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Is It Just Us, Or Are Kids Getting Really Stupid?

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A friend posted the following article to Twitter earlier today I was feeling burned out on what I was working on and needed a break, so I decided to give it a read. I don't think that there's anything necessarily ground breaking in the article, but the author did a great job of pulling a lot of ideas together that learning designers have come to understand at least in anecdotal ways for many years. In general, the article points out that today's kids are just different than kids of days gone by. Say what you will about the brain's physical structure and the synapses not changing (as some do), but something is different. Some broad ideas that I gleaned from the article about " today's kids" are:

  • They are wired differently.
  • They expect more faster.
  • They get bored easily.
  • They get distracted easily.
  • Not every kid fits the same mold.   
As I read the article an example from my work came to mind. I believe I wrote about on my blog before. I piloted a new learning module on Basic Nutrition earlier this year. The feedback I received from some random students (18-24 years old) was that there were too many words to read, they wanted bullet points and they wanted more video and other animated visuals. Based on the ideas presented in this article, it makes sense why this is the feedback that I got. The information provided in the article and feedback like this will help inform my decisions on developing new learning modules in the future.

The following are a few things I changed based on that feedback. Some I am currently doing, others I am looking into how to do them.

  • Keep the modules a succinct as possible (add links to additional info for the curious)
  • Use short video segments for certain ideas
  • Use more visuals to convey ideas instead of words (most likely will require audio)  
  • Segment the modules into much smaller chunks
  • Add module bookmarking
  • Reinforce ideas with activities more frequently versus Q&A at the end
  • Provide a text only option for the outliers 
As 2010 ends, I must say that I learned a lot about learning design this year from my peers at Penn State and abroad through many different channels. Thank you everyone. I also learned from working with some great students on various project this year. From that experience, I'd have to say that our kids are not "getting really stupid." They just interact with the world and learn in much different ways than anyone before them and probably anyone after them too.

See you in the New Year!

A Definition of ID that I Like...Revisited

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I made the post because I finally found a definition of ID that I liked. You can read the original post here: A Definition of ID that I Like. Since then, I have revised that definition. The revised definition is provided below:

Instructional Design (ID) is part creative arts and part science which utilizes  theoretical as well as practical research in the areas of cognition, educational psychology, information technology, graphic and Web design, and problem solving. ID aims to create the best instructional environment and learning materials to bring a learner from the state of not  knowing, not feeling or not being able to accomplish certain tasks to the state of knowing, feeling and being able to accomplish those tasks in a given subject area through carefully organized interactions with information, activities and assessments.

So what do you think? Does it do the job? If you have a definition that you prefer, I'd love to read it. Please leave a comment.

I'm not the expert. I just know how to get things done.

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I'm not the expert. I just know how to get things done. I was in a meeting yesterday with a bunch of people at the Green Teams luncheon and was asked to talk about the group blog that I set up for our Sustainability Team in Student Affairs. I am pretty proud of it because I believe that it will be useful some day, but I had help to go get to that point. After I gave a run down on the blog, the person running the meeting said something like "So if you have any questions about setting  up a group blog, ask April, she's the expert." Philip, my boss, was sitting next to me looked at me and said with raised eyebrows, "That's new." I just nodded wide-eyed back at him and said "Yes, it is." I hadn't agreed to help the 10-12 Green Teams from all across the University nor do I have the authority to speak for ETS which is the organization that actually has the experts and would need to do some "Blog Magic" to make it happen. Before I could say anything, the leader of the meeting moved on and I sat a little stunned. Chances are that none of the folks in the room will ask for my help, so it's probably a moot point. If they do, however, I will most likely have to give them some information, point them to the resources that I used, and pass them off to the real experts.

Having knowledge about how to do something successfully and being an expert are very different things to me. How about to you?     

Generation M: Misogyny in Media & Culture

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Over lunch yesterday I watched the documentary Generation M: Misogyny in Media & Culture which was sponsored by the Center for Women students. In it, Thomas Keith, professor of philosophy at California State University-Long Beach, looked specifically at misogyny and sexism in mainstream American media. The post below is my personal feeling about one section of the video. They discuss a much larger problem that I focused on here.

