I have been rolling this idea around for a long time, ever since I first encountered the idea of PLEs. If there is no “course” (in the traditional sense), if we’re not “designing” courses (in the traditional sense, with outcomes/objectives, a defined path through pre-determined content, using a systematic process like the one shown here, bla bla), what is the role of the instructional designer? Is there a role? I’m thinking no, not in the traditional sense. Maybe not at all. This is exciting and a bit freaky.
About 10 years ago, a teacher I know got excited about what he was calling “radical constructivism” – basically he was NOT going to design his course in advance, he wanted to let it emerge and co-create it all with the students, inviting them to define their own path and “construct their own meaning”. It was a disaster. The students hated it. They accused him – angrily – of being unprepared and disorganized. I think having their expectations shot was so distracting that it prevented them from even seeing or considering – much less embracing – the opportunity he was offering them. They didn’t want to work with him, they wanted to be told what to do. What’s perhaps the most surprising/disappointing is this was an Education class. Or maybe it’s not surprising. Classes (and schools) are groups, which, according to Downes, embody roles and limits and a central authority and emotional stuff – members of groups “need” leaders to lead. That’s the model we know.
I bet a lot of people have a story like this, or at least can (or can’t NOT) imagine this kind of outcome as a consequence of abandoning traditional instructional design.
But, come on. Think of ALL the things you have somehow learned outside of an instructionally designed course. Downes offers up the Internet as just one example – there was no course on how to build the internet. Yet, somehow, here it is.
So if we accept, like Downes does, the “radical” concept that students can learn autonomously, that we don’t need to take them by the hand, that they won’t be hopelessly lost, that they will learn without our “design” (control?), then what?
Well, I think there is still a place for “us”, the artists-formerly-known-as-Instructional Designers. I’m not sure what it looks like yet, but here are some early thoughts:
- faculty/teachers still need us. at least some of them, and at least for now. they need help wading through the endless sea of ed tech tool options, they need help exploring alternatives to the very common response to a new technology: using it in an old way (podcasts? great! I’ll lecture for a long time! web conferencing? great! I’ll lecture with PowerPoint for a long time! Second Life? Great! Let’s build a virtual classroom where my avatar can lecture to their avatars for a long time!). We can help them consider alternatives to themselves as the authority/centre of students’ learning. Gently, respectfully, helpfully.
- assessment – ok, i’ll admit. this is something i’m putting OFF thinking about right now, while these ideas congeal. Not because there’s no good answer, but because “what about assessment?” is a question that is actually an objection, a wall, that translates to, “this can’t work because, what about grades…????”. But I see a potential role for IDs in assessment. TBD.
- course midwives: the old model is about setting a course up from the beginning, and letting it run. Often for IDs, the start date of the course is our end date, and the date where we are “done” and can turn our attention to the next course(s) on our plates. Maybe we need to stay with courses and help instructors mentor them along. Maybe course development/design becomes “agile”, emergent, and ongoing. So maybe we stick with our courses, rather than abandoning them when they start, reviewing them when they’re “over”, looking to “revise as required” before the next start date.
- do it ourselves – one of the best things I’ve done in a long time is take cck09, a rather large open course. It’s easy to forget what it’s like to be a student, and even if you remember, being a student in an open/un-designed course is a different thing altogether. So we need to throw ourselves in there, play with new technologies, take open courses, be part of the network, find out what others are doing, figure out what’s good, what works, and bring that back to our institutions, instructors, etc.
So, Instructional Undesign might look less like building the whole house in advance, and more like framing it. Or even just bringing some tools to the job site, and helping build.