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Alan J. Reid, Ph.D. Student Completely Misses the Point


 Alan J. Reid is a Ph.D. student in instructional design that teaches English Brunswick Community College and Coastal Carolina University. He recently wrote a piece for Insidehighered.com where he took on Apple’s newest offering “iBooks Author.”  In the piece, Reid expressed concern that the new free software, which allows anyone anywhere to make some kick-ass looking textbooks would diminish the work of those in the field of Instructional Design. After all, here is a guy  that is no doubt paying a butt-load of money to learn how to create and design instructional materials, and Apple comes along and, essentially gives away the keys to the castle, so that pretty much anyone can do it. For free. Without a Ph.D. Without training. Amazing.  

Consider this passage from his essay:  “I’m concerned that the act of creating a digital book for students will impede the learning benchmarks that are expected of them. Let me put it this way: When was the last time you saw a well-designed, engaging PowerPoint presentation, where the speaker did not read the words directly off of the slide, verbatim?  This is my point.  We have allowed everyone to become an instructional designer.”

I don’t know about you, but I have taken my fair share of post secondary and graduate level classes that looked like the sum total of instructional design was scribbles in a coffee stained napkin that was then washed and rung out. If he is equating good instructional design with level in academia, he is living in fairyland. Some of the best instructional design I have seen comes from elementary teachers, some of the worst from tenured professors that gave up designing anything once the tenure came in. 

He goes on to complain that the times we live in has created a culture of “everyone becoming an expert,” which he presumes is a bad thing. I suppose that in his case, he is concerned that all of a sudden, everyone has become an expert in Instructional Design, citing the iBook Author widget that allows for insertion of multiple choice quizlets in the text: “…yet the research on inserting lower-level, recall-type adjunct questions in text has been mostly inconclusive since the 1960s…”

He goes on to claim that inserting something that would allow students to paraphrase a passage would be much more meaningful. Perhaps that is true and just to quibble, he completely ignores the  HTML5 widget that allows for custom-created design, which could do exactly what he wants a widget to do. 

Like Reid, the people that complain the loudest about others gaining specific knowledge are usually those with the most to lose. Are they simply are afraid of losing the keys to their ivory tower castle, or of  having the peasants storm the castle and see that in fact, there really is not that much there other than jargon and research papers designed to perpetuate the myth of importance? These professors that complain that students are using laptops improperly in classes are the same ones that cannot understand why attendance decreases as the semester wears on. Surely their “sage on the stage” elenctic method suits their 21st century students well. It can’t be their delivery. It must be something inherently wrong with “kids these days.” The old “adapt to my style of teaching” is sadly, firmly entrenched in post secondary land.

Actually, everyone becoming an expert is a good thing, despite Reid’s protestations. Kevin Honeycutt likes to tell the tale of the English Literature professor that is lecturing about a specific chapter in a book and tells the class that the author had a specific message in mind when he wrote it. A student on a laptop in the back of the class raises his hand and says “ No he didn’t.” “Yes he did!” replies the professor. A back and forth takes place, when finally, the professor says “I have been teaching this course for 25 years, I have written books and articles and am a recognized expert in the field. You are  a freshman. What makes you so sure you are right?”

The student turns his laptop around so the professor can see the screen, and says “Because I am talking to the author on Skype right this minute, and he says you are wrong.That’s why.”  

That is the power of technology. That is the power of giving those without the keys the keys. No, you won’t become a medical doctor by visiting Web M.D.  But you might be able to avail yourself to information about treatments that you did not know exists, or that your doctor did not know existed. No, you wont become a Literature professor by taking an online lit course on iTunes U. But you you can become better acquainted with the work because there are millions in the conversation, not just you and a professor in a walled garden of academia.

Perhaps Reid needs to ask himself and his doctoral committee the question Rob Manciabelli, co-author of Personal Learning Networks asked in his piece “Five Ways to PD into Personal Transformation” in “District Administrator:” What is the role of the teacher when a student can access millions of textbooks and teachers online? If his answer is the same answer that would have been given 5 , 10, or 20 years ago, then perhaps he needs to reassess how technology affects teaching and learning. 

Reid’s argument is a classic example of those that are sitting by watching the tide of technology drive by that have completely missed the point about how that technology changes a paradigm. Instead of looking at the possibilities, they only see the perceived, often imagined, threats. (In this case, everyone will become an Instructional Design expert overnight!) He fails to look at technology from a historical perspective. Gutenberg did not make EVERYONE a printer, but his device allowed everyone greater access to the written word. Camcorders did not turn everyone into Speilbergs, but it gave people access to the technology to do so if they chose. Same with iBooks Author. It won’t make EVERYONE a textbook author, but they now have a simple, efficient method of creating texts without having to rely on big publishing companies to provide them. The keys of publishing textbooks have been, not gently handed to the consumers of the textbooks, they have been thrown at them, and the response has been mesmerizing. Within days, students were publishing books and posting them on iBooks. The blogosphere exploded with people arguing about the End USer License Agreement, proof that the use of the software was being taken seriously by all with a stake. If the software was not  game changer, no one would have been debating the banalities of the EULA, something usually reserved for lawyers and copyright office workers. 

Perhaps Reid’s secret that dare not be spoken is really this: It is a money thing. He sees his monetary investment in higher-ed as being usurped by those that have not gone through the system that have not paid a fortune to earn a piece of paper. That, in the end, is what technology does: it opens up the once closed doors. Something that many in academia fear, but those outside long for.

The walls to the ivory towers are beginning to crumble as the common man is being allowed, by technology, to do what only a few were allowed to do in the past. And that is probably what scares Reid the most.


The PhD program at the University of North Texas. 

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Masters and Doctoral programs for Instructional Technology. Can you add to this list?