CCK08: Assignment 2: “The only constant in life is change – The changing roles of educators”

Assignment Description: The shifting basis of certainty has been a critical focus during week 5-8. Through readings and discussions, we have focused on complexity, chaos theory, instructional design, power and control, and the changing roles for educators. For your second paper, select your point of emphasis as that of the instructional designer or educator. Explore changing roles for your selected field. Do you agree their roles are changing? If so, what are appropriate responses? What are impediments to change? If not, how can current trends be best utilized to serve in the traditional role of educator or designer? In your paper, focus on creative conceptualizations of different roles (or different approaches to serve new needs in existing roles) played by educators. Consider metaphors that capture your views. Times of change permit reformulations of existing viewpoints. Take this opportunity to enjoy a creative stroll in rethinking “what could be”.

The role of the instructional designer or educator is changing. But the issue is more than these two roles. This assignment put me in the dilemma – even though I am an educator for the Royal Military College for my part-time job, and I spent 3 years an computer based training (CBT) instructional designer (LearnStream, 2000-2003), I actually view the issue form the lens of information management and access. This essay argues that the changing role of the instructional designer or educator is actually a greater “sea change” in the field of information and knowledge management that can be addressed through an examination of information architecture. I will discuss the changing roles of instructional designers and educators, how these two roles have responded to change responded, impediments to change, and current trends. I end the paper with my metaphor of wayfinding as a method of understanding the points I make in this paper.

The changing roles of instructional designers and educators

My current role is an information architect for Innovatia, Inc. I design information spaces around user/learner needs. Thus educators and instructional designers are both affected by this higher level issue. Both draw from a greater body of information for a particular information domain. This in a sense has not really changed things from 10 or 20 years ago. Information domains existed back then just as know. The term information architecture has been around since 1975. (Barker, 2005) However, there is a greater understanding that rather than relay on instructional designers or educators to try to make sense of the “chaos” in the information domain through teaching what they think students need to know about a subject, that an information architect can help lay out the true information domain. The rise in the internet has made the problem of information domains more acute as internet novices try to navigate the huge amount of variety and unstructured internet. (Wikipedia, Information Architecture) A properly constructed information domain geared towards the end-user/leaner might end up indicating there is no need for educators or instructional designers. Some would say this is sacrilegious! I guess this means things have changed. However, I have discovered that by providing a better information architecture around a given subject domain with easily findable and usable documents, that the need for designing instruction or educational materials declines for basic concepts, task or procedures.  Instead, instructional designers and educators can focus their attention on the more difficult subjects around such things as research, planning, designing, and integrating ideas. Educators and instructional designers and their products and services are not cheap. Does it not make sense to use their talents on the truly difficult-to-understand ideas? For example, a good information architecture that creates a easy-to-use help file system for Microsoft Word means a company does not need to spend time on how to teach administrative assistants how to create a macro, rather, they can teach them how to use the companies macros – a much more useful role for the company trainers and the employees professional development time.

Instructional Designers and Educators Response to the Computer Based Learning Environment

Early computer based training (CBT) focussed solely on converting print to electronic text and while the accessibility of the information was exciting in the 1999-2003 timeframe, more recent literature suggests CBT version 2.0 is what is needed. CBT 2.0 takes you to higher levels of learning through animations, serious games, and other social interaction. (Christiansen, Horn, and Johnson, 2008, p 91-2) Early CBT taught to one dominate learning style for ease of conversion of the content. CBT 2.0 is learner centric and addresses multiple learning styles. The challenge to the instructional designer and educator is recognizing how address each of the 8 learning styles. (Gardner, 2006, p 6) Gardner discusses eight intelligences:

  • Linguistic
  • Logical-mathematical
  • Spatial
  • Bodily-kinaesthetic
  • Musical
  • Interpersonal
  • Interpersonal
  • Naturalist

Designing education curriculums and lesson plans that address all eight pose a daunting challenge for an “ordinary” teacher. Unless, (smile here), you use the internet to access resources in each intelligence to build your content. Thus, you teach a chemistry formula like PV=nRT and you can use web based animations to show balloons exploding as you increase the temperature (T).

Note that some educators eschew the whole CBT problem by continuing to teach using overhead projectors, transparencies, and using one of two textbooks. These educators are heavily wedded to the traditional model of knowledge transfer in which the teacher or professor is supported in the institution for having specialized knowledge and almost a proprietary ownership of that knowledge. Thus, it is very difficult to find replacement educators at the university level and many universities face a succession planning problem in some subject areas when the educator retires.

