Program of Study
Below is the list of classes I took to fulfill my degree requirements.
Needs Assessment for Learning and Performance
Professor Holly Henry's official course description states that the course is focused on "analyz[ing] learning and performance needs and opportunities using a systemic framework and associated strategies and techniques. Develop needs assessment instruments, collect data, and prepare recommendations for improvement." While this description is accurate, I found the course to be one in which students learn how to differentiate between actual problems and imagined ones. Often, people know that something isn't working as well as it should. They know that there's a problem. They assume that the problem is X. And then they work to solve for X and get frustrated when these solutions do not resolve the problem.
Without systematic analysis of the situation, you really don't know if X is really the problem. Often, the real problem isn't X, it's Y or Z. And once you can identify the actual problem, you can devlop more effective solutions.
I see this confusion happen daily. Associates are not performing at the level that management thinks that they should. Management assumes that the associates need training. Management often assumes that associates simply lack knowledge. And while this may be the case, unless you perform a systematic analysis, you don't know if you're dealing with a learning problem. If performance is being hampered by poorly designed system tools, for example, additional training is a waste of time. Whenever someone proposes a new training project, I'm often greeted with eye rolls when I ask about the results of the needs assessment. I'd rather suffer through some eye rolling than waste time developing solutions that don't address the actual problem.
Formative and Summative Evaluation
Professor Julie Caplow's course description states that the students will "Study of the process of gathering data and making judgments about the effectiveness of instructional programs that uses technology. Covers techniques of a formative evaluation process to revise instruction. Culminating project is planning and conducting a portion of a summative evaluation of instructional program." In other words, the course was about learning the who, what, when, where, and why of evaluation. Albert Einstein is often attributed with saying, "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results." Evaluation, then, enables you to stop the insanity.
I see the lack of thorough evaluation to be another significant hurdle that organizations must overcome. Course evaluations often focus on how students "feel" about a course. It's much more important to ask what the course objectives were and look at
whether the course achieved those objectives. Formative and summative evaluation provides you with the tools to accomplish this.
Rapid Authoring Tools
Professor Rose Mara's course description states that "students will apply principles of rapid development and use rapid development tools to create a prototype of an e-learning module that uses technology features that can enhance learning (e.g. learner interactions)."
In this course, we used Microsoft PowerPoint as a rapid authoring tool to develop eLearning.
I've been able to leverage the content in this course in a number of job interviews, including the one for my current position. Everyone in the course assumed that we would be using Adobe Captivate or a similar tool to design and develop courseware. Professor Mara showed us that PowerPoint has a great deal of functionality that most people never utilize and has the advantage of being bundled into most Microsoft software environments. And because most people have at least a passing familiarity with PowerPoint, it's possible to have a high fidelity prototype ready in an extremely short amount of time.
The real value of a course such as this is that it forces students to think carefully about the tools they use. Software such as Captivate can be used to create complex and powerful eLearning modules. This is great if you are working with a carefully designed and thoroughly vetted storyboard. But when you are exploring concepts and thinking through design problems, prototyping becomes a critical part of the process. The efficiency gains are important, but I found that being able to rapidly develop a prototype while I'm meeting with subject matter experts is an excellent way to collaborate. You can show someone why an idea might not work as well as he thinks it would in real time and shift to brainstorming new approaches.
Professor Joi Moore's course description states that "students will learn the basic concepts of interaction design, then focus on usability engineering and prototyping principles to support the design process for learning and performance based technologies." This course challenges students to see interaction design as something that is not confined to the LMS; unless you are living in the wild, you interactive with environments, devices, and systems designed by humans. This course was fundamental in helping me to see the power of good design. To quote from an episode of Futurama, "When you do things right, people won't be sure that you've done anything at all."
It was in this course that I had my first encouters with a process that, while valuable, is personally unpleasant: hierarchical task analysis. I would often overlook tasks because I assumed that people would see them without my pointing them out. Task analysis is important because it allows you to explain why an interaction is faulty rather than simply pointing out that the problem exists. I find it to be a cumbersome exercise because as a designer, I know what I'm trying to do with the product I'm designing. I know what it is that users ought to be doing, and it is tempting to blame users when the interaction does not go as planned. Task analysis helps you gain the objectivity you need to identify the point in which the user interaction does not go according to plan.
