edvisor Instructional Designer Learning design learning designer

Thoughts on: “Many hats, one heart”: A scoping review on the professional identity of learning designers (Altena, Ng, Hinze, Poulsen & Parrish, 2019)

While I did read this when it first came out at the ASCILITE 2019 conference, I revisit it now that I’ve done my own deep dive into the activities and knowledge areas that help to define different edvisor role types including Learning Designers (LDs).

I know and respect all of the authors of this paper and we are (mostly) part of the same community of edvisors in Australasia. We have parallel research interests but different perspectives and focuses. I say this because there are some things in this conference paper that I question or comment on but this is mostly just because of differences with my chosen approaches. As part of the growing field of scholarship on Third Space education workers, instructional/learning designers and associated practitioners, there is much value to find in this paper.

Most of this comes from my notes as I read through the paper and can be scattered.

Learning Designers are increasingly employed in universities to support institutional digital and pedagogical transformation agendas

Altena et al. 2019 P.1

This opening sentence speaks volumes to me because it touches on two points of contention in this space, particularly among LDs. Firstly, maybe it just flowed better on the page but I note that digital (technological) appears before pedagogical. How much of an LD’s job is technology oriented and how much is about pedagogy is a hot topic, with many LDs (in my experience) feeling that their pedagogical expertise often undervalued at the expense of providing technical support. Secondly, the question of who LDs primarily serve – the teachers or the institution – is often raised in commentary of people questioning the value of LDs and their peers (or, more the case, the need for to change teaching practices).

This paper is about a scan of the literature intended to identify key attributes (using Barnett’s knowing-doing-being framework) that offer a clearer definition of LDs than is currently available. It claims to find

the unique capabilities of learning designers as transformative change agents to student learning

Altena et al. 2019 P.1

This is probably the point at which our respective research projects and aims diverge, as I contend (for now, at least) that there are three key role types of people doing work with this focus in Australian Higher Education – academic developers, education technologists and learning designers – and there are many overlaps between these three. I do believe though that there are also distinctive characteristics of each that we can use to differentiate them, so I am interested to see what they find.

Interestingly, the search terms used included learning technologist and educational technologist but no variation of academic developer. Whether this is an acknowledgement that ADs exist and are sufficiently different or not is unclear. Given my personal belief that Ed Techs and LDs are notably different roles, I find it interesting that they were included in the search. At the same time, given the liminality of many role names in this space, it doesn’t seem entirely unreasonable (but I’d love to see more detail in the data about the two).

Literature published in peer reviewed journals or conferences between 2008 – 2019 centred around the work of LDs in Higher Ed was methodically reviewed and filtered and found 29 worthwhile articles. As a scan of the global literature (compared to my Australian focus) it is not surprising that North American publications were highly represented (80%) but this did lead me to wonder if the practices and experiences of North American Learning/Instructional Designers are reflective of the wider cohort. (Again though, I acknowledge that I am using a much narrower lens). Which leads to another question – why would it be different? (Though I suspect it just is)

The authors note that they were surprised that Learning Technologist didn’t appear in their sample of papers – given the North American lean of the sample, the term instructional technologist might have been more helpful. I’ve seen that appear a bit in their literature about this space.

The attributes/descriptors that they found relating to LDs showed a definite skew in the literature towards ‘doings’ (n=26) over ‘knowings’ (n=9) or ‘beings’ (n=5). This is utter speculation but I wonder whether much of this research was written by non-practitioners and may have had more of a focus on the outcomes of LD activity than the nature of LDs and their identities. If that were the case, we might reasonably expect to hear more about doings/activities. There could be other reasons, of course and in my own research, I explored relatively equal numbers of activities and knowledge areas. I didn’t look at ‘beings’ in much depth at all other than in trying to extract data about perceived ‘purpose’ from an open text question about what people do in their roles. Exploring values and ideology deeper in future data collection is definitely high on my agenda though.

Altena et al. looked at the most commonly discussed knowledge areas, activities and values/purposes from the papers in their review to help shed light on attributes that may help define LDs.

