Lloyd Rieber, Ph.D.
Professor of Education
The University of Georgia
What is your highest degree and where did you receive
I received my Ph.D. from Penn State in 1987. (I'm tempted to say my Master's
from the University of New Mexico since the campus elevation is about a
How did you get into the field of Instructional Technology?
I had the unique opportunity to begin a teaching
career at about the same time that microcomputers came on the school scene
(1979). Nobody knew what to do with them, but our administration really
wanted people to "adopt" the technology. I was one of those people. Interestingly,
the administration did not really care so much WHAT I was doing with the
computers. For that reason, I was left alone to do pretty much whatever
I wanted and nobody questioned the direction I was taking. I believe I
was actually rewarded by taking some risks with my early attempts at integrating
the computer into my fifth grade classroom. I learned to program on my
own and developed a lot of interesting educational computer games in partnership with
my students. I didn't know it at the time, but I believe I was actually
practicing "rapid prototyping." The best software I produced was effective,
I believe, because the students were part of the "inner circle" of the
design process. Besides designing and developing my own software for use
with my students, I was also using LOGO extensively (I had read Seymour
Papert's Mindstorms shortly after it was first published). At the
time, this all seemed like a natural merger of different approaches tousing
the computer and I didn't see any conflict between "instructivism" and
"constructivism." I have to smile now when I read about all the controversy
and debate between advocates of extreme interpretations of either philosophy/approach.
(I'll try avoiding the "C" word for the rest of this interview!) Besides
my computer experience, I also "discovered" a lot of instructional design
principles on my own, only later realizing that there were actually names
for these. I still believe that the elementary school classroom is a marvelous
place for learning about instructional technology. ("Sherlock, my good
man, what school did you go to learn about instructional technology?" "Elementary,
my dear Watson, elementary.") An elementary school teacher learns very
quickly that the focus of school is not the subject matter, but students'
learning. You learn all about flexibility and adaptability. I was responsible
for teaching all subjects including physical education, art, and music
(my "strengths" were in math and science). I quickly learned that I could
not teach all students and all subjects in the same way. I also learned,
much to my dismay, that I was usually not the best instructional
medium. The model of teacher as the" sage on the stage" was not working
for me, especially in subjects such asocial studies and history. A personal
revelation occurred when I found out about the "media center" operated
by our school system (though not located my school). I realized that the
extra time spent locating and reviewing appropriate media, such as films,
made me a more effective teacher even though I "subcontracted" most of
the teaching of content out to the media. (By the way, the elementary school
classroom remains one of the few venues where my accordion is genuinely
welcomed and appreciated!)
Could you describe your research agenda?
The short pithy answer is that I'm interested in computers, graphics,
and learning. Let me explain a little. I'm interested in how computer technology
might provide learners with highly interactive and highly visual learning
environments. In my earlier research I investigated the use of computer
animation within traditional instructional designs, such as visual
within tutorials. Though this "learning by viewing" research yielded many
interesting outcomes, it was largely an artifact of going through a doctoral
program biased heavily toward ISD. My current research on the interactive
potential of computers is closer to the research interests I had while
still an elementary school teacher. In this "learning by doing" research
I am particularly interested in learning environments that begin with the
assumption that learners should be given much responsibility (and consequently
authority) for their own learning (hence my interest in "microworlds").
This is not to negate the need for instructional interventions, but rather
to better understand when and how instruction is needed. Therefore, I've
done a lot of research recently on people's learning within computer simulations,
especially when they are provided with little or no instructional support.
I've also been doing a lot of work with children to support their ideas
about how to design educational computer games. Their creativity and energy
continue to provide me with a source of admiration and inspiration. I am
also just starting to do research specifically on gaming. I am convinced
that games have been undervalued and misrepresented. Again, this is based
on my experiences, though I'm only getting the nerve lately to actually
do research in this area!
How did you decide to do research in that area?
On one hand, my decision to conduct research in this area came simply
by watching and listening to people (especially children) as they used computer
technology. I know this is a vague answer, but it comes closest to one
of the "truths" I've discovered about instructional technology. Anyone
who is struggling with identifying a research topic/question should take
some software like "Just Grandma and Me," "SimCity," or "Geometer's Sketchpad"
out into the schools. Watch the way children and adults explore it; find
out when help is and is not needed; find out what captivates and frustrates
them; and talk to them about ideas they have. If you couple these
experiences with a lot of reading about research and theory, I guarantee
that you will not be at a loss for future research topics. I was also
motivated to become a researcher in this area based on my first formal
research experience Q my master's thesis. I conducted one of those
of LOGO..." studies. Two remarkable things happened. First, I received
over 300 requests for more information from people all over the world.
The idea that so many people worldwide could become interested in the research
conducted by a small town country teacher in rural New Mexico was both
astonishing and exhilarating. The feeling that one is contributing to a
global forum/audience continues to be a strong motivator for me. Second,
the process of doing research was a tremendous learning experience for
me. I'm not referring to learning how to do research, but rather learning
about the topics I was studying. When one does research you get to know
the issues intimately. This remains true to me even if the research results
turn out disappointing! This constructivist side of doing research is
usually not talked about much. (Ugh! I used the "C" word!)
What are 2 or 3 articles or books you have written
that you are most proud of?
Rieber, L. P. (1994). Computers, graphics, and learning. Madison,WI:
Brown & Benchmark.
Rieber, L. P. (1991). Animation, incidental learning,
and continuing motivation. Journal of Educational Psychology, 83, 318-328.
Rieber, L. P. (1992). Computer-based microworlds: A bridge between constructivism
and direct instruction. Educational Technology Research &Development,
Rieber, L. P. (1993). A pragmatic view of instructional technology. In
K. Tobin (Ed.), The practice of constructivism in science education, (pp.
193-212). Washington, DC: AAAS Press.
