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  • Anne Pemberton

Déjà Vu: Instructional Technology

Updated: Jan 5

Dear Interwebs,

This all feels very familiar.

I remember during the first day of one of my first classes in my graduate program in Instructional Technology having to consider and then create a response to this:

"How would you teach someone to make toast?"

We were divided into small groups (some of us online and some in person) and each group came back with a different approach and each of thought our approach was "right." I spent the rest of the program learning about all the models, frameworks, and theories that I was unaware of on that first day that give structure to education, instruction, and training. And there was no one specific, end all be all model in the field of instructional design. People developed affinities for some or felt most confident in using another. A well-known model for instructional design is the ADDIE Model (Analysis > Design > Development > Implementation > Evaluation). I was particularly fond of this model and still am. If I need to design some type of instructional experience, this is my go-to and it makes me smile (for real, it makes me smile).

The Mackey and Jacobson model of metaliteracy gives me that same "ok, ok cool" feeling that the ADDIE Model gave me. It just makes sense to me. It gives me hope that there could be a future in which nobody denies scientific evidence ("COVID-19 is a hoax!"). But the model is new, very new in the grand scheme of schema. The ADDIE Model was created in 1975 and has been tweaked, updated, implemented in a variety of contexts, evaluated, and researched. There are even ADDIE spin-offs.

The Mackey and Jacobson model of metaliteracy was formally introduced in 2011 and updated in 2018. It has just started baking. There is no way to know how widely it will be adopted or how applicable it can be to any particular institution or general education program or discipline but it is exciting to see its use and the discussion its use so far. I also appreciate the creators making updates and also making everything open access. Bonus points for sure there. I am a big fan of the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education but it will not be possible to update it with enough frequency so that it keeps pace with changes in the information ecosystem. It's just not realistic. It seems that in Mackey and Jacobson's work there are not so many chefs in the kitchen that their model cannot be updated from time to time which I see as an advantage.

Also, I want to note that the ADDIE Model as with many instructional design models was created by white men for white men. It is important to me to identify any potential bias in any model or framework (anything really). I have not yet explored the literature that does exist to help me sort through this for this specific project but it is in my game plan. Librarianship itself has plenty of biases built into it. An interesting read when you can make the time: "Vocational Awe and Librarianship: The Lies We Tell Ourselves" by Fobazi Ettarh.

Back to my graduate program: There was no class called "Shit That Sounded Good at the Time but Did Not End Up Working." I wish there would have been. I wish I could see into the future and know what will be important to teach and what will be the most effective way to do it in the coming years. A colleague and I often reminisce about how during our "library school" program (1998-2000), the Internet was just barely a thing. We had insanely long email addresses and used Telnet to check them. Looking back it all seems so arcane but it was radical at the time. That dial up sound was like a bell ringing in another galaxy! It was inconceivable then to think of how technology would change in twenty years. And it is inconceivable to do that now for the next twenty years. So while I love to read predictions and outlooks for higher education and technology, it really is difficult to plan for too far out into the future. No model exists that would not need some tweaks in the future.

Related, one of the basic tenants of Buddhism is impermanence. I have that word scribbled in several places I am likely to see throughout the day. It reminds me that everything changes. When I was a member of the committee that revised the university's general education program several years ago, I was able to successfully advocate for the ACRL Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education to be incorporated into the curriculum. I could not have predicated that these Standards would be rescinded only a couple of years later and that the Framework would them. For many years now we have been driving this recalled car (in which the Standards serve as our information literacy student learning outcomes) and due to the beast that is curricular change, we have not been able to do anything to modernize the outcomes.


I can recall how much time I spent on that Standards recommendation and all the discussions that were frustrating (and fun) that followed. I am doing my best not to projecting these challenges onto this metaliteracy project (like the full professor telling me that Google Scholar was all that he ever taught to his senior capstone science courses because it "has everything"). That was then and this is now. And we just recently were able to draft new outcomes based on the Framework so we are moving in the right direction.

It is also comforting to know that librarians are not the only ones who have not, and might not ever, clearly and permanently for ever and ever, define their field. In many of my instructional technology courses, there were discussions about the scope of the field of "instructional technology" itself. "Is this the same as educational technology?" "What is technology exactly?" I had earned my Master's degree in Information Sciences twelve years prior so my mindset was certainly different than my fellow students who had come from the program straight from an undergraduate program. Looking back, I probably was a total asshole and "that person" in my program: questioning and arguing everything based on my very specific experiences. Sigh.

Anyhoo, I remember a particularly challenging discussion (for me) about the definition of the field itself. The field, or at least my graduate program at the time, used the President’s Commission on Instructional Technology (PCIT) definition from 1970 to define instructional technology as "a systematic way of designing, carrying out, and evaluating the total process of learning and teaching in terms of specific objectives, based on research in human learning and communication and employing a combination of human and non-human resources to bring about more effective instruction.”

I remember my two unwavering rants from these discussions: 1) "How do you all not have a common definition of your field?" and 2) "Human and non-human ... that's EVERYTHING!!!!" I am having those same feelings of frustrated uncertainty in this project. For example, when someone suggested that we use "digital literacy" as the phrase/label, I started twitching. There are no discussions about "analog literacy," so wtf? But there are many people, rightly or wrongly, who use digital literacy as their tortilla (umbrella) term. Some of angst is helpful but much of it is not. What any of this is called is less important than the experiences students gain. But I also have been in higher education long enough to know that if you can come up with a catching acronym for something and it connects to your mascot or your university's identify, you have hit a jackpot idea. So I am still thinking about that. :)

But the point is that this is not the first nor the last time I will encounter uncertainty in the work I do or differing opinions about what seems like very foundational ideas. Reading Pema Chodran's "Comfortable with Uncertainty" has helped some in the way. But reflecting on encountering similar challenges in the instructional technology program helps me in trying to not go too far out into the weeds.

*Side note: Instructional-Design Theories and Models, Volume I: An Overview of their Current Status (1983) was one of the most important textbooks during this program. When I graduated in 2012, this book was referred to as "The Green Book" in all my classes. I had been a librarian for several years at that point and it took all of me to roll with that. The multivolume set did have green hard covers but still.

*Another side note: A real page-turner, my thesis in this program was titled, "The impact of personalized learning on motivation and student success in online learning."

Yet another side note: Maybe I can bribe my father who is a retired "library school" professor to write about his experience in lobbying his department to change from "Library Sciences" to "Information Sciences." It sounds very much like the BI to IL discussion. But there is still no consistency in labeling our profession and there are some who are insulted that "library" is left out.

A final side note: Chief of Awesomeness and Online Learning Facilitator, Alaxander Salas, has some interesting commentary on ADDIE. Additionally, I recommend that my title become "Unicorn of Libraries."


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