The top ‘knowings’ (knowledge areas) were:

Instructional design and models (n=13)
Technical knowledge (n=13)
Knowledge through professional learning (n=13)
Learning theories (n=11)
Educational research (n=9)

I assume technical knowledge to be related to the use of educational technologies but what “knowledge through professional learning” means is a little less clear. Is this other assorted skill sets that they needed training for or might it be knowledge relating to the provision of training? (Which would seem to me to be high on the list and otherwise absent). Similarly ‘educational research’ might refer to remaining current on emerging research or undertaking research. Here I see the Australian experience as possibly being somewhat different to the North American one, as (acknowledged by the authors), LDs here are rarely given the opportunity to engage in research.

They go on to categorise knowledge areas as ‘Threshold concepts’ (mostly the theory but also some technology knowledge), ‘Just in time knowledge (more reactive knowledge and maintaining currency) and also “Contribution to knew knowledge” relating mostly to research. In my own research I am starting to see different sub-categories of pedagogical knowledge that align with the first two – though the ‘threshold concepts’ I suspect are more strongly aligned with Academic developer identity.

The top ‘doings’ (activities) were:

Course and assessment design (n=18)
Providing expert advice (n=15)
Relationship building (n=15)
Project management (n=12)
Digital asset management (n=12)

These get categorised into Course and curriculum design, Project management, Professional development, Stakeholder engagement and Assess production/technical support. Again, these broadly align with activity categories that I’ve found but I would suggest that curriculum design is more strongly associated with ADs and technical support (including systems administration) with Ed Technologists. (Which isn’t to say LDs do none of that, just less).

Some future questions for me to ask in subsequent data collection that this prompts are something along the lines of – what do you do and what should you be doing? what would you like to be doing in your role?

The final attributes most commonly associated with LDs they found in the literature relate to ‘being’. I need to explore identity theory a bit more because this seems valuable but I think it also links a bit to Kemmis’ ‘relatings’ and the cultural/contextual parts of practice theory in general. These were:

Shared vision (n=5)
Establishing governance (n=5)
Having leadership (n=4)
Being ethical (n=2)

The governance and leadership parts speak to me here and may be gaps in what I have gathered data on to date in terms of key practices. (There is a whole separate piece on the activities, values and knowledge areas of junior vs senior edvisors and also those in central vs faculty teams that complicates this)

A couple of handy final quotes to wrap up that may be useful later:

…the values, attributes and ontological perspectives of learning designers are implied or rarely articulated within the papers

Altena et al. 2019 P.4

…if we are to move this profession forward, further research that seeks to establish higher education benchmarks for the entry to knowledge, skills and personal values, attributes and ontological perspectives required of learning designers working within the higher education sector is needed

Altena et al. 2019 P.5

This paper offers some useful insights into the vibe of research describing learning designers. It shows the complexity of these roles as they juggle everything from pedagogy to technology and managing people/projects to creating new knowledge. The more work we see like this, the clearer the picture may become.

ADDIE ed tech edtech higher education Learning design Uncategorized

Ed Tech must reads – Column 15

First published in Campus Morning Mail on Tuesday 23rd Nov

Working paper: What does it cost to educate a university student in Australia from MCSHE & Pilbara Group

One of the common concerns raised (or benefits posited) around online and technology enhanced learning is that it is cheaper than face-to-face teaching and is introduced to cut costs rather than raise standards. People working in the space have argued for years that this isn’t the case (in either instance) but there has been something of a dearth of reliable data about the costs of teaching in HE. This working paper from UniMelb’s Centre for the Study of Higher Education, in partnership with the Pilbara Group, suggests in proud academic tradition that ‘it depends’ – based on degree level and mode. The paper also delves into a range of other factors including discipline, campus location and funding clusters.

Is the ADDIE model outdated or still relevant? From TaughtUp

When I started working in the learning design space, the ADDIE model (Analysis – Design – Development – Implementation – Evaluation) was somewhat considered the be-all and end-all. It offers a useful set of steps for thinking about the creation of a learning resource or activity but also seemed as much a linear project management system as anything else. This article outlines the history of this model and what has come to replace it as development has moved to more iterative AGILE-oriented approaches like SAM (Successive Approximation Model). As with many things, it still has its place.

