Thomas C. Reeves, Ph.D.
Professor of Instructional Technology
The University of Georgia

What is your highest degree?
Ph.D., Division of Instructional Design, Development, and Evaluation, School of Education, Syracuse University, May 1979. (The title of my dissertation was "Evaluating the Implementation of an Instructional Design Across Settings." Dr. Edward F. Kelly chaired my dissertation committee which also included Phil Doughty, Don Ely, and Bob Hollway.)

Could you describe how you got into the field of instructional technology?
My first experience with "instructional technology" came as a junior seminarian at St. Mary's Seminary in Pennsylvania when I helped my Latin teacher prepare a series of transparencies to illustrate his lectures about Caesar's campaigns in Gaul. Later as a Chaplain's Assistant in the U. S. Army (1969-71), I completed a one week audiovisual specialist school at Ft. Hamilton, New York. (One of my primary military duties was showing "character guidance" films to soldiers.) After graduating from Georgia State University with a degree in elementary education (thanks to the G. I. Bill), I taught social studies to 7th Graders near Atlanta for one year. I tried to use a learning center approach in my classroom, but I found myself increasingly frustrated by my feeble attempts to keep the students motivated via magazine and newspaper clippings and the mimeographed materials I created. One of my professors at Georgia State University, Francis "Skip" Atkinson had graduated from Syracuse University, and he recommended the program to me. I went to Syracuse in the Fall of 1974, and ended up with two Masters degrees (one from Syracuse and one from Georgia State) and a Ph.D. by April of 1979. I spent 1979-80 as a Fulbright Lecturer in Peru and first came to The University of Georgia in 1982. I was initially recruited to Georgia by the Department of Early Childhood Education, but I joined the Department of Instructional Technology when it was formed in 1985 under the leadership of Kent Gustafson.

How would you describe your research agenda? How did you decide to research that area?
I wish I could say I had an authentic research agenda in the sense that Imre Lakatos means by a "scientific research program." Since my days as a graduate student at Syracuse, I have been most interested in evaluation methods, especially as applied to the products of instructional technology. In recent years, largely led by the interests and talents of my former and present students, I have been investigating:

  • the development of electronic performance support systems for teachers and training developers,
  • the mental models that learners construct of user interfaces and interactive multimedia, and
  • applications of instructional technology in developing countries.
What are two or three books or papers you have written that you believe are especially well done or interesting?
I am most proud of some of the non-print "publications" to which I have contributed such as Macintosh Fundamentals, an interactive videodisc course for Apple Computer, Inc. I worked as part of a team led by Jim Laffey who was with Apple but is now with the University of Missouri. In the first year of implementation alone, more than 10,000 people used this Golden Cindy award winning course. As my colleagues and students can attest, I often question the assumptions underlying much of the published research in our field. (Twelve years of Catholic school and five graduate courses with Professor Richard E. Clark at Syracuse provided me with a skeptical attitude toward research.) I believe that we have made and continue to make the wrong assumptions about the nature of the phenomena we study and hence often ask the wrong research questions. I have published several papers that argue this perspective such as:
  • Reeves, T. C. (1993). Pseudoscience in computer-based instruction: The case of learner control research. Journal of Computer-Based Instruction, 20(2), 39-46.
  • Reeves, T. C. (1990). Redirecting evaluation of interactive video: The case for complexity. Studies in Educational Evaluation, 16, 115-131.
  • Reeves, T. C. (1986). Research and evaluation models for the study of interactive video. Journal of Computer-Based Instruction, 13, 102-106.

What are two or three books or papers by other people that you found very provocative or informative?
A book I go back to again and again is: Pirsig, R. M. (1974). Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance: An inquiry in to values. New York: Morrow. I have used this book (which is mainly about the meaning of quality) in several courses. (Students either love it or hate it!) I now have the Voyager Press hypertext version of Pirsig's classic which makes finding my favorite quotes much easier. Another book which I find very insightful with respect to research is: Pagels, H. R. (1988). The dreams of reason: The computer and the rise of the sciences of complexity. New York: Simon and Schuster. Closer to our own field, I find the work of Gabi Salomon and David Perkins to be brilliant. I also value research conducted by some of Seymour Papert's students such as: Harel, I. (Ed.). (1991). Children designers: Interdisciplinary constructions for learning and knowing mathematics in a computer-rich school. Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing. Kafai, Y. B. (1992, April). Learning through design and play: Computer game design as a context for children's learning. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association. San Francisco, CA. Finally, I think Dave Jonassen's efforts to emphasize using the computer as a cognitive tool are very useful, and I look forward to the publication of his new book: Jonassen, D. H. (in press). Mind tools for schools. New York: Macmillan.