Resistance to change

The impediments to change are the very points I raise above. The complexity of learning theory and the complexity of many subjects makes it difficult for instructional designers to wrap their heads around the problem. Just which learning theory/pedagogy should be used? Should it be behaviouralism (preferred by industry to date, constructivism (preferred by K-12), cognitivism, or some other theory?

Furthermore, the explosion in technology platforms, with a lack of coherent applied research and best practices literature, make it difficult for the instructional designer and educator to decide on which technology to use. Should the content be open source as preferred by Stephen Downes, or in a LMS? Should there be Wikis, discussion forums, blogs, etc and where should these be hosted. How can Facebook and other social applications be utilized? Is Second life worth the time to learn how to use it? Which combination of tools should I use for history, math, chemistry, French, English, physics, geography, art, physical education etc and which tools for which level (elementary, middle, high, post secondary)? What works well in urban areas, versus rural? Is there cultural difference between Canada, the US, England, Finland, Germany etc that need to be considered (let along the unique tools in each region/nation of the world.)

A third impediment is the question of authority. Will the educator or instructional designer lose their authority over the content being transferred to the learners, if there is easily accessible information out on the web? Should an educator even let students in class surf the web while the educator is talking? The question comes down to how much of a control freak is the educator and how much merit do we give to the notion that the passive intake of knowledge from the educator or instructional designer to the learner actually results in the knowledge being acquired by the learner. Perhaps a student will have the “aha” moment with respect to a puzzling idea, if they are allowed to search the web in class as the teacher talks.

Utilizing Current Trends

This information domain architecture is not just about the knowledge; it is also about how the users interact with that information. That is to say, the technology platforms used for interaction. Currently, most instructional designers and educators do not realize they are actually fulfilling an information architectural role. In the process of doing their job, they determine who their target audience is without actually talking to the end users i.e. the learners. Thus decisions get made about what content to present and what communications platforms to use (LMS, Wiki, Protected web library, discussion forums, etc) without ever really knowing how people need to interact with the information. The greatest challenge instructional designers and teacher thus face, revolve around knowing as much as they can about:

  • The environment of the user
  • The culture of the user
  • The technical ability of the user
  • The typical and atypical information the user needs to use and generate
  • The technology tools available for creating content, deploying content, and interacting with content
  • The pedagogical value of the various technical tools

I would suggest that this is almost too big of a problem for an instructional designer or educator. How many instructional designers or educators do you know that would have a clear understanding of each of these aspects? Thus, a team or hive approach is needed. (Walker, 2008)The instructional designer or educator is just one job function in the team that carries out the investigation, design, development, delivery, and evaluation cycle. The need for specialisation has seen a growth in the fields of:

  • Information Design
  • Interaction Design
  • Visual Design
  • Web Design
  • Experience Design
  • Human Computer Interaction
  • Evaluation & Analysis
  • User Centered Design
  • Interface Design
  • User Testing

There are whole companies focussed in just one aspect of the above list such as Adaptive Path for product experience or Step 2 Designs for information architecture/intranet design.

The current trend is of increased online activity by K-12 and even many adults exploring the web to suit the fancy of the moment, or for a specific learning or work purpose, is indicative that people are become more networked. Therefore, instructional designers and educators should make greater use of networking tools so that their learners are exposed to more varied ideas and opinions or obtain greater exposure to alternative learning style explanations. Instead of blocking Facebook and other social websites (as done by the Government of New Brunswick), schools and industry should channel their energies into writing codes of conducts and outlining performance expectations. IF a leaner “abuses” the use of these tools/sites, then the students can then receive “remedial” education in the proper utilization of the tools to support the internet-based research methodologies needed in this networked world.

A switch to CBT can capture core educator information and allow the knowledge to continue living. Some professors fear that CBT will do away with their job. I faced that fear in 2005 when the courses I distance teach converted to CBT. I thought I was out of job. However, RMC realized mentorship was crucial to converting the content of the course and that some assignment just had to be essays and those required graders and not multiple choice tests. Because CBT is more accessible, RMC has actually seen its student population grow and as a result, there is a greater demand for instructors. (I went from teaching 2 live courses a year to 2 live courses and 4 online). Christensen describes this role change using technology as that of moving from an educator to a tutor. (Christiansen, Horn, and Johnson, 2008, p. 137-8)

A Metaphor for “my world”

The closet metaphor I could discover to relate to this information architecture frame of reference is that of wayfinding. Wayfinding was original used to describe how people find their way around in the physical world. Some people use landmarks (churches, traffic lights). Others use patterns (rectangular city block layouts). Wayfinding is a useful term for the information domain, because ultimately, educators and instructional designers seek to help a learner navigate the confusing number of competing ideas out in the world around any particular subject. Can we teach wayfinding? Or is wayfinding incredibly personal?

