David H. Jonassen

Professor of Instructional Systems
Pennsylvania State University

What is your highest degree?

Ed.D., Educational Media/Educational Psychology, Temple University, 1976

Could you describe how you got into the field of Instructional Technology?

I worked my way through a B.S. at the University of Delaware. Havingworked in the library shelving books (mildly engaging for the first fewthousand) and in the Registration Office refereeing frustrated studentsstanding in line for class cards (in the old days, before the operation wasentirely computerized), I was seeking new adventures. In the PlacementOffice, I came across an advertisement for a television cameraman for themunificent sum of $1.60 per hour (which was the top of the pay scale).Figuring I had nothing to lose, I applied and spent the last three years atDelaware developing instructional television, running camera, floordirector, engineering, lights, with an occasional stint as director. Ibecame involved with a repertory television group and also was a chartermember of the campus radio station, producing commercials and running themost eclectic radio program in history. I was heavily involved inproduction.

After graduation, I was impelled by intrinsic interest into enrolling inseveral psychology courses, which had not been required by my major. Iknew that I wanted to become involved in "educational media" (as it wasknown then), so I was building a foundation. I needed public schoolexperience, so I completed a master's program which engaged us almostimmediately in teaching. For a couple of years of elementary and juniorhigh teaching, I tested out various instructional systems. Moving along, Ienrolled n a doctoral program in educational media but ended up majoring inexperimental educational psychology. I seemed destined, almostunconsciously, for higher education, which I pursued after graduating in1976.

How would you describe your research agenda? How did you decide toresearch that area?

Truly eclectic. That's my nature. I began by doing a lot of text designresearch, in part because it was a cheap, low-tech venue. All you need isphotocopier. Seriously, over the past twenty years, my research hascoalesced around the general topics of constructivist learning andknowledge representation. My dissertation in 1976 was actually about aconstructivist application of video (The effects of videotapeself-confrontation on self-concept). More recently, I am intrigued by howhumans represent what they know, ergo the interest in structural knowledge,mental models, and cognitive tools (Mindtools). These are all mechanismsfor describing what we know. Learning from constructivist environments isabout meaning making, which is about what we come to know.

What are two books or papers you have written that you believe areespecially well done or interesting?

That requires presumptuousness. I have usually used writing as aninstructional means for filling in the gaps in the literature. The TaskAnalysis book is an example. Unfortunately, the publisher charged way toomuch for the book, refused to issue it in paperback or to market it.Hopefully, we will be coming out with a new edition of it. The Handbook ofResearch on Educational Communications and Technology will likely be themost influential.

The paper that I most enjoyed was a knowledge representation study that Ipublished in the Journal of Research and Development in Education lookingat the effectiveness of pattern noting for assessing cognitive structure.It worked, but required a lot of digging, as very few people knew mucha bout multi-dimensional scaling. I was actually consulting with the statistician/computer scientist who coded the SAS routine for MDS. It was frustrating because, although we were both speaking English, I didn'tunderstand a word he said. You see, we shared very few schemas.

What are two works by other people that you found veryprovocative or informative?

How many hundreds are there? Most recently, I'd recommend DistributedCognitions, edited by Salomon; Situated Learning: Legitimate PeripheralParticipation by Lave and Wenger, and Case-Based Reasoning by JanetKolodner. Ask me again in five minutes, and the list will likely change.

What practical work experience do you have in the it field? What has beenthe relationship between work experience and research?

Teaching, AV production for a couple of years, educational televisionproduction for a few years, design and development of computer-basedlearning environments over the past few years for starters. Being aconstructivist, I argue that the relationship between learning andreal-world experience is essential and critical. Learning is indexed byexperience.

Who are a few people who have had the most important impact on yourcareer?

Bob Heinich, who spent a lot of time discoursing about the philosophicalfoundations article I published in ECTJ in 1984.

Dave Merrill (yes, really) functioned as an important goal. I have alwaysrespected the coherence of his work and spent a lot of time researching,teaching, and working with his ideas. We developed the only fullyfunctioning transaction generator that I know of. While we have divergedin perspective, he is now a noble adversary (conceptually speaking). Thefield needs multiple perspectives, and he is the most incisive advocate forobjectivsm that I know of.

My colleagues at Denver, who constituted the most collaborative andproductive faculty in the history of the field.

Could you describe one research project that you found particularlyinteresting or worthwhile? What made it so?

If you are referring to my own research, perhaps the most interesting to mewas, by most publishing criteria, a failure. I was looking at the role ofcognitive styles on four types of learning outcomes. Having measurednearly 30 styles, I had to factor analyze those. Four factors emerged. Iregressed those factor scores on the four learning outcomes. One factoremerged as the only significant predictor of all four types of learning. Itseems that intelligence, even though I intentionally avoided measuring it,emerged like the Phoenix from the ashes of the data.

What do you see as the future of IT?

How many ways could one answer this question. For now, I see it almost asa dialectic. Unbelievably large scale integration will continue to maketechnology more powerful with the effect of individualizing the learning and communication process. That trend will be countered (successfully, I hope) by the situated learning/social constructivist movement in learning theory to use that more powerful technology to support conversation among communities of practitioners and learners. The balance should be awesome.

 What advice do you have for IT researchers who are just beginning in the field?

Decide what are the most compelling ideas to you and immerse yourself inthe literature and practice in that field. And whatever you do, don'tforget to use multiple measurements/assessments. The most powerfulresearch will use quantitative data to confirm the qualitative andqualitative to confirm the quantitative.

Also, don't be afraid to submit to prestigious journals. While I was workngon my doctorate, I wrote a paper on Color as an Instructional Variable andsubmitted it to Review of Educational Research. They rejected it butsuggested changes. Ingenue that I was, I didn't realize that I couyldrevise and resubmit it. Had I done so, I would likely have had a majorpublication before finishing my degree program. So look for mentors andask for advice. You can always ignore it.


Research Online | Features | Links | Information
Instructional Technology Research Online