Digital higher education: a divider or bridge builder? Leadership perspectives on edtech in a COVID-19 reality from International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education

This article examines the use of education technologies starting out from a position that vendors overhype their products but it eventually comes to the conclusion commonly held by people working in the sector that this doesn’t actually matter and a judicious combination of technology, pedagogy and capability building can in fact make a difference in education. Laufer et al. interview and survey Higher Ed leaders from 24 countries for their perspectives on the impact of education technologies in the last two years, covering opportunities and barriers for both individuals and institutions. Well worth a read for the big picture overview.

Webinar – Pathways to Learning Design (and more) – skill or luck? Thursday 25/11 12 noon AEDT

ASCILITE’s TELedvisors Network wraps up the 2021 webinar series with a bang, with Prof. Michael Sankey (CDU) and Jack Sage (JCU) sharing the findings of research they undertook this year into what it takes for people to enter the growing profession of Learning Design (and adjacent roles) in Australian Higher Ed and what the future looks like for these kinds of roles.

Science Fiction is a Luddite Literature from Medium

Respected author in the tech ethics and society space, Cory Doctorow, makes some valuable connections between the Luddite movement of the early 1800s and some key tenets of science fiction – namely that it is generally all about the meaning of the impact of technology on the world than the tools themselves.

assessment edvisor Learning design simulation

Ed Tech must reads – Column 12

First published in Campus Morning Mail Tuesday 2nd November 2021

A heutagogical approach for the assessment of Internet Communication Technology (ICT) assignments in higher education from International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education (Open Access)

With students increasingly identifying as online content creators, and the slowly evolving nature of academic publishing, it makes sense to harness Internet platforms in their education. Lynch, Sage, Hitchcock and Sage here outline some formal structures to support a more self-determined form of assessment, where learners are as mindful of the external audience for the resources they create in their courses as they are of their teachers. This article offers a comprehensive guide to the theory behind this approach as well as some exemplar rubrics. The only issue that I would possibly take is the breathless excitement about this as a new mode – not to toot my own horn but I had my students posting blogs for assessment a decade ago. Perhaps without the rich theoretical framework though.

Bringing Clinical Simulation & Active Learning Strategies into the Classroom During COVID-19 from Healthy Simulation

Medical disciplines have long been leaders in the adoption of technology enhanced learning and teaching, with a particular need to be able to give learners as much authentic practical experience as possible while also being safe and logistically feasible. In this informative but brief post, Amy Curtis describes the practical changes that were required in a university nursing program in the South East US in response to COVID19.

Administrators are not the enemy from The Chronicle of Higher Education

Brian Rosenberg is the President in residence of the Harvard Graduate School of Education and pulls no punches with this strongly worded cri de coeur – the subheading is “Faculty contempt for nonfaculty employees is unjustified and destructive”. It isn’t a long read but covers a decent amount of ground about academia, from the primacy of expertise to toxic behaviour in hierarchies.

Introducing design thinking online to large business education courses for twenty-first century learning from Journal of University Teaching & Learning Practice

Vallis (USyd) and Redmond (USQ) discuss the application of design thinking principles that are, in essence, a more human centred angle on problem solving, in teaching business disciplines. They interview academics and student in a first-year course in this case study to delve into its usefulness in this practice and find some handy benefits.

Opinion: There’s nothing appealing about the Metaverse from Game Developer

When Facebook is in the news it can be easy to tune out these days but this opinion piece from Bryant Francis about Mark Zuckerberg’s rebranding of the parent company as ‘Meta’ and their roadmap for a remarkably Second Life-like all encompassing virtual social world is worth a read. While this isn’t about the educational applications of such a space, it points out a number of the logical flaws and so-what questions that aren’t yet being discussed enough.

CMM ed tech education design Learning design

Ed Tech must reads – Column 9

First published Campus Morning Mail 12th October 2021

This Former English Prof Built and Sold a Company: Here’s What She Learned from Roostervane

One thing commonly discussed about education technology companies is how well they understand the experiences and needs of teachers and students. One thing commonly asked of academics is how applicable their skills and knowledge are to ‘the real world’. This quick read from Roostervane, a Higher Ed oriented careers site talks through some of the experiences of someone that moved from academia to ed tech and offers suggestions for those interested in this path.

