Relationships that don’t Suck

This post is a generalization. Now that I have that out of the way, here I go … I’ve been in the instructional design/technology/etc business for over a dozen or so years and I’ve seen lots of models in place to help people get their teaching, training, and learning materials together. In the corporate space it was a very contract driven approach with Subject Matter Experts (SME) being pushed to provide content by a project manager or instructional designer. In higher education the SME is typically a faculty member and they are typically being pushed to provide content by the instructional designers — a very corporate approach to learning design. It is my thought that this relationship is, in many ways, very unhealthy. I say that only by watching what I see around me in countless course design projects.

Back when I was an instructional designer at the Penn State World Campus I worked with a faculty member to build an online Reliability Engineering course. It was made very clear to me that a big part of my responsibility was to get the faculty member to write and deliver content on some (arbitrary) timeline. I was an Instructional Designer that had been reduced to a content task master. The faculty member on the other hand was an internationally known reliability engineer whom we reduced to the notion of content provider. I can tell you the relationship was contentious at best — for lots of reasons. One of those reasons was that we didn’t find a way to build a professional relationship that centered around us talking about what our areas of focus and expertise was all about. I find it unfortunate looking back on it as I wished I would have taken the time to work to a common ground. I could tell I made him mad and he knew that I loathed his pace in the delivery of the holy grail of eLearning materials — raw content.

How disturbing is that? Raw content … it just sounds insulting, that we would categorize what this man had to offer was nothing more than several written pages of raw content. I am sorry for ever reducing the brilliance of this man’s work into a term so demeaning as that. It is no wonder he looked at me like I was nothing more than a “computer jockey” slinging his prose into some HTML container. What a crock of shit the whole thing was.

After the conversation that broke out here this week about working to see perspectives when we come together I want so badly to offer an alternative approach to what we do in a typical instructional design process, but rarely feel like we have to time to accomplish — work to come together, build a relationship, and trust the passion, energy, and expertise we all bring to the table.

On Sunday I spent some time talking with my good friend and colleague Keith Bailey about how nasty the relationship can get between an ID and a faculty member for this very reason. We work so hard to create schedules and then push faculty to just hand over some content (and we’ll take it from there) that real anger emerges. The question that emerged centered around how do we push through and learn there are many more powerful ways to go about this task?

One I’ll offer is to embrace the notion open content. What I challenged Dr. Bailey with was at the start of the next course his team in the Arts and Architecture eLearning Institute designs is to take the content outline and first go to wikipedia, wikieducator, and other open content spaces and see what exists with the faculty member as a partner. Use that moment to explore what is and isn’t there, to start the conversation about what is different and what is similar about what they discover together. It should lead to a real conversation about why it might make more sense for us to skip designing in a closed space and instead actually using what is available and contributed what we make into these open spaces? If an article about a concept doesn’t exist, construct it collaboratively and contribute it there. The idea of a Creative Commons licensed article is much more powerful than the existing lock down we place on learning materials from within the academy.

Would the overall process of working together to identify existing content and working to contribute new knowledge into the commons lead to an opportunity unlike what our current approaches provide? I’m not sure, but would like to explore that further. Any thoughts?

The Plunge

Last night I attended my doctoral course in assessment here at Penn State. I was surprised that I was a bit anxious as I walked into the room. I guess it comes back to the fact that I was a student and not the teacher for the first time in quite some time. I’ve been teaching courses at Penn State off and on for the last eight years, so the notion of sitting on the other side of the equation left me feeling a bit vulnerable (I think that is what I was feeling). I’ve been quietly working on my doctorate for the last couple years — slowly plodding along, but exclusively by doing independent studies, taking courses online, or by getting credit for teaching. This is the first time I have been a student in a real classroom in quite some time, so being a bit nervous was a natural feeling. I am lucky enough to be taking the course from my advisor and friend, Dr. Kyle Peck and his wife, Dr. Catherine Augustine. Both of them are easy going and very smart. They put us at ease — all nine of us.

