Ok, so I was an academic for a brief and remarkably good period of time (a long time ago). Mind you, I’ve kept my hand in: reviewing journal and conference submissions, writing the occasional book chapter, contributing to some research, even playing a small role in some grant-funded projects. I like academics, it’s just that circumstances took me away (and I like consulting too; different, not one better). However, there’re a lot of benefits from being engaged, particularly keeping up with the state of the art. At least one perspective… Hence, I attended the most recent meeting of the Association of Educational Communications & Technology, pretty much the society for academics in instructional technology.
The event features many of your typical components: keynotes, sessions, receptions, and the interstitial social connections. One of the differences is that there’s no vendor exhibition. And there are a lot of concurrent sessions: roughly 27 per time slot! Now, you have to understand, there are multiple agendas, including giving students and new faculty members opportunities for presentations and feedback. There are also sessions designed for tapping into the wisdom of the elders, and working sessions to progress understandings. This was only my second, so I may have the overall tenor wrong. Regardless, here are some reflections from the event:
For one, it’s clear that there’s an overall awareness of what could, and should, be happening in education. In the keynotes, the speakers repeatedly conveyed messages about effective learning. What wasn’t effectively addressed was the comprehensive resistance of the education system to meaningful change. Still, all three keynotes, Driscoll, Cabrera, and Reeves, commented in one way or another on problems and opportunities in education. Given that many of the faculty members come from Departments of Education, this is understandable.
Another repeated emergent theme (at least for me) was the need for meaningful research. What was expressed by Tom Reeves in a separate session was the need for a new approach to research grounded in focusing on real problems. I’ve been a fan of his call for Design-Based Research, and liked what he said: all thesis students should introduce their topics with the statement “the problem I’m looking at is”. The sessions, however, seemed to include too many small studies. (In my most cynical moments, I wonder how many studies have looked at teaching students or teacher professional development and their reflections/use of technology…).
One session I attended was quite exciting. The topic was the use of neuroscience in learning, and the panel were all people using scans and other neuroscience data to inform learning design. While I generally deride the hype that usually accompanies the topic, here were real researchers talking actual data and the implications, e.g. for dyslexia. While most of the results from research that have implications for design are still are at the cognitive level, it’s important to continue to push the boundaries.
I focused my attendance mostly on the Organizational Training & Performance group, and heard a couple of good talks. One was a nice survey of mentoring, looking across the research, and identifying what results there were, and where there were still opportunities for research. Another study did a nice job of synthesizing models for human performance technology, though the subsequent validation approach concerned me.
I did a couple of presentations myself that I’ll summarize in tomorrow’s post, but it was a valuable experience. The challenges are different than in corporate learning technology, but there are interesting outcomes that are worth tracking. A valuable experience.