving the students poor work and ensuring their comments line up with this, as well as ensuring the evaluators are abiding by the given rubric. Hm. I like that idea. But what about graduate students -- is this necessary for them, or should educators assume that by graduate school we're capable of making an accurate evaluation?

Lastly, I’m going to post the titles of books that I wrote down during the conference -- books that will go on my “To Read” list (despite the fact that I probably won’t get a chance to look at them until after graduation!):

How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School (National Research Council (U. S.) Committee on Learning Research and Educational Practice, National Research Council (Corporate Author), John Bransford (Editor), Ann L. Brown (Editor), Rodney R. Cocking (Editor)

The New Division of Labor: How Computers Are Creating the Next Job Market (Frank Levy, Richard Murmane)

Reflection in the Writing Classroom (Kathleen Yancey)

Thanks for reading!