I'll resist telling you why I like them so much, despite
the temptation to do so merely to inflate my ego. Instead, I prefer to
discuss the humbling experience of have one's friends and family try to
read the stuff we write. My parents like it when I send them something
I've recently published and my dad always takes a shot at reading these.
(He's retired now after working for 40 years for a Pittsburgh steel company.
Like a lot of people, my parents are smart individuals who just never had
the opportunity to go to college.) I'm a better writer because of his efforts.
Here's an example of what I mean: My dad: "What does 'cognitive processing'
mean?" Me: "Well, it sort of means 'thinking.'" My dad: "Why don't you
just use the word 'thinking' instead?"
What are 2 or 3 books or articles by other people
that you think are "must reads" for people interested in your research
There are so many. Let me highlight a few (these are listed in
Gould, S. J. (1981). The mismeasure of man. New York: W.W. Norton.
Norman, D. A. (1988). The psychology of everyday things. New York: Basic Books.
(Look for this also under the title of "The design of everyday things."
All of Norman's books and articles go on my "recommended reading" list,
but this book remains my favorite.)
Papert, S. (1993). The children's machine: Rethinking school in the age
of the computer. New York: Basic Books. (Of course, I also recommend that
everyone reads Mindstorms as well, if only to get the historical
Perkins, D. N. (1986). Knowledge as design. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum
Salomon, G., Perkins, D. N., & Globerson, T. (1991). Partners in
Extending human intelligence with intelligent technologies. Educational
Researcher, 20(3), 2-9.
Tripp, S., & Bichelmeyer, B. (1990). Rapid prototyping: An alternative
instructional design strategy. Educational Technology Research& Development,
Who are 2 or 3 people who have had the most important
impact on your career? Why did they have such a big impact?
Seymour Papert. Reading Mindstorms came at an important point in my career as
my answer to question #2 above indicates. Although I never find myself completely
agreeing with Papert's point of view, he keeps me thinking long and hard
about how people and computers might "get along." For this reason alone
I value his influence on me. Don Norman. His recent books (see above)
are excellent sources of information and inspiration on design. They are
also very entertaining. I don't think anyone writes as well as Don Norman.
Ron Zellner!. Ron is the head of the educational technology program at
Texas A&M University. I spent a total of six years at TAMU (it was
my first academic position). Ron made a difference to me not in any one
or two big ways, but in the little things he did each and every day. Ron
provided me with an open, relaxed and fun atmosphere for working . I always
enjoyed talking to Ron about research, learning theory, philosophy,
etc., usually as one of us leaned against the doorway of the other's office
(what Ron called the "water cooler effect"). He is that rare kind of individual
you can feel open about sharing an idea you know is only half baked and
get healthy criticism without any feeling of risk. Ron is also one of the
most creative and knowledgeable IT people I know.
Could you describe a research project that you were
involved with that was especially enjoyable or interesting? What made it
My current work with children designing their own computer games is what
I am most excited about. It captures well the ideas behind "learning by building"
and "learning by designing." I have submitted one important paper on the
conceptual framework to this project which I hope will be published soon.
(Feel free to contact me if you would additional information on this. I
find it wonderfully ironic that it has taken me 15years to come to the
important conclusion that we, as a field, need to" seriously consider play"!)
Another important area for me both professionally and personally has been my
work with my mentally retarded son. Despite the fact that he has a wide array
of learning and behavior disorders, he is a virtuoso on the Macintosh computer.
I've recently published an article on our "adventures": Rieber,
L. P. (1995). Using computer-based microworlds with children with pervasive
developmental disorders: An informal case study. Journal of Educational
Multimedia and Hypermedia, 4(1), 75-94. (I'd like to acknowledge here
the kind support by Dave Jonassen in getting this published.)
What areas of research in IT do you think will be especially
important orfruitful in the next 5 - 10 years?
As already mentioned, it's taken me 15 years to come to some amazingly simple
conclusions, such as it's time we seriously consider play. Therefore, I'd
like to think that we will be placing more emphasis on researching the
human side of instructional technology, that is, the people using the technology,
and less on the technology itself. Unfortunately, the history of our field
does not support this view. I must be getting old, because I'm beginning
to see how our field tends to "worship" the latest technological innovation,
a phenomenon that several of my IT professors at Penn State warned us about.
I'm hopeful that we will see continued serious work in the areas
of microworlds, simulations, and games, not because they are the latest
fads, but because they address basic issues of human interaction with technology.
In fact, it will take real courage to study these areas if only because
they are not examples of the" latest and greatest" technologies.
What advice would you give someone just entering the
field of IT research?
These sorts of questions are always brimming with potential but usually
sorely short in delivery. With that as a disclaimer, here's some of my
advice: The practical side of me advises everyone to: 1) buy a computer
with as big a hard drive and as much RAM as you can afford; 2) buy Endnote
(or some other really good bibliographic database software utility); 3a)
don't neglect your family; and 3b) find a good hobby that has nothing to
do with IT research (workaholism is a very real problem in a field like
this). Finally, here's a short list of other tidbits: Don't underestimate
the value of your own experiences in instructional technology. I've noticed
a tendency for people (including myself) to figure if they've done
it, it must not be important! Keep asking yourself the "so what?" question
(e.g. OK, the local school district just invested heavily in computers,
so what? What improvements are going to be made because of it? How is
"school" going to be a better place because of it?) Though I have always
found the KISS model personally useful ("Keep it Simple Stupid"), one of
our graduate students here at UGA (Emily Gaddy) recently taught me another
helpful model called WIN ("What's Important Now?"), that I can recommend
to others without apologies. Finally, remember that a "power saw does
not a carpenter make." I'll leave it to you to figure out the meaning behind