Allison Rossett, Ed.D.
Professor of Educational Technology
San Diego State University
What is your highest degree and where did you receive
Ed.D.--1974, I think, from University of Massachusetts, Amherst,
How did you get into the field of Instructional
When I was an undergraduate English major, I took a course with
the chair of the department, a wild and hairy fellow named Patrick Hazard.
Using his academic freedom to the max, he showed us films and videos and
linked them to the great human themes of communication and struggle and
change that we had studied in ancient poetry and plays. I got hooked on
messages and media. The first project I remember is one that had me buried
at the Philadelphia Public Library studying the images of women in magazine
advertising in the 1800s. Again, it was messages, media, communications.
I was fascinated (and in some ways horrified) by the canny media and message
skills employed a hundred years earlier. My next project was the collaborative
development of a Super 8mm film. We reflected on community needs. We discussed
our audience. We plotted our scenes and characters. We debated our roles.
Then we shot. Then we went through it all over again, closeted for many
days and nights in editing. While I can't remember the topic of the fil,
I remember that process. It raised questions and opportunities that are
still a part of my life. My early intention was graduate school in English
literature. But my mother got involved, suggesting that I'd better get
a teaching credential, since I might actually have to support myself some
day. That was another surprise to me. Kicking and screaming, I took some
dopey ed courses (that judgement of my experience stands to this day,
although I now know of many ed courses that aren't at all dopey). Then
I did my student teaching. It changed my life. I loved teaching literature
and I was amazed at the students' reactions to more contemporary media.
I used some video and film with my students. I found myself waking up
at 5 in the morning because I was excited about what I was going to do
with the students. My high school students, and a few months later, my
inner-city Upward Bound students exceeded my expectations in performance
and enthusiasm. Where I had once planned on a quiet life devoted to the
pursuit of Medieval Literature, I decided instead to chase educational
television. Eventually, I discovered I liked the planning side, the audience
analysis, the learning theory much better than production.
Could you describe your research agenda? How did
you decide to do research into that area?
In the past few years I have focused on the nexus between education,
information and technology. Starting with work on very pedestrian (and
useful) job aids, I am now immersed in the development of CD-ROM performance
support tools on topics like needs assessment, instructor planning and
delivery, and school technology integration. Building the tools is good
fun, but I am just as interested in using emergent perspectives on learning
and environments to influence our decision-making. A study I am doing
with graduate student Jeremy Barnett focuses on the design perspectives
used by multi-media training developers. I know that I've been influenced
by cognitive and constructivist paradigms and can point to ways it has
influenced our interfaces, for example. Do such considerations enter the
heads of our colleagues who are building commercial soft skills products?
We'll see. One other item on my agenda is the potency of automated performance
support to influence something really hard, in this case, the shift of
educational technology professionals towards systems thinking. My colleague,
Bob Hoffman, and I have built the School Technology Planner, soon to be
published by Allyn & Bacon. The tool helps a committed and enthusiastic
educator systematically shift their classroom and school to more strategic
and systemic uses of technology. Significant in the tool is support for
needs assessment and solution systems. Will they use those aspects? Will
typically event and product oriented folks move towards systems with the
assistance of technology?
What are 2 or 3 articles or books you have written
that you are most proud of?
Rossett, A.& Gautier-Downes, J. H. (1991) A Handbook of
Job Aids. Pfeiffer Associates: San Diego, CA. Rossett, A. (1987) Training
Needs Assessment. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications.
In addition to books, I'm excited about the School Technology Planner
CD-ROM described just above and Needs Assessment Naturally, a Windows
and MAC support tool. Those are collaborative efforts with SDSU colleague,
What are 2 or 3 books or articles by other people
that you think are "must reads" for people interested in your research
Schon's "Educating the Reflective Practitioner: Toward a New
Design for Teaching and Learning in the Professions," made an impression
on me. Jossey-Bass, 1987. Then there's the two daves. Dave Merrill and
Dave Jonassen's books and articles were influential and continue to be.
And then there's Gloria Gery's 1991 classic "Electronic Performance Support
Systems," Boston: Weingarten Publications. R.S Wurman's "Information Anxiety"
is another favorite. It's a NY: Doubleday book. More recently I was taken
with Risher and Fay's "Performance Imperative," SF: Jossey-Bass. I think
Marci Driscoll's recent "Psychology of Learning for Instruction," Allyn
& Bacon is a sturdy text.
Who are 2 or 3 people who have had the most important
impact on your career? Why did they have such a big impact?
I'm writing this just a few days after one of our monthly faculty
meetings. After the meeting, as I slumped at my desk, I noted how fortunate
I am, how very interesting my colleagues are, how much they push me beyond
any lurking complacency. So my colleagues at SDSU have influenced and
continue to influence me. Pat Harrison, Bernie Dodge, Brock Allen, Fred
Saba, Donn Ritchie, Bob Hoffman goose me in significant and mundane ways.
Where I might be satisfied to be a lagging adopter of this technology
or that perspective, they are a constant reminder about our responsibility
for leadership. Please visit our department's homepage
Could you describe a research project that you were
involved with that was especially enjoyable or interesting? What made
I'll take a small effort that has gotten quite a bit of response.
