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Vision of a Contemporary Ph.D. program in Educational Technology

 

Educational Technology is a field that can be hard to define because it draws on a variety of disciplines—communications, psychology, computer science, learning theory, visual design, etc. Some individuals consider educational technology to be a subset of instructional design dealing with only the technological aspects of delivering instruction. I suggest that whatever the label used, the successful Ph.D. candidate must walk out the door with the skills to be able to function as an instructional designer, namely being able to:

 

1) determine whether or not instruction is the appropriate solution to a perceived problem;

2) explain the process for and design effective instruction tailored to the needs of the target audience (whether in their own field or by working with a Subject Matter Expert);

3) discuss the different internal and external conditions of instruction for both children and adults and how learner motivation and self-esteem impact the learning outcome;

4) recognize the characteristics and appropriate applications of a variety of major instructional design models,

5) evaluate learning outcomes through a variety of assessment methods—program evaluation, written tests, performance/authentic assessments, or whatever,

6) deliver instruction through a variety of media channels—live interactive broadcast, synchronous or asynchronous web including the use of course delivery systems such as WebCT, Blackboard, TopClass; CD/DVD-ROM, print-based modules/texts or whatever new technologies exist, realizing that they will have to continue lifelong learning in this area as technology changes;

7) apply qualitative and quantitative research methodologies to conduct and publish original research;

8) have had the opportunity to be mentored by faculty and make presentations at national conferences;

9) critically evaluate classic and contemporary research in the fields of instructional design and educational technology; and,

10) have designed and produced an electronic portfolio of instructional projects and research conducted while taking courses to help facilitate job search efforts.

 

Seels & Richey (1994) have done a remarkable job suggesting a model of needed components which binds together theory and practice. They identify the areas of Design, Development, Utilization, Management, and Evaluation. I feel these areas can be broken into the following sections. There needs to be a balanced blending of coursework from 4 areas: “production tools”, “instructional technology concepts” and “learning theory/communication concepts” plus “research/analysis tools”.

1)      “Production tools” component:  designated stand alone courses or course content which teach multimedia based title production--software/authoring techniques such as Flash, iShell, Authorware, html & javascript and use of webpage editors, graphic and audio-visual presentation software such as Powerpoint, Astound, Keynote, Photoshop, Fireworks, Premiere/Final Cut Pro, etc.—subject to change as new tools emerge.

2)      “Instructional technology concepts”: issues specific to creating effective instruction such as needs assessment, systematic design of instruction (including ID software such as Designer’s Edge), media selection and delivery methods, ISD models, adoption/diffusion of technology (“Roger’s change process”), “hardware issues” such as networking, broadcasting, marketing/distribution of instructional titles, and so forth.

3)      “Learning theory concepts”: related areas such as communication and learning styles, how learning occurs, what motivates learners of different types, educational assessment techniques, etc.

4)      “Research & analysis tools”: quantitative and qualitative research methodologies, parametric and non-parametric statistics, use of SPSS and other statistical analysis software, survey design, reading and evaluating educational research, and thinking/writing critically.

 

Students initially (first semester) should have coursework in which they are given both a philosophical and a practical overview of the field. This will give them exposure to major “hot topic” issues in the field, as well as let them explore the potential career tracks in the field. By providing an initial “umbrella” course/series of courses, students are then able to see how the details/specifics of a particular course will help them attain competencies required of instructional designers/technologists. Given the variety of career paths open, it will provide a framework from which to read and reflect on the specific area(s) they wish to focus. Along with this overview, students should take a course/content which addresses the characteristics of media selection and use—something along the lines of using the Heinich/Molenda/Russell/Smaldino text on Instructional Delivery strategies. Also initially, the student should begin taking coursework in learning theory and learner motivation. By having exposure to all of these areas early in the program, students can build on foundational concepts in each area throughout the coursework and also avoid getting burned out by taking several computer/production based courses at the same time.

 

Once this initial foundation has been built, students would begin taking some of the courses in the production tools area to start building technical competencies and initial products for their electronic portfolio. At the same time, they could take courses in educational assessment, adult learning theory, and initial exposure to the instructional design process. Depending on the number of instructional design courses offered, this first course in ID could focus on learning the ID process in a conceptual way having students do small-scale exercises/projects applying the ID concepts. A second course in ID could then be a full-blown project where the focus was on the development of a multiple module product. This product could be print-based modules, or multimedia-based. Since there are some differences to consider when the delivery method is multimedia based, there could be a possible third course in instructional design based on the development of a multimedia based title. Regardless of the specifics of the particular courses offered, at this time the student would be getting into the “details” of the field of educational technology.

 

I suggest students hold off on taking the research components until they have an understanding of what they might like to do for a dissertation. Research methods courses typically, and in my view, rightly, have students begin defining their research questions and developing the methods they will use to conduct their research. This can be most efficiently completed after the student has had the opportunity to experience the field’s topics. I suggest that students be made aware of the purposes of different quantitative and qualitative analyses before they actually take formal statistics courses. Too often in statistics courses the focus is on the mathematical “how to” rather than on the “why is this appropriate” and “so what does this result mean?” By understanding the various analysis tools/approaches available, and the general process involved in research before undertaking the rigors of statistical analysis calculations, it is easier to keep the “big picture” in mind and not get lost in the computational details.

 

All throughout the coursework, students should be building content that will allow them to create an electronic portfolio. The portfolio could take on many forms, but would likely minimally include a multiple page web site which includes a resume/vitae, description of their research efforts, any conference presentations given, and any major projects completed. The projects could/would also be saved to a CD/DVD-ROM format. Whatever the appropriate storage and delivery mode, this should be an on-going effort throughout the students’ duration in the program.

 

A quality program is necessary to attaining the desired position, but I think even more importantly is the way that program is delivered. Graduate school is a real pressure cooker, and many times can be a lonely and overwhelming experience. Some of the most valuable assets I have taken from my graduate journey are the personal and professional relationships I have forged. The bonds I developed with both my peers and my faculty members will stay with me for life. Yes, the “Graduate Experience” can be cold and heartless—but it should not HAVE to be. As faculty members, I believe we have both the responsibility and the desire to be mentors, and challenge our students and offer them the opportunities to enter the field on a professional, enjoyable and equal footing. To me, the “human factor” should be as much a part of a quality graduate program as the “professional factor.” Anything less, and we do ourselves and our students a disservice.