Instructional Technology Program
Could you describe how you got into the field of
instructional technology? I did my Master's Degree at the University
of Michigan in Psychology of Reading in the 60's working with Donald E.P.
Smith. History buffs may remember some of his early work with programmed
instruction - specifically discrimination programming. I learned a lot
about reading, psycholinguistics, and language acquisition, but in addition
I learned about some pretty hot new things - behavioral objectives, task
analysis, programming. No one called it instructional design then, but
that's what it was. I became entranced with this work on developing instructional
materials and programs and began searching for a doctoral program. Somewhat
by accident, I found one in my own backyard at Wayne State. My goal was
to apply instructional systems design techniques to teacher education
programs and, in fact, did that for 10 years after completing my graduate
studies. In 1981, after receiving tenure in Teacher Education, I was asked
to join the Instructional Technology faculty at Wayne State. I suppose
the only thing unusual about this is that I was fortunate enough to have
an academic career with limited mobility. It's somewhat less of a problem
for young women starting out today, but it's still an issue.
How would you describe your research agenda?
There has been a theme (perhaps somewhat hidden) to my work. I have always
been interested in instructional design theory - what it is, how it is
constructed and the nature of its impact. This general interest has flowed
through much of my work from 1) the early syntheses of the theoretical
bases of design and construction of a taxonomy of design variables, to
2) the application of that variable framework to a series of replicated
studies and theory construction, to 3) analyses of the various ways of
relating research and theory to practice, such as the use of developmental
research techniques. Currently, I'm starting to explore the history of
IT thought. I see this as another way of exploring the theory of our field.
How did you come to decide to research these areas?
I'm not sure if anyone actually decides on a research agenda. Often one's
interests evolve. My first book started as a systems theory book and then
grew to encompass all of the design theory bases. But these interests
probably started back in the late 70's when I directed a Teacher Corps
project with a research adaptation focus.
I know that you have a wide range of interests that
revolve around the research and development of instructional design. Some
of your work has discussed definitions of the field, contextual analysis,
and developmental research. Could you tell us a little about these interests?
The definitions project was very interesting. I liked it because it was
another way to look at the knowledge base and the history of the field
as a whole. It also provided an avenue for working with many of the really
interesting people in this field. The definition serves as a great way
to generate discussions and even arguments. I'm fascinated by the lure
of this topic. Another definition of the field debate emerged on IT Forum
not too long ago. If you look at the topic historically, it provides a
wonderful framework for understanding not only what this field is, what
it was, and how it has developed. The contextual analysis project was
an outgrowth of two separate pieces of work that Marty Tessmer and I did
- his environmental analysis book and my systemic design book. A key part
of my research pointed to the impact of the wide range of variables (especially
organizational climate and attitudinal factors) that impact learning and
transfer. There seemed to be a connection between our work, so we "hooked
up" to do a short chapter in Barb Seels' Instructional Design Fundamentals:
A Reconsideration. The ideas seemed worth exploring further. We worked
for two years on the ETR&D contextual analysis article (Tessmer, M.
& Richey, R.C. (1997) The role of context in learning and instructional
design. Educational Technology Research and Development, 45(2), 85-115)
& there really is another piece yet that we should do - that is the
exploration of instructional strategies that would accommodate the findings
of the contextual analysis. Hopefully, this work will have some impact.
I think that we have a history in design of being far too constricted
to the dimensions of content alone. To me, this seems to be the easy part
of design. The hard part is dealing with the other parts of the picture
- people's priorities, the pressures put on them, their past learning
experiences, their views of the world. Also, I think the time is past
when learning per se is the big goal. We're in an era now where transfer
is more important. The developmental research chapter (Richey, R. C. &
Nelson, W. (1996). Developmental Research. In D. Jonassen (Ed.) Handbook
of Research for Educational Communications and Technology (pp. 1213-1245).
New York: Simon & Schuster) was an experience. We were suppose to
be writing primarily literature reviews for the Handbook, and the task
instead became one really of defining and conceptualizing a research methodology.
Of course, as with most things, developmental research is not new, but
it seemed to be lost - a strange phenomena in our field. This chapter
is really sort of a sermon - preaching the importance of this type of
research to the advancement of our field.
Do you think enough developmental research is being
done in the field?
No. There are probably a few longstanding reasons for this. First, it's
pretty hard and time consuming. If someone needs to crank out some publications
quick, this isn't the route. I think, however, that journals are becoming
more attuned to this type of research. Certainly Jim Klein (the current
development section editor of ETR&D) is interested in receiving manuscripts
on developmental research. But we have always been a field where the initial
emphasis is on working out new techniques (the doing part) and then studying
it later. Much of the developmental research that I see is being taken
on by doctoral students. I have several students in such projects now.
Toni Stokes Jones is studying rapid prototyping using the designers and
projects of Emdicium, Inc, a Detroit area design firm. Janice Forsyth
developed a model for designing train-the-trainer programs oriented toward
community-based instruction. Tony Adamski just finish a project in which
he designed and validated a conceptual model and a procedural model for
the design of job aids used in high risk environments. Julie Phillips
is just starting a project on 4th level evaluation. There are surely a
lot of very interesting - and very practical - areas that can be the object
of developmental research.
What are two or three books or papers you have written
that you believe are especially well done or interesting?
I suppose the definitions book (Seels, B. B. &
Richey, R.C. (1994) Instructional Technology: The Definition and Domains
of the Field. Washington, DC: Association for Educational Communications
and Technology) has received the most attention recently, primarily because
of its use in introductory seminars in the field. In addition to the work
we just discussed, I also think the following were pretty good. Richey,
R. C. (1986). The Theoretical and Conceptual Bases of Instructional Design.
London/New York: Kogan Page Ltd./Nichols Publishing Co. Richey, R. C.
