Science Fiction, Technology and Maybe Education

2001 tablet
2001 tablet

If you watch the film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, by Stanley Kubrick, you will see some technology that seemed to predict technology of today, such as the iPad and other tablets. 

I was watching "Design is [Sci-Fi] – How Design in Sci-Fi and the Real World Influence Each Other," which is a talk given at Google by Christopher Noessel, a veteran in the UX world. He is the author of Make It So: Interaction Design Lessons from Science Fiction. 

About Face: The Essentials of Interaction Design is the update to Make It So that addresses the shift to smartphones and tablets, mobile apps and touch interfaces.

communicator
Star Trek Communicator replica (Wikimedia)

Designers sometimes use interfaces first described in in science fiction or shown in films and television shows. Film production designers working in the sci-fi genre are often free of the conventions of current technology. They can develop what are known as "blue-sky" designs. And then, fictional devices and interfaces might give designers inspiration for their real-world designs.

One example often used is the communicator used on Star Trek which seems to predict the early flip-phone mobile devices. On scifiinterfaces.com, you will find examples of how sci-fi and real-world interface design influence each other.

Films like Blade Runner tried to portray the future and give ideas in their predictions to designers in UX and technology. But does sci-fi have an influence on other fields? For example, what have educators learned from science-fiction? How has science-fiction portrayed education?

Generally, science-fiction writers and filmmakers have not really given schools of the future very much attention. Many schools and students portrayed are at the K-12 levels. Higher education is less likely to appear. Are they predicting an end to post-secondary learning in institutions? 

I remember watching the 1960s TV show and young Elroy Jetson having a robot teacher. On Star Trek: Deep Space Nine in the 1990s, there is a school for the space station's youngsters that is not very different from our current earthbound schools.

Certainly, online learning has made deep inroads into education at all levels, but especially in higher education. We don't have robot teachers yet, but AI, machine learning and predictive analytics have certainly started to make their way into education.

When I was teaching young adult novels, some students read Robert A Heinlein's Tunnel in the Sky. This 1955 novel presented things like high school students being teleported for their final exam in a survival class to a distant planet. My students found these schools better than their own classrooms.

I found that my students often wished they could go to these futuristic sci-fi and fantasy schools.

I'll admit that when I read the Harry Potter books, I sometimes wished to be in the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry or be a teacher there, or just have Harry, Hermoine and a few of their mates as students. 

One of the few higher education depictions I have read is Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy found in the The Magicians books by Lev Grossman and the TV adaptations. 

Are there any things that most of these future schools have in common? You would be quick to note that students have much more choice. Their curriculum seems to be all directly related to what they want to do. Yes, some of Harry Potter's classmate may not like a course on magical plants, but they realize that it is an important part of the magical world.

Obviously, these future students have amazing technology to use. Paper notebooks and books and pens and pencils generally don't exist. Everything is digital. 

But there are also things that seem very much the same. Typically, there are still classrooms, labs, rows of desks and a teacher in the front of the room. I suppose even blue-sky writers and designers haven't come up with any good alternatives to those. 

Isaac Asimov made many predictions, including some about 2019, often they were based on current scientific research. Education was something he predicted “will become fun because it will bubble up from within and not be forced in from without.” He wrote a short story that I used to teach called "The Fun They Had." It is about future students that were completely educated at home via teching machines. When the system breaks down one day, they have to read a book and find out that kids once went to a school building and had classes with other kids their age. The children are in awe of the fun those kids must have had.

I wouldn’t use “fun” as my main adjective for education today, but through MOOCs, alternate degrees, customized programs and other DIY educational paths there is more education “bubbling up” than ever before.

Christopher Noessel is a veteran in the UX world: designing products, services, and strategy
for the health, financial, and consumer domains, among many others. In this talk,
he investigates how the depiction of technologies evolve over time, how fictional interfaces
influence those in the real world, and what lessons interface designers can learn
through this process, with many examples of good and awful designs.

 

An ID By Any Other Name (Is Still an ID)

I saw a job posting on higheredjobs.com for a "Remote Learning Architect" and I thought "Hmmm. I design learning, and I work remotely. Am I a Remote Learning Architect?"

I have written about the role of instructional designers      Maybe I am a Learning Experience (LX) Designer. Maybe I am a User Experience (UX) Designer. I know that I design learning experiences for users using instructional design theories and practices. 

