Archive for December, 2008
This retrospective essay covers the period from 2001-2008, during which the research group at Utah State University (USU) focused on designing, developing, and evaluating a National Science Digital Library (NSDL.org) web-based service, called the Instructional Architect (IA.usu.edu). Later in this period, the focus was on disseminating the IA service in school contexts by developing and implementing formal and informal teacher professional development opportunities. These efforts have been funded by a series of National Science Foundations grants.
This essay is presented as three sections. In the first section, we describe our efforts to build a simple software system, the Instructional Architect, deploy it with users, and integrate it with the NSDL core technical infrastructure. In the second section, we describe our efforts to better understand the target context of educators, and to develop sustainable and scalable teacher professional development models. The final section reflects on how the IA fit within the NSDL program. Each section also includes a subsection describing evaluation strategies.
This essay also reflects shifts in our thinking over this period. Early efforts reflected a kind of technological determinism (i.e., ‘if we build it, they will come’). This eventually shifted to a more socio-technical approach. An unspoken assumption of early work was that teachers and their students would access and use such technologies in unproblematic and seamless ways. Unfortunately, the history of educational technology suggests that this is seldom the case (Cuban, 2001). Instead, after spending time with ‘real’ people (teachers and their students) in ‘real’ contexts (classrooms), it became clear that we needed to better understand the complex ways in which systems cross institutional boundaries (Agre, 2003).
I begin my personal reflection about NSDL with an analogy that I don’t mean to strain too much but it seems to me that Chicago-style pizza and “NSDL-style” networks share some key characteristics. Both are faithful to core elements of two staples which play a part of modern life in many areas of the world. However, like Chicago’s adaptation of pizza, NSDL-Style networking gains recognition in its own right because of its new and unique contributions to a standard fare in 21st century society (i.e., bringing together different “ingredients” to assemble a new style of networks). While multi-institutional, multidisciplinary networks are recognized as necessary components as we move into cyber-enabled STEM research and learning, NSDL introduced me to a new “flavor” (ok, I promise — I’ll cease…).
My views about “NSDL-style networks” are based upon my experiences and observations from participation in the Evaluation Committee and as a Pathway. In both arenas I’ve had the opportunity to meet and work with people from a very wide range of expertise that I likely wouldn’t have met, had it not been for my involvement in the NSDL.