Michael Molenda

Associate Professor
Instructional Systems Technology

Indiana University
 Home Page:  http://www.indiana.edu/~mmweb98/index.html

Could you describe how you got into the field of Instructional Technology?
I was attracted by a national fellowship opportunity (National Defense Education Act) that was available back in the 1960s. It encouraged scholars to consider careers in fields, such as Instructional Technology, that were considered valuable to the national defense. [This act was passed in the frenzy immediately following the launch of the Soviet Sputnik.]

Your undergraduate degree was in Speech (Television). Do you see any similarities between the hype and promise of Instructional Television and the current hype and promise surrounding computer-assisted instruction?
A well justified question. Yes, our field has suffered under generation after generation of unfulfilled promises, going back to film and including radio, TV, programmed instruction, and now computers. Each innovation stimulates its army of advocates who make unwise predictions or promises about the reform of education. Wiser heads understand that the biggest problems of formal education are not amenable to technological solutions and that the availability of technology does not cause the restructuring of education.

What area of research interests you currently? How did you come to be interested in that topic?
I would like to gather descriptive information about teacher use of technology on a large-scale representative basis. That is, we lack baseline data about how teachers use technology, so we have no way of measuring whether use is increasing or improving on a national or international basis. Pelgrum & Plomp have conducted such a cross-national study regarding COMPUTER use, but there's no such study on technology more broadly construed. Further, there are no studies based on OBSERVATION of what teachers are doing. I put little stock in survey responses. Are there any books that you feel are "must reads" for people beginning a career in IT Research? A book that changed my thinking about what was appropriate research for our field is TO ENGINEER IS HUMAN by Henry Petroski (Vintage Books, 1992). Delightful essays about how the art and science of structural engineering are advanced through systematic case studies of failures in newly designed systems. Larry Cuban's TEACHERS AND MACHINES (Teachers College, 1986) is a brief and fascinating description of teachers' uses of technology by one guy who has personally observed some thousands of classrooms. First-hand, front line information.

Who are a couple of people who've had an important impact on your career?
Bob Heinich was a colleague at Indiana for many years before retiring and is still a friend. He taught me to look at the big picture, particularly to look for how the reward system shapes people's choices. He had Big Thoughts about IT and expressed them candidly even if it stepped on some sensitive toes. Sivasailam Thiagarajan, a Bloomington, Indiana colleague, constantly shows how the IT approach can lead to simple, elegant solutions. Beneath all the hype and hardware, what helps people learn is instruction that reflects some basic values--clarity, fun, and meaningfulness

You developed the "Diffusion Simulation Game." Could you describe that project for us?
Thiagarajan and I and several others were commissioned to develop a one-day workshop to be administered nationally on "Diffusion Strategies." We were looking for a learning format that would involve participants in the complexities of implementing an innovation in a school setting. We settled upon a fairly complex and large-scale simulation game as the solution. After considerable testing and revision we came up with a game that has proved to be extremely robust, being used with hundreds of groups over a period of 20 years. Even though it's been out of print for a decade I still get requests about obtaining a copy. (My advice on this is found on my WWW home page.)

You are one of the authors of the very influential textbook "Instructional Media and Technologies for Learning." What are the benefits and drawbacks of authoring a popular textbook?
The benefits are (1) having access to a textbook that I myself can use with satisfaction when teaching these basic topics, (2) getting royalty checks twice a year, (3) receiving positive feedback from students who have discovered a textbook they don't hate, (4) receiving positive feedback from instructors whose students no longer hate their textbook.

You have been very active in Instructional Technology projects outside the U.S.A. How do the quality and quantity of R&D internationally compare to that in the U.S.?
Most of my work has been in "developing countries," where the technological infrastructure that we take for granted is largely absent: schools without electricity and textbooks, not to mention computers....and so on. However, in one very important regard the R&D going on in some of these places is asking questions and yielding answers that are of potentially high value to decision-makers in more "developed" countries. I am thinking particularly of the work being done by US AID in the realm of "low cost learning systems." They have developed models of schools that run more efficiently AND EFFECTIVELY than conventional schools thanks to being RESTRUCTURED around "process technologies" such as programmed teaching, programmed tutoring, and self-instructional modules. The improvements are miraculous and they are achieved at lower cost. Solutions such as these are not welcomed in countries with a highly organized teaching profession because (a) they require major change in the role of the teacher and principal, and (b) they attempt to operate schools with FEWER certified teachers, relying more heavily on team teaching, paraprofessionals, and community volunteers.

What areas of research in IT do you think will be especially important or fruitful in the next 5 - 10 years?
We need objective, hard-nosed inquiry related to systemic change in education. We have more than enough theorizing and rhetoric. The same is true for "constructivist learning environments." We are beginning to get a little bit of insight into the realities of such developments, but the rhetoric still predominates.

Do you have any advice for graduate students or others in the field who are just beginning to do research?
First, fear not, all the good questions have not yet been taken! IT has not yet developed its own research traditions, questions and methods that are peculiarly suited to our special slant on the the world of teaching and learning. That's why I recommended the Petroski book in the earlier question. Second, there are good sources of advice already out there: e.g. Chapters 28 to 31 in Anglin's IT: PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE, 2nd Ed. (Libraries Unlimited, 1995) and Clark's "Current progress and future directions for research in IT," ETR&D 37:1 (1989), and Thompson et al., ED TECH--A REVIEW OF THE RESEARCH (AECT, 1993).