Critical Instructional Design

So I came across this thing called #moocmooc on Hybrid Pedagogy. Essentially a mini-mooc, that is, a short one, only three weeks in duration. The topic is Instructional Design and is guided by suggested readings, but is really wide open. The first week I read and viewed the reading then was late to the party for the twitter chat. The tweets buzzed by with multiple threads of conversation ... so I just read and lurked, not knowing where to jump in - plus these were very smart and thoughtful people!

The second week prompted us to consider defining critical instructional design. The readings were all thought provoking and I found myself often nodding in agreement, but mostly wondering and thinking. I have numerous tabs open of things to read, and then I need time to just let it percolate and reflect on (it is nice to be on sabbatical so I can take that time!). The twitter chat again flew by, but I did manage to take part, again so many interesting comments and questions.

To put my thoughts - as rambling as they might be - in some sort of context, I should point out that I realize that I am a result of the 'traditional' system. I have been in the education field for 38 years. I taught math, science and computer courses as a high school teacher. I now teach in an education faculty at a small rural university. So the way things are done in these systems is deep within my identity. I should also point out that while the main thrust of #moocmooc is online courses, I have not taught one. So far I have only taught in our B.Ed. program, most of our M.Ed. offerings are online or hybrid, so sometime I will take that plunge. I have, however, used a hybrid approach with one of my courses, but my experience in this venue is limited.

The first thing I would suggest is that the name instructional design needs change. I know instruction is the traditional term, but the words we use convey meaning, to me instruction implies a one way flow. Someone will be instructing - telling you what to do - "what are my instructions?" For critical design, I think that a basic premise would be attention to agency and power. Who has the power? How can we shift traditional power structures to grant students agency for their learning? All of these articles, the various pressures on secondary or post-secondary alike, and my own experiences over the years - always bring me back to a question of purpose. What is the purpose of education - at any level? This is why, I think, instructional design is mostly about content. Generally it seems lots of people confuse learning with regurgitating snippets of information or some 'basic skills'. Certainly content and these basic skills are important, but as Morris suggests "Content does not equate to learning, but should instead form the foundation for inquiry, discussion, dissension, and the production ... of knowledge."  In some cases, the purpose is to learn a certain skill or procedure, say, change a car tire, in those cases we are really talking about training, and simple delivery of content is fine, but in most of schooling, at all levels, it is not fine.

I think that we need to be critical at all times in our instructional design, regardless of purpose. We should strive to give students (learners?) some authority on what they are learning. I enjoyed Morris' "6 principles of critical pedagogical course design". It would be a worthy endeavour to incorporate these into higher ed courses, whether they be online or not. In my primary role teaching in a B.Ed. program, the goal is to prepare people to become certified teachers in Manitoba. In this situation there is an expectation that graduates will have a knowledge of provincial curricula and of the nature of teaching in Manitoba. This knowledge, however, should be a point of discussion and exploration, and critique. Some of my colleagues may disagree, but I think these future teachers must question and interrogate curriculum and the system. If we don't allow this freedom, then they will become technicians, never questioning what they are doing or pushing back when in disagreement. When I teach a 'methods' course, I ask students to think about why the mandated curriculum is the way it is, to consider other approaches, and how they can allow student choice and voice. I try to allow my own students this choice and voice as well.

So a critical instructional design, to me, needs to ask how all students will be allowed agency for their own learning. Providing avenues for students to explore and branch out should be a goal of any design.

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