Appropriate Instructional Design and Creative Technology Integration are Paramount for CMU Professor

As a professor in TEPD for both the MALDT and DET programs, I asked Dr. Mike DeSchryver to share some of his perspectives about teaching with technology in the 21st century.


Q: Why should educators learn about instructional design as it relates to technology?

A: Any more, it seems some part of the educational experience involves technology-mediated interactions. Knowing the foundational instructional ramifications of the choices that are made to include technologies in the learning process is critical to doing so properly and in a way that at a very minimum does not degrade it, and ideally enhances or deepens the experience. In my time in the educational technology field, I have come to appreciate the challenges facing 21st-century teachers. That is, just like teaching without technology, teaching with technology is a complex and ill-structured activity, just a little bit more so. Knowing the foundational instructional design principles helps to alleviate some of this complexity.


Q: Which is your favorite technology integration framework and what do you like about it?

A: I am still partial to the TPACK framework. Based on my experience, it is the most flexible framework and the one that most easily guides a more creative instructional design process. That said, anytime a framework is open to flexible application, it takes a little bit more effort and time when done properly. But, in many ways, this is the point. It does take time to ask the right questions and balance technological, pedagogical, content knowledge, and contextual implications for modern teaching or training. I would also add that I do not think any one framework can prepare every teacher to effectively integrate technology for every student, in every grade level, for every subject. That is why I often ask students to review several frameworks and build their own personal framework from items and ideas across them. Similar to the idea of a personal learning network (PLN), building one’s own technology integration framework, or instructional design framework, based on your own personal philosophy of teaching, will lead to greater buy-in upfront and more flexible application and evolution of these frameworks over time.


Q: What role can integration frameworks have for teachers when designing lessons?

A: It is my goal to emphasize the creative aspect that is increasingly important to designing 21st-century educational experiences. The worst application of technology-mediated instructional design frameworks is templated approaches where the designers design to the framework in dogmatic ways. Instead, these frameworks should be used more as heuristics–guides to a more creative process that leads to technology use that balances the individual needs of the students, the strengths and weaknesses of the instructor, and the continued efforts to define experiences that reflect the changing nature of the skillsets and knowledge bases important to educational and professional pathways, as well as civic engagement and personal growth.


Q: What advice do you have for teachers/students who are trying to balance technology and non-technical activities/lessons?

A: I think this is such an important question. In fact, I’m working on a paper right now that explores how for different creative thinking skills, offline activity may sometimes foster growth, while for others, there are a variety of technology tools that can do the same, and still others, where a balance between the two is best. Based on this work, my first advice would be to ensure that teachers are finding the appropriate balance of technology and offline activity in their own lives. Doing so helps one appreciate the value that offline activity affords people, even in (or especially in) a world where pervasive digital devices and access is the norm. A variety of insights may result from doing so. For instance, it may help us remember that offline activity can just slow things down. While may seem like a rudimentary insight, the addictive nature of technology may help us forget the advantages of unplugging. Once we remember this in our own lives, we can explore how for any education activity where slow, concerted, deep efforts are required, offline teaching and learning may be warranted. On the other hand, educational activities that benefit from rapid cognitive shifting within what-if scenarios may be better supported by technology. Finally, as we have discovered during the pandemic, finding a balance between technology-mediated and offline experiences may promote better mental health, and modeling this to K-12 students in particular may set them up to make better decisions about the level to which they allow technology to be pervasive throughout their lives.


Q: Times are quite different right now, what is the best advice you can offer to teachers who are using technologies as a primary method of instruction?

A: The pandemic has created great strains in K-12 and higher education systems worldwide. My first advice would be to take care of yourself as you manage these strains. Nobody expects you to be perfect. That said, I would also encourage people, if they have the emotional and cognitive bandwidth available, to think about the innovations they might try given the current learning ecosystem. I am always a proponent of taking well-informed chances. As a teacher, the pandemic is a great time to take some of those chances in efforts to meet the unique needs of students, be they cognitive, emotional, social, or otherwise. Then, once the pandemic has passed, we can look at how these innovations might guide our practice moving forward.


Q: What is the biggest takeaway you hope all your graduate students learn?

A: I hope that students leave the program knowing that there is no one “right way” to teach, with or without technology. The best teachers find their own path and their own style. From my classes, I hope that they appreciate the key role that creative thinking will play for teaching, learning, training, and society at large in the future, given that it may prove to be what humans have left to offer in the workplace in a world where lower-order cognitive skills that are still valued today, will likely be replaced by algorithms, robots, artificial intelligence, and automation. As a teacher, this has implications not only for how you teach (e.g., do you teach in a way that will be easily replaced by an advanced AI algorithm in 10 years?), but what you teach. I also hope that more teachers begin to recognize how “softer” skills like passion, curiosity, persistence, social facility, and emotional IQ are often just as important, if not more so than the content itself. Based on the ramifications of these ideas, my final hope for all of my students and the students that move through our programs is that they start to look forward in their careers, and think about what their own value-add will be when compared to others in their field and/or the changes advanced technologies will bring to society and the workforce in the coming decades.

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