What is your highest degree and where did you receive
I did my Ph.D. at the University of Illinois at
Urbana-Champaign, in Educational Psychology. But most of my assistantship
work and research was with the Plato computer-based education research
lab, which was located at Illinois.
How did you get into the field of Instructional
I was always interested in science and started college
in engineering. That was in 1969-70, at the height of the Vietnam War
protests and strikes. I was disillusioned with what I considered the lack
of social relevance in what I was doing, and switched to psychology. Eventually
I gravitated to educational psychology, which I considered an area with
a lot of potential for improving society. As I investigated graduate schools
I discovered the relatively new area of computer-based instruction, and
it all came together. This seemed a good marriage of my original interests
in science and engineering along with the social relevance of improving
education. The new Plato IV project at the University of Illinois looked
very exciting and I went there. It was a great decision. The educational
psychology program at Illinois was excellent. The Plato project was new
and exciting. Applying the cognitive psychology principles emphasized
in the educational psychology program to projects on the Plato system
was a terrific combination of the theoretical and the applied.
Could you describe your research agenda? How did
you decide to do research into that area?
I'll mostly talk about my primary area,
though I seem to get off onto tangents a lot. At a general level I am
interested in the relationship of realism, complexity, and instructional
sequence. My specific focus at this time is simulation fidelity. At one
end of the continuum is simplification of reality, or low fidelity simulation,
which presumably is easier and enhances initial learning. On the other
end of the continuum is exact replication of reality, or high fidelity
simulation, which most people presume enhances transfer of learning to
the real performance environment. I'm interested in assessing to what
extent, or under what conditions, these presumptions are true or false.
My main "hypothesis" is that good simulations need dynamic fidelity, simplifying
when the student needs instructional support, increasing fidelity as the
student progresses so as to encourage transfer. The fidelity continuum,
I believe, applies to many aspects of simulation: the visuals, the math
models, the feedback, etc. The relationship of realism,
complexity, and sequence applies to things besides simulation. Choice
of media is an example. "Simpler" media, like books, are perceived as
less realistic but easy to learn from, while "complex" media such as interactive
video are perceived as more realistic but harder to learn from. Another
example would be the choice of mode in multimedia, such as whether to
use voice (perceived as realistic) versus text (perceived as less so)
for verbal information. I don't remember ever "deciding"
to do research in this area. It was a combination of evolution, chance,
and doing what was fun. I said I also get onto tangents
a lot. I'm interested in cooperative learning and I believe developers
continue to emphasize "individualization" too much in media-based instruction.
More work needs to be done to make materials "group friendly".
What are 2 or 3 articles or books you have written
that you are most proud of?
It's hard to answer this without feeling some embarrassment. We shouldn't
take ourselves too seriously. In 100 years will ANYONE remember the instructional
technologists of the 1990s? But anyway. Stan Trollip and I are certainly
pleased that our textbook Computer-Based Instruction: Methods and
Development has enjoyed the success it has. We are always amazed
as well. We consider it only a "beginners" book and for that reason things
are simplified a lot. Also, it is in great need of updating, but we want
to do a book/CD combination and our publisher, like most publishers, is
too old-fashioned. As a result, the third edition keeps getting delayed
while we try to convince the publisher to move into the 21st century.
My article Fidelity in the design of instructional
simulations in the Journal of Computer-based Instruction
may not have had much impact, but writing it really helped me focus my
thoughts and research concerning simulation fidelity. It was good for
my own development. Lastly, I'm on sabbatical this
semester and writing a new book on simulation design. It will be a book
and a CD, the latter duplicating the text as well as containing examples,
templates, and tools.
What are two or three books or articles by other
people that you think are "must reads" for people interested in your research
If you mean computer-based instruction that's much too few.
The first time I meet with new students I give them a two page list of
books and articles they should read. It includes writings by David Jonassen
on constructivist issues and mind tools, Tom Reeves on evaluation, Charlie
Reigeluth on models, Doug Towne on simulation. There have also been some
good edited books recently in the computer-based instruction area, such
as Lajoie & Derry's Computers as Cognitive Tools, and
Regian and Shute's Cognitive Approaches to Automated Instruction.
But those are just a few of the readings I recommend. If
you mean, more specifically, simulation research, the answer is different.
But it is still very difficult to limit it to two or three books or articles.
Look at the list of references in my simulation fidelity article, mentioned
above. Some useful and more recent books are Simulation-based Experiential
Learning" edited by Towne, de Jong, & Spada; Learning
and Instruction in Simulation Environments", by Towne; Classroom
Dynamics by Mandinach & Cline; and Mental Models
edited by Gentner and Stevens. The frustrating thing
about keeping well read in your field is the problem of diminishing returns.
The first time you read a book in a new field it is all new and exciting
stuff. The next book you read has a lot of duplication and maybe only
half of it is new for you. Eventually you find yourself reading many book
and articles without encountering anything new. But you have to keep doing
it, if only for the occasional article with some new insight.
Who are two or three people who have had the most
important impact on your career? Why did they have such a big impact?
Going back a long way, I had two excellent teachers in sixth grade
science and seventh grade math who were responsible for my interests going
in those directions. Though I never imagined back then that I would someday
become a teacher, now that I am a teacher I look back and realize that
their influence as really caring and good teachers undoubtedly had a sub-conscious
influence on me through the years. Graduate school at Illinois was characterized
by faculty with extremely different views, which was very good. It wasn't
individuals who impacted me so much as the contrast between individuals,
which graduate students often got caught in the middle of. On the
one hand there were ardent schema theorists like Dick Anderson and Rand
Spiro, whose schema theory ideas have done a lot to feed the modern constructivist
approach. On the other hand there were die-hard direct instruction
folks like Marty Siegel and Ziggy Engelmann (who was at Oregon but visited
Illinois from time to time). People at Illinois argued a lot and I came
away with an appreciation for widely different points of view and the
need for eclectic approaches.
Could you describe a research project that you were
involved with that was especially enjoyable or interesting? What made
When I worked on the Illinois Plato project
I was part of a team setting up computer-supported classrooms in state
prisons. That's about as difficult and frustrating an instructional environment
as you can possibly imagine. But I learned a lot and it was rarely dull.
Once we were in a prison classroom interviewing several 250 pound murderers
when the lights went out due to a power failure!
What areas of research in IT do you think will be
especially important or fruitful in the next five to 10 years?
What we predict will happen is rarely what does happen. For that
reason I think that we need lots of variety in educational research and
development. The first half of this century everyone had to adhere to
behaviorism or be an outcast. We should not make that mistake again, such
as by insisting that everyone be a constructivist or everyone do a particular
kind of research. Just as diversity in living populations is necessary
to assure evolutionary health and improvement, diversity in educational
research is essential for its health and progress. I don't want to see
a dominant paradigm and I don't want to encourage today's graduate students
to seek one. Nevertheless, I do like to fantasize about the future. It's
so exciting, though sometimes scary. Although it is not my research area
at all, I believe a critical area of research will be the social and educational
implications of tomorrow's computers which will be able to read, write,
and someday even think. We will face many difficult decisions due
to advancements in computer technology.
What advice would you give someone just entering
the field of IT research?
In ten or 20 years most of what be believe today
will have been proven wrong. So don't believe the experts. There
are none. Learn to think for yourself. Don't accept the dominant paradigm.
Seek out the interesting controversies in our field and argue about them.
Most of all, remember what's really important. We should be in this to
improve humanity, starting with the people we see every day.