(1992). Designing Instruction for the Adult Learner: Systemic Training
Theory and Practice. London/Bristol, PA: Kogan Page/Taylor and Francis.
The '86 book, similar to the definitions book, was a synthesis task. I
think this has been useful. The '92 book has not been influential, but
it gave me an opportunity to actually do some theory construction based
upon replicated data.
What are two or three books or papers by other people
that you found very provocative or informative in your career?
There are the old things and the new things. Here're just a few of the
provocative things from (for the most part) instructional technologists.
One of the old things that have been most influential in my thinking has
been the work of Leonard Silvern, one of the very early advocates of systems
applications in education. Next has been the research of Bob Gagne (as
shown in his Studies of Learning: 50 Years of Research) and the four editions
of The Conditions of Learning. Gagne's work may seem "old hat", but I
am constantly amazed when hot new topics come up to discover how many
times Gagne addressed them in his work. Two other important "old things"
to me were Benjamin Bloom's Human Characteristics and School Learning
and John Carroll's "A Model of School Learning". Now for the new things.
Jonassen's new Handbook of Research is a profound contribution. The core
of instructional design texts show an increasing sophistication of the
field, including the new editions of Dick & Carey; Seels & Glasgow;
Smith & Ragan; Kemp, Morrison & Ross. I also think Hannafin's
"Emerging technologies, ISD, and learning environments: Critical perspectives"
is important, as well as almost anything Bill Winn has written. I guess
I've mentioned more than 2 or 3.
What practical work experience do you have in the
I suppose the implications of "practical work experience" means non-University
work experience, but I do consider my University experience to be quite
practical and my research to be practical as well. Putting that aside,
I'll take the question to mean "what design work have I done". Initially
my design work pertained to high school and community college reading
instruction. I produced a number of different programs and materials that
were used in this context. At the university level I worked for a number
of year's to coordinate the design and development of teacher education
programs and led research projects that designed materials again primarily
for high school instruction and teacher professional development. Through
the years I've worked closely with the design and development of corporate
training programs. I think it's important for IT research to be responsive
to the needs of the workplace, but certainly we can be sensitive to these
needs and understand them without changing our jobs. Currently, I learn
a great deal about what's current in the workplace from students, from
working with our intern placements, from doing evaluation projects. I
keep up with corporate training especially through my involvement in IBSTPI
(The International Board of Standards for Training, Performance and Instruction).
I think researchers have an obligation to "keep up" on practice in the
same manner as I think practitioners have an obligation to "keep up" on
What do you see as the most important areas, or
fertile grounds, for research in instructional technology for the next
There are some domains of the field that have almost no research. We talk
a lot, but there's little research. When's the last time you read a research
report on evaluation? On management issues? On policy formation in the
field? When's the last time you saw systematic replication research conducted
and reported in the literature? Recently, I pulled out one volume - four
issues - of ETR&D. A third of the studies pertained to message design topics
and another third emphasized teaching/learning strategies. But 10 of the
13 empirical research reports related to computers. There was no empirical
research relating to ISD problems, models, or techniques. I think, as
a field, we need to broaden our topics of study.
Who are two or three people, other that you think
are having an impact on the field of Instructional Technology?
There really is a lot of very exciting work going on right now by many
capable people. I think there is more theoretical discussion than any
time since the 60's. So it's hard to name only a few people, but I'll
name a few who represent some of the areas that I think will be important
in the growth of our field. I am very impressed with the work of Mike
Hannafin. He does sound work, and I think will leave a mark of the field
because he does innovative work with technology, but it is always theoretically
grounded. I think Gordon Rowland's work has helped initiate an exciting
line of research that I call "designer decision making". Viewing the designer
as the subject rather than the learner opens up a whole new line of thought.
At the AECT meeting in St. Louis last month (Feb. 98), Mike Striebel presented
an intriguing discussion of the importance of a sense of physical place.
Mike's work is philosophical in nature, and I think the field is ready
for an examination of our philosophical foundations in much the same way
as we have examined our theoretical foundations. I know Pat Smith has
been working on some projects in this area as well.
What do you see as the future of IT?
I think the future of this field will be even more exciting than the past,
and that's been pretty interesting. The expanding job market will insure
this. The growth of technology will insure this. The expansion of our
knowledge of human learning will insure this. The future is going to be
bright, I'm sure, because of the quality and promise of new practitioners
I see coming through our graduate programs and the quality and promise
of the young professoriate.
What do you like best about your job?
Being a professor is the best job in the world! You get paid to think
and learn - such a deal. You get paid to work with students, most of whom
are pretty capable people. You get paid to work on just those things that
you think are interesting (most of the time).
What advice do you have for IT researchers who are
just beginning in the field?
I suppose my advice is pretty simple to someone who wants to be a researcher
for the long haul:
1) work only in those areas that you think are the
most interesting thing in the world (in spite of what everybody else thinks);
2) keep learning new things - new analysis techniques, new technology,
new things about the field - one's own education and training is never
really completed; read broadly;
3) don't be lured by consulting & thoughts of big bucks;
4) don't get discouraged by rejection - it happens to everyone;
5) be thorough and have very high standards - it's easy to say "This is
good enough.", but research is hard, writing is hard, and most of all,
thinking is hard. These are different types of answers than one would
give to your question if the interpretation was "how can you get published
quickly and be noticed".