Week One: Data, Analytics, and Learning

Educational Technology, Higher Education, learning analytics

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

Educational Technology, Higher Education

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.


Job Analysis

Educational Technology

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.

Adventures in Online Program Management (A.M.A.)

Educational Technology, Pedagogy

Rob has invited me to write a guest post as an ‘Ask me Anything’ learning experience for students in his current program. I’m honored to be able to participate! If you’d like to know more about my background, feel free to visit my LinkedIn profile or my Portfolio.

Online program management can definitely be an adventure. Sometimes I show up at work and ask myself which law we’re going to break today. There are so many rules and requirements from competing stakeholders, that it’s nearly impossible to run an online course or program without breaking some of them. Much of my work involves negotiating political minefields and treading lightly around fragile egos.  I love my job!

I’ll share a brief story about something that happened just yesterday, and then feel free to use the comments section of this post to Ask me Anything. Often with online programs, we count on third party partnerships. We currently use a state consortium model for shared online courses between the 34 community and technical colleges in Washington. One of the options in this consortium is for our college to pay an instructor to teach a system owned shared course where students from other colleges can enroll. We pay the instructor, and our college collects instruction fees from colleges where participating students are enrolled.

Currently we have it set up so those instructors report directly to me. Yesterday one of the instructors sent me the following email (summarized):

A student who is enrolled in this class has not taken part in the class all quarter. The only assignment I’ve received is posted under Exam 4 where the student submitted an x-rated photo of one of their body parts.

Adventure time!  To resolve this issue, I had to take into consideration everything from student discipline to concern for a safe environment for instructors. The instructor is remote. I don’t have access to the course because it is hosted by the consortium. The student is enrolled at another institution. It took many sensitive communications to get the system rolling to take care of this situation.

Feel free to leave comments and questions and Ask me Anything about my adventures in Online Program Management.


School Design

Educational Technology, Pedagogy

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

For class, this week we have been reading about systemic change in education.  For our assignment, we were tasked with creating a charter school based on beliefs about effective learning models.  After some thought, I think that the guiding principles for my school are: personalization, innovation, and the fostering of 21st century skills.


For each student a personalized education would be tantamount.  In my school, I see personalization manifesting itself in two ways:  First, I would like to utilize adaptive and personalized learning systems.  As an instructor, I spent a lot of time trying to fit my content to all the of prerequisite knowledge/learning levels of my students.  By utilizing an adaptive tool in our classroom, we could let the technology work with the student individually and bring them to a level of mastery (an emphasis on mastery of competencies would be important in the school, rather than an arbitrary time schedule — I agree with Reigeluth, that this is a systemic problem that our schools face).  These personalized engines can create a virtual “zone of proximal development” and pull a student along in the learning process.  My idea is to use adaptive learning technologies to help students establish baseline knowledge in much of the same way a textbook is supposed to work.  There would still be planned teacher activities, but hopefully the adaptive systems would help the student gain mastery in a given topic more efficiently.

The other aspect of personalization is that the design of the school would allow students the freedom to pursue a course of study that is interesting to them.  This personalization could be accomplished in a few possible ways.  One way is that while, students across a class would likely be learning the same base level of content in general areas (Mathematics, Language), the structure would allow students to apply their knowledge to areas that interest them.  This would hopefully allow their learning in those broader subject areas to be quickly tied into their area of interest.

Another possible method of personalization could be done through self-directed learning. While self-directed study would only take up a portion of the day, it would be a good opportunity for students to work on planning, goal setting, and meta-cognitive strategies. This would hopefully also promote learner autonomy in the students, and would help them foster abilities for lifelong learning.  Students could take a general class that interested them (for instance: electronics), but they would draw up contracts with their instructors to create a path to their selected goal.


In my experience trying to place students in job, I’ve seen the need for more and more innovative, strategic thinking. This is especially important as our country moves away from a manufacturing economy into a more knowledge-based economy. Teachers can no longer be content just helping their students gain baseline levels of knowledge, they need to help them use the knowledge that they gain in new and innovative ways.   In my school, time would be set aside for interdisciplinary, creative collaboration.   Partnerships would be formed with community members through the form of mentoring opportunities and community-based projects.  The focus of these projects would be to get students to experience real projects with concrete outcomes.  These problems would also be helpful in increasing just-in-time learning as students would need to direct learning in order to overcome certain gaps in their knowledge.  The mentors from the community would also be able to help the students identify resources that they might be able to use to accomplish those projects.

I don’t want the focus of innovative activities to be all about entrepreneurship and making money (although I wouldn’t say that was a bad thing), rather I want it to be about the process of knowledge creation.  Rather than having students sit on the learning that they’ve accumulated, I want to foster higher levels of cognitive abilities by having students utilize their knowledge in meaningful ways.

21st Century Skills

One important emphasis that I want to have in my school is a focus on 21st century skills. The most important of these I feel is learning to code and to curate of one’s digital identity.  I’ve been closely following the push for coding classes in school and I don’t feel that I’ve seen a lot of progress in its implementation.  I think that we should teach code in the same way that we immerse students in language.  Not only are we seeing more and more jobs in the software development arena, but I think that learning to code will become a new type of literacy.  Not in the way that we will need to know how to do it to interact with culture, but rather by being able to do it our students will be in control of so much more in their life.  Rather than being just consumers of the internet, they can understand the language of the internet, even speak the language of the internet.  I think that one of the most difficult challenges to this portion however, will be to get instructors who can teach the content.  Software Developers get paid a lot more than teachers, and software developers probably aren’t the best instructors of K-12 students, so we would need to come up with some creative solutions to overcome that gap, but I think by having this immersion, our school would be able to do some extremely innovative things.

In conjunction with this, I would also like to take some time helping students curate their own digital identity.  Every student would be issued a domain and hosting.  This would be their own sandbox to which they could write code, host a website, keep a blog, etc.  This would be based on the ideas of the “Domain of One’s Own” project out of the University of Mary Washington.  I feel that by having students curate their own corner of the internet, we will be able to empower them to do some really innovative things.

Getting Buy-in from the Stakeholders

I feel that getting support from the stakeholders on this project would be a challenge at first, but it would be something that I would be able to overcome.  I feel that this model is not trying to overthrow the current model of education, but rather it is trying to reframe it a bit. In my school, we would still be covering the content that was previously covered, however, now we would be utilizing personalized and adaptive technologies to make the learning of this content more efficient. That efficiency, would hopefully pay off in greater ability to create more learner-directed study paths.  By allowing student to pursue areas that interest them, while at the same time providing sufficient scaffolding through teacher and mentor interaction, I think that we would have a model that would be appealing to both students and their parents.  We would most likely have to provide evidence that this model was still paying off in high test scores for the students, but I think we would see them because students would be more intrinsically motivated to learn the content.

As for learning 21st century skills, I think we would have a fairly easy sell there.  Even looking at the video available on code.org is a good sell for anyone to have their children learn to code. Learning the language of development can open up new worlds to our students — I think this would translate into increased student success, as in many ways learning code can help increase the problem-solving abilities of students.

While these components that I have discussed in regards to my school are just a few of the components of my potential school, I really feel that they set the tone for the environment that I want to cultivate.  What do you think?  Do you think it would work?  Do you think there are any areas that I would get major push back?  Do you think that coding or digital identities are important 21st century skills?