Ph.D. in Psychology (Major area: Educational Psychology; Minor areas: Cognitive Psychology and Linguistics), University of Massachusetts/Amherst,1978
Could you describe how you got into the field of instructional technology?
From the time I was an undergraduate student majoring in psychology, I wasinterested in how psychological principles could be applied in a practicalway to improve instruction. My first effort at "designing instruction" wasto write a programmed text designed to teach psych students how toconstruct graphs of the data they collected in labs. It amazed me thatthey didn't know how to do this, and I thought programmed learning would bea good means to teach them (of course, I thought I could write a much moreinteresting text than Holland and Skinner, which put me to sleep in myfirst psychology course!).
While I was in graduate school, I really chaffed against the traditionalresearch orientation of my program and sought experiences that would enableme to help faculty improve their instructional skills. During the summers,I taught faculty development seminars at Rochester Institute of Technologyin Rochester, NY, during which time I began to consume the standard textsof the field (e.g., Dick & Carey; Diamond, Gagne).
I had no real intentions of being a professor or of doing research. Iwanted to do instructional design and "make a difference" in the world. Infact, my position at Florida State was my fourth job after graduating withmy doctoral degree. My first job was Instructional Designer with theEducational Radio and Television of Iran. Then I became a Project Directorfor National Evaluation Systems (a private test development and programevaluation company). From there, I went to the Office of Mental Health inNY where I worked as the Instructional Development Coordinator on a TitleXX Training Grant. It is there, by the way, that I worked closely with TomReeves.
How would you describe your research agenda? How did you decide toresearch that area?
My research agenda has always been broad. I would describe myself as a "bigpicture" person trying to understand phenomena from a variety of diverseperspectives. I am currently involved in exploring implications of semiotictheory for instructional design and performance technology, which allows meto bring together a number of separate interests. Semiotics is somethingof a metatheory. It provides a synthesis of qualitative and quantitativeresearch paradigms. It suggests methods for facilitating learning andstructuring curricula to achieve particular learning goals. It offers adifferent perspective on assessment.
What are two or three books or papers you have written that you believe areespecially well done or interesting?
I am probably most proud of three things. First is the article I wrote onalternative paradigms for research in instructional systems that wasinitially published in JID in 1984 and subsequently revised and reprintedin Gary Anglin's ID: Past, Present, and Future (first and secondeditions). I learned a lot writing this piece and I think it has helped toestablish some new directions in the field with respect to the researchmethods we use.
Second is my book, Psychology of Learning for Instruction. I think itprovides a balanced treatment of learning and instruction that isn't to be found elsewhere. And the feedback I get from users is that it provides apractical orientation that is lacking from most learning theory texts.
Finally, I have a chapter on semiotics and ID that is coming out in a bookto be published by Educational Technology. This is my first major effortto put down in print my current thinking and understanding of semiotics,and I think it has the potential of serving as a framework for a great dealof work to come.
What are two or three books or papers by other people that you found veryprovocative or informative?
Two books I find myself recommending to others over and over are T.S. Kuhn'The Structure of Scientific Revolutions and George Lakoff and MarkJohnson's Metaphors We Live By.
What practical work experience do you have in the IT field? What has beenthe relationship between work experience and research?
I addressed this in some degree above in my answer to how I got into the IT field. In addition to ID projects in Iran and NY and evaluation projectsat NES, I have been involved in some small instructional design effortswhile at FSU. I directed the design and development of the MultipleOffenders DUI Curriculum under the auspices of the Supreme Court ofFlorida. I was also part of a team effort to design and develop acomputer-based instructional program on Subtance Abuse that is used in theundergraduate biology curriculum here at FSU. Finally, I am currently amember of the Exhibition Design Team for the Odyssey Science Center, agrass roots effort here in Tallahassee to establish an interactive sciencemuseum in the city.
Who are two or three people who have had the most important impact on yourcareer?
First, without question, is the late Leslie J. Briggs, who was a facultymember at FSU when I first arrived here in 1980. Les was someone whoreally knew how to mentor younger faculty. He was a shy and gentle person,but he offered early on to read papers for me and provide feedback on them. When he did so, it was usually with a statement like, "Don't mind all thered ink; I'm just an old schoolteacher at heart." His comments were alwayshelpful, and his thinking was so futuristic that I gained a perspective I'mnot sure I could have gotten from anyone else.
Among others who have had an important impact on my career are Bob Gagneand Gary Shank. When Bob and I co-authored the second edition of hisEssentials of Learning book, I learned a great deal about writing. Hisstyle is truly elegant. Bob is also a curious person, and he would come outwith the most astounding questions sometimes. Gary is the person who firstintroduced me to semiotic theory, and for the last eight or ten years, hehas been someone with whom I have especially enjoyed exchanging ideas.
What do you see as the future of IT?
I see the field broadening and becoming even more interdisciplinary,drawing from research areas that perhaps to date have not had much impacton the field. This will probably raise more questions about who we are andwhat we are about, but I see these discussions as healthy.
What do you like best about your job?
This one is easy--mentoring students. One of the things I missed mostabout working out in the field was working with students, and it was one ofthe primary reasons I returned to academia. I learn so much from students,whether they are in my classes or working with me on projects. I also believe that I was mentored well throughout my graduate studies and onlyhope I can do as well for my students.
What advice do you have for IT researchers who are just beginning in thefield?
A couple of things Les Briggs said have really stuck with me. Use yourresearch results to inform and improve your teaching, and find yourresearch problems in the questions that arise while you teach. There are always so many things to compete for our time that combining tworesponsibilities into a single task helps us to be more efficient. Becautious about the service responsibilities you accept; it's easy forservice to consume huge amounts of time without a great deal of payoff. Finally, ask for feedback from someone you respect.