Out of Context Drafts

Out of Context Drafts

March 19, 2019 0 By JR

Adam Croom published a collection of sentences or key takeaways from conversations that were part of blogposts he never posted. It’s a really interesting concept and I encourage you to check it out, as it’s really interesting to only get the snippet. It is a bit like walking down the street while he is chatting with someone and you get only a snippet. Left to wonder what the rest of the context was.

In this morning’s case, two snippets caught my attention, and maybe that’s just because of where my head is this week.

I’ve often say that one of the hardest parts about teaching is you often don’t get to see the fruits of your labor. Students graduate and disappear and it’s hard to gauge how much of impact you made on someone.Adam Croom

I’ve often remarked that this is one of the most difficult things as an instructional designer or educational developer. Regardless of how long I work with instructors, I don’t get to ‘see’ the students. Sure we can use different project evaluation tools to see how our advice is implemented in a classroom, but it is really difficult to see how much impact our work really has on students. Our instructors often act as a bit of a proxy to see how classes are going, but that certainly has its limitations.

In some ways, I see instructors incorrectly equate building an online course to a writing a book. The assumption is that at some point you submit a final draft which goes to the press to be bound up as one final, complete product. I’m not sure this is a problem that is isolated by online, but merely magnified.Adam Croom

This is also a really interesting quote to me as I work specifically with distance (mostly online) course development. Having worked with instructors at a number of different institutions and chatting with others more broadly through my PLN, I find there tend to be a couple of typical extremes when it comes to what instructors view as an online course. There are a whole lot of instructors that seem to think that recording voice over PowerPoint presentations (or even worse, the cases where there isn’t even voice, just the slides without any additional context) is what online learning is, full stop. In some ways I think we have the xMOOC craze of the early 2010s to thank for that interpretation. On the other hand we have instructors that feel compelled to write something that while in a docx format does kind of represent a book. There are chapters (modules), introductions, conclusions, highlights, figures (which in our case are numbered by module and sequence), etc. Students begin by reading the beginning and going through the material sequentially. I think a lot of those types of course design stem from their independent studies/correspondence course origins and heavily influenced by traditional instructional design and programmed instruction. In one way it really executes on a couple of things Edward Thorndike mentions in Education: A First Book:

  • Instruction from a book allows a student, “to think at his own pace, get the fact over and over again as he needs, test himself point by point as he goes along, and make notes…”
  • “If, by a miracle of mechanical ingenuity, a book could be so arranged that only to him who had done what was directed on page one would page two become visible, and so on, much that now requires personal instruction could be managed by print.”

You definitely see reflections of each of these statements in online courses, and although Thorndike refers to print and “mechanics” so many of our analogies from print we apply to digital, and so these statements apply. We can really limit ourselves by simple word choice and by continuing to find print analogies for digital contexts. One such example is in the case of Pressbooks, which we use for “open textbooks” (I should note that I understand the whole open textbook thing was not the original purpose of PB, and my critique here is not of PB but of where OER folks have been focusing lately). You go to conferences, see webinars, scan Twitter, look at university of municipal news papers and what do we see? Students save $x thanks to open textbooks. Instructors wrote open textbooks. Students contribute to open textbooks. etc. But PB is build as a web platform, and although the terminology within it say “chapter” or “part” or “appendix” some of the most interesting things we could do with it have less to do with books than with the web. So as of late, I have taken to discussing using PB as our courses’ “not book”. Although the terminology used is from print, I find it most encouraging to talk about using something like PB with instructors as a collection of webpages (which is funny, because “pages” still has some of these terminology limitations), but I’m excited about what new things we can create once we divorce ourselves from the book metaphor.


Image by Anne Karakash from Pixabay