I think it is both and I offer up my experience as an example. I spent most of my teenage life around aircraft and navigation and grew up in Southern Ontario with its grid-like road networks. I spent my 20s reading 1:50,000 topographic maps as an Armoured Officer. Hence, I have a heightened sense for survey patterns, terrain features, population distribution, and city layouts. I am much better at using conceptual ideas of North, South, East and West. My wife, grew up in a rugged and hilly New Brunswick county (Albert) bounded by the Peticodiac River with almost all habitation along the river. The roads wind in almost all directions of the compass (settlement was in the 1760s). Thus, here point of reference is “up river” and “down river” instead of North and South, and on the river (East) or inland (West). (On a historical wayfinding point, her family called me the “Upper Canadian” for about the first 5 years they knew me. I remind them that Upper Canada has not existed since 1840, (it became Canada West that year, and Ontario in 1867), but old New Brunswick family perceptions die hard.)

I think we can teach at least the elements of wayfinding. It is very similar to research methods. Already there are many tools to assist learners in wayfinding: Your Favourites, Delicious, and even your Desktop, are wayfinding mechanisms. Teaching relevant Google search terms is a bit harder, and it is harder to teach others how to evaluate internet resources in comparison to printed materials.

At this point I am going to use another story-telling metaphor. In the pre internet era (1981-2 to be precise), my home room teacher for Grade 9 and 10 was Mr Donald Smith at St Clair Secondary School in Sarnia, Ontario. He was also my geography teacher. Mr Smith was well renowned for his technique of teaching geoprgaphy, not through reading a textbook, but showing films. Many students tended to fall asleep, so Mr Smith had a quick quiz at the end of every film to make us pay attention. I loved the film medium because at the time I was also a big fan of 1950s-70s war films, which were much livelier than dry text books. I scored a 99 and 98 in grade 9 and 10 (the school computer would not record 100 because it could not accept a 3 digit grade). When you think about it, Shouldn’t geography be taught through the motion picture medium if you actually can’t visit each place?) Video allows you to see what things are really like and even conceptual ideas like the inside of a volcano or how a rift valley forms, can be much more effectively taught through animation. This technique worked for Grade 9 and 10 were a base knowledge was needed. Grade 11-13 Geography began to focus more on analysis. Some might criticize Mr Smith for not providing essay writing or other mediums of learning, but I still think Mr Smith was about 85% correct. Or at least he “Connected” with me.


This essay has argued that the role of instructional designers and educators is changing. If we believe the trends explained by Christensen, by the year 2012, 25% of K-12 courses will be internet/CBT based learning and by 2020, it will be 50%. (Christiansen, Horn, and Johnson, 2008, p. 99) This implies a much larger demand for internet savvy instructional designers and educators using the best of Web 2.0 Social media tools and Semantic Web (Web 3.0) capabilities. There is a potential for a drastic “disruption” and re-ordering of the way information is transferred form one person to the next whether it is elementary, middle school, high school, post-secondary, or in the working world. When we think about it, there is not much time left to figure out the best practices so that the would be educators and instructional designers entering university now are exposed to these tools and updated education theory. I argue that information architecture is a method to figure out what end-users need, how they need to access the information, and how it should be organized whether as formal educational materials or “general” knowledge.

Works Cited

Barker, Iain. What is Information architecture? (Step Two Designs, April 2005)

Christiansen, Clayton M. Michael B. Horn, and Curtis W Johnson. Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns. (New York, McGraw Hill, 2008)

Gardner, Howard, Multiple Intelligences. (New York, Basic Books, 2006)

Walker. Cairo. The Internet Hive, (Step Two Designs, February 2008)



5 Responses to “CCK08: Assignment 2: “The only constant in life is change – The changing roles of educators””

  1. Viplav Baxi Says:

    Great paper! I think one of the really important points that you raise here is the personalization of content/instruction that could potentially be made possible now under a connectivist umbrella. I really liked your metaphor of wayfinding too! Thanks!

  2. EduBlog Insights » Blog Archive » Thinking about change Says:

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  3. CCK08: Week 9 Stacks « Clyde Street Says:

    […] second paper, a number of posts by John Mak, a paper on the Simnet blog, Bradleyshoebottom’s paper, Adrian’s reflection paper and many […]

  4. Thinking about change « Says:

    […] I was reading Bradley Shoebottom’s thought-provoking post about “the only constant in life is change – the changing roles of educators” I noticed the possibly related post link below it. I was hooked once again to follow a lead. The […]

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