Discussion on consistency in online course design from Neil Mosley (Twitter) 

Ideas of ‘academic freedom’ in terms of how courses should be designed and taught often butt heads with usability principles and institutional priorities when it comes to online learning. This debate is well captured in a tweet from @neilmosley5 and the subsequent string of responses that cover ground include standardisation of courses, Geocities, cognitive load, Pink Floyd’s The Wall, and some rather tortured analogies. Well worth a read to tour the many perspectives.

Student Guide to the Hidden Curriculum from the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education

Starting tertiary study can be a confusing experience for students, particular those who are first in family. There are labyrinthine systems to navigate and new terminology and concepts that are often treated as assumed knowledge. What is a PhD, a journal article, peer review? This guide, while UK-centric, offers clear and well-written explanations designed to support new students in this new world. I absolutely wish I’d had something similar when I started uni. (Thanks Thao for sharing)

Call for contributions – Innovation in Higher Education Assessment in COVID19 from JUTLP

The Journal of University Learning and Teaching Practice is an open publication hosted by the University of Wollongong. They are currently calling for contributions to an upcoming issue relating to innovation in assessment in the time of COVID19. Abstracts are due by Nov 1.

The Dreambank from University of California, Santa Cruz

Most of the time, hearing people recount their dreams can be a little tedious. They don’t fit conventional story structures and the details can be somewhat liminal. This site however, from psychology researchers at UCSC, captures brief (~100 words) retellings of more than 20,000 dreams from people aged between 7 and 74 over decades. It also includes discussions between the researchers and dreamers about the dreams. I spent way too long trawling through these one evening but it is a marvellous window into the minds of people we’d never otherwise hear.

academic development CMM ed tech Learning design research

Ed Tech must reads – Column 4

First published in Campus Morning Mail 7th Sept 2021

Facilitating online breakout groups from Dave Cormier

Good breakout group activities online are far less common that we might hope. Often students find themselves sitting quietly in a small Zoom room, unsure what to do, until one brave soul hazards a guess and starts the conversation. This 7 min YouTube video from the Office of Open Learning at the University of Windsor (Canada) offers some valuable ideas to ensure that the time spent in these sessions is productive and that help teachers track activity across all rooms at once. It is demonstrated in Blackboard Collaborate but the principles are universal.

The Australian Ed Tech directory from EduGrowth

This site provides links to more than a hundred Australian businesses working in education technology and adjacent spaces. It appears to be focused more on the business and investment side of things as there is an option to filter by sector and export market but not by the kinds of tools or services they provide. All the same, it is an interesting way to get an overview of how the market perceives the needs and priorities of the education sector.

Forget lone lecturers – pandemic shows teaching must be a team sport from Times Higher Education

Neil Mosley succinctly outlines the complexities of modern tertiary teaching practice, with ‘the new normal’, ever increasing accountability requirements, and a constantly evolving technology landscape making it hard for time poor educators to keep up. Institutions have skilled and experienced teaching and learning support teams ready to assist, yet many lecturers still choose to go it alone. Mosley explores why this might be and shares some new ways to resolve this. The article offers an informed, practical counter to some of the sadly ignorant takes on these support systems and professionals that we still see in the discourse far too often.   

Manifesto for teaching online webinar Tues 7th Sept from CRADLE

CRADLE at Deakin is one of the foremost research centres in Australia in the digital learning space, and the University of Edinburgh is also a heavy hitter. This webinar today brings them together, with Professor Sian Bayne discussing Edinburgh’s updated Manifesto for teaching online, which advocates for “strongly reseach-based, critical and creative practice” in modern teaching.

Tortured phrases in published research from @big_science_energy on TikTok

Plagiarism is as much a known problem in research as it is in learning and teaching, but the use of AI as a writing tool to bypass ‘traditional’ similarity matching systems is starting to result in some bizarrely humorous language in published papers. This quick TikTok video discusses a recent research paper about this phenomenon, which sees established terms like Artificial Intelligence morphing into ‘counterfeit consciousness’ instead.