Prof Peter Goodyear, The University of Sydney
In the late 80s and early 90s I was course director for the MSc in IT and Learning at Lancaster University in the UK. In its first few years, the MSc ITL was for unemployed graduates who wanted to work in the emerging e-learning industry. It was a blended learning program: one of the first Master’s courses to make online discussion a core educational activity. When we launched the course in 1989, the terminology for much of what we were doing had not been invented and the technology itself was very rudimentary. No-one spoke of ‘e-learning’ or ‘blended learning’; the World Wide Web was still in Tim Berners-Lee’s lab at CERN; there was no broadband. To participate in online discussion, each of our students had to make a dial-up connection to the university’s mainframe computer. At best, they would get a data transfer rate of 300 bits per second; at worst, they would make 20 or 30 failed calls to the mainframe’s one modem before giving up for the night. Yes, only one student at a time could be connected, so none of our interactions were in real time. (I learned to like teaching asynchronously. It gives you plenty of time to think and look things up.)
We were a young course team with everything to prove and we poured every waking hour into making the course a success. This went well beyond the bean counters’ definitions of teaching. Just before the students arrived on campus for the first residential session, we realised there would be nowhere for them to get a meal. So we cooked them dinner and went to the supermarket to buy them cereals, milk, bowls and spoons. Most of them were on welfare, and we learned very quickly how to help them deal with inflexible bureaucracies, financial emergencies and getting dial-up access while homeless.
The course went well. It had ups and downs and we improvised a lot. But pretty much everyone graduated and some of the alumni are now leaders in e-learning. We had to file reports to our funding body. But nobody suggested doing a comparative evaluation, measuring the success of our program against some more traditional benchmark. If anyone had tried to create some questionnaires to evaluate the program, I suspect they would not have asked about the time we spent schlepping provisions from the supermarket on rainy Sunday nights, or cooking curry. They may have looked at our on-line teaching practices – in fact we started researching these ourselves – and they would have documented, as we were already learning through hard experience, that moderation of online discussions can increase the time you spend teaching, by an order of magnitude. Especially if you care about what you are doing. (Committed people make complex interventions work by doing things that go way beyond what is documented.)
We realised that we needed to invent some smarter ways of being online teachers, or we would burn out. So we started designing online tasks that gave students a much clearer brief about what they were to do and we gave them roles that included chairing and stimulating discussion. They took on more responsibility for looking after each other. Nothing got worse, a lot of things got better, and we didn’t burn out.
Around the same time, we got a huge grant from the European Commission to invent some ways of using communications technologies to help with the continuing professional development of people working in financial services and healthcare. We worked with 70 colleagues from across Europe, many of whom were early adopters of online education. We had an enormous stroke of luck: we found Jean Lave & Etienne Wenger’s new book on Situated Learning and we reframed what we were doing as providing infrastructure for geographically distributed communities of practice. Our design work shifted from a model based on teaching professionals about insights from the latest academic research to one based on helping them articulate, share, critique and improve the professional knowledge embedded in their working practices (Goodyear, 1995).
I first became seriously interested in educational design because it offered a survival strategy. I became more interested in it when I saw how fundamental shifts in conceptions of learning could be handled and realised through capable design work. In turn, that led me to think that design itself could be improved – with better tools and methods, informed by careful research into how designers do what they do, and what kinds of knowledge are really useful in design work. Going one step further, I think that a better understanding of the pragmatics of design can stimulate a demand for usable research-based knowledge. One can argue that much of the research in education and training is disseminated in ways that are shaped by supply-side priorities. I’m not arguing against basic, curiosity-driven research; far from it. Rather, I’m saying that weak demand sends feint signals to those researchers who want to do useful work. The clearer we can be about how designers do what they do, and what they most need to know at various stages in the design process, the more likely it is that research and design can benefit each other. That is why my first paper in the HETI journal is about Design Research: research that produces knowledge that is useful to designers.
Goodyear, P. (1995). Situated action and distributed knowledge: a JITOL perspective on electronic performance support systems. Educational and Training Technology International, 32(1), 45-55.
Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
A personal history of the MSc ITL was published as Goodyear, P. (2005). The emergence of a networked learning community: lessons learned from research and practice. In G. Kearsley (Ed.), Online learning (pp. 113-127). Englewood Cliffs NJ: Educational Technology Publications.
Some of my recent thinking about educational design (or design for learning) can be found in open access journal articles:
Goodyear, P., & Dimitriadis, Y. (2013). In medias res: reframing design for learning. Research in Learning Technology, 21. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.3402/rlt.v21i0.19909
Goodyear, P. (2015). Teaching as design. HERDSA Review of Higher Education, 2, 27-50. www.herdsa.org.au/herdsa-review-higher-education-vol-2/27-50