ELIZABETH J PYATT: September 2009 Archives

"Race" and Genetics Demo

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How different are the "races" really? According to the graphic on http://www.understandingrace.org/humvar/race_humvar.html not that much.

This is a great Flash demo that shows that while there is a relatively large amount of diversity in Africa, the home of homo sapiens (at least beneath the skin), it's much smaller in Europe and Asia. In fact, it's so small that the Asian and European circles are almost right on top of each other. That's a lot of people with a lot of common DNA!

Obessed with Documentation?

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Those of you who have been working with me a while (say a month or more), know that I care very deeply about documentation...maybe to the point of a (minor) obsession. But how and why did this happen? Do I derive any benefits from this? Does the community? Let's discuss:

My Testing Notes

A lot of documentation happens because I am attempting to explaining something in a way that is comprehensible to me. For instance, when I first began exploring the wonders of Unicode and Accessibility, I encountered a lot of information which told me what to do but not HOW to do it.

For instance, in accessibility, a common recommendation for rollovers is "Use stylesheets". OK, but ... could you be be more specific? Is there code out there I can borrow? Back in 2001, it was hard to find good resources, so yes I tested (a lot) and I have shared (see http://webstandards.psu.edu/accessibility/tech/rollovers).

Now if I can get stuck, I can copy and paste the code I need. This is one reason why there is so much parallel documentation out there - the "official" documentation isn't providing enough detail (or the right kind of detail).

If You Mandate...Please Provide a Path

This leads me to my next point is that I believe that if I make a recommendation, that I am obligated to point you somewhere which tells you how to accomplish this (even if the recommendation is to hire a programmer).

For instance, if I recommend using Electronic Reserves in ANGEL, I know I can point users to either http://angelkb.ais.psu.edu/article.asp?article=1325&p=2 or http://www.libraries.psu.edu/psul/reserves/angel.html for the how-to. Because, if I don't, who knows if the instructor will take the time to figure it out?

Unlike a video game or cruising iTunes, I'm convinced instructional tools are generally considered work tools for many instructors and not something you want to spend time "exploring." Hence I do tend to structure docs in small just-in-time pieces which are optimized for searching (if not browsing).

Build it and They Will Come

I've been involved with "growing" a number of communities, but honestly the most "action" I get from the outside world is (ahem) the Unicode information. A lot of times it's to correct a typo, but sometimes it's a request for more information (the answer of which may get incorporated into the site) or just new information. It is more collaborative than it first appears.

On a slightly higher level, building decent, comprehensible instruction does lend your site an air of trustworthiness. If you can write material people can understand, you probably know what you're talking about. As a result, I do get some interesting referrals from time to time.

Room for Improvement?

Of course there's always room for improvement. For instance I always struggle with how to connect the pieces I have scattered about. I had one person looking at the Spanish accent code page ask if I could develop one for French. Clearly the navigation wasn't working for that person...

Another struggle is to satisfy all audience needs. Some people need all the details, but others find it overwhelming. Some people need video, and others get by on reading with images. I know I skew in one direction, but is it always the right direction?

And finally, I have to confess the other reason I love documentation - I'm good at generating it. I say with this with the humility of someone whose ITS Training attendees give so-so marks for presentation but very high marks for the written documentation.

It's at times at these, that I am grateful I can point confused students to quality documentation!

My Mission Statement as a Graphic

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Every now an again, I am involved in discussions about either defining the role in ETS or my role as an instructional designer - preferably in a short sentence. This has been remarkably difficult and subject to interpretation, but for me, the shortest answer is a graphic.

Elizabeth is in the overlap of education and technology

If you still want more explanation - I believe that my "space" is wherever educational issues and technology issues overlap. While I don't work with EVERY issue, there are lots of possibilities including supporting services such as ANGEL or blogs, developing online courses or online multimedia projects, consulting with instructors wishing to use new technology, working with the labs and researching issues such as accessibility, copyright for new media...and of course Unicode.

The text is much more clunky than the picture I think.

Too Much Technology?

A side issue for instructional designers is whether we are technologists or pedagogical specialists. I admit that pedagogy is important, but I do believe that technology is the more marketable skill, but I don't have a problem with labelling myself as a technologist.

Tell an instructor you want to improve his pedagogy and most will glare and comment that everything has been working quite well for them and does not need to change. One in fact told me that theory was nonsense in comparison with practical experience (those who can't do real teaching teach instructors?) We all know that's not true, but the battle to convince faculty that pedagogy theory is valid is as difficult as convincing people that speaking like an Texan does not mean you are stupid.

On the other hand, if you are available to help faculty improve their teaching life and help those pesky students learn more with the magic of technology...there seems to be more interest and more openess to change. It's the technology that's changing, not their pedagogy!

So I think I am one of many instructional designers who walk a delicate line of pretending to be a techie, but really suggesting ways that you can redesign assignments...so that the tech part works more smoothly. If I during a hands-on software training sessions on iDVD for faculty, we accidentally suggest ways that a video assignment might be tailored for a class (or learning objective), then all I can say is so be it.

I will admit there is a danger though - the tech part does come with the "tech support" challenge. I would say that the more interesting parts of my job are design and consulting, not say, testing audio links in a course or answering help desk questions. There is a valid point that in that ID's have to show that they offer something different from other technology professionals, and that does happen to be pedagogy (or experience with effective technology in educational settings).

I think the difference is that I am still happy to embrace technology, but at a higher level then just creating a Web page (we know many high schoolers who can do that). After all the most exciting thing about all of this is that technology can make us question our pedagogy, and at the end of the day, it is the improvement in teaching that makes this all worth it.