The Case of the Reluctant Instructional Designer

I’m a reluctant instructional designer. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a passionate educator, but I have usually drawn the line on designing and multimedia. I never understood why I was taking Photography in Multimedia and developing an eye for art when I was just going to teach anyway. All that ever really mattered to me were content and pedagogical knowledge, and designing didn’t really fit in the bigger scheme of things, at least in my opinion.When I was a training specialist, classroom handouts were a very contentious topic for me. Rarely would a first day pass without a student handing me his/her flash drive and asking me to provide a soft copy of my lecture. I’ve always declined. When I was working as a consultant, my main concern was intellectual property rights. I had searched far and wide, and paid for those materials  and created those activities. The services that I had been paid for did not include rights to the materials I created. My second concern was issues on note-taking. I grew up before the era of flash drives. I never went to class without a pen and a notebook; I take offense with students with a sense of entitlement who thought that their role was simply to show up for class and turn in their homework and exam. I believe notetaking is a lost skill that helps students consolidate information and aids them in remembering information beyond the classroom.

Thus the handouts I reluctantly provided for my students were usually un-thought of and were obviously a bunch of pages thrown together at the last minute. When I was working freelance, these handouts were a mish-mash of items that I’d copy-pasted from the net. For frugality’s sake, I made it a point to squeeze in as much as I can on a single sheet. I used the smallest font size possible for reading and chose similar styles. Suffice it to say that I utilized every square inch and white space possible. Paragraph and lines were kept at a single space. Images were usually omitted, headings retained the same font size as the body but were in bold. It was not a pretty sight, but it served its purpose—or at least that’s what I believed.

Prior to taking this class, my idea of printed material was a scruffy, dog-eared handout containing barely legible notes of my professor from when he/she was a student. It pretty much looked like something that had been handed down several generations like a treasured family recipe. It looked like something that had been photocopied several times over and was pretty much worse for wear.

As I started going over the modules for this week, I realized that I’d been making so many mistakes in terms of creating print instructional materials.  More than conveying information, handouts can also be used to serve as a guide/skeletal outline and scaffolding for the students. The construction of handouts then is not to be taken lightly. A teacher’s choice of handouts would depend on his/her philosophy and the tasks and skills that he/she would like the students to develop. Handouts may serve a range of purposes and are best designed to still facilitate learning, critical thinking and collaboration.

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Confessions of a Technophobe

My name is Sheryll Verga, and I’m a technophobe. Now that I’ve shared that with you, I feel better, so let’s skip all the hugging and get right to the confession bit. As set as I am in my ways, I admit that my fear of technological developments usually keeps me from understanding what each one is about until a good few years after the fact. I can proudly say that last year, I finally acquired my first smartphone – a budget-friendly one at that, and one which the sales associate at the shop had to twist my arm for after I badgered him for hours on end about the durability and specs (which I still do not understand to this day).  I predict that, toward the middle of this century, sometime between the moment that teleportation puts airlines out of business and the point when the unchecked development of artificial intelligence begins to threaten all human existence, I’ll learn how to download movies from the Web.

A few weeks ago, a bubbly and sprightly intern overheard me while I was coercing my colleague into supplying me with my weekly fix of superhero addiction and remarked, “But Ms. She, there’s already Netflix.” Well, I’ve heard of it but I haven’t got the faintest clue what it is and how it works. No judgment please.

My resistance to technological innovation has a solid basis in biology. An animal used to drinking from a particular watering hole is in no hurry to exchange it for a different one, however much larger and shadier the new spot may be. The animal knows that the familiar old pond fulfills its needs, while all kinds of danger might be lurking at the bottom of the new one. What’s a little shade and a bit more water compared to the possibility of being devoured by the second cousin of the Loch Ness monster?

