Flipping Learning and Making Spaces

I did a presentation titled "Flipping the Learning Model" for the annual conference of the Connecticut Education Network in May 2015. The flipped classroom has been a hot topic in education for a number of years, but more recently, the idea of flipping professional development has been experimented at schools and in corporate training. That is a topic I did a presentation on last fall at NJEDge.Net Annual Conference. Taking the flipped classroom into the world of professional development is a relatively new step in the flipped learning model.

What I was more interested in in the CEN presentation was rethinking how learners work before and after a face-to-face training session to make it more self-directed.

That leads us into discussions of technology integration and andragogical concepts that maximize the time online and during the live group sessions.In both cases, the idea is to rethink what we want to spend our time with in face-to-face (F2F) sessions and how can we move training before and after those sessions to be self-directed.

The flipped learning model using technology, even in our personal learning, maximizes the F2F time for interaction.

I paired my session with another one on makerspaces and I asked attendees to try this flipped learning activity before coming to the conference and the plan was that we would complete it in the face-to-face session. 

As I anticipated, only a few people took up the challenge to do something prior to the session. They were asked to to experiment with one or more ways to increase the volume and sound quality of a smartphone using simple materials and no electronics or additional power. The sample provided online were simple - from just using a cup or bowl to a built object. A few people brought a result of their DIY experimentation to the live session. I would expect a bigger response from students in a course or a group involved in a class, project or makerspace. But, as my slides indicated, as with assigning students "homework" any flipped model must anticipate that some attendeees will not have done the preparation for the session.

In our face-to-face session, I tested a few samples with a decibel meter, but the presentation and my intent was to discuss how this simple exercise can be applied to classroom learning.

I asked some questions of those who did try experimenting, as I would with students.

What did you learn from your experiments? What materials made the greatest improvement in sound? What is more important: volume or sound quality? How would you define "sound quality?" What additional equipment or learning would be necessary for you to go further with this experiment? How might you use this exercise (or a similar one) in your classroom?

I recall reading EDUCAUSE's "7 Things You Should Know About Makerspaces" in 2013. They ask and answer, "What are the implications for teaching and learning?"

"The makerspace gives room and materials for physical learning. Because these spaces can easily be cross-disciplinary, students in many fields can use them, often finding technical help for work they are undertaking in their areas. At the same time, those in engineering and technology will find their work enriched by contributions from those in other fields. Makerspaces allow students to take control of their own learning as they take ownership of projects they have not just designed but defined. At the same time, students often appreciate the

hands-on use of emerging technologies and a comfortable acquaintance with the kind of experimentation that leads to a completed project. Where makerspaces exist on campus, they provide a physical laboratory for inquiry-based learning."

Whether you call your space for creative work and play a classroom or a makerspace or an innovation lab, hackerspace, tech shop or fabrication lab, what we need to focus on as educators is what goes on inside that space. More important than the name of the space is the pedagogy for its use and how it reaches out to a larger community - whether that be a school, campus or city.


Aren't Teachers Also Instructional Designers?

Instructional Design in Educational Settings from Kenneth Ronkowitz

A colleague at the college asked me if I would do a presentation to his class about how instructional design might fit into educational settings. It's a class that is made up of students in our teacher prep program, and also students that are studying professional technical communications. It's an odd blend. The communication students are unfamiliar with teaching and the future teachers have no background in topics such as instructional design. My presentation discussed how instructional design differs from designing lessons as a teacher. Although the two fields share some things - and it would be good for each to know something about the other field - they have different skills and goals.

I started with some textbook definitions: "The term instructional design refers to the systematic and reflective process of translating principles of learning and instruction into plans for instructional materials, activities, information resources, and evaluation. An instructional designer is somewhat like an engineer." (Smith, Patricia L., and Tillman J. Ragan. Instructional design. New York, NY: Wiley, 1999.)