One of my doctoral students, Bill Borton, and I got interested in the
topic of the congruence between the perceptions and priorities of the
people who create, use and review educational software. Do reviewers know
what teachers want? Do their opinions match? What about software developers?
Are they in synch with their audience? Of course, things may have changed
more recently.... but it's not quite the match you'd anticipate. Here's
the reference, if you're interested: Borton, B. & Rossett, A. (Summer
1989). Educational software and published reviews: congruence of teacher,
developer and evaluator perceptions. Education, 109 (4), pp.434-445.
We've just been funded by the Getty Conservation Institute for a year-long
study of emergent teaching, learning and technology strategies with particular
promise for conservation education. We will begin with a study of conservation
higher education programs' priority goals and most vexing teaching challenges
and then focus attention on strategies and technologies with proven and/or
What sort of consulting do you do? What has been
the relationship between consulting and research in your career?
I have boundaries problems, so there is often a blur between my
consulting and my research and teaching. We're studying what's going on
at a client's site. We're building performance tools on topics like needs
assessment for another client. I'm bringing clients into the university
with problems, opportunities and wisdom for our students. A client is
concerned about converting training into performance. I attempt to work
with them to figure that out; I then use what I've learned at their site
in my instructional design and performance technology classes. I press
clients to consider more learner control, more inductive approaches; working
with students, we develop examples for them. I'm not sorry that my boundaries
are pretty permeable, and I don't think my students are. Here are a few
real examples, without the real names of the companies or agencies: Petro
Corporation: Strategic planning and professional development for the
merger of training and organizational development. Systematic Systems:
Consultant to the organization in professional development of their
education and training group as they shift to a systems and cross-functional
orientation. US Department of Dignity: Development and delivery
of courses in two areas: (1) needs assessment and (2) from print job aids
to electronic performance support. Paperless Paperco: Consultant
in the assessment of quality programs and the relationship between training,
technology and the quality movement. XYZ: Member of the XYZ
Academic Advisory Board, a group that works with on instructional design
standards, roles, technologies, tools and total quality systems. Consultant
in the evaluation of the structure, training and technology mix for the
development and productivity of the manufacturing employee of the future.
Casa International: Consultant in the design and development of
a multi-media performance system to assist new salespeople in 6000 offices
across the USA to become productive more quickly. This system alters the
culture in real estate offices by introducing and training people for
the role of the coach. Bananasplit Computer: Needs assessment with
staff and evaluation of training products to create a professional development
system to enhance satisfaction, quality and productivity for 105 employees
responsible for instructional design and technologies. Development of
a technology-based orientation program using HyperCard. Rancho Bizarro
School District: Consultant and committee member in uses of technology
and instructional design in the district. Focus on broad planning and
implications for race/human relations staff development. Noxious Fumes
International: Developer of two systems for Research and Engineering.
One system enables Noxious to determine which courses to offer; the other
presses content experts systematically, rapidly and economically to decide
which content must be included and which may be excluded from their courses.
Are there areas of research in IT that you think
might be especially important or fruitful in the next 5 - 10 years?
Two areas intrigue me. The link between strategies and technology.
Can we infuse lessons about the power of selected instructional strategies
into better decisions about technology. So much of the attraction is to
the technology. Virtual reality is a good example. How can we lead the
shift of attention to uses of the technology, to the strategies enabled,
to the powers that lurk within? The other topic is systems and the implications
of technology for cross-functionality and aligned individual and organizational
interventions. Everybody agrees that great technology products and courses
must be supported by organizational strategies and policies-- if performance
is the desired outcome. Can we use technology to help that to happen?
I forgot distance learning. DL was there at the beginning of my career,
when I worked for the 21 Inch Classroom. Really. That was the name of
the organization. They eventually redubbed it: the Massachusetts Executive
Committee on Educational Television. The job was to help schools across
Massachusetts recognize (!?) that they really wanted their kids to be
watching open broadcast, enrichment television during the school day.
We eventually switched strategies to focus on classroom uses of technology
in more generative and teacher and learner controlled ways. Now DL is
far more appealing. What will make distributed access to education and
information and coaching via technology achieve its potential? What is
its potential? What role will we play?
What advice would you give someone just entering
the field of IT research?
Enjoy-- you've chosen a field that is
currently blessed (and cursed) with great growth and expectations. If
you are new to it, you are enjoying the boost from both the growth and
the expectations. Likely, you'll also feel the pinch when schools and
companies say, "Hey, what happened? Multi-media did not revolutionize
the schools! Too many kids and too many adults are still failing." OK.
I will give advice. Keep a research focus on the strategies and on the
systems first and foremost, enjoying the technology for what it enables.
Healthy parts of skepticism and enthusiasm, leavened by qualitative and
quantitative data, are needed. And passion. Pursue what moves you, but
watch out for the doctoral syndrome of attraction to complexity, long
words, obfuscation. And communication. Take the time to make your studies
accessible to more people. Teachers need to know what we know about technology
and instructional designs. Training managers also need to know. Think
occasionally about the people who are buying the technologies and software.
It's frightening to think how little they know, for example, about learner