That’s why I continued to use my trusted Nokia vintage bar phone even long after its heyday and even as all the others around me (and who were earning even lesser salary or worse, those who had no salary to speak of) had switched to smartphones. I had no use for data on my phone. No one could charge me of phubbing either as there was nothing for me to scroll down on. When the Ipad came out, I stubbornly refused to be sucked in to the hype as I figured it was just a fad that would collapse into itself like a blackhole, leaving behind only destruction and loss. More recently, I refused to be seduced by what I was sure would be just the passing trend of social networking. I signed up for Facebook many years ago after heedless teasing, hounding and cajoling from my co-trainers at that time, but I never really bothered to open it or check it after setting up a partial profile. It was only my mentor that finally made me keep it active. But even then, I’ve maintained my primitive charm by managing not to understand how to tag people, create a group, write on someone’s wall, or add friends. Again, no judgment please.

We are undoubtedly living in a time of amazing technological developments. Still, as a sideline observer, I can’t help but notice that, while their number keeps increasing exponentially, human desires have hardly progressed from those of prehistoric man. Instead of holding a club in our hand, we have our finger on a nuclear launch-pad button. Instead of trying to screw every possible mate in the cave, we use the Internet to download masses of porn. As an ex-Trekkie, I remember that each time members of a more developed species appeared on the show, they were not only much more technologically advanced than Captain Kirk and his crew but also more spiritual and enlightened, disdainful of the brutish human race, ruled by its weaknesses and fears. Now we find ourselves advancing toward technologies that, forty years ago, existed only on science-fiction shows, but, somehow, instead of becoming abstract creatures of light, sound, and pure wisdom, we’re still sitting on the couch in our granny panties wolfing down Lay’s and pizza and cursing the internet service provider for their crappy service. We may be looking at a thinner screen, but we’re wearing the same old underpants.

So you can imagine my trepidation when I realized I could not wiggle my way out of CompEd2 this term (not if I want to complete the program anytime soon). So I very petulantly trudged along the motions of the first week. Download the course guide. Introduce myself. Installed Kompozer and accepted the invite to Codeacademy. Simple enough. But deep within, I was still mentally calculating how I would even survive the course given my non-existent background in programming.

I’m a huge stickler to timetables and planners. In fact, my daily life revolves around one. One day, I found myself with a block of time reserved for CompEd2. There was nothing else left for me to do in the course but log in to Codeacademy and start giving those exercises a burl. I figured I’d give it a shot. Log in and quit if it gets too gibberish. I can just log in and close it. It should take me less than 5 seconds. I’d figure out how to get out of the course later. So that was precisely what I did that day. Logged in. clicked on the first exercise. This was the first thing I saw.

<!DOCTYPE>

<html>

<head>

<title>Building My Own Webpage</title>

</head>

<body>

Holy mother of crap! I think it’s time to go back to the batcave to continue my unfrazzled existence. Let me hold a physical book and read statements that I could understand. I’m a Creative Writing major, and I still believe coding is against our DNA.

Several lifetimes ago, I’d flunked Anatomy  more times than I cared to think. But faced with those string of characters, I found myself wishing I’d been facing a charred cadaver for Anatomy lab instead. Well, almost, but not quite. Why did I enroll in IDT instead when I could have just taken my Master’s in Creative Writing? Oh yeah, I forgot. It’s financial suicide, but that’s a story for another blog. Anyway, going back to my stunted journey in CompEd2, I tried but it was too much. I wondered whether my professor would even be able to monitor my progress in Codeacademy. That question would be addressed much later in the day when one of my classmates voiced out the same concern in one of the forums. It turns out I’d inadvertently signed up for Big Brother when I accepted the invite to Codeacademy. Accountability is a seriously sophisticated psychological trigger, I tell you. My professor didn’t even have to invoke any sort of negative reinforcement.

I’m now two weeks into the course. My brain has now rejected the idea of logging in without doing any exercise at all.

The thought process initially sounded something like, “This is stupid. I’m already in. I might as well key in a few strokes.”

Before I knew it, the third module was well underway and I realized I had the skills to work on the first assignment. Now, I’m on a roll. I’m logging in to Codeacademy and doing more. Sure, there were hiccups, but they haven’t deterred me from throwing in the towel.

