The 24th Best Job in 2015

It doesn't make headlines when a career ranks 24th on the list. Top 10 lists are more popular. But it caught my attention that Careercast released the 2015 list of top 200 different jobs in the U.S. and technical writing was number 24. Technical writing is one of the courses I teach at NJIT and Montclair State University. Considering the number of careers out there, 24 is a good number.

The ranking is based on four critical aspects that are inherent to every job: environment, income, employment outlook (Growth, Income Growth, and Unemployment), and stress. Their data for this report came from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and other government agencies in U.S. Technical Writer is the 24th best job in 2015, gaining 12 moves up from being the 32nd best job in 2014. The average salary of a technical writer in 2015 was $68,165, an increase of $2665 from 2014.


Education Deptartment Proposal of Rule Changes to Clarify State Oversight of Online Courses

In a press release, Education Department Proposes Rule on State Authorization of Postsecondary Distance Education, Foreign Locations, new regulations are an attempt to clarify state-authorization requirements. These regulations now vary by state for institutions that offer online courses.

- colleges that offer online courses would have to be authorized by each state in which they enroll students, if the states require such authorization

-  regulations would close what’s been described as a loophole in which distance-education providers enroll students in states where the institutions are not located

-  states would also be required to document how they process and resolve student complaints about distance-education classes.

- foreign branch campuses or locations would be required to be authorized by the appropriate foreign government agency and, if at least half of a program can be completed at the foreign location or branch campus, be approved by the accrediting agency and reported to the state where the main campus is located.

The agency will accept public comment on the proposed regulations until August 24, and it expects to issue a final version before the end of the year.


Instructional Design in Education


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I found it interesting that when The Chronicle of Higher Education assembled its list of national trends for its Trends Report, they included instructional design as one of them. It's odd to think of it as a "trend" since ID did not start in education, it has been around for several decades and it has a big role, especially in higher education, today.

Instructional design started during World War II with the armed forces. It came from a need to provide technical training to large numbers of people efficiently.

Having worked in instructional design formally since 2000, I have seen the field change during the past 15 years. I subscribe to a few of those job alert websites and every week I see more openings for designers. Some of those jobs are in academe and even more are in industry. Most major companies now use instructional designers to develop employee training materials.

In higher education, instructional design is likely to have started at a college as a way to prepare distance-learning and extension programs. Those programs initially appealed to non-traditional students with family and work obligations and often as a distance from the physical campus that made attending classes difficult.

As the proportion of those students increased and as the technology to deliver courses became more sophisticated, online learning became more popular. Its acceptance by faculty lagged behind its acceptance by students. Designers who worked with faculty helped gain acceptance as they learned what an ID could do to actually help design their course for online delivery.

The share of students taking online courses has gone from less than 10 percent in 2002 to 28 percent in 2014, according to the Babson Survey Research Group. Babson also found that the percentage of academic leaders who see online learning as critical to their institution’s long-term strategy went from about half to nearly two-thirds. And that is why the one of their ten trends is to say that there is increasing importance and visibility for instructional designers.

A professional ID is needs technical ability, design skills, pedagogical knowledge, and the interpersonal skills to work 1:1 with subject matter experts - SMEs, or in this case, faculty. 

In my early days of managing an ID department, we often met faculty who were told that they had to "teach my course online" and who fully expected to just digitize all their regular face-to-face materials. They would ask us to scan hundreds of pages of handouts and readings, create or convert PowerPoint slides, and they wanted to videotape their usual 90 or 180 minute lectures. It was a very big learning curve.

A few saw the opportunity to translate their in-person courses to be offered online as an opportunity to really rethink the course objectives. In those early days, all faculty had to learn technical skills, especially whatever the current course management system was that the college was using. (Those often changed, much to their dismay.) 

For me, the best outcome over the 16 years that I worked in instructional design was that we were viewed not as just "the people who do online courses" but also as a department that could help improve the quality of teaching, whether in online, in-person, or hybrid courses. 

Having myself been trained as a K-12 teacher and doing graduate work in pedagogy, I was initially surprised at the lack of knowledge that professors had in that area. I shouldn't have been surprised since they always told me that they never took an education course and tried to "do the things my best teachers did and avoid the things the bad ones did." Objectives versus goals, rubrics, Bloom's Taxonomy and almost all of the things I had been taught and used in my secondary school classroom were brand new to higher education faculty. My knowledge about pedagogy needed to be diplomatically transferred to professors, but the best ones were intrigued and eager to know not only how to teach online but why to teach in new ways.


Is There a Research Replication Crisis?

graphicI am a fan of The Hidden Brain Podcast which is hosted by Shankar Vedantam every week on many public radio stations. He takes research and makes it friendly for non-researchers and also entertaining. They did a show titled "When Great Minds Think Unlike: Inside Science's 'Replication Crisis'." (listen to the show

I didn't know that there was a crisis. 

He starts with a report published last year in Science magazine titled "Estimating the Reproducibility of Psychological Science." This report focuses on psychology's "replication crisis," but the crisis affects many other fields. 

One of the basics for anyone who has done research is that your findings should be able to be replicated. Can others follow your methodology and get the same results? For the report, they tried to replicate one hundred psychology experiments published in three of the discipline's top journals to see how many would hold up when someone else ran the same experiment.

