Design processes for teaching

The following is a first draft of a section from my thesis. It will form part of the newly cut down section on Process within chapter 2 (170 pages down to 50). The following tries to say something about the design processes used for teaching within universities. It starts with a characterisation of instructional design, looks at the limitations (referring to some earlier work about teleological and ateleological processes) and seeks to describe what the literature has to say about how teaching academics actually design/plan their courses.

As with previous thesis drafts, this is an early draft, I’ll re-edit and improve later, but thought I’d get this out there.

Design processes for teaching

Having introduced a framework for understanding different types of processes and examining the institutional strategic and institutional learning and teaching processes used by universities, this section examines the types of processes used to plan, develop and run individual university courses or units. It starts with a one description of what this type of process embodies, examines the ideal instructional design process before describing what is known about the processes used by individual university academics. The same tendency toward teleological processes is seen. As can the same problems and limitations that arise from such processes within a context that show significant diversity, levels of uncertainty and human agency.

This section and its topic, while somewhat related to the discussion on Pedagogy (Section cross reference), has a different focus. Pedagogy focuses on what is known about learning and how to improve the learning that occurs within universities. This section examines the processes used to design learning as embodied in individual university courses or units. Without question this design process should be informed by knowledge of pedagogy, but the process itself is worthy of description as there are differing options and perspectives.

Reigeluth (1983) defines instructional design as a set of decision-marking procedures that, given a set of outcomes for student to achieve and knowledge of the context within which they will achieve them, guides the choice and development of effective instructional strategies. Reiser (2001) describes how the field of instructional design arose out of the need for large groups of psychologists and educators to develop training materials for the military services. The backgrounds and skills of these people the materials were developed through instructional principles derived from theory on instructiona, learning and human behaviour (Reiser 2001). After the war this work continued and increasingly training was viewed as a system to be designed and developed using specialised procedures (Reiser 2001).

Models of instructional design still have strong connection to the models developed in the 1950s based on the ADDIE (Analyse, Design, Develop, Implement, Evaluate) process (Irlbeck, Kays et al. 2006). ADDIE is a framework designed for objectivist epistemologies where front-end analysis precedes the development of curricular content (Der-Thanq, Hung et al. 2007). The learning theory used to inform instructional design has moved on from its behaviourist origins, moving through cognitivism, constructivism and slowly into connectivism. However, Winn (1990) identifies three areas where behaviourism still exerts power over the processes used by instructional design: the reductionist premise that you can identify the parts, then you can teach the whole; separation of design from implementation; and the assumption that following good procedures, applied correctly results in good instruction.

Visscher-Voerman and Gustafson (2004) identified four different paradigms for instructional design – instrumental, communicative, pragmatic and artistic – with ADDIE situated within the instrumental paradigm. They found, in confirmation of other studies, that the instrumental paradigm as dominated instructional design and that there are questions about its relevance given recent epistemological and technical developments (Visscher-Voerman and Gustafson 2004). Evidence of this dominance can be found in more recent conceptions of instructional design such as constructive alignment (Biggs 1999). Constructive alignment is based on constructivist theories of learning (Entwistle 2003) and focusing on a shift from teacher-centered to student-centered teaching, (Harvey and Kamvounias 2008) and is an example of outcomes-centred design. Outcomes-centred design is a four step process: definition of learning outcomes; design assessment tasks for students to demonstrate achievement; design learning activities for students to develop the appropriate skills; and identify the content that will underpin the learning activities (Phillips 2005).

This teleological view of the instructional design process has a number of flaws. Some of these flaws arise from the teleological nature of the process. Table 2.1 draws on literature around learning, teaching and instructional design to illustrate that it could be argued that Introna’s (1996) three necessary conditions for a teleological process do not exist in the instructional design context. The following seeks to describe other criticisms of this teleological approach to instructional design that have arisen from the literature, including the observation that it does not match what is known about how teaching academics plan their courses