Who would have thought that a technophobe like me would be reeled in to the Pavlovian approach of an educational technology tool? It started with a mini-habit or a mini-mission that catalyzed my brain to perform a new behavior even when my conscious brain was rejecting it. Codeacademy was set up to break down a large goal into much smaller, bite-sized chunks called exercises. It was so simple that most of the time, all I needed to do was copy the example. And if I get stuck, I could always call for back-up by clicking on ‘Get a Hint!’

I think this is good use of TPACK because it connects pedagogy, content and technology and goes beyond how to remotely teach coding to technophobes like me. It provides me with plenty of “hands-on” opportunities to practice and to engage in coding through technology. The set-up itself of the technology likewise reflected an understanding of the human need for rewards system and reinforcement.

Perhaps I am not a lost cause after all. And though I probably will not be joining the world of Twitter or Instagram anytime soon, I will not be shying away from technology in the classroom, at least. Perhaps one does not need to be a technology geek to be a good teacher, but learning how to use technology can make one a better teacher.

Can You Tell Me How to Get to Sesame Street?

 

Growing up in the 80s, I had a slew of my favourite TV shows.

Voltes V

 

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And of course, my perennial favourite — Sesame Street.

 

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I remember watching it on a big, bulky television set in my lola’s living room. I fell in love with the characters — Big Bird, Cookie Monster, The Count, Mr. Snuffleupagus, Grover, Oscar the Grouch, and, of course, how can I forget, Ernie and Bert. (On a side note, I’d always preferred Bert over Ernie. He was the responsible one, the voice of reason, the more level-headed of the duo who had a rational explanation to something and whose ears had probably had fallen off once or twice because of Ernie’s yakking and chinwagging.)

I also remember two alien-looking creatures who could only move their wide, wobbly mouths and long limbs and produce odd noises: One of them had long arms that couldn’t move, while the other had short moving arms. The aliens wished to eat apples from a tree, and they succeeded, after a couple of minutes, by working together. “Let’s call this cooperation,” one of them says. “No,” the other replies, “let’s call it Shirley.”

Long before my parents enrolled me in pre-school, I was already pretty much on my way to mastering my literacy and numeracy skills. Much to the bewilderment of my parents, I was taken in by the head mistress herself even without having gone through the normal admission procedures. My parents were preparing to resign themselves to the fact that my childish churlish outbursts would be grounds for my inadmission to the Colegio de San Agustin. They were checking out this new school and had left me in the library when the school’s head mistress took a keen interest on me. She got some books and asked me to read portions of them aloud. I must have done so with aplomb because before my parents knew it, the school mistress was already talking them into  enrolling me in her school. And it was all because of Sesame Street, I say.

Looking back, I don’t recall learning how to read in school. My knowledge of phonics was largely because of Sesame Street. Thanks to Sesame Street, I was one of the few kids who thought reading was cool. I think my language proficiency was also shaped by Sesame Street.

The phenomenon rested on a simple formula:using entertainment –and in this case, a diverse cast of humans and different molds of colourful, fuzzy muppets–while harnessing the power of human narrative. All those things came together and made for an effective, efficient and enjoyable learning experience. Long after I’d graduated from Sesame Street, I found myself still  using the same techniques in phonemic reading each time I encountered an unfamiliar word.

This module reminded me of the importance of media and how teachers of practically any discipline can tap into it in order to enhance learning, reinforce concepts and spark discussions. I am also reminded of that time in college when I took up a foreign language as a prerequisite in the program I was enrolled in. At that time I felt like a toddler babbling and struggling to understand my professor as she spoke to our class what I could only have surmised was a flawless Italian. She helped us through with the use of songs music videos with lyrics, films and audio clips. I remember looking forward to each session as the class had me hooked and had kept my interest. It was also a lot better and more enjoyable than the refresher Italian course I took up at a language centre on a whim a few years after that. The latter being composed mainly of lectures and discussions and keeping a daily journal of sorts felt like a chore, and a waste of 10k. Even though the class size was smaller in the latter, I didn’t retain as much from that class as I did the former.