Teachers focus on tasks/learning opportunities for students. Educational learning designers design “documents and describes a learning activity in such a way that other teachers can understand it and use it in their own context. Typically a learning design includes descriptions of learning tasks, resources and supports provided by the teacher.” (Donald, Blake, Girault, Datt, & Ramsay, 2009)

I asked AREN’T ALL TEACHERS INSTRUCTIONAL DESIGNERS? My short answer is "No." Teachers designing lessons (Learning Design) focus on the individual lesson/session -> week -> unit. They are often not involved in the decision-making process of what the content will be (textbooks, units etc.), although they are the subject matter expert.

In contrast, instructional designers (ID) have a more global focus, often driven by performance goals. They work with subject matter experts (SME) who provide the content. (In some smaller companies, the ID may also be considered the SME.)
If you look at job ads for instructional designers, you will find most positions are in the corporate sector, though colleges employ IDs. There are a few situations where the two worlds cross, such as an ID working for an educational vendor like Pearson.

The instructional designer's responsibilities include having to participate in product ideation, innovation, and iteration; synthesize and apply academic learning theory to product features; create design schematics in conjunction with UI designers; participate in the learner validation, and subsequent iteration, of schematics into design specifications and patterns; contributing to other design, development, research, and evaluation tasks, as needed.

In smaller companies, you may have responsibilities for managing a content management system, graphic design, video or visual design elements. You'll notice that it does not include providing content or being the SME.

The skills that an ID needs to identify to a potential employer and evidence by viewable projects and products include a deep and demonstrated knowledge of learning design principles; experience synthesizing and applying research from the learning sciences to product design in clear, tangible, documented ways; an understanding of various adaptive models and characteristics and their impact on learning; understanding of evidence-based, learner-centered design processes, techniques and tools; experience participating in the design of learner interfaces and learner experiences.

The skills noted in job ads are often very specific – “Captivate 6+” - but resumes should always be (and in my experience in reading them, often are not) specific. “Experienced in using Agile/Scrum methodologies in dispersed, cross-functional teams” is a more useful description than listing Captivate. (Students don't seem to realize that listing Microsoft Office or even PowerPoint and Excel is pretty much useless to a search committee.) 

In anticipating interview questions, an ID should be ready to answer what tools or methods they would use for creating design schematics and specifications; conducting validation testing with learners, instructors, administrators and experts; conducting formalized acceptance testing, usability testing and pilot testing; increasing participation in a complex technology systems with numerous stakeholders and requirements.

The formal education or equivalent experiences that you find in ID resumes vary widely. A graduate degrees in instructional design is the obvious degree. We also find evidence of candidates that have knowledge of software and UI design practices; experience gathering and applying peer-reviewed scholarly research and user research; instructional design and UCD testing experience; classroom teaching or training experience; experience in the research-based design of adaptive technology, software, or digital learning products (adaptive learning systems e.g., Bayesian Nets, cognitive modeling, machine learning) and applicants with backgrounds in Learning Science, Cognitive Psychology, Computer Science, Educational Technology, Educational Psychology, Human Factors, Artificial Intelligence, or Learning Analytics.

In an ideal world, teachers would have a background in learning theory and instructional design theory, practice and tools. They would also have input into the higher levels of curriculum design. Instructional designers in that ideal world would have more than just a student view on how learning is designed in academia. They would be able to bridge the learning styles established in K-12 with those of undergraduate courses, to graduate to professional learning.

One another side-note I discussed was about online learning: An article I referenced for the class was "Lesson Planning: The Missing Link in e-Learning Course Design." So much of the instructional designer's work these days is for developing online learning and training. "Lesson planning is not a typical topic in instructional design courses and programs, although education courses and programs always include it. Consequently, few IDs without education backgrounds know how to develop lesson plans. Though developing a lesson plan for e-Learning is similar in many ways to developing a lesson plan for instructor-led learning, there are also differences. IDs need to remember that there is no instructor present in self-paced e-Learning, and simple as this sounds, it does take some getting used to. This concept is especially difficult to grasp for experienced stand-up trainers and facilitators who are new to designing instruction."