I was sickened by the images of how women are portrayed and treated in music videos, television shows, movies and even advertising. Not that I haven't seen these things all along the way, but all put together like that image after image was mind numbing. It's no wonder so many little girls dress so much older than they are and are in such a hurry to grow up or have self esteem problems. The statistics about the number of girls on diets by age 9 because they think they are fat was astounding. They are blasted with what being a woman is supposed to look like (sexy) from every direction even in their toys and cartoons. It's every where.

What's even sadder is how role models to young boys treat women as part of their art. They played part of a rap by a prominent rapper that was about him beating and planning to kill his wife because she was with another man after they split up. How many times has that played out in real life? A lot. I'm not saying that one necessarily causes the other, but it does make me stop and think. So many songs portray women as sexual toys to be used and thrown away. I know some may say "it's only a song."  But if children keep hearing (and singing along with) these things over and over again and seeing it play out in movies, TV, music videos, etc. I wonder if that might just rub off at least a little bit on young boys and girls that idolize these men and women singing about this stuff. As I start to think about having kids, I think about this stuff more. You can't always be there to protect them from this stuff. I guess the best you can do is to try to delay it and explain it as it comes up. It's wrong to treat women like that even if it's just in a song.

This video is available through the Center Women Students.

ELI 2010 Annual Meeting

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Overall I thought the conference was good. It wasn't as beneficial as other conferences that I've been to for what I am doing now. It did reinforce just how very lucky we are at Penn State that we have central services like those offered through ETS. I know that planning a conference is really difficult. Selecting the sessions that make it is probably the hardest part. I was on that committee for the TLT Symposium several years ago and it took a long time. With that said, I think that the program committee choose a decent variety of sessions. But  I did feel that many of them were really basic. Being in this field as long as I have, I would have liked to have seen some more in-depth or cutting edge ideas. So many of the sessions that I ended up going to were talking about ideas that PSU put into place years ago. So I didn't get as much out of the individual sessions as I would have hoped, but I am still happy that I was able to attend.

I loved how the Project Updates and the Poster Sessions were right in the middle of everything. I presented a poster at EDUCAUSE several years ago and it was in a different room that people had to go find. They seemed to get more traffic and exposure. Some of the poster sessions would have made better sessions than some of the session that I saw.

I went to one of the Mobile Learning panels. I really liked the format of the panels. A brief 10 minute presentation and then more in-depth conversations if you wanted them. If nothing was that interesting to hear in detail, you still get some ideas and can take a break for the second half. It was interesting see what other universities are doing with mobile learning. I also attended some session on gaming just to see some examples of what is available out there and what people are calling gaming. Together, they gave me some ideas for how to do something mobile in Student Affairs. I'd love to be able to put together an orientation to Student Affairs, but make it a game kind of like a very basic FourSquare. To play FourSquare you "check in" to various location as you visit and receive points for various things. I think doing something similar to orient student to the departments within Student Affairs could make FTCAP both fun and informative. I suppose a low tech version of the game is possible too for student who don't have smartphones. I'll have to give this some more thought.

I noticed a couple of themes that were emerging both within the session and in conversation. Open is in. Closed is out. I don't think this is anything new. People in the field have been talking about this stuff for years. I think that more people are buying the idea as possble now. I must have heard 25 people say that they are moving away from having an LMS because their students and faculty want it. Many of the attendees were there to see what other colleges and universities are doing specifically in that realm. Mainly they want flexibilty and the ablility to invite others to join discussions and share ideas.

As we talk about "the ANGEL situation" in the coming years, I  know that this is something that will come up again and again. It already has from what I hear, but it's a slow process to turn around an aircraft carrier sized university like Penn State. Smaller fishing boat sized universities and colleges can change direction much more quickly than we can, but that doesn't mean some folks aren't already doing it and others aren't following them here at Penn State. It will be interesting watching what happens next.

Some sessions verified ideas that we know to be true, reflective blogging has value, students don't like working in groups, but when they do they want specific guidelines and want to be graded individually, and students like playing games, but more research is needed to see if they retain what they learned.      

