Saturday, November 18, 2017

Instructional Design Consulting: Teaching the How and Not Just What

[This blog is going to be my backup blog from today onwards, and contains the blogpost from my Wordpress site.]

Scene: Dental Clinic
Not one to enjoy dental trips, my anxiety grew as I waited to be worked on. The dental assistant had me x-rayed (again, to ensure the insurance company would pay for it) and inserted a tent-like contraption into my mouth. The dentist arrived, injected the gums near my ailing tooth with novocaine, and proceeded to drill and probe while her assistant poked different pieces of equipment into my mouth. Gosh, how could one’s mouth hold up to so much prodding and stretching? Overwhelmed, I raised my left hand to signal to them I had trouble swallowing and breathing at times with all the prodding in my mouth.

That’s when the dentist stopped and raised her voice:

“I do this everyday!”

I looked at her and tried to mumble:

“But I don’t do this everyday!”
Obviously, there was a lack of empathy, perhaps on both sides. But as the patient, I felt that I was not being heard and was thus traumatized. Meanwhile, she was trying to force me to do as she says except I was overwhelmed and unable to live up to her expectations. If she had explained her every step and what she was about to do, I would find the whole process more meaningful.

After this incident, I thought about our exchange and how it would transfer over to my professional context.

When it comes to instructional design consulting for online course development, I would never ever tell an instructor that “I do this everyday!” In my ID language, it would translate to something like this:

“I’m the expert, you need to listen to me and do as I say!”

That would get me fired!

In many fields and disciplines, we spend a large chunk of time covering content on the what, but little or no time on the how and the application of the what. When it comes to job-hunting and crucial conversations (Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, Switzler, 2012), many new and novice instructional designers don’t know how to clinch interviews because they have not learned essential skills on how — how to relate with clients, how to share and apply their expertise without putting down their clients or supervisors, how to “show their work” without coming across as bragging.

In short, we don’t have the skills to hold a dialogue. Of course, it takes time to develop these skills of communication and negotiation, maybe a whole professional lifetime to refine them. But they need to be explicitly taught and new ID students need to made aware of the need to develop these skills. Over the years, I’ve talked to quite a few new ID graduates and find that they are lacking in consulting and negotiation skills. Our ID programs should not say that these are left to the students themselves to develop. Many ID graduates don’t have the opportunity to apply these consulting skills before they are hurled into the real world of ID jobhunting. At this late stage, they may have to wait quite long to find a job if they have limited experience in consulting and communicating with clients.

Here are some final words from Patterson et al (2012):
Every time we find ourselves arguing, debating, running away, or otherwise acting in an ineffective way, it’s because we don’t know how to share meaning. Instead of engaging in healthy dialogue, we play silly and costly games.
So true.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Love, Love, Love

Happy Love Day 2016!

There are many beautiful love songs, but this one brings back memories, of the original Grease, and of the Broadway musical, Jersey Boys!

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Back to This Old House

I decided to try using this blog again for writing stuff that is not "so serious." Over at I prefer to keep my posts  focused on professional writing about instructional design, learning sciences, and access issues.

I'm going to keep this for more miscellaneous non-categorizable stuff? 

Anyway, I will experiment. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

New Directions

Yin doesn't live here anymore! [Nod to Martin Scorsese's movie]

Seriously, I decided to start using my domain name which I've purchased for years and years and not use. So head over to if you wish to read about my latest happenings. 

Friday, July 17, 2015

Why I Teach a CL Course, or, Any Course

 To reflect is to think, ponder, or meditate. Some people write blog reflections in double-quick time. I can't. Thinking takes time; and in my world, blog reflections consume time, which I don't have a lot of now, particularly when an online connected learning course is going on. My students' blog posts take priority. Reading everyone of them and writing quality comments take precedence over sleep, my own blogging, or any projects right now. My students are my priority. 

If I think about it, my obsession seems ludicrous. And I'm not blogging about it to make myself seem virtuous. Virginia State (my employer) does not pay me extra -- besides being an instructional designer -- to teach a 3-credit undergraduate course. I am still on the mend from the complications of last Summer. I should be sleeping more. Why then do I/we (my other Connected Learning/CL colleagues this summer) stay up late reading blog post after blog post? 

Because our students matter. They are our future.

I taught for 12 years in K12-13 schools and 3 more in the post-secondary polytechnic in Singapore. When I arrived in the USA, I thought I'd never teach again, and that I'd try something new. I couldn't. I moved from a cushy corporate job back into graduate school and slogged through a doctoral program to find myself back in education.

At the heart of me is the teacher wanting to make the most impact in my limited life for students/learners -- whether it be in instructional design or teaching.

Yes, designing and teaching a connected learning course for the first time without any TA, or co-instructor, is exhausting. It is an arduous task, trying to cajole my students to make paradigm shifts and unlearn from systemic institutional ways they have cultivated to "learn" and be "educated." I experienced first-hand for myself what it was like to dive into the sea of CL when I returned from leave in October 2014. I nearly drowned.

It took me many months to learn how to tweet and build up a learning network. In a compressed course of 7.5 weeks, I will not let my students drown in the CL sea. Initially, my course was less structured and explicitly written. But as the course unfolded, I saw and learned how much my students had to unlearn and relearn, and all these due to no fault of theirs. We may want our students to learn CL but they have never been given much or any opportunity to question, problem-find, to connect, to have freedom, and to have a voice. Do we remember or know what it is like to find our voice in the angsty years of adolescence? How long did it take you to find your voice? Are you still looking?