I have held those titles in past years and currently I'm working as a Virtual (that's remote, right?) Instructional Designer (ID). It certainly is a job that varies from place to place. In a small college or company, you are likely to be doing some of the work of an instructional technologist, media creator, graphic designer, pedagogical coach and some pretty boring copy/paste of content from faculty and subject matter experts (SME).

That job posting is from iDesign, an educational service company, so it is corporate with a classroom flavor. So, what is a learning architect?  Like George on Seinfeld, I always wanted to be an architect, so this looks like my opportunity. Maybe.

architect

This post will outlive the job posting, so here is an abridged version of the job description. 

Adjunct/Part-Time
iDesign is currently seeking qualified learning architects and instructional technologists to join our course development team. iDesign is offering a comprehensive suite of services to help academic and business partners increase their online presence.
Learning Architects work with Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) and key stakeholders to support and guide the design, development and production of innovative online courses. The Learning Architect collaborates with SMEs to adapt content for online instruction, suggests relevant learning technologies, and develops course materials that support the stated learning objectives. The Learning Architect works closely with a number of team members including Learning Architects, Instructional Technologists, Quality Reviewers, Multimedia Editors and Graphic Designers to ensure the design and development of online learning support the vision of the partner and subject matter experts. Learning Architects works with the Senior Learning Architect/Project Manager to keep them informed of issues that impact course design and development and delivery of the project.

Designing Instruction

In my unretirement, I am back into the world of instructional design this semester. During my first phase working in this area, I was the manager of a department of instructional design, but as the years passed and I moved on I became a designer independently.

For the next year, I will be designing the initial courses that will launch the Virtual campus at the County College of Morris in New Jersey. This is a virtual designer position. I will do almost all my work virtually.

The Instructional Designer (ID) is a fairly new job title that existed in some form in corporate training setting before moving into education. Of course, teachers at all levels have been "designing" their instruction forever. But the instructional designer position really came to the forefront with technology-enhanced teaching and learning and the growth of distance and then online courses.

I often point out that instructional technology is "the other IT" - an abbreviation that is generally meant to mean "information technology." In my world of IT, the "instructional" takes precedence over the "technology." Perhaps, it should abbreviated as It?

If you look at any job postings for IDs, you will find a wide variety of responsibilities and desired skills. I compiled a list back when I was interviewing people for those positions and was surprised to find the number of items on it.

  1. Collaborates with faculty and other subject matter experts to apply current instructional design theories, practice, and methods to learning activities and course content in alignment with learning outcomes.
  2. Provides instructional design or curriculum development training and support to academic units and
  3. whose work is not limited to online and hybrid courses and programs
  4. Addresses accessibility concerns
  5. Develops course templates
  6. Structures learning activities
  7. Creates or assist other sin creating visual resources and interactive elements
  8. Works with faculty to assess and improve the quality of hybrid and online courses using standards such as Quality Matters.
  9. May write or edit copy, instructional text, and audio/video scripts for courses 
  10. Identifies opportunities for adoption of open education resources OER
  11. Provides additional help to faculty with a learning management system (Canvas, Moodle, Blackboard etc.)
  12. Develops and facilitates individual and cohort-based training and orientation programs
  13. Stays current with expertise in the field by reading appropriate professional journals and trade publications, and
  14. Attends and presents at professional conferences, workshops and meetings
  15. May serve on library, university, and regional or national committees and project teams
  16. Coordinates activities related to orientation and onboarding in-depth/comprehensive pedagogical and instructional technology support of new full and part time instructors.
  17. Consults with faculty on approaches to learning and instruction and helps them to develop materials such as assignment instructions, rubrics, etc.
  18. Provides models, templates, and frameworks that faculty can use to structure course related projects, assignments, and activities.
  19. Manages the design and development of curriculum and courses according to project timelines.
  20. Assists faculty to identify and evaluate instructional software
  21. Support relevant emergent initiatives (such as Digital Humanities, Makerspaces)
  22. Research and test new technologies that support teaching and learning and solve specific problems

What kind of resume items would I expect to see for a good ID candidate? That varies a lot more than the above responsibilities list. I know lots of colleges that have one ID on staff, and larger schools with a department with six or more people. I also see some crossover at some schools with the position of Instructional Technologist. Personally, I see those two positions as very different, but not all schools agree - often it's an issue of available money and salary lines.