Instructional Systems Design
Professor David Reid's course description states that the course will focus on the "development of skills and knowledge related to the systematic design of instruction. Emphasis is placed on content analysis, instructional strategies, and formative evaluation." While he never said anything to me directly, I'm sure that Dr. Reid was relieved to be rid of me by the end of the semester. I was not deliberately trying to be a provocateur, but I'm afraid that I probably served as one. This course teaches the fundamentals of instructional design. As a professional instructional designer, I frequently argued from the position of what actually happens versus the ideal state. For example, when discussing the ADDIE model, rather than discuss the merits of a systematic approach to the instructional design process, I would make the point that thorough analysis never happens because it isn't practical. There are always deadlines and constraints outside of your control, and you often have to work with incomplete information. I considered myself a pragmatist, but I suspect that I probably used this course as a platform to vent frustrations I was dealing with at my day job designing sales training.
When I wasn't arguing about what happens in "the real world", this course did help me by reinforcing the basics. In any career, you tend to slip into bad habits of doing things the way you've been trained to do them at the organization you're working at. For this reason, it's important to spend time on fundamentals. One of my personal frustrations is having someone in compliance re-write my learning objectives. Compliance officers are not learning specialists; their focus is risk mitigation. In the end, they have the final say over what goes into your training. But, spending time reviewing, practicing, and discussing the fundamental features of a well-written learning objective, as we did in one unit of the course, helps give you a stronger foundation on which to build. Rather than waste energy brooding on the things you cannot control, it's better to focus your energy on the things you can.
Teaching Online Courses
Professor Jane Howland's course description states that the course "examines emerging issues in teaching and learning online; instructor and student roles; instructional strategies for supporting diverse learners; methods of student assessment; online communication,; classroom management; characteristics of online learning management systems." In a former life, I taught English online and in the classroom. I taught college students; most of my peers in this class taught elementary students. I know that the concepts behind online should be applicable across the board, but there is an obvious difference in the way in which these concepts are implemented. I learned a great deal from my peers by simply trying to relate to the situations they found themselves in.
When I taught online, it was always asynchronously. At work, I have to design training that is going to be delivered online synchronously. Many of my peers and leadership understand that online learning is a different beast than classroon learning. However, we are increasingly coming to rely on virtual instructor-led courses. We have trainers who are adept at using tools like WebEx to facilitate sessions online. These same peers and leadership often do not appreciate the need to differentiate course design when it is going to be delivered virtually. The common belief is that you can take the same facilitator guide and participant material and re-use it when the session will be held online. I've argued that this content needs to be modified for the virtual environment. User engagement is much harder to ascertain via webcam, especially when you are facilitating a class of 20+ people. Using an online whiteboard is a very different experience than it is to use a physical one. This course has given me the tools I need to demonstrate these differences to leadership.
Mobile Apps Development
One of the first distinctions that we learned in this course is the difference between a mobile app and a native app. A mobile application is a web-based application that has been designed so that it functions using the web browser of a smartphone. A native application is a piece of software that is designed to be deployed to a specific mobile operating system (Apple iTunes and Android Play are currently the industry leaders in distributing native apps for their specific operating systems).
I think that most of us signed up for the class thinking that we were going to be developing native apps rather than mobile apps. Instead, we developed one app from the ground up, including wireframes, clickstreams, and usability studies. We then divided into groups to focus on one of the apps developed by one of the members of the group with the goal of re-designing it to enhance the features and functionality.
Introduction to Digital Media
Professor Fatih Demir's course description states that this course is a "hands-on approach to multimedia production techniques. Develops understanding of technical and conceptual tools for the basics of digital media, video editing, still image and audio file manipulation. Students create web portfolio to present their digital products." This course is my final course in the Masters of Education program, and it has been a great experience to learn how to develop multimedia projects the proper way rather than fight with software until you either manage to produce something that works sometimes and not in others or ask someone more skilled than you to "help you out" by doing it for you.
I've appreciated the opportunity to be creative in this course. For example, in the video project, we had assignment parameters, but we were not restricted when it came to subject matter. I chose to edit footage from the war in Syria with a section from President Dwight Eisenhower's farewell address to the nation. In this speech, Eisenhower warned of the growing influence of the military-inductrial complex, a system in which private companies exert influence over the federal government's foreign policy. By ensuring that the country is always responding with its military to a crisis somewhere in the world, these companies can make tremendous profits from taxpayers. My hope is that the viewer puts the two together and sees that Eisenhower's warning has been ignored.
Intermediate Web Development