So I had to spend time preparing my students for CL and helping them to make the shift. This included designing more structure, more explicitness and more direct teaching of new concepts. Other factors complicated the learning. Everyone of them was working full-time (at least 40 hours). They could only connect after work or during a break. Some have partners or children to take care of. One is taking multiple courses at the same time. They were not as connected as I/we wish they were. One had no internet access at home and eventually dropped out. The small enrollment size of my course means the critical mass required to make CL work its magic was missing. Connecting them to #CLMOOC through #F5F turned flat due to many reasons, some still to be analyzed.

All these (and more to blog about) didn't detract from my desire to make this course as meaningful as it could be. Although my students couldn't be as connected as I desired, they were still learning, they were still trying. I still want them to be successful. My role as a teacher, leader, facilitator and coach is to help them overcome the odds life has stacked against them to achieve great things. I know what it means for my parents to put me through school. I was the first one to go to college in my family and a first-generation scholar. I want my students to go as far as they can, in formal or informal learning.

And I will gladly sleep less for 1.5 weeks more so that we can make the most of this time to learn together.

I'm not some fabulous award-winning teacher, but I know that what I value influences how I teach. As Parker Palmer wrote:

“Good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher... Then teaching can come from the depths of my own truth -- and the truth that is within my students has a chance to respond in kind."  

Not everyone is called to be a teacher. For those who are, thank you for the courage to teach and for the courage to stand up for our students.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Digital Abstract

I've been creating representational art with pastels since I started learning to express myself with the medium, for a rather functional purpose -- to de-stress while writing my dissertation. I love pastel painting but I feel it sometimes cramps my style; I want to be more loose, imaginative, expressive and create from within me.

So at times, I play with PicMonkey to turn my imagination into reality.

I took this photo with my Samsung mobile phone:

Kreher, YW, Belle Isle, 12/25/14

I like the look created by the interweaving of the branches, but the image still looked pretty bland to me. I fiddled with the colors. It looked somewhat better but did not exactly capture what my creative muse wanted me to unleash. How do I describe this force? The urge to express is powerful. If I don't find an outlet for it, I feel all bottled up and oppressed like a coil of spring.

Without a digital tablet to brush or swirl colors around the way I do with ink, I played around with layers to change the winter mood to something free-er and more expressive of how I felt at that moment, intuitively, spontaneously.

Here's what it looks like then, when I turn something authentic into abstract art. Just let your imagination lead you, from within. 

P.S. There's no formula for it.  Just play

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Modalities, Me, Kevin, Anna and More

Our conversation is enlarging in scale and ideas.

First, I asked Kevin an innocent question about which modality was his favorite one for expression of thoughts. He responded with a blog post, embedding within his post my initial question. Some time before this dialogue with Kevin, I got to know Anna Smith, scholar-educator, who writes about literacies and writing, and more! I myself had been creating my Seeing Your Thoughts course from the ground up, looking for resources to make it a worthwhile learning experience. I sought out Nick Sousanis' Unflattening book which extended the learning themes I wanted to expose my students to -- he who I had come across while studying in Syracuse University which hosted Imagining America, of which he was a PAGE fellow. Anna alerted my tweet about his book to Nick via Twitter. Then, Nick and I had an email exchange after a brief tweet conversation. He generously shared his web resources with me, for consideration in my course. Then, I responded to Kevin's blog post and he replied with a mention of Anna and their work in NWP. In short, my conversation with Kevin isn't just a conversation with Kevin anymore. In his words,

We’re zigzagging here in an interesting way … You are invited to join the conversation, or just peep in … We’re having a public conversation in a very connected way.

This is all very fascinating, and getting somewhat complicated, but I'm enjoying the learning that these connections are bringing. Our conversation has crossed platforms, from Twitter to blogs, been extended to emails, and drawing in more voices ...

 As we discussed modalities and making our thinking visible, I feel we are living out our discussions. Here's to extending more of some of those thoughts.

Kevin, I use different modes and media to articulate my thoughts. My work requires that I use digital tools and social media regularly. So much so that I turn to non-digital forms of expression to satisfy my urge to craft something that doesn't come too "easily" for me. I don't mean to sound like a brag or nag. I'm no Michelangelo. The craftsmanship and artistry that earlier artists used to hone through years of practice -- to produce an oil painting, for example -- is simply different from say, the way we take an image and edit it into an oil painting via Photoshop. Sure, that takes skill too, but electronic art and non-digital art appeal to me in different ways. Let me get back to my point: I switch from medium to medium, platform to platform. And non-digital modes are appealing to me more and more, maybe because I just want to disconnect. I feel that I have more control over a brush, a pen or a pastel chalk.

I take photos with my cellphone mostly, nothing fancy there. Photography to me, like pastel drawing or ink drawing, is about the eye, and how I use it to send thoughts to my brain -- I make quick decisions about how to frame a moment in time. I sense intuitively that there is something that I need to capture to retain that moment in time. It's hard to explain. It's like painting and how I mix colors to achieve the right values and tones. Like styling myself -- yes, my body is my canvas. I put apparel on to achieve a certain style or look. I think we need to trust our intuition a bit more, at least I do.

You talk about hearing voices, I don't even know how to describe mine. It's a hunch, a mood, an emotion that triggers my urge to be creative.

So I switch from working with PicMonkey to create digital notes, to painting with pastels or drawing with ink, or taking a few photos sometimes. I like writing a lot though; I love words and languages; I cannot tolerate poor writing by so-called best-selling authors, but writing seems rather incomplete by itself. My life is so saturated with texts these days, I wonder if I'm not turning to non-text just to disconnect. Maybe mixed modalities is my preferred mode. My thoughts are dissonant as my understanding evolves.

The term "transmedia" storytelling is used these days to describe what we are discussing here. More and more, this is what we are doing. Surely, that is how our ideas are getting clearer and more richly expressed through such transmediated literacies.

What do you think, Kevin? Anna? Others?