Just 39 of the 100 experiments they ran produced the same results as in the originals. Not good. That means nearly two-thirds of the studies failed to replicate.

The podcast focuses on one paper that was twice repeated, with one instance succeeding in replicating the original finding and the other failing. That study found that Asian women performed worse on a math test when primed to think about their female identity, but better when they were primed to think about their Asian identity. The study was widely disseminated in textbooks and psychology education for two decades but had never been replicated. They had two teams run it again and the reported different results.

And that is the big question about when a study can't be replicated consistently: What should we think of as true?


The Augmented Reality of Pokémon Go

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People have been searching for creatures and running down their phone batteries this month since Pokémon Go was released.
Is there any connection of this technology to education, Ken? Let's see.

First off, Pokémon Go is a smartphone game that uses your phone’s GPS and clock to detect where and when you are in the game and make Pokémon creatures appear around you on the screen. The objective is to go and catch them.

This combination of a game and the real world interacting is known as augmented reality (AR). AR is often confused with VR - virtual reality. VR creates a totally artificial environment, while augmented reality uses the existing environment and overlays new information on top of it.

The term augmented reality goes back to 1990 and a Boeing researcher, Thomas Caudell, who used it to describe the use of head-mounted displays by electricians assembling complicated wiring harnesses.

A commercial applications of AR technology that most people have seen is the yellow "first down" line that we see on televised football games which, of course, is not on the actual field.

Google Glass and the displays called "heads-up" in car windshields are another consumer AR application. there are many more uses of the technology in industries like healthcare, public safety, gas and oil, tourism and marketing.

Back to the game... My son played the card game and handheld video versions 20 years ago, so I had a bit of Pokémon education. I read that it is based on the hobby of bug catching which is apparently popular in Japan, where the games originated. Like bug catching or birding, the goal is to capture actual bugs or virtual birds and Pokémon creatures and add them to your life list. The first generation of Pokémon games began with 151 creatures and has expanded to 700+, but so far only the original 151 are available in the Pokémon Go app.

I have seen a number of news reports about people doing silly, distracted things while playing the game, along with more sinister tales of people being lured by someone via a creature or riding a bike or driving while playing. (The app has a feature to try to stop you using from it while moving quickly, as in a car.)

Thinking about educational applications for the game itself doesn't yield anything for me. Although it does require you to explore your real-world environment, the objective is frivolous. So, what we should consider is the use of VR in education beyond the game, while appreciating that the gaming aspect of the app is what drives its appeal and should be used as a motivator for more educational uses.
AR
The easiest use of VR in college classrooms is to make use of the apps already out there in industries. Students in an engineering major should certainly be comfortable with understanding and using VR from their field. In the illustration above, software (metaio Engineer) allows someone to see an overlay visualization of future facilities within the current environment. Another application can be having work and maintenance instructions directly appear on a component when it is viewed.
Augmented reality can be a virtual world, even a MMO game. The past year we have heard more about virtual reality and VR headsets and goggles (like Oculus Rift) which are more immersive, but also more awkward to use.This immersiveness is an older concept and some readers may recall the use of the term "telepresence.” 

Telepresence referred to a set of technologies which allowed a person to feel as if they were present, or to to give the appearance of being present, or to have some impact at place other than their true location. Telerobotics does this, but more commonly it was the move from videotelephony to videoconferencing. Those applications have been around since the end of the last century and we have come a god way forward from traditional videoconferencing to doing it with hand-held mobile devices, enabling collaboration independent of location.

In education, we experimented with these applications and with the software for MMOs, mirror worlds, augmented reality, lifelogging, and products like Second Life. Pokémon Go is Second Life but now there is no avatar to represent us. We are in the game and the game is the world around us, augmented as needed. The world of the game is the world.

The Return of Synchronous Distance Learning

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A course at the University of Texas at Austin offers 24 "lucky" students a seat in a face-to-face classroom for an introductory psychology course that enrolls 1,500 undergraduates who take the course each semester online. The course’s professors, try to make the classroom entertaining ("like it’s a TV show"), according to an article on chronicle.com. The article is titled "Same Time, Many Locations: Online Education Goes Back to Its Origins" and it is categorized under the old-fashioned heading "Distance Education."

To many of us, this move to large-scale, real-time distance education for introductory courses is a throwback to the pre-broadband era of the mid-1990s. Then we relied on synchronous offerings in distance learning (that was often the name of the department that organized the offerings) because the technology didn’t allow us to do much more. ITV, instructional television, was another term we used and many campuses had ITV rooms dedicated to hosting a F2F class that was sent out to other locations.

In my early days at NJIT, we sent classes to area high schools as dual enrollment and many schools that had several campus locations, especially community colleges, used it to offer low enrollment courses on one campus to other campuses to keep the numbers up - and the cost of faculty down.

UT Austin has been doing this flashback since 2012 and sounds committed to synchronous online courses. It seems strange since the appeal of online learning is very often its asynchronous nature. In synchronous courses, students must watch remotely at a set time. Many of those early courses were videotaped at he end of the 20th century and then repackaged as asynchronous courses.

As the article states: "Most of the excitement, support, and growth in distance education has come as a result of advances in courses that students can watch at their own pace: asynchronous online education."