Overall, it was a good conference, but I don't think I would want to go to this every year, maybe every other or every third year.

ePortfolio=Blog=Student's Complete Story

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I attended the public portion of Alan Levine's visit to Penn State. He is a VP at the New Media Consortium. I went to the NMC conference hosted at Princeton last June. It was very interesting to see how new media is being used in education outside of Penn State. I am always so proud of Penn State when I see how far ahead we are in some areas. Alan seemed genuinely impressed by the things Penn State has done with Blogs, the Gaming Commons, and the Digital Commons especially at our huge size. For a more complete account of the visit, see Cole Camplese's blog post on the event.

My Impressions, Thoughts and Reflections through a Student Affair's Lens

Alan talked about his 50 Ways to Tell a Story using 50 different Web 2.0 tools. He reminded us to not focus on the tools, but we should focus on the story and more importantly the telling of the story. As he was talking (very quickly) about the tools that he's found for telling stories digitally, I was thinking about a blog as a student portfolio which was a theme at the recent TLT Symposium. So what is a portfolio at it's most basic level? It's a story of a students curricular (classroom) and cocurricular (outside the classroom) life in college.

As he worked his way through the tools, my mind was spinning on ways that these tools could be used to tell a student's story (both curricular and cocurricular) with their blog as the delivery mechanism and community to support the student through their entire career at Penn State. There are some powerful tools available on the web to help students showcase their cocurricular competencies in interesting, dynamic and even fun ways. Not that I don't think that the reflection most students incorporate into their blogs isn't powerful, it is, but it certainly isn't the only way to tell a story. Check some of them out at:

Most if not all of the folks in the room were from a college or support a college in some way, so the focus was academic and rightfully so. This isn't anything new to me. These events really feed my brain and make me really think about connections. So I was once again thinking about how cocurricular learning is the other side of the student "coin." I struggle with how the curricular and cocurricular can better work together to help students tell a complete story of their college experience using their blog as their ePortfolio.

I keep coming back to developing some sort of a template that helps remind students that they accomplish so much more in college than gaining knowledge and experiences from taking classes. In fact there is a long list of outcomes that cover them. When I think about it, I envision something like what Carla Zembal-Saul and Brad Kozlek came up with for the student teaching pilot by pre-populating a few tags for their competencies and automatically displaying them as section headers. I think it would be interesting to see if those tags were available, if students would blog about the cocurricular competencies much the way they do about their academic ones once they have been made aware of them by their faculty members. At the same time, I understand why ETS can't get into the template development business, but I just can help wondering what it might be like. I am also wondering how we could communicate these tags to students to accomplish the same task without any additional programming. I thought of a few options, but I know there are more out there. If you have any ideas, please comment or contact me in some way that you are comfortable.

  • Adding recommended tags to the training/documentation for eportfolions the next time it is updated.
  • Partnering with faculty members who assign the development of an ePortfolio would be prudent, but finding them could be a challenge.
  • Asking to partner with freshman seminar faculty or ENGL 15 faculty to mention or link to them.
  • Using viral marketing to advertise them or a contest to stir up interest in finding out what they are and why the are meaningful. 

For those of you who don't know what the cocurricular learning outcomes are for Penn State students, I've listed them below. How cool would it be to be able to do a search on one of them and see how several thousand Penn State's students are fulfilling them? I think it would be awesome!

Knowledge Acquisition/Application

Students will:

  • Develop an understanding of knowledge from a range of disciplines/areas
  • Demonstrate the ability to integrate and apply ideas and themes across the curriculum and cocurriculum.

Cognitive Competency

Students will:

  • Acquire learning skills to assist in their academic success
  • Develop critical and reflective thinking abilities
  • Apply effective reasoning skills

Life Skills and Self-Knowledge

Students will:

  • Determine their career interests
  • Acquire career management skills
  • Develop the ability to manage and resolve interpersonal conflicts
  • Cultivate a propensity for lifelong learning
  • Develop personal health, fitness, wellness and leisure habits and identify health risks
  • Improve self-understanding and awareness by developing an integrated personal identity (including sex, gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, culture and spiritual)
  • Exhibit responsible decision-making and personal accountability

Personal Integrity and Values

Students will:

  • Acquire ethical reasoning skills
  • Improve their ability to manage their emotions effectively
  • Develop a sense of personal integrity and clarify their personal values
  • Appreciate creative expression and aesthetics
  • Demonstrate compassion and empathy for others