Table 2.1 – Suggestions that instructional design does not satisfy Introna’s (1996) 3 necessary conditions for teleological processes
Necessary conditions Reality
Stable and predictable system Discipline categories bring differences (Becher and Trowler 2001) and are social constructions, subject to change from within and between disciplines.
If a student finds a learning strategy troubling, the student can switch to another at will. The designer could not have predicted which strategy the student would actually use (Winn 1990).
Traditional instruction design is not responsive enough for a society characterised by rapid change (Gustafson 1995).
Manipulate behaviour Change in student strategy can circumvent the intent of the design, unless the design is extremely adaptable (Winn 1990)
Human behaviour is unpredictable, if not indeterminate, which suggests that attempts to predict and control educational outcomes cannot be successful (Cziko 1989)
Academic freedom in teaching refers to the right to teach a course in a way the academic feels reasonable (Geirsdottir 2009)
Most teachers believe they have considerable autonomy in course planning (Stark 2000)
Accurately determine goals curriculum decision making is characterised by conflict and contradictions and by attempts to guard the interest and power relations within the disciplinary community (Henkel and Kogan 1999).
As the student learns, their mental models change and hence decisions about instructional strategies made now, would be different than those made initially (Winn 1990).
Influences on the choice of teaching approaches adopted are clearly more complex than any simple analytic model can convey (Entwistle 2003)
It cannot be assumed that everything is planned in advance (Levander and Mikkola 2009)
In the real world, no-one is sure what the instructional goals should be (Dick 1995).

The above description of instructional design as a teleological process represents the dominant paradigm of instructional design, but not the only paradigm. This is representative of the more homogeneous view of instructional design built around the ADDIE framework (Visscher-Voerman and Gustafson 2004). While instructional designers do apparently use process-based instructional design models (e.g. ADDIE), a majority of their time is not spent working within such processes nor do they follow them in a rigid fashion (Kenny, Zhang et al. 2005). The design processes used by instructional designers are much more heterogeneous and diverse (Rowland 1992). Dick (1995) suggestions that models, such as ADDIE, are ultimately judged on their usefuleness, not on whether they are good or bad.

Models, such as ADDIE, are most useful in the systematic planning of major revisions of an existing course or the creation of a new course. However, traditional university academics spend relatively little time in systematic planning activities prior to teaching an existing course (Lattuca and Stark 2009). A significant reason for this is that academics are not often required to engage in the development of new courses or major overhauls of existing courses (Stark and Lowther 1988). The pre-dominant practice is teaching an existing course, often a course the academic has taught previously. When this happens, academics spend most of their time fine tuning a course or making minor modifications to material or content (Stark 2000).

It is also known that academics practice: is not described by a rational planning model; generally starts with content and not explicit course objectives; and does not separate planning from implementation (Lattuca and Stark 2009). Since academics have traditionally not been required to document their teaching goals for a course ahead of time it is possible that the actual teaching and learning that occurs is more in line with the teacher’s implicit internalised knowledge and not that described in published course descriptions (Levander and Mikkola 2009). Formal description of the curriculum do not necessarily provide much understanding about how teachers put their curriculum ideas into action (Argyris and Schon 1974).

As stated earlier, the instructional design process can be seen as drawing on the knowledge of learning and instructional design to identify appropriate instructional strategies to achieve required outcomes within a given context. Most university academics do not have this knowledge of learning and instructional design. In addition, these staff rarely read educational literature or call upon any available expert assistance when planning a course (Stark 2000). In the absence of formal qualifications of knowledge in this area, most academics teach in ways they have been taught (Phillips 2005) and/or which fit with disciplinary norms and their recent teaching experience (Entwistle 2003). These in turn influence the conceptions of teaching and learning held by academics, which in turn influences their approaches to teaching as described in a significant body of literature discussed in more detail in (cross reference to just after Figure 2.2 and section 2.7.1).

In seeking to describe what is known about the approaches to teaching used by academics, Richardson (2005) developed the integrated model shown in Figure 2.1. While useful, Entwistle (Entwistle 2003) suggests that the simply analytic models are too simple to capture the full complexity of the decision making that occurs when choosing teaching approaches. Stark (2000) suggests that instructional design is not only a science, but also a creative act, linked to teacher thinking that must be examined contextually, meaning that it is not amenable to a single formula or prescription. Or perhaps to a teleological process.

Figure 2.2 - An integrated model of teachers' approaches to teaching, conceptions of teaching and perceptions of the teaching environment (Richardson 2005)


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