Elizabeth J. Pyatt

210 Rider II,
Education Technology Services, a unit of I.T.S

My Life as a Penn State Instruction Designer

Teaching Philosophy

How I Think Learning Works

I work now as an instructional designer, but my academic training is in formal linguistics, so this has definitely affected how I view learning.

My Basic Beliefs

My Working Principles

Start with "Authentic" Performance Objectives

For me, the keystone to good instruction is understanding how your course content relates to what students need in real-world scenarios. The next step is to develop performance objectives which then drive your assignments and content. Ideally, some assignments should model real-world applications as much as possible.

Match Course Structure with Content

As for method, I believe all methods from lecture to collaborative learning can work depending on the objectives and content of the course. Depending on the content, a well-presented lecture can be more effective than a poorly designed collaborative learning environment (just as a well-designed interactive activity is more effective than a dull lecture).

Break Up the Lecture/Content

No one can sit through 50 minutes of a dry lecture, so it has to be chunked into smaller units so the content can be absorbed. Instructional designers thus encourage instructors to:

There are actually lots of ways to do this depending on your preferred teaching style, but you should do SOMETHING interesting.

Scaffold from the Very Bottom Up

I also believe that mastering low-level knowledge is critical before students can jump to higher order analysis, meaning students may have to do a certain amount of close reading, drill work and memorization in the beginning of their studies before moving to higher levels of analysis. Students who miss memorization often have difficulties with analytical work (from anecdotal observation).

Provide Structure and Feedback

No matter what your pedagogy is though, I do feel it is important to provide clear structured material to your students from your syllabus to your grading scale. Even if you want students to experiment in an unstructured environments, providing frequent, clear positive reinforcement can help students excel. Frequent feedback is also important so students can know if they are "on track" or not. Waiting several weeks can be too late; fortunately course management systems like ANGEL provide options for expediting feedback.

Note: I don't think all students need structure, but many do. I let the "independent" students do their own thing (within reason), but this lets the structured students study effectively as well.

Remember Extrinsic and Intrinsic Motivation

Finally, if you want students to do something, you usually have to make to make it count towards the grade. It would be nice if the majority of students were intrinsically motivated enough to learn without a grade, but the reality is most students are working for a grade and hoping to also learn something useful on the side.

Note: Adult learners tend to be more intrinsically motivated.