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?