I would like to see:

  • A minimum of two years of experience in an instructional design, faculty development, or project management position related to teaching with technology in a college or university setting.
  • Demonstrated experience (meaning you can show me samples for all the "experience" items here) designing templates for online courses in collaboration with department, program, and/or institutional faculty and staff
  • A clear understanding of the learning theories, principles, and strategies that support best practices in online and technology-enhanced teaching, such as Universal Design for Learning. 
  • Experience with at least one learning management system - hopefully, the one being used at the school.
  • Experience designing and facilitating workshops and trainings for instructors
  • Clear understanding of policies concerning accessibility, privacy, information security, and academic integrity
  • Excellent interpersonal and communication skills and the ability to work as a contributing and collegial member of a team, and to communicate proactively within the team environment.
     

I would prefer to see some of these items on a resume.

  • Project management skills
  • An advanced degree in a discipline such as Instructional Design, Learning Technologies, Curriculum and Instruction, Adult Learning, or a related field
  • Teaching experience in a college or university setting
  • A record of professional or scholarly contributions to instructional design or faculty development, evidenced through either publications or participation in professional organizations
  • Basic graphic design skills
  • Experience with creating innovative assessments (e.g. performance based, game based, media based).

Aligning Learning and Key Performance Indicators

focusAlign your training with KPIs. This is not a mantra I hear in education. A KPI is a Key Performance Indicator, which is a measurable value that demonstrates how effectively an organization (most commonly a company it seems) is achieving key objectives.

KPIs are used to evaluate success at reaching targets. Businesses talk a lot about the Return on Investment (ROI) and they are usually talking about dollars and cents. But in educational training and professional development, the ROI probably can't be measured in dollars.

Still, the process may be similar.

Define which metrics are most important to you. These become your key performance indicators. You need to know exactly what you're going to use to judge performance. 

If you want to increase enrollment in a major or program, that provides an easy metric. If a professor want to increase attendance in her classroom, that is also easily measured.

When I work with faculty designing courses, many professors stumble on setting objectives versus goals. The simple difference is that a goal is a description of a destination, and an objective is a measure of the progress that is needed to get to the destination. In this context goals are the long term outcomes.

Teachers will sometimes tell you objectives that are not measurable. For example, to want students to "have an appreciation of modern poetry" may be an admirable goal for a poetry courses, but how do you measure that? 

For an objective to be effective it must be clear, measurable and have a time element. For instance, that objective of increasing class attendance by 10 percent by the end of the semester is clear, measurable and has that time element.

Of course, after you determine those objectives, the real difficult part begins - figuring out how to reach that objective.

Online Learning Is Not All in English

globeAmericans are rather well known for being American-centric. President Trump's "America First" speeches make that clear. Despite what Copernicus pointed out, we tend to think we are the center of the universe. This also tends to be true when it comes to MOOCs.

MOOCs from outside the United States don't get the same amount of attention as ones from within. I started a group on LinkedIn back in 2012 when I was offering a meta-MOOC on their rising use in academia. That group over the years has been much more international and broadened the discussions to online learning in general. 

Of course, even an American MOOC taught from Stanford is international in its participants. I try to take note of international courses and efforts.

Globally about 75% of all MOOCs are offered in English. Translating MOOCs taught in English to other languages can increase participant enrollment and disperse course knowledge to non-English language learners. However, it takes a significant amount of time and resources to translate text from English into another language, and then manually replace the translated text in the targeted language.

"China's higher education is facing problems, such as traditional teaching approaches, content and the quality of teachers not meeting student demand in the new era," said Zhan Dechen, a professor at Harbin Institute of Technology. Could MOOCs could be a solution to those problems? More MOOCs in China creates its own set of challenges.

The Online Education Development Office (OEDO) in Japan has trained teaching assistants who support faculty members in all aspects of Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) and Small Private Online Course (SPOC) planning, production and course running as well as assistance with copyright issues. They offer a MOOC Development Toolkit which include Microsoft Excel and Python scripts to speed up the translation process in Open edX Studio. OEDO developed a Content Modification Tool that replaces English text with translated Japanese text in a localized version of Stanford University's MOOC on “Creating Effective Online and Blended Courses”, for Japanese faculty/staff development.course development in edX Studio.   

Still, that 75% of MOOCs in English have international appeal, translated or not. Google launched a MOOC to train entry-Level IT Support Staffers. It was intended for use with Americans. Before Google created its certificate program through Coursera, Google training programs designed to help low-income young adults get into the information technology industry by learning the fundamentals of tech support were being offered. Through its work with a relatively small number of learners who participated in Google internships or an IT residency program, the company discovered it could get them qualified very quickly. This is the type of course that if it was a truly MOpenOC, and translated, it could be offered for a much more global audience.