Week One: Data, Analytics, and Learning

This post is in conjunction with the EdX course Data, Analytics, and Learning.

This week I am jumping back on the MOOC bandwagon by starting the Data, Analytics, and Learning course presented by George Siemens and others.  I’ve been out of the MOOC space for a while as I’ve been concentrating on my coursework, but as my research interests have drifted towards measurement and learning analytics, I’ve really felt compelled to engage in some more formal coursework.  While I understand the basic concepts of what Learning Analytics is trying to achieve, I’ve often felt frustrated that the methodology is out of reach for most people in instructional technology.  It seemed that most early researchers in the field (especially educational data mining) are coming from the world of computer science and artificial intelligence.  How can those who are trained in instructional theory use these often highly technical tools to fulfill the purposes of learning analytics, which is to provide information to instructors and administrators about the process of learning in a holistic context?  My hope is that will provide some specific methodologies to spark ideas for implementation of learning analytics projects in my own research agenda.

As far as the structure of the course, I like the experimentation with the multi-layered MOOC.  It seems like an interesting way to compensate for the problems that may come with each type of MOOC.  While I’m all for social learning, my school and research schedule will probably not allow me to be involved in the class as much as I want, so currently I’m planning on following the more content driven path.  If time allows, I would love to use the social tools to connect with other researchers that are engaged in LA, but I will have to see how the course progresses.

Well all, here’s to a great few months.  I’m looking forward to sharing the discoveries that I find in the course.

Interview a Professional: Seth Gurell

This post is made in conjunction with Dr. Rick West’s Foundations of Instructional Design course at Brigham Young University.

For this assignment, we were given the task of interviewing a professional in the instructional design field who’s job we would like to have someday. Even though I haven’t quite decided what I want to do with my career yet, I’ve always been interested in higher education administration (having recently come from working in higher ed).  To learn a little bit more about instructional design administration in a university setting, I had the privilege of sitting down with Seth Gurell, who is currently serving in an interim capacity as Senior Director of Distance Education at Utah Valley University (UVU).  Previous to serving in this role Seth was the director of the Center for Innovation in Instruction and Technology at UVU as well as an instructional designer at UVU.  Seth is also a recent graduation of BYU’s Instructional Psychology and Technology PhD program.

During our interview, we bounced around to a few topics so I will do my best to make this report somewhat coherent.

Organization in an Evolving School

The first component of Seth’s job that we addressed is the areas of the University that he’s responsible for. Currently, there are 4 arms of the Distance Education department:  Instructional Design Services, Support Services, Technical Operations, and the Center for Innovation in Instruction and Technology.

The Instructional Design Services department is responsible for the fully online offerings of UVU.  The staff consists of several instructional designers as well as graphics/video staff and an editor.  Seth mentioned that there are currently only a few fully online programs at UVU, but that they have several programs that are right on the cusp of becoming fully online.

The Support Services department works with faculty in the management of their online, hybrid, and web enhanced courses.  They have 3 full-time course specialists who work directly with faculty to assist them in ensuring that the LMS is working to their specifications (UVU is currently using Canvas).  What I found to be one of the most interesting components of this department however was the use of video conferencing to deliver a select number of their highest enrolled classes to satellite campuses and high schools throughout Utah.  This model struck me as somewhat odd — I mentioned to Seth that it felt like distance education of the late 80s — surely such a model couldn’t be sustainable.  He commented, that while the margins weren’t as great as what is being achieved in their online programs, the infrastructure for this model has been there for a while, and as a result it wasn’t doing much harm.  It is less flexible than an online class, but as long as students are still signing up, the classes will go forward.

The Technical Operations staff deal with the back-end of supporting the LMS.  I asked Seth if the need for this has lessened now that UVU is using Canvas which is hosted in the cloud, and he said no, now they just had a different set of challenges, such as pushing Canvas feature requests for faculty at the school.

The Center for Innovation in Instruction & Technology is the last department in the Distance Education organization.  The function of the Center is to provide support for instructors in technology integration. As the title implies, it is also an advocate for innovation in instructional technology at the University. Center workshops focus on emerging forms of technological pedagogy — a glance at their website indicates that they have an upcoming class on MOOCs scheduled.

