Saturday, December 20, 2008

Artificial Science

Brown, A. L. (1992). Design experiments: Theoretical and methodological challenges in creating complex interventions in classroom settings. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 2(2), 141-178.

At first glance this article may seem somewhat strange, with the author listing about 25 self-citations, however given the format of the article, it actually makes sense. It is written as a qualitative longitudinal review of the author’s own work over about a 15 year period, with comparisons between that work and the work of others in the field during a similar time period. It is definitely a different approach to writing an article, but it shows an interesting pattern of various ideas becoming popular among researchers and practitioners and then giving way to something else. Brown also follows the same method in writing the article about past research as when writing specific research articles – giving an overview of the entire study and the general trends, flavored with detailed information about an interesting case. In this article Brown shows us the general pattern to the studies and then gives us specific examples, such as the biology class studying carnivores and herbivores.

The actual point of the article seemed to be that just because a study doesn’t follow a strict scientific convention doesn’t mean that it’s not still useful. The author discusses some common criticisms of her work. With some results being discounted as a Hawthorne effect, Brown explains why it was not just a Hawthorne effect but even if it was it may still be a valid study with good results. The major issue pointed out by Brown is that learning outcomes depend on many interacting factors, and the act of controlling for all factors and varying just one, in addition to the fact that the observer is there watching in the first place, makes the environment become artificial. So is it better to be very scientific and be able to show a given effect size of one particular variable in an artificial environment, or to simply interact within a natural environment where most everything is out of the control of the researcher? Neither one can really be generalizable or applicable to other situations.

In terms of how this relates to my interests, since this article was not about a specific intervention, rather methods of implementing research, I can only really take the article as advice for planning my own studies. A purely scientific, sterile approach does not necessarily always provide the best information. A messy, unorganized study could very well be a poor study, but it also may be useful if providing real information about real-world environments. It is important to understand research practices to be able to implement protections against internal and external validity issues, either to prevent them from happening or to defend yourself against others that may claim your work is subject to them.

Staying culturally relevant in today’s global society

Given the speed at which technology is advancing, both in innovation and distribution, groups and individuals seem to be classified as technology haves or have-nots. The haves are seen as smarter or more successful than the have-nots. The haves then suppose it their duty to impart their ways on the poor have-nots, whether or not their help is needed or requested. Looking deep down, however, it does not appear that technology itself really causes anyone to change, rather it facilitates desired changes. Whether those desired changes are for the better or the worse depends, of course, on the situation.

In addition to technological advancements, there are many more aspects by which various cultures may differ, including geography, religion, language, social structures, traditions, available resources, etc. Technology is hailed by some as an equalizer, allowing members of cultures that might not otherwise have a voice to publish their story for the world, but it may come at a price of lost traditions and ways of life (Bowers, Vasquez & Roaf, 2000).

That is not to say that cultures should not communicate and mix to create new traditions and understanding of others. Quite the opposite is true. As we come to learn and know how and why we are different, we will understand our own background better and realize that because of our differences, everyone has something to offer. As the field of Instructional Technology continues to develop and make advances in understanding and dealing with accommodating differences between individuals and groups, practitioners find themselves developing more personalized instruction that must be sensitive to the cultural needs of their constituents.

Thomas, Mitchell & Joseph (2000) point out that the traditional ADDIE process of instructional design addresses culture in the analysis phase, but go on to encourage designers to continue interacting with the learners throughout all phases of development. In fact, they propose a third dimension to ADDIE consisting of Intention, Interaction, and Introspection that are meant to be continually evaluated during each of the steps of the standard model.

These three I’s in their three dimensional ADDIE model serve to ensure that designers pay attention to what cultures they are developing instruction for, communicate and collaborate with stakeholders, and reflect on their own thoughts and actions throughout the entire process. These additional steps may seem redundant, i.e. introspection sprinkled throughout the process just like evaluation; however, the difference between their three I’s and the existing five steps is that the I’s are specifically focused on culture, since that element is often forgotten. By adding the third dimension, designers are reminded that their instruction cannot and should not be culturally neutral, so an extra measure of care should be taken regarding cultural issues.

That said, other than recommending that designers think about culture throughout the process, this three dimensional ADDIE model does little to actually provide any real framework for incorporating cultural methods into instruction. In order to provide a meaningful model to follow, it is likely that a systematic approach is needed. Such an approach provides a scaffold for novices, which they gradually remove as they become expert designers. It is not that experts do not need to perform all the same steps, but they usually perform them intuitively and naturally. The challenge, then, in a new framework is to integrate cultural sensitivity in such a way that experienced designers will be willing to take the time to adjust their current methods and established knowledge to take into account the additional dimension.

In order for an organization to make such a change in their own methods and cultures, a change management program may be required. Jones, Aguirre & Calderone (2004) present a set of 10 tools and techniques for helping a company transform, providing means for individuals to manage their own change and an entire organization to implement a change as well. Without individual change, no collective change can be effected.