My slides for the presentation are online and a streaming video capture of the session is also available.



Makerspaces (AKA hackerspaces, hackspaces, and fablabs) are creative, do-it-yourself (DIY) spaces where people can gather to create, invent, and learn. A large number of them have been opened in libraries and more recently in public spaces and on campuses.

The makerspace may contain 3D printers, software, electronics, craft and hardware supplies and tools that most individuals can't afford to own but want to learn to use.

I read an EDUCAUSE "7 Things" sheet back in 2013 on makerspaces that had predicted that "As makerspaces have become more common on campuses and have found their place in public libraries and community centers, their influence has spread to other disciplines and may one day be embraced across the curriculum. Eventually makerspaces may become linked from campus to campus, encouraging joint project collaboration." They even went as far as to say that the work done there "may one day be accepted and reviewed for college credit in lieu of more conventional coursework."

From my observation, they seem to have made more inroads in K-12 than in colleges. This month, there will be a Makers Day here in New Jersey (March 21 - see http://njmakersday.org) which I will unfortunately miss as I will be at another conference. I'd like to see what people are doing in NJ because I am working on a presentation that involves makerspaces for another conference in May.

The benefits of having a makerspace in an academic setting or available to students offers many opportunities. Providing the space and materials for physical learning works because it can be cross-disciplinary, provide technical help for work they are undertaking. It seems more STEM, STEAM or suited to engineering and technology but if you look at the projects in some of the links below there is a lot that id outside those areas. If you see students work in these spaces, you have to be impressed how students take control of their own learning with projects they define, design and create.

Although I work in higher education, anyone who teaches at any grade level knows that students love hands-on projects. I think that these spaces are a very fertile ground for work that bridges ages - a great place for K-20 work and a way to connect parents and the community to schools.


http://makerspace.com is probably the world's largest community of Makers, from Maker Faire and Make: Magazine

Watch Makerspaces in Libraries youtube.com/watch?v=hOqTcQedDrw and an example from the Westport Library  youtube.com/watch?v=nurj3zBlfIg

A list of makerspaces in libraries   http://library-maker-culture.weebly.com/makerspaces-in-libraries.html

Make it at your library   makeitatyourlibrary.org http://oedb.org/ilibrarian/a-librarians-guide-to-makerspaces/ 

Makerspaces in K-12 schools   edutopia.org/blog/creating-makerspaces-in-schools

Some of the tech tools and resources used are very sophisticated, such as a 3D Printer http://cucfablab.org/book/3d-printers or an electronic cutter http://cucfablab.org/book/electronic-vinyl-cutters, but they might be much more familiar, such as the Xbox Kinect 3D scanner http://cucfablab.org/book/3d-scan-and-print-yourself-3d or a computerized sewing machine http://www.brother-usa.com/Homesewing

Teaching Technical Writing

I am giving a presentation at the New Jersey Writing Alliance Spring (NJWA) Conference this week on my experiences teaching technical writing this year at New Jersey Institute of Technology and at Montclair State University. NJIT is NJ's science and technology university and MSU is the state's second largest comprehensive university.

Although the two schools are seen as quite different, the approach I take to technical writing is very similar. My presentation is on "Technical Writing Across Disciplines" and will examine how a technical writing course can emphasize a research approach and problem solving that is not like most of the academic writing done in other writing classes.

One thing I enjoy about the NJWA conference is that it has presenters and attendees from both K-12 and higher education. That doesn't occur often enough.

Keeping with the conference theme of "Achieving College-Ready Writing: The Common Core and Beyond," I'll also examine how secondary school teachers can teach writing about science and technical subjects. That is a strand of the English Language Arts Standards that are part of the controversial Common Core State Standards Initiative as adopted in NJ and other states.