The Center for Innovation in Instruction & Technology was where Seth was stationed as director before he was tapped to become the interim Director of Distance Education, and out of the different department that he oversees, this was the most appealing to me.  I know that faculty adoption of technology can be a slow process, albeit a necessary one.  In my previous position as a faculty member, I was a constant advocate for more technology integration in the classroom, at whatever level the faculty member was comfortable with.  I think it is extremely valuable to have a place on campus that is trying to push things in that direction.

Directing Responsibilities

One of my concerns in going through a PhD program is that when I finish, someone will want to make me a director.  It’s not that I think that I’m not capable of something like that, but that I’m not so sure that I will be ready for such a responsibility directly following school.  Seth was in a similar boat to me having just left school, so I began to ask him what kind of responsibilities he faces as the now Interim Director of Distance Education at UVU.

Based on our conversation, it seems that the director’s job is to have a presence over all of the different areas that they oversee.  This may seem somewhat obvious, but it was still a good reinforcement to me.  The director is trying to strike a balance between providing autonomy for the organizations that they oversee, while at the same time contributing ideas to how those organizations should evolve.  While there are certain things that only a director can do — such as approving and setting budgets, their main responsibility should be that of a leader (once again, I know that this is self-evident). I asked Seth if his job ends up being an e-mail jockey, and while he said that there is much of that, those emails are a means to an end of managing leadership.

Reflections on Graduate Studies

Toward the end of our conversation, I asked Seth to do some reflection on his own graduate work.  I knew that Seth had recently been in my own shoes, and so I felt that he could offer some wisdom that could guide me on my path.  I first asked him if there were any classes that he felt didn’t really help him in his career.  He replied no, saying that all of the BYU IPT offerings were pretty solid.  I then asked him if any class in particular has helped him in his job as director.  He mentioned that the evaluation class was really helpful for him in the process of managing his programs.  Evaluation skills help you make evidence-based decisions about your current offerings, and gives you a good base for looking into the future.  From my own experience in higher ed, I have seen how evaluation has come to bear itself in many ways, and even though I’m not exactly the most excited to take an Evaluation class, I know that it will be an important experience for me.

Takeaways For My Professional Development

While I’m not sure that I will have a job exactly like Seth’s when I leave school, I think that his job is a good jumping off point to see what types of skills I need to acquire while I am in school to take on such a responsibility.  Here are a few areas that I would like to refine my skills in:

  1. Evaluation: This has been said previously, but there really is so much evaluation that happens in higher education that gaining that skill set would undoubtedly pay dividends throughout a career.  I will most definitely take the evaluation class, and I will also hopefully have some opportunities to perform evaluation projects.
  2. Project Management:  I asked Seth if he had taken a project management class and he said no – but it was something that he wish he had done. But he also felt that he had gained a lot of informal project management experience.  I think that while taking a class in PM could be really valuable, probably the more important activity would be to manage projects, and manage them intentionally.  As I am engaged in PM make sure that I am developing systems that work effectively for me and my teams.  Get informal feedback in the process.
  3. Develop Leadership Skills:  I think that this will be the toughest.  I am a reluctant leader.  I feel that oftentimes I have the skills to lead a project, yet I lack the talent to do it effectively.  It is not something that comes easy to me, but if I want to take on a position like a director, its something that I need to become more comfortable/familiar with.

Overall, I want to thank Seth for carving out some time to discuss his job for me.  It was really an enlightening experience, and I was glad to have a chance to take a peek into his daily world.  I hope that as I progress through my graduate program, I will be able to gain the necessary skills to feel confident taking a position like he has.


IPT Seminar: Nov 20th Emily Castleton

This post is connected with IPT 690, a graduate seminar course in Instructional Psychology and Technology at Brigham Young University.

This week in seminar, we were privileged to hear from Emily Castleton from the Theater and Media Arts Department.  Emily, spoke about her experiences being a theatrical stage manager.  She most recently finished a stint as the stage manager for BYU’s production of the Operetta Die Fledermaus.  In her presentation, Emily took us through some of the systems that she has set up to automate the process of creating a perfectly executed stage production.  She has a notebook that she maintains that is essentially her script to the technical aspects of the show.  She refines this guide, night after night, all in the hope of making the show run as seamlessly as possible.