Intercultural Development

Students will:

  • Possess multicultural awareness and knowledge
  • Develop sensitivity to and appreciation of human differences
  • Exhibit the ability to work effectively with those different from themselves
  • Demonstrate a commitment to social justice

Leadership and Active Citizenship

Students will:

  • Communicate effectively with others both verbally and in writing
  • Demonstrate an understanding of group dynamics and effective teamwork
  • Understand leadership theory and styles
  • Identify their own leadership style when working with others
  • Develop a range of leadership skills and abilities such as effectively leading change, resolving conflict, and motivating others
  • Assume a sense of civic responsibility and a commitment to public life

Asperger's and Evolution?

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Every now and then, I'll see an article that really makes me think. I try to keep up on some brain research in hopes that I may find something that will help me be a better designer. Plus, my bachelor's degree is in counseling/psychology so I am naturally drawn to brain science. I read several articles today that made me think. The first article actually made me seek out the others.

For those of you who know me well, you know that my only nephew has Asperger's Syndrome. He was diagnosed in elementary school. He's very smart and very talented musically and now in 8th grade. Asperger's syndrome is considered part of the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Genius Locus was published on the blog in the Science in Technology section. In it, the author discusses the link between Autism and extraordinary ability. Not X-Men or Hero type abilities more along the lines of genius-type intelligence or skill. I don't think this is anything new or shocking. We all probably saw Dustin Hoffman in Rainman which was mentioned in the article.

What I found more interesting than the actual article were the comments to the article. They were resoundingly positive and more that a little inspirational. After reading them; being able to really relate to the partents who said things like "even if there was a cure, I wouldn't want to change my child;" and following the data that says that the numbers of children diagnosed with ASD continues to rise, I was struck with a thought. That thought, well question actually  is, what if "disorders" like Asperger's weren't disorders at all, but are actually part of human evolution? Or what if these "disorders" were actually people that have been touched by the hand of God for some greater purpose?

Those thoughts spawned me to Google about the evolution-side of the question. What I found was that I am not the only person who saw that connection. Not that I thought I would be. Maybe I read something about this years ago. I found one article from 2005 very interesting: Autism, Asperger's and Evolution. There are newer articles that are available, but I liked this one from Science A Go Go the best. The science is so very logical. Personally, I'd much rather think of my nephew as having an ability than a disorder. As for God's plan, only God knows what that is and I won't pretend to understand it beyond that.   

High Dynamic Range Images as a metaphor for ID?

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This morning in the BS Breakfast we were talking about a really high-end professional video camera called Red One which led to a short discussion on  high dynamic range (HDR) imaging. These are pictures created from three separate images of the same scene. The first photo captures the shadows, the next photo captures the mid range, and the last photo captures the highlights (first image below). They are merged into one beautiful in some cases surreal image (second image below.) They are really amazing.

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 License.

This is a sort of reverse metaphor for instructional design and the good enough principle. As designers, we look to identify the shadows (the risks, challenges, worst case scenario, minimal effort, what we really don't want to deal with), we look for the highlights (blue sky, best possible solution, what we really want to do, what theory tells us is best), and in the end what we usually end up with is the mid-range (not quite what we want, but not the worst case scenario either). If you look at the middle image, you can tell what it is and it looks "good enough", but it might be a little flat compared to the final image that incorporates all three.

I have never acquiesced to the idea that good enough is acceptable. I do understand the practicalities of it, however. At the same time, if I am going to do something, I want to do it right. I want to be proud of it. I want it to serve the purposed for which it was intended as it was intended. I am working on my pragmatism because I have to as the only ID in the division that I work in. It's hard for me because I want all of the content that I develop to be interactive and engaging and complete, but it's just not always possible. So I cut corners where it will have the least impact and concentrate on making the content that the most learners will use the best it can be with what I have to work with. I'm making progress, albeit slow. I'd like to hear what other people are doing about this struggle.

Here's another HDR Image just because it's beautiful. Image is courtesty of Flickr user wbirt1. He has some amazing stuff.