Their 10 Principles of Change Management include the following steps:
1. Address the “human side” systematically.
2. Start at the top.
3. Involve every layer.
4. Make the formal case.
5. Create ownership.
6. Communicate the message.
7. Assess the cultural landscape.
8. Address culture explicitly.
9. Prepare for the unexpected.
10. Speak to the individual.
Steps 1, 2, and 3 really state that any change must be planned out before it is implemented, modeled by the leadership of the organization, and implemented everywhere. If it is not, that shows a lack of commitment and the change will fail. Change is embraced by few, especially when it is not carefully thought out before implementation.

In making a case to each level of the organization (Step 4), the need for change must be established and a viable roadmap must be presented. Just as andragogical principles, such as the need for adults to know why they are learning something and that adults learn better with a problem-based approach than with a passive “fill me up with knowledge” approach (Freire, 1970), guide instruction of adults, they must also be utilized in any change management system (which is really just instruction anyway).

This andragogical approach to change management will ensure that all levels of the organization will claim ownership and participate in communicating the message to others (Steps 5 and 6). Steps 7 through 10 are really the core of this approach to change management, since they deal directly with changing the culture of the organization in question. This is especially interesting in terms of the current question of how to ensure the consideration of culture in instructional design.

Of course the new culture must be assessed before it may be addressed. Thorough assessment of the culture will identify values, beliefs, sources of leadership, and sources of resistance. It may be worth a reminder that this model is a change management model, which can be used for any business-related change, not just for instructional projects. A new culture may be desired or two merging companies may be combining their cultures. It also may be that other changes are made within an established culture. This model applies to instructional projects within a different culture, as long as the designers remember their obligation to develop materials that fit within the appropriate cultural context without intentionally or unintentionally disrupting established culture. It may be that an intervention is designed to change culture, such as recent campaigns in China to encourage taxi drivers to shower and brush their teeth in preparation for the Olympic Games held there earlier this year. Even such an intervention that is meant to improve cultural practices needs to be approached correctly in order to obtain buy-in from all stakeholders.

Throughout the change process, all those involved should be prepared to expect the unexpected. No plan goes perfectly, but by being willing to deal with issues as they arrive, everything will go more smoothly. The reason there are differences is because people are involved. The stakeholders should be respected, consulted, and otherwise involved in the process.

When designing instruction for those of other cultures, it may be that it is new instruction from the ground up or it may be a remix of existing instruction. The differences between a designer’s background and that of those who will be participating in the instruction need to be defined and integrated with the appropriate design model. ADDIE principles apply in any situation really, as long as the above-mentioned steps are taken to ensure integration with the new cultural milieu. Hites & Casterline (1986) discuss a few steps in designing instruction for other cultures. Based on a needs analysis, they recommend asking if technology is appropriate to the situation and if the objectives are the same. Next, they remind us to consider motivational factors, the level of English comprehension, entry skills and knowledge, and learning style preferences. At this point, all existing training materials and their delivery methods are up for change as needed. An important observation they make is the need to provide training for the instructor if he or she is not from the same culture as the students. Instructor training should include both content and culture. Following the ADDIE process, formative and summative evaluations should be held and appropriate revisions made.

By utilizing a combination of these models, it is more likely that effective, culturally relevant instruction will result. Designers should stay aware of their own cultural biases and backgrounds, stay focused on providing the best instruction while doing no harm, utilize stakeholders throughout the process of analyzing, designing, and developing instruction to create ownership among those to receive instruction, prepare the instructors as needed, and be flexible.


Bowers, C.A., Vasquez, M., Roaf, M. (2000). “Native People and the Challenge of Computers: Reservation Schools, Individualism, and Consumerism.” American Indian Quarterly 24(2).

Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Herder and Herder.

Hites, J.M., Casterline, S. (1986). “Adapting Training for Other Cultures.” Annual Conference of the National Society for Performance and Instruction.

Jones, J., Aguirre, D., & Calderone, M. (2004). “10 Principles of Change Management.” Strategy+Business.

Thomas, M., Mitchell, M., Joseph, R. (2000) “The Third Dimension of ADDIE: A Cultural Embrace.” TechTrends 46(2).

Friday, December 19, 2008


Many people I've talked to lately have either had some kind of spyware infestation, the notoriously scamacious Antivirus 2009 (or 2008), or just something that the kids did weird that messed up their computer.

In looking around for something to help keep computers under control, I found Windows SteadyState, which is a free program put out by Microsoft for locking down Microsoft Windows. As much as I dislike some of Microsoft's business practices and their frequent security problems (stop laughing Mac fans - the Mac OS has been bitten by malware as much as Windows has lately), this is a program that appears to have what it takes to really lock down a computer. It won't help in cleaning one up after the fact but in keeping it from getting messed up in the first place.

I used it to create an account for the kids. The account is locked down so no programs can run except Internet Explorer. Then IE is locked down so it is more limited than normal. You can set it up with a whitelist or only specific sites that can be visited, but I didn't turn that feature on.