Dr. Gibbons was asking some questions of the IPT students to try to force some connections between Emily’s process and that of an instructional designer, and I think the parallels were plenty. We discussed whether the stage manager was the equivalent of the curriculum designer or the trainer.  I think this was a tough one to call — and as Emily plays the Stage Manager she is doing a bit of both.  As an instructional designer, our job (as seen by a certain portion of ID) is to create instructional systems that are consistent and effective. This is parallel to the process that Emily goes through as she scripts out the lighting cues, audio, props and other tasks that need to happen in order for the show to be executed flawlessly.  In that sense, she is designing much of how the show is going to run.  On the other hand, she is also responsible for executing her own design on a nightly basis.  She creates a guide because she knows that she will need to reference it to achieve “perfection”.  She can’t expect to just riff every night with the hope that everything will turn out okay.  In this way she is also the “trainer” or the person that executes the design.

What I resisted toward was this idea that every instance of a play or curriculum should be perfectly executed.  While its seems that perfection should be something that we should strive toward when we are building out a system that has a lot of moving parts, I’m just not so sure that is the system that we should always be striving for.  I’m sure that Emily would agree.  There are different levels of control that are exercised over an opera (which has orchestras, lighting cues, actors, etc.) than you would in an improvisation.  Each has a different goal, and as such a different system of cues, rules, techniques, for achieving that goal.

I was once involved in the theater and I loved that world.  Even though I’m sure there is something stressful about trying to execute your plan every night in front of a live audience, I’m sure that there is great rewards when your system actually works.

IPT Seminar Nov 13th: Jenn Price

This post is connected with IPT 690, a graduate seminar course in Instructional Psychology and Technology at Brigham Young University.

On Nov 13th, we had a current doctoral student in IPT, Jenn Price speak to our seminar.  Jenn is a designer by trade, and she also teaches the graduate IPT course in graphic design (of which I am hoping to take next semester).  Jenn’s presentation was about some of the lessons that she has learned as a self-proclaimed “hacker designer”.  I would like to talk more specifically about two points that she made (please note that I am paraphrasing) during her presentation.

Design is like the tithing of the Instructional Design process: You should spend at least 10% of your time making it pretty.

Even though I haven’t formally finished an instructional design process (not counting my own curriculum that I’ve developed), I feel like this is a pretty good rule to live by.  I’m increasingly becoming a believer in the power of the user experience, and how that user experience affects the ways that we perceive a product.  Now while I don’t know if this is true for everyone, I know that I am especially susceptible to good design.  When looking for a new web-based tool, I will often choose that tool based on the design of the website.  I personally feel that good site design is a pretty good indication of good product design — it shows that the designers have considered the whole experience.

Why should you use InDesign instead of Word?  It’s all about control.

I’m also a big believer in this principal as well, and while I haven’t learned InDesign (something I am looking forward to), I’ve seen this numerous times in the world of video editing.  Yes, iMovie is fine, but as you learn more and more about video editing, you will quickly see its limitations.  A tool like Premiere Pro is more open and gives you more control.  Yes, the learning curve is more steep, but you will hopefully only be limited by the constraints of your design, and not the constraints of the tool.

While these are only a few of the things that Jenn spoke about, these were the two that were the newest for me.  I’ve considered myself a hack designer for a while and I really want to gain a little bit more legitimacy.  This seminar helped to reinforce the thought that I need to spend some more time learning and refining my design skills.

Job Analysis

This post is made in conjunction with Dr. Rick West’s Foundations of Instructional Design course at Brigham Young University.

I entered my graduate program with the hopes that it would give me a better job, but attempting to determine what that job will be in 3-4 years from now is a difficult task, albeit a useful one.  This is an exercise which I would do with my students quite often.  I would have them look through job postings to determine what kind of pay they would likely be receiving in their future career, as well as to glean information regarding what skills they would need as a part of that job.  They could then start developing those skills, even if the skill wasn’t something that they were likely to learn in one of their courses.  By doing this exercise, we hoped to overcome what we called “The Graduate’s Paradox”, namely, that it is difficult for a recent grad to get an entry-level job, when those jobs are looking for 2-3 years experience.  By looking for ways to gain experience while in school, the student could be more prepared for those entry-level jobs.

So I am endeavoring to do the same exercise (and like my students, for a class assignment).  I will look at 5 potential jobs: Their salaries, working conditions, and skills needed for the job.  While I don’t have a clear idea right now of what I want to do for a future career, hopefully this exercise will help me get a clearer idea of where I want to go, and what skills I need for such a position.


