Thursday, June 23, 2005

What has the field of Instructional Design added to education?

Joel Galbraith at Penn State started a blog, it appears, to ask and debate one post (hopefully he'll continue blogging afterwards! :-). It's a good discussion. Joel gives this background to the discussion:
"I got a question today from a friend asking what the most "innovative teaching methods in higher education" were these days. I had to stop and think, and felt a bit frustrated that I had no quick response. Furthermore, as I asked fellow INSYSers, I got the impression that no-one had a good handle on an answer that didn't sound like we were treading water, and grabbing at straws."
He then asks the following three questions for us to debate:
  1. What are the most "innovative teaching methods in higher education" these days?
  2. What are some innovative (effective) technology uses in higher education these days?
  3. What are some recent (you decide) significant developments/contributions of our field to teaching and learning?
I have a hard time with questions like this, and I get asked these all the time just like everyone else in our field. What I usually say is something along the lines of,

"I don't think it's possible to answer that question in an easy way. Why? Because education is about people, not things, and as Josh says, we're really talking about systems or communities of people. Anytime you deal with people, you deal with too many variables. Answers don't fit neatly in little boxes. And that's actually okay. That's why research in our field is so important -- so we can find as many answers for as many possible variations as possible.

I mean, asking us what the "best ways to teach someone" are is like asking a sociologist the "best way people form relationships." Or asking a therapist the "best way to resolve disputes" or asking a child development professional the "best way to raise a child." These questions don't work, and they shouldn't be asked. We are not scientists looking for the one great truth, we are technologists (in the broad sense of the word) looking for ideas, tools, and solutions that may work, sometimes, with some people in some contexts."

Personally, this is why I think many people in our field struggle with defining what we should be doing and publishing about. We have too many people trying to be scientists, when really we are technologists (see an articles by Andy Gibbons in TechTrends and other places about this topic).

Anyway, a couple people in the discussion didn't like my answer. They want clean, simple answers to the questions. I don't think it's possible, but if you do, please go over to Joel's blog and add your ideas. I'll keep an ear tuned.

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