Saturday, September 13, 2014

Evaluation & Innovation: Rick's Perspective

Drs. Shearer and Amankwatia at DTL
Dr. Rick Shearer and I at DTL

      Penn State University has been a good PA neighbor and friend to me  and other practitioners in the distance education field. At the Distance  Teaching and Learning Conference, I ran into Rick Shearer and asked  him to lend his voice to our series. Rick is Director of Penn State's  World Campus Learning Design. Dr. Shearer has been involved in the  distance education field for over 25 years.

      How do we recognize innovation in teaching and learning with technology?
I believe the best description of innovation in teaching and learning is related to the idea that innovation is a process where we use new technologies to solve existing problems in our learning environments. So in essence we likely have innovation happening everywhere and we want it to happen organically and not in a managed way. Thus instructional designers daily are using new tools to solve instructional problems in our online courses. What we need is a way to capture these innovations and better disseminate information so folks do not have to re-invent the wheel.

What challenges might practitioners and researchers face when evaluating innovation? Do you have ideas for how to overcome these challenges?
The biggest challenge is finding a way to pilot an innovation and then to also be able to walk away from it if it doesn’t work. Thus, how can you run small pilot studies on technology innovations in courses and then evaluate the effectiveness without getting into long-term contractual relationships with vendors. Often it is easy to get an innovative idea into a course, but much harder to stop using it if it does not meet the need in helping students reach the stated learning outcomes. Also, in piloting these innovations and technologies we must allow time over several semesters to evaluate the impact and we cannot get caught up in running out to adopt the next shinny object that has come along. We must take a more measured approach to our testing and evaluation of the innovations.

Can you point to some promising innovations in teaching and learning?
If we know of innovative solutions they probably are not innovative anymore, thus a better question may be about problems where we need technologies to address them.

Key areas where I see a lot of innovative approaches happening in the future will be around learning analytics (not predictive analytics) where we explore ideas of personalized learning paths and mastery-based approaches. What do these look like in today’s connected world, where we value the social aspect of learning.

Also, how will the distance education community move in order to provide verification of our students for the DOE and possibly for upcoming requirements of the reauthorization of the higher education act.

Another area that is already emerging, but needs more work is the integration of social presence type tools in our courses that are seamless, but also protect the privacy and rights of our students.

Are there some effective research initiatives or studies our readers should examine? If not, why do you think that is the case?
Unfortunately there are few places for practitioners to publish their work. Most journals are research oriented and require full studies that are difficult for practicing IDs to take on.
Although AECT has recently provided a venue for practical type research/reports, we need more options available for these types of practical studies. 

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