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.
Having worked 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 Placement Office, I came across an advertisement for a television
cameraman for them unificent 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 a tDelaware developing instructional television,
running camera, floor director, engineering, lights, with an occasional
stint as director. I became involved with a repertory television group
and also was a charter member of the campus radio station, producing
commercials and running the most eclectic radio program in history.
I was heavily involved in production. After graduation, I was impelled
by intrinsic interest into enrolling in several psychology courses,
which had not been required by my major. I knew that I wanted to become
involved in "educational media" (as it was known then), so I was building
a foundation. I needed public school experience, so I completed a master's
program which engaged us almost immediately in teaching. For a couple
of years of elementary and junior high teaching, I tested out various
instructional systems. Moving along, Ienrolled in a doctoral program
in educational media but ended up majoring in experimental educational
psychology. I seemed destined, almost unconsciously, for higher education,
which I pursued after graduating in1976.
How would you describe your research
agenda? How did you decide to research that area?
Truly eclectic. That's my nature. I began
by doing a lot of text design research, in part because it was a cheap,
low-tech venue. All you need is a photocopier. Seriously, over the past
twenty years, my research has coalesced around the general topics of
constructivist learning and knowledge representation. My dissertation
in 1976 was actually about a constructivist application of video (The
effects of video tape self-confrontation on self-concept). More recently,
I am intrigued by how humans represent what they know, ergo the interest
in structural knowledge, mental models, and cognitive tools (Mindtools).
These are all mechanisms for describing what we know. Learning from
constructivist environments is about meaning making, which is about
what we come to know.
What are two books or papers you
have written that you believe are especially well done or interesting?
That requires presumptuousness. I have
usually used writing as an instructional means for filling in the gaps
in the literature. The TaskAnalysis book is an example.
Unfortunately, the publisher charged way too much 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 of Research on Educational
Communications and Technology will likely be the most influential.
The paper that I most enjoyed was a knowledge representation study that
Ipublished in the Journal of Research and Development in Education
looking at the effectiveness of pattern noting for assessing cognitive
structure .It worked, but required a lot of digging, as very few people
knew much about 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't understand a word he said. You see, we shared very
What are two works by other people
that you found very provocative or informative?
How many hundreds are there? Most recently, I'd recommend Distributed
Cognitions, edited by Salomon; Situated Learning: Legitimate
PeripheralParticipation, by Lave and Wenger; and Case-Based
Reasoning, by Janet Kolodner. 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 been the relationship between work
experience and research?
Teaching, AV production for a couple of years, educational television
production for a few years, design and development of computer-based
learning environments over the past few years for starters. Being a
constructivist, I argue that the relationship between learning and real-world
experience is essential and critical. Learning is indexed by experience.
Who are a few people who have had
the most important impact on your career?
Bob Heinich, who spent a lot of time discoursing about the philosophical
foundations article I published in ECTJ in 1984. Dave Merrill
(yes, really) functioned as an important goal. I have always respected
the coherence of his work and spent a lot of time researching, teaching,
and working with his ideas. We developed the only fully functioning
transaction generator that I know of. While we have diverged in perspective,
he is now a noble adversary (conceptually speaking). The field needs
multiple perspectives, and he is the most incisive advocate for objectivsm
that I know of. My colleagues at Denver, who constituted the most collaborative
and productive faculty in the history of the field.
Could you describe one research project
that you found particularly interesting or worthwhile? What made it
If you are referring to my own research,
perhaps the most interesting to me was, by most publishing criteria,
a failure. I was looking at the role of cognitive styles on four types
of learning outcomes. Having measured nearly 30 styles, I had to factor
analyze those. Four factors emerged. I regressed those factor scores
on the four learning outcomes. One factor emerged as the only significant
predictor of all four types of learning. It seems 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
How many ways could one answer this question. For now, I see
it almost as a dialectic. Unbelievably large scale integration will
continue to make technology 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 in the literature and practice in that field. And whatever
you do, don't forget to use multiple measurements/assessments. The most
powerful research will use quantitative data to confirm the qualitative
and qualitative to confirm the quantitative. Also, don't be afraid to
submit to prestigious journals. While I was workng on my doctorate,
I wrote a paper on Color as an Instructional Variable and submitted
it to Review of Educational Research. They rejected it but suggested
changes. Ingenue that I was, I didn't realize that I couyld revise and
resubmit it. Had I done so, I would likely have had a major publication
before finishing my degree program. So look for mentors and ask for
advice. You can always ignore it.