Discovering the power of good questions
Someone asked me that this week, and it is a good question.
There is both an art and a science to teaching, and also to using technology to create a rich learning environment. There is also a continuum from the applied to the abstract.
At first, I thought that instructional design was the applied part of helping faculty who want to approach their courses systematically and sequentially, mapping the arc of development from introduction to application of concepts, designing learning activities based on learning outcomes, and planning how to use technology to support structure and learning activities. As I originally conceptualized it, faculty development was to provide the context, to explore the underlying science of learning and technology, and why it made sense to make certain design decisions. I saw the art occurring at the point of intersection between the two, in the act of teaching.
Speaking of art, I thought, well, according to that approach you would do some teaching about perspective, and the chemistry of paint, and then students would try it out..
And then I thought about how I would design learning activities to follow an arc of development for a deeper understanding of teaching and learning. When I was new as a teacher, I thought you first set context and then moved toward the detail and the application. I discovered that doesn’t work. Mostly what has worked best for me is to start with the applied, and move back and forth between the applied and the abstract throughout the term, in a process of inquiry and discovery.
What has worked for me is to first build an atmosphere of trust and play; this is necessary because when you want to create an environment to promote inquiry and discovery, people have to tolerate going down the wrong paths for a ways. We have to try things out. We have to be ok with making mistakes and figuring out why things did or didn’t work, and then ground the discovery in the underlying theory. This must be gently done; a wonderful example is a class, workshopping their poetry.
Some kind of continuum where instructional design is at one end, and faculty development is at the other, doesn’t seem to be the right metaphor. Maybe it looks more like this. (What’s the third strand? Well, maybe best practice specifically in using technology for teaching and learning? And fourth is perhaps that ineffable thing we call empathy, a key element to building trust.)