The Design Process
Jeffrey Sachs was a guest on the NPR “Science Friday” last week where he continued the conversation on how he believes we can eliminate poverty around the world. He focused on how advances in technology will help us deal with economic growth and pollution. Sachs spoke about how we use research and design to come up with programs to deal with problems at around the world. He shared his process for designing solutions to problems that he termed “RDDD” that reminded me of the design work instructional technologists do.
On a side note, a terrific book that reviews studies of efforts to go into communities around the world to bring about change by groups like the Peace Corps, UN agencies, etc. is Diffusion of Innovations by Everett Rogers. It was a textbook in one of my graduate courses that consistently reminds the reader just how difficult it is to bring about change and have it diffuse through a community.
As an instructional technologist working with teachers to design curriculum, I follow a model similar to Sachs’ that starts with Understanding. I work to understand the teacher and students’ needs and the specific learning outcomes the teacher is aiming for. The next step after gathering the needs information which sometimes includes observation and working with the students by teaching the Information and Communication Literacy (ICL) curriculum, is to Analyze the information from an instructional and assessment viewpoint. Research comes into play by seeing what other teachers did with the lesson in the past and by checking my Web resources to see how lessons posted there could be helpful in designing this one. I then Develop the lesson with the teacher or adapt what he/she already has in place. The lesson is then Implemented by the teacher or we team teach it if ICL skills are involved and the teacher wants the support. We then Evaluate and Refine the lesson for future use. I remember this process, Understand-Analyze-Research-Develop-Implement-Evaluate-Refine (UARDIER), by appreciating my teaching partner with the phrase “You are dear!”.
Sach’s model, Research-Develop-Demonstrate-Diffusion (RDDD), adds the final “D” for Diffusion which is what also happens when classroom lessons are designed where the assessment data shows real student learning taking place. Word gets out to fellow teachers and the instructional and assessment strategies spread from one classroom to another.
Looking at the bigger picture of planning professional development programs, the key word is plan. This means getting instructional leaders on the PD development team who know how to design programs that originate from the needs of the teachers and students. As I have posted before, PD that really works happens consistently week after week one on one and in small collaborate grade level or departmenta teams once a learning community is created. One shot quarterly PD days, non-differentiated for all the teachers at once usually involving just direct instruction, can at times even do more harm than good especially when it comes to learning technology skills. Throwing various software and Web 2.0 tools scattershot at a weary group of teachers on a Friday afternoon can lead to their feeling confused and inadequate which can move into frustration and potentially to anger.
Adult learners need to bring new learning into the context of their experiences while having the time to practice the new skills to gain comfort and to see if they have practical value. Dr. Sach’s model starts with “Research” which means connecting to the users and getting to know what their needs are. While Dr. Sach’s acronym might be shorter than the one I follow, I think our two models have a lot in common.