The More I Teach the Less I Preach (republished)
It might be interesting at somepoint for me to reflect back on my habits of going through my RSS feed. I think I assume that I would check up on any new items that come through the feed in order, but I seem to let certain feeds build up and then binge on one or two particular blogs. I think case I’ve been catching up with Maha Bali’s Reflecting Allowed blog. Maha recounts in this post about her journey over the past 15 years or so of faculty development. I’m currently at the 5 year mark in my instructional designer journey and have trouble picturing what my own career might look like in 10 more.
After having followed a number of different instructional designers and educational developers during the 9x9x25 challenge (h/t Terry Greene), the topic of what is ID, who are IDs, etc seems to have bubbled up in the end of 2018. I have a post in the infamous draft bin on this blog about my thoughts on it, but haven’t quite worked through those ideas yet. I think Maha’s blog is another piece that will help me to work through that other post.
At the time, I felt confident and comfortable as an instructional technologist, believing I had enough technology and pedagogy background to consult faculty on how to improve their own teaching … Now, 12 years, one PhD, and over 8 years of teaching later, I’m not as comfortable with that role. It’s a case of “the more you know, the more you realize you don’t know.” It’s a shift of focus and it’s giving me a bit of an identity crisis as someone who sees herself as a teacher and writer and learner, but who also wants to continue supporting other teachers.
I’m a believer in the “the more you know…” statement here. I think what I would add to the internal feelings Maha identifies here, is the external expectations of those you work with. Later on in the post, this comes out a bit more, but there is a range of expectations instructors come to IDs and EdDevs with. Some really do expect that you have some magic formula for their teaching and others completely dismiss your experience and expertise in the area for any number of reasons. I know she’s not being absolutist in the statement, but I would expect that on a case by case basis we as IDs do have enough background to improve their teaching, and in some cases also that we don’t. I think what is important here is that we have DIFFERENT experience, and also we get exposure to a wide range of instructors and are able to act as a node in the institutions network, connecting people and practices.
Her story about outcomes hits home for me, as I worked more in natural sciences where outcomes seem to be a bit easier to pin down, and as I began to work with more courses from the humanities the usual approach definitely fell flat. For those stuck with Bloom’s, there are some days I feel like I’m one of the few that can remind even other ed devs or IDs that the cognitive taxonomy isn’t the only one. There is a whole framework to get at those messy affective learning elements in teaching and learning. Of course, the measurement piece is tricky, but using that lens can at least be a starting place for conversations. I wouldn’t say I’m disillusioned with learning objectives, as I think they really do have a place in many learning contexts. The problem tends to be with how they’re implemented (picture the hammer making all problems into nails here). I recall a tweet from Jesse Stommel about how restrictive or even oppressive objectives can be, which they can be. That, in my opinion, has much more to do with administration than with the objectives themselves. I also see loads of guides on how to write objectives, and even the examples provided as what should be done are pretty terribly written. I’ve come to a similar conclusion and practice Maha seems to point to, in that what we can try to do in our role supporting teachers is to match up their teaching philosophy with practice and research. If a practice is effective but completely contrary to one’s teaching philosophy they might end up just ‘playing teacher’ which would be less effective than strategies that align with their teaching philosophy.
This all makes me realize one of the problems of instructional design. I’m not trained as an instructional designer but I often work with faculty to help them design their courses. Helping them write their outcomes, align their assessments, develop their rubrics, tick those boxes. But now I’m thinking, “but I don’t know who your students are” and “but I’m not an expert in your subject matter”; and “I have read that this strategy works in your field but I don’t know if it will work for you, with your teaching philosophy that you are not yet able to articulate but which I am trying to glean from meeting you a few times but never watching you teach”. Also: “I want to support you to trust your own judgment, to be confident to respond to what your students need”.
The final bit I’ll reflect on here is the idea of the accidental instructional designer. Maha doesn’t use that term, but I can see it between the lines. Looking at community forums on LinkedIn, Reddit, e-learning heros, or podcasts like Dear ID, you’ll find this concept is a common in the field. If as an ID you don’t have a background in education it can feel like you might just be checking boxes. This reminds me a bit of the concept of the Templated Life I think Audrey Watters pointed to a few years ago. Even in my current role we have common templates we use for various things. I think the big difference is that with experience, just like with cooking, an ID should be able to break away from using the templates. Someone like myself who doesn’t have a background in cooking sticks pretty close to the recipe. Baking, a related discipline I guess, is something I’m a bit more familiar with so I have a bit more room to play. Or compared to my hobby of cocktail mixing, I began with recipe books because I’m not trained in mixology or bartending, but over time I’ve been able to make on the fly adjustments to recipes and get pretty good results. So yes I would agree that a challenge in the field is that job titles and expectations may be similar but the lived experiences and pathways vary widely.
The other key challenge here is the part about who the learners are, and observations. I talked a bit about this in the Dear ID podcast interview last month. I positioned it as, working as an ID in higher ed you get to make certain assumptions for every project you work on, but the corollary is that you also have blind spots you don’t necessarily get to make clear as well. Many higher ed ID positions for example ask that the ID be able to go through ADDIE from A – E, but if you’re an ID or Ed Dev working in higher ed, when was the last time you did a throughout learner or context analysis? I mean a really thorough one? I would suspect it’s unusual for people in these roles in higher ed to do classroom observations, meet the students, etc prior to beginning work on a project. I’m not sure what it’s like in the workplace learning context exactly, but I imagine IDs in other kinds of organizations have a different sense of what is all included in a front end analysis.
More food for thought. Maybe I’ll finish that other post one of these days.