Job #1:  Assistant Professor Learning Technologies – University of Colorado Denver

Salary: Not listed on job posting, but a search here indicates that it’s probably about 60-80K
Major Duties: Teaching classes in undergraduate and graduate programs; research; advising; c0-author grant proposals
Skills Desired: knowledge of open education; digital storytelling; background in situated learning and activity theory; doctoral degree; experience with design based research
Thoughts: This looks like an interesting job, and one that seems to be very much in line with my philosophy of teaching.  It sounds like the program may be geared more toward the learning sciences and design based research, so I would probably need to do a few projects that are in that vein to be a candidate for this position.

Job #2:  Learning and Development Consultant – Microsoft
Salary: Not listed, but I know that Microsoft benefits are amazing
Major Duties: This particular project is around the Yammer product, and would involve developing learning solutions
Skills Desired: Knowledge of instructional design and HPT; 4 years experience in business related instructional design; program management skills; ability to present to large groups.
Thoughts:   While this job doesn’t specifically require specific software skills, it appears that they are looking for some instructional design experience in a corporate environment.   If I wanted a job like this, I would probably need to get an internship or a part-time job doing training for a larger company.  Having worked previously for a vendor for Microsoft, I know that knowledge of basic business practices is very helpful.

Job #3:  Instructional Designer – Amazon
Salary: Not listed
Major Duties:
 Educate product teams on new procedures and policies; Perform design projects to determine needs in training; design training using online, blended and face-to-face modalities.
Skills Desired:  3 years experience in instructional design; knowledge of Captivate, Articulate, and Adobe Photoshop; Project Management skills: Experience using a LMS to deliver content.
Thoughts:  I’m definitely drawn to Amazon because of its location in Seattle.  Not sure if I could totally swing a corporate environment like this, but I think I would be interested in trying.  It would also be interesting to see how much of my experience in higher ed would transfer over to Amazon.  This job really emphasizes that I need to have a good foundation in Adobe design and eLearning tools to get a job in a corporate training setting.

Job #4:  Education & Training Specialist – Central Intelligence Agency
Salary: 63-97K
Major Duties: Creating and managing a curriculum on an LMS for CIA University
Skills Desired: Degree in Instructional Technology;  Experience in adult education; Experience designing in rapid prototyping type environment; Desire to experiment with new learning techniques and technologies.
Thoughts:  This job looks really appealing to me, especially after hearing that Richard Culatta had taken a similar job.  I like the idea of taking my experience in the classroom and transposing it into a new environment. There is a 5-year minimum contract however, which seems like a big commitment, especially coming right out of graduate school.

Job #5: Director, MOOC Development – MIT
Salary:  Not listed
Major Duties: Lead a group of faculty that is developing courses for MITx; Ensure that courses are being built using instructional design standards.
Skills Desired: Graduate degree; Strong background in project management; experience with online education; knowledge of usability and accessibility protocols; organization skills; written communication skills.
Seems like a really cool project that is on the bleeding edge of education.  I don’t know if I would quite be there in terms of experience (they are looking for 10 years of experience), but it would definitely be cool to keep looking in this realm in the next few years. It will be interesting to see how the market develops in terms of MOOCs and other open learning platforms.


I don’t know if this analysis has left me with any clear takeaways.  In the process, however, I think that I have gleaned several important bits of information:

  1. There are many directions that a career in instructional design can take you
  2. I don’t quite know what I want to do with the rest of my life
  3. But I’m excited about the possibilities

The possibilities were the reason that I chose to divert my career into educational technology.  I saw my current field (video and film education) as something that was limiting in its possibilities (partly because of the rise of informal learning around the topic).  I saw more possibilities for the future in instructional design and online learning.  Going through this process has solidified that idea that the field is filled with promise, and also suggested that I need to do a bit of focusing.  I think that focusing will be a challenge, because I will want to taste the range that the field has to offer, so I think that I must be strategic in how I dip from that range.

Some skills that I have seen as being valuable from this exercise are a mix of hard and soft skills.  The hard skills that I want to pick up include skills in design software (Photoshop, Illustrator) and eLearning software (Captivate, Articulate, LMS, programming).  I hope to gain these skills through internships and classes that I will take in the IPT program.  The soft skills are mostly management skills: project management. communication, and writing skills.  While I am sure that I will be exposed to opportunities to learn these things during my coursework, I also know that I must make a concerted personal effort to develop and improve in these abilities.