What practical work experience do you have in the IT field? What has been the relationship between work experience and research?
I have been fortunate to have numerous opportunities to work in practical settings including military training, business training, and schools. For example, in 1984, I left The University of Georgia for fifteen months to work at Meta Media Systems in Germantown, Maryland. Among my clients at Meta Media were the Library of Congress, the U. S. Navy, and Dow Chemical. I have completed shorter term consultancies with Apple Computer, AT&T, Delta Airlines, IBM, and the U. S. Air Force Academy, among others. Instructional technology is a design science, and as professors of instructional technology, we can not afford to hide out in the ivory tower. The models and prototypes we develop must be tested (researched) in real world contexts. Without one foot in the schools and training centers of the world, our classroom presentations and course assignments about research would quickly become sterile. At Georgia, we stress internships and involving our students in real projects. (In fact, our students often find their first professional positions through these opportunities.) In my own teaching, I attempt to engage students in authentic learning opportunities as much as possible, For example, in our research seminar, I assign students to identify a research leader, conduct a review of the researcher's work using ERIC and other information resources, make personal contact with the researcher. interview the researcher about his/her research agenda, and prepare a multimedia presentation about the researcher.

Who are two or three people who have had the most important impact on your career?
Don Ely, one of my professors at Syracuse University, has been a major mentor in my life. When I went to Syracuse in the Fall of 1974, I didn't think that I could afford to go there because the tuition was so high, but Don convinced me to stay. My first semester there was challenging because I had to substitute teach practically every day to make ends meet. Then I was fortunate enough to win a University Fellowship, and hence I was able to complete a Masters and Ph.D. in what I believe was and is one the best instructional technology programs in the country. Don also encouraged me to apply for the Fulbright Lectureship program and to continue international work since then. Don is an excellent role model. Two other people who have been major influences on me are Skip Atkinson, from Georgia State University, and Kent Gustafson, my colleague here at UGA. Both of them exemplify the highest professional ideals in our field by continuously applying the theories and prototypes generated in academe to the real needs of schools, businesses, and government. Finally, I must mention the late Edward F. Kelly, my major professor at Syracuse, who died tragically young at age 45. Education would be greatly enhanced if he had been given more time to contribute to it.

What do you see as the future of IT?
The field of instructional technology must evolve rapidly if it is to survive as a unique field. In my opinion, we have relied far too long on an instructional systems design approach which is no longer economically viable. Rapid prototyping of electronic performance support systems will be a much larger part of our future than traditional ISD approaches to developing large scale instructional systems. The good news is that the knowledge, skills, and attitudes developed in the best instructional technology programs are quite versatile. Instructional technology prepares people for the rapidly changing world of learning and performance environments about as well as any field can.

What do you like best about your job?
The opportunities for international experience in this field are very rewarding. I spend a year as a Fulbright Lecturer in Peru, another part of a year in Germany working on an interactive videodisc project, and more recently five months in Australia as a Teaching Fellow at Edith Cowan University. I have also been honored by opportunities to speak and/or provide workshops in countries as diverse as Brazil, Bulgaria, Finland, Russia, South Africa, Switzerland, and Taiwan. This summer, I'll be giving an evaluation workshop with Mary Marlino from the U. S. Air Force Academy at ED-MEDIA '95 in Graz, Austria, and collaborating with faculty and students at the University of Twente in The Netherlands for three weeks. Although the world seems to get smaller everyday though technologies such as the Internet and WWW, I feel that I have only experienced a tiny part of it. I look forward to many future international collaborations.

What advice do you have for IT researchers who are just beginning in the field?
Seek out opportunities to study the philosophy of science that underlies science in general and research in the social sciences in particular. A good place to start would be: Phillips, D. C. (1992). The social scientist's bestiary: A guide to fabled threats to, and defenses of, naturalistic social science. New York: Pergamon Press. Enroll in a philosophy of science course, preferably one outside a college or school of education. Expose yourself to as many different forms of inquiry as possible. And most of all, don't conduct pseudoscience! For the meaning of pseudoscience, see my recent publication on Questioning the Questions of Instructional Technology Research which is also available at this Web site.