Monday, September 20, 2010

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Once Again...

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Instructional Technologies That Undermine Instruction

How is it that instructional technology at IPFW actually undermines the activity of instruction?

I considered this question after moving older courses I have taught to my Course Development area before they were scheduled to be removed.  Like most faculty, I have a portfolio of courses that I teach, and I re-use much of the same material from semester to semester.  Within hours, I was receiving emails from students asking where the readings for the class had gone.  Much to my horror, I had found that in moving my older courses to this Course Development area, I had shredded the current course I'm teaching this semester, and for which I had carefully prepared before the semester had started.

Although I'm by no means a software engineer, I consider myself a pretty adept user.  I was stunned to see that this implementation of instructional technology would allow me to do so much damage in so few clicks, without any kind of warning from the software.  Good user design would have a pop-up warning ask the user "Are you sure you want to do this?" before wiping out large swaths of information.  Instead of using my time to work ahead in my classes, let alone write an overdue book review, or get ready for a conference presentation in two weeks, I spent a good part of my Saturday reconstructing a course for which I already had gotten running two weeks earlier.  How could the software have allowed this to happen?

The answer ultimately may have less to do with Blackboard, and more to do with what I would call the paradigm of the inverted pyramid of instructional technology.  At the top of the inverted pyramid, there are the faculty and students.  I know there are many important parts to the University, and sometimes faculty and students think we are the University to the exclusion of everyone else who works here.  However, let's face it.  Without faculty,  students, and most importantly, instruction, there would be no University.   Supporting the inverted pyramid are the meager resources that roll out software upgrades and backup processes that turn faculty and students into glorified beta-testers.  Blackboard goes down, the network goes down, a process for backing up courses goes awry, and guess what?  The pyramid topples, ITS scrambles to fix the problem, and instruction at IPFW has just taken another hit from instructional technology.

In identifying the problem as one of an inverted pyramid, I do not mean to disparage ITS.  ITS does a terrific job helping diagnose software and hardware problems.  It also has to serve many masters, including billing, enrollment management, as well as supporting instruction.  It does all of these things and it does most of them well.  This is exactly the problem.  The worldview of this paradigm is one of technology as defined by support areas of the University, not by the most important constituents and the core mission of a university to offer instruction.  Thus, there is little if any incentive for ITS to pay attention to how faculty and students are actually using technology on the ground, especially when there are other units in Financial Affairs that need support just as urgently.

The worldview of technology as an end unto itself, and instruction as something that must acquiesce to the limitations of how the technology gets implemented, results in part from a structural defect at IPFW in which ITS falls under Financial Affairs, and not Academic Affairs.  I can't blame the handful of personnel at IPFW charged with supporting instructional technology for the hundreds of faculty who teach on this campus.  Those poor souls have an impossible task.  In the past few weeks, I've heard from other faculty of mounting frustration with the lack of responsiveness ITS to supporting instructional technology.  But how could ITS be any more responsive, given how little of its resources are devoted to the most important function of the University?

I guess the bottom line is that until there is paradigm shift in how faculty and students get placed at the center of technology resources through a meaningful implementation of instructional technology, and not at its periphery, not much will change.  And I have a hard time seeing how this paradigm shift will take place until something happens with the organizational structure at IPFW.  Until then, faculty and students should expect to keep hobbling along as glorified beta-testers completely exposed to bad design and subject to instructional technology that is at odds with instruction.

UPDATE: After speaking again with Scott Vitz on W 2 Sep, we determined that the problem occurred when I moved a course template being used by my current course to the Course Development area.  That indeed broke the relational links.  I think my point about bad user interface design still applies.  There was no warning message before this occurred, and nothing to indicate right away that I had wiped out my content when I did this.  If you do not have a course template, however, then you probably will not experience this problem.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Bits: Study Finds That Online Education Beats the Classroom
Published: August 19, 2009
Education that includes at least some online work is more effective than classroom-only teaching, according to a major research review done for the Department of Education.

Friday, August 14, 2009

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