These days as I create training decks, I find myself gravitating more towards the use of media. But unlike before where I saw it more as a babysitting tool and a lazy girl’s ticket to a time off, I am more discriminating and strategic in the use of media. I try to be more discerning in recognising content that will  enhance learning. I try to make sure that it is not a distraction. I try to make better use of the class time by not showing the a whole movie. I only pick portions that I can utilise in and relate to the lesson.

Over the course of this term, I know I would be learning a lot more about utilising different media sources in instruction and I am looking forward to incorporating them in the future training decks I shall be creating.

 

“We see in the past only what is important for the present, important for the instant for which we remember our past.”

Letting Go

A few years ago, I was an idealistic novice English Trainer who had high hopes for myself. The first few weeks, I was tasked to observe and shadow my buddy trainer, the head trainer. It was a demeaning task, to say the least. I thought I could do better. I was raring to be allowed to spread my wings and handle my own classes. A month later, I was finally given my free pass. Things just started to unravel and go south from then on. For starters, I got a 68% in my graded observation. It was not a grade I was proud of, and certainly not the one I expected. It, most certainly, was not the grade you would expect of a grammar nazi who had a crisp neutral accent that could pass of as a native speaker’s.

What gives? Well, although I did learn sentence diagramming until I knew it like the back of my hand,  but what I never learned was how to make topics compelling for students. Granted, I was a student who just got a certain kind of high in my English and Humanities classes. I positively adored writing. Getting down and dirty with the classics was my idea of a relaxing and enjoyable weekend. Getting up close and personal with syntax got my heart racing like no one else could. I soon realised I was alone in my enthusiasm. Most kids don’t like listening to a lecture on verb tenses and taking notes. But that was precisely all I had to offer at that time.

I thought teaching was all about head knowledge and content knowledge. I believed that teachers are supposed to be subject matter experts, so being an effective teacher meant having to prove you’re the smartest one in the room.

Years later, under the mentorship and patient guidance of my training manager, I started building my own repertoire of communicative games and activities. My manager opened my eyes to a whole new teaching philosophy. I realised that teaching and learning is not unidirectional; rather it’s a cycle. My students learn from me as much as I learn from them. I learned that learning is a matter of exploration and not dictatorship. Teachers don’t dictate what should be learned. They may guide their students into certain directions, but true learning comes from being part of one’s own learning process. The more freedom a student has in his/her learning, the more he’d want to be part of it.

Eventually, I acquired a trainer’s tool kit and started filling them with instructional resources. Surprisingly, that kit does not include a lot of books. Instead, they were filled with odd assortments of things– squishy balls, a dipper, a Jollibee bucket, play money, blindfolds, flash cards and a lot of creativity.

I’ve learned that even the best of teachers cannot  rely on knowledge alone to enhance the teaching-learning experience. The choice of instructional materials also directly impacts the quality of teaching. Instructional materials support and enrich the learning content. Instructional materials help wean students off the teacher so they no longer depend on the former to impart knowledge. Good instructional materials and the use of media and technology helps re-shape the learning environment to make it more conducive to learning and more learner-centred. The use of such takes a load off the teacher and shifts the ball back to the student to fashion as they please. This makes learning more meaningful and relevant to the student. First, it increases student participation. Second, it also enhances the learning experience for the student because it motivates them to learn and stick with the material better than traditional materials such as books and OHP materials would.

Teachers should be cautioned though that just as in learning, the choice of instructional media and educational tools have to be tailor-fit for each students’ needs and learning styles. It should cater to everyone in the room. Instructional materials should match the students’ learning styles. Therefore, teachers should prepare instructional resources that will cater to each student’s learning style. This would include audio-visual materials, printed materials and even practical application so students have ample opportunity to learn and retain information.