After I got into the flow I found class to be rather relaxing — I was able to leave email and daily demands alone for a good three hours as we talked through some very basic concepts related to assessment. I think my positions at the Institution have afforded me unique views into the issues we’ll explore so I felt as though I was at a bit of an advantage. I have either been a practicing instructional designer or leading instructional design teams for the last 12 years so that has also given me experience in the things we were talking about — made me immediately ready to dive in. I think I will be able to add value to the class on a few levels and am looking forward to exploring it all as it progresses.

With that in mind, I am going to try something a little different as I move through this experience … I am going to use this space and my PSU blog to attempt to open the course up to those not in the room through my thoughts. I am begining to wonder how I can use an open set of tools to invite others into my learning and see how it impacts my own thoughts and outcomes. I’ll be writing weekly reflections, tagging content in delicious with insys522, making new YouTube videos asking questions from the course, creating podcasts, and more. These aren’t assignments … no one is directing me to do this.

My own personal reflection from the experience last night has pushed me to ask some new questions about teaching, learning, and community engagement. I am curious about what more I can learn by almost redesigning things as they happen to me … sort of looking at design as a mind tool. Will I create deeper meaning for myself through this practice and will it have any sort of impact on people in and out of the course are two issues I am eager to explore? Those are just two of the questions I am considering as I walk into a fresh field of snow — no footsteps to follow on this one for me. I’ll do my best to be as transparent through the process and I welcome any and all comments, feedback, encouragement, or whatever else gets thrown my way. So, in a sense I am inviting you to engage in a semester long experiment with me to see what learning and sharing in the open can mean. I hate to say it, but even if you don’t show up I will — but I certainly hope you do! Anyone up to take the plunge with me?

The Hallway

Sometimes I love the things that my Google Reader shares with me from down the hall … this afternoon I jumped into my feeds for the first time since very early this morning. One of my favorite things to see is the little new article indicator next to my ETS folder. I love to see fresh content from those in my own team … just warms the heart. There were a couple new ones today, but the one that caught my attention was from my colleague, Elizabeth Pyatt. Elizabeth is an Instructional Designer in our group who brings great insights into literally everything we do. Elizabeth was instrumental in starting and executing our blogging community hub so she gets the community thing in a big way. Her post today really made me step back and think.

What is funny about it is that her post is about a whiteboard. You see, about a month and a half ago the whiteboard we ordered for the Cafe ETS space showed up and it was way too big. Instead of sending it back I asked that it be installed in our hallway so it could be used for ad hoc conversations, announcements, or really anything else people wanted to use it for — within reason I suppose … my general rule for anything around the office is to not spew hate (a good rule to live by). I’ve watched the whiteboard since it went up and it has been used for all sorts of things — pictures of me, polls, announcements, and more. I’ve liked it all and haven’t given it too much thought. I did notice when we first had it installed that someone asked (via the whiteboard) what the policies governing it are. I didn’t respond, but did put a fictitious item on our all staff meeting agenda to address that. We didn’t.

The Whiteboard

The Whiteboard

Elizabeth notes some things that only now am I growing aware of — people want to know what it is there for. The funny thing is that I really don’t have a concrete answer. It is there to be there … if that is too abstract then so be it. Chalk it up as another grand experiment.

The other thing she notes is the Twitter stream running on a display in the same hallway. We all tweet with our personal accounts and they end up showing up in our hallway. I usually always enjoy reading them when I get off the elevator and I do feel like it provides an interesting insight into our organizational DNA. But as Elizabeth points out, some of the tweets are probably not aligned with our organizational perspective (maybe … not sure about that). Again, it is an interesting look at social interaction … another grand experiment. I am honestly intrigued by the way we are all navigating both online and physical social platforms — and yes, I just called the whiteboard a social platform.

The Twitter Stream

The Twitter Stream

So what the hell is this post about? Well it has a little to do with who we are as a group and the kinds of things we are all thinking about individually — and really how they add up to form an organizational identity. It is also about how we are walking in the open without the old rules — whatever they were. The new school technology of Twitter has brought a strange view into the collective (even if not everyone contributes to it), while the whiteboard seems to have caused more questions. I’m not sure if we are more forgiving with our use of the new school stuff or not. I do know one thing I can answer with certainty for those who are wondering — I am not the one erasing stuff. I am leaving that to the community to deal with … if I erased I would violating one of the things I believe in — communities self correct. Even on whiteboards.