Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ Instructional Design / Instructional Technology

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

May 01, 1998

Posted to WWWDEV 01 May 98

Thank you Dawn and others for useful replies to my comments. I was unfortunately not as clear as I would like to be with what I said. Please let me rephrase, then address some of your comments more directly.

I really had two major points:

1. It seems to me a misnomer to call someone a "technologist" when there is no requirement that they actually learn technology, and

2. I view HTML to be a *language* in which discourse, such as designing, is conducted, analagous to other languages such as English, Latin or Klingon.

These points, taken together, form my main point, which was:

3. It seems to me that one of the languages an Instructional Technologist ought to master is HTML, since HTML is one of the languages in which discourse in that discipline is conducted.

For those who were a bit less than pleasant with their responses, please let me point out that I was not discussing Instructional Design in my comments.

OK, now on to the more specific points:

Dawn wrote, What Dr. Gary was refering to here was "instructional design" not application design (coding).

Yes. In my view this is the source of his confusion, if not his vitriol.

Dawn also wrote, Again, a common problem when technical folks see the term technology used in this sense they immediately think computers or machines. Technology used in the context of Dr. Gary's comments refers to the process of creating instruction. The term technology has been commonly used as a part of the name for this area and refers to the fact that the process has a methodology that is rigorous as with any other type of technology. It does not mean that technology in the applied sense.

OK, I see your point. The same thing sometimes happens to the term 'science' when it used to describe something which is manifestly not a science. Because the practitioners employ the methodology of scientific investigation, then even though what they practise is not what one would ordinarily call a science, it is dubbed a science, and traditional science, such as geology or physics, is dubbed with the moniker "applied science".

The previous paragraph comes out perhaps a bit more caustic than I would like. I guess in my mind, the fact that a discipline is practised rigorously does not in itself make it a technology. Many practises have rigorous methodologies: pitching a baseball, knitting a sweater, painting a picture. But we don't call these technologies.

But that said, to a significant degree, I must concede the point, because especially in academic institutions, the term technology has come to be applied to a wide variety of disciplines which are not technical. Why our own college even has a "Swine Technician" program, devoted to the 'technology' of raising swine.

But I concede the point with a heavy heart, lamenting the decline of language and concurrent rise in the opacity of meaning.

In fact, I'm finishing up a MA in Instructional and Performance Technology and there's no "technical" requirement for the degree. There are optional classes to learn how to design CBT or how to use the web but that's it. And, that's the most common curriculum for this area of study. Some colleges differ but I bet you don't see folks in the Education department requiring HTML classes do you? Same thing applies here.

True - and having conceded the point there is probably no need for further argument - but *this* example does not prove your point. It begs the question. I would have had the same argument with the people who named your program as I am having with you here now.

I do beg to differ here. You can design a course in your head. I've designed courses on paper, on whiteboards, in napkins. However, HTML is the delivery media, NOT the design media. I think there is a very real distinction.

An interesting point - but - when you design a course in your head, on a napkin, etc., the course is being designed even still in some sort of language. Perhaps you keep your napkin-notes or thoughts in English. Perhaps you draw diagrams. Or perhaps - like me - your planning, both in your head or on napkins, is represented in HTML, PERL, or some other language.

Your point was: 'technology' doesn't necessarily mean 'applied technology'. Fair enough. But by that logic alone you have to grant me mine, that 'language' does not mean 'applied language'.

Architects design buildings using pencil and paper (OK, computers now). And they know a lot of stuff about steel tensile strengths, weight bearing loads, and such to do this (my view of "concepts"). But they don't have to know how to cut the steel or lay the brick (my concept of HTML). That's the mechanics. That's done by others that are taught how to do it. And these folks aren't taught how to architect buildings.

Yes. But again, HTML has more in common with the plan than it does the brick. The brick, in a computer environment, is the hardware which delivers the signal, the physical infastructure, and even the actual arrangement of coloured pixels on a screen. HTML is the set of instructions detailing what pixel to put where.

Now, the architect knows about some "building" stuff and can talk to the builder intelligently. And the builder knows about some "architectural" stuff and can converse likewise. However, I wouldn't want an architect building my house anymore that I'd like the local contractor designing it. And that is why instructional designers need to know some concepts of HTML and other related web technologise and tools but not the underhood details. And it sure would be great if programmers/authors knew something about instructional design. I don't see programmers taking ID classes though. Maybe we should reverse some of this logic???!!!

It is interesting and fascinating to see how programs have acquired the ontological status of 'things' over the years. But that's an aside...

I have commented previously here and elsewhere that on-line learning is dominated by two major factions, each of which misses important lessons taught by the other: - one the one hand, we have programmers, who design beautiful programs but not-so-beautiful instruction - on the other hand, we have educators, who design beautiful education but not so beautiful programs. Examples of both abound.

Yes, I agree, it would be useful were more programmers to take courses in instructional design. Just as, it would be useful to see more instructional designers take courses in programming. Which was my point to begin with.

Finally, a note for Gary C. Powell:

Your concern in this matter seems to be weighed much more toward the qualifications of the discussants than with the substantive issues at hand. To satisfy your curiosity:

No, I do not hold a degree from a 'respected' institution in Instructional Design. For that matter, neither do I hold a degree in computer science. My degrees (BA, MA and all-but-dissertation) are all in philosophy.

I am sorry that you find the 'lack' of credentials held by people on this list to be so disturbing. Tell you what: since you clearly do not feel that I (and no doubt many others) are not at your level - so much so that there is no need to distinguish our points of view with even so much as an argument - may I suggest that you simply delete our posts without reading them, thereby sparing yourself the indignity of having to correspond with such obviously ignorant peasants.

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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