If something strange does get installed even with the limited version of IE that is running, when you log out of the account, all changes made to the computer are automatically removed. Pretty cool. You can unlock the account so you can make changes and then just lock it back up.

I'm still playing with it, so I don't have a full review for it yet, but I recommend trying it out.

If you don't want to totally lock down your computer to just a small list of websites but still want good protection, I recommend K9 Web Protection from Blue Coat Systems. It's free for personal use. It lets you pick from a huge list of categories of sites that you can block and logs all sites that are visited.

And if you do happen to get the Antivirus 2009 trojan installed on your computer, I've found System Restore, which is automatically enabled in both Windows XP and Vista, to be the easiest option to remove it.


I recorded some digital video recently. When playing the resulting mpg files on my computer, the video was fine, but there was no sound. I could hear the sound when I played it back on the camera but nothing when it was copied to the computer.

I installed the XP Codec Pack and the sound worked fine. So cheers to you and some link love, too.

The file wouldn't play at all in Quicktime for some reason - only in Windows Media Player. I didn't install the XP Codec Pack media player, just the codecs.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


Me: Chocolate muffin, please.

Coffee Shop Girl: Would you like light, dark, or pumpkin?

Me: Chocolate.

Coffee Shop Girl: Which kind do you want?

Me: Chocolate. [a little slower]

Coffee Shop Girl: There are three different kinds: light, dark, and pumpkin.

Me: I just want chocolate. [pointing to chocolate muffin behind glass]

Coffee Shop Girl: [Pulls out a regular muffin with chocolate chips.]

Me: I wanted the chocolate one. [pointing again]

Coffee Shop Girl: Oh, so you want the double chocolate. [Pulls out chocolate muffin.]

It wasn't until she pointed out my mistake in calling it chocolate, instead of double chocolate that I figured out her confusion. I just thought she couldn't hear me or something. No, she was blinded by the chocolate chips. You'd think that someone who sells muffins for a living would understand the difference between a pastry that is substantially chocolate and one that is accented with chocolate chips. She did well at covering her frustration, although I could still tell it was there. But what else was I to say? At least I was able to provide her a stupid customer story that she can complain about to her barista friends.

In a semi-related incident at the bagel shop a year or so ago, I learned that bagel people don't like it when you use the term 'fruity bagels.' I told them I wanted a dozen assorted but didn't want any fruity ones. I wanted the good ones that people actually eat, with cheese and garlic and herbs and sunflower seeds. Apparently, the kinds with fruit in them are 'breakfast bagels.'

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Not the brightest

I was at the store looking at some LED lights to replace our current energy-sucking conventional C9 lights. They are more expensive than regular lights. I overheard an employee explaining to a customer that, "they are more expensive because they last longer." That's just dumb. The fact that they last longer, combined with the energy savings, mitigates the fact that they cost more; however, just lasting longer is not justification for charging more. It may be that they cost more to make, which is fine, but that's not how she explained it. Chances are neither the employee nor the customer would have even understood the difference between what she said and reality, though, so maybe it doesn't matter.

Combine the savings mentioned above with Logan City rebates of $5 per string of old lights that you turn in, and it makes sense to go LED, right?

Well, I can't get a good photo that really shows how bad the LED lights are, but they're a weird color and not very bright. So much for trying to go green, as an extra trip to the store is now in order to return the new lights, plus any future temptation to purchase LED lights will be met with skepticism.

It did give me an excuse to play around with the shutter speed setting on my camera that I've never had a reason to learn how to use before. The bottom shot was the longest exposure. It's not as obvious as seeing it in person, but you can tell that the mini incandescent lights are brighter than the C9 LED lights.

Dear Comcast, please distribute this post for me.

From the current Comcast High Speed Internet service agreement:

Comcast does not claim any ownership of any material that you publish, transmit or distribute using HSI. By using HSI to publish, transmit or distribute material or content, you (1) warrant that the material or content complies with the provisions of this Agreement, (2) consent to and authorize Comcast, its agents, suppliers, and affiliates to reproduce, publish, distribute, and display the content worldwide and (3) warrant that you have the right to provide this authorization. You acknowledge that material posted or transmitted using HSI may be copied, republished or distributed by third parties, and you agree to indemnify, defend and hold harmless Comcast, its agents, suppliers, and affiliates for any harm resulting from these actions.

So while they do state that they're not going to try to steal anything you transmit through their network, they immediately follow that by stating that by using their network, you agree that your materials may be copied and published by pretty much anyone. Of course, it would be impossible to use the internet if material was not freely copied and distributed around the world. So then is such a clause unnecessary? Could it be misinterpreted by someone who pirates your intellectual property as giving them permission to republish such? I realize they are just trying to say that if someone steals your stuff, Comcast isn't liable. It just seems that adding unnecessary clauses like this makes such an agreement unnecessarily complex, and thus open to misinterpretation. And provides job security for lawyers everywhere.