Soap Box Alert-Not ID Related

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I'm annoyed and frustrated by what is going on in our economy and how it is impacting just about every aspect of life. If I have to hear the word bailout again, I might just scream. My blood pressure and the pitch of my voice go up every time I hear another story on NPR or CNN about the AIG bonuses. Personally, I don't think they deserve the bonuses, but if there's no legal way to withhold them, I think they should be held until they fix this mess that their risky practices have helped to create. It might be too late for that now. There are people really struggling everywhere even at Penn State where we are fairly insulated from the worst of it. They call it Happy Valley for a reason after all.

Something I heard in a story this morning really ticked me off. One of the justifications for AIG paying the bonuses is that you can't just throw out a contract when things change because that company can no longer be trusted and other companies won't do business with them, but that is exactly what some other companies were forced to do. Why was it okay for the car companies, unions, and all of the departments, colleges and campuses within Penn State to require budget give backs, but it isn't okay to expect companies like AIG to make those same changes? If what that report said is true then we can't trust the state of Pennsylvania and haven't been able to for the last decade or more of budget give backs? Crazy talk. If AIG was willing to make some real sacrifices because of their bad judgment then I would be more willing to trust them, not less. When the American car companies made some changes to try to save some jobs, it made me want to by an American car again. I appreciate German engineering. I think this is a case of the "powers that be" being out of touch with the American public again.       

Communication Breakdown, not just a song by Led Zeppelin

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I doubt that this is a unique situation that I have found myself in, but I thought that I'd blog about it in hopes that reflecting on the situation might help me in some way or that some reading it might have some words if wisdom for me. I seem to be having a communication breakdown problem with my subject matter experts. I am at a loss as to what do about it.

I send what I think are well-written, clear and concise emails explaining exactly what I need to move onto the next step. When decisions need to be made, I include pro and con lists  with tables of details, but also just quick bullets of the to dos so if they need to prioritize, they can. When I don't hear back (this happens often), I follow up as nicely as I can because I know that everyone is busy and course development isn't anyone's top priority, except mine. I get very frustrated when we have meeting to make final decisions (based on the email) and it is more than obvious that no one so much as read the email that I put so much time and care into writing. Deadlines and goals seem to mean nothing to the folks that I am working with on these courses. I am starting to feel like Sisyphus rolling the rock up the hill just to watch it roll back down and then pushing it back up.

Is writing these emails and trying to meet virtually to prepare for a productive working meetings an exercise in futility? It's not like I am even forcing this option because it is what I prefer. I ask each team what they want to do in the first meeting and this is always it, but lately no one is following through. Should I just start holding meetings twice as often with little or no communication in between them? Seems like a waste of time to me, but then I have never been fond of update meetings when another format can be used for simple updates. Is the problem more of a institutional culture issue? I came from working in IT to a more academic environment. Could that be the issue? Could it be a case of differing priorities or over stressed workloads? I don't know for sure, but I suspect that is might be a little of everything. Can understanding help me get better responses or should I just give up trying? I am not a quitter, but I am feeling beaten down.   

All of my clients are internal and as such I have not wanted to take a step to formalize and contact the design process. I'd rather do things to support a "we are all in this together" atmosphere than a "you have to do these things during this time or suffer the consequences" type of atmosphere. But I fear that I am going to have to do that now as sad as it makes me. I don't know what else I can do. I have tried just about everything and nothing has changed. It is very difficult for me to get done what I  have need to accomplish when I keep getting doors shut in my face. I have plenty to keep me busy, so I just open another door and move onto the next project, but then that one comes to a complete standstill too and I am left standing in the hallway waiting...again. All IDs have various tasks to keep us busy, so I never run out of things to do, but it is really hard when all of the projects that I am working on come to screeching halt at the same time. I can see the clock ticking off time until the deadlines and I can't do anything about it, but push the rock back up the hill and hope that this time it will be different. This time someone will get back to me. As someone with a degree in counseling, I know what the most basic definition of insanity is "doing the same things over and over again and expecting a different result." So, I am not sure what this strategy says about me, but I really don't know what else I can do without going over everyone's heads to our AVP to complain. But what will that say about me as a person? I don't want to be a tattle-tale. I'd rather fix the problem myself, but I am running out of options.

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