Saturday, October 7, 2017

Exploration: Radical Design - INTE 5100

It seems that a lot of our instructional design projects involve bringing some sort of technological improvement to an organization or community. This was certainly true in our case. Hey, here’s a great idea, efficient cookstoves, we've designed them and now we'd like you, the Low-Tech Gurus, to design a program that will help us spread this technology to rural villages in Uganda.

The problem with this approach is that it often does not work. There’s a famous case study about this.* It’s possible to successfully train someone to bring the technology to a remote community (or to a charitable organization), but there is no guarantee that the transfer, or diffusion, of technology will actually happen.

My partner and I conceived of a different approach – let’s train volunteers from a village to bring the technology back to the village. This required us to invent a back story about two learners chosen by their community to bring the technology back to the community. Our task would be to help these volunteers learn how to teach something new to their own village. We invented this scenario to solve the problem of design, or scope creep.

This is an imaginative solution, but not particularly radical.

Our design model is basically a Backward Design model. We imagined the end goal, and then designed back from there. We arrived at our instructional objectives and placed them in our journey map. The beauty of instructional objectives done well is that they are very clear, almost strict. There’s no fuzzy language, the language is meant to be concrete and formulaic.

Being face to face with these objectives, then, is a little terrifying. Is that really what we want? Will this really meet our goal? Is it even possible to achieve? Oh no, what have we done? We thought about our objectives, and freaked out over these questions, and more. Have we done something wrong? Should we rewrite them to give us a little more wiggle room? Do we need to start all over? Rather than panic, we decided that all these doubts were a good sign. Scary meant that we were on to something. Worry meant we might be looking “radical” in the face.

For instance, our learners are a woman and a man from a village. Miremba is the wife of a village leader, and has been a school teacher. Sam is the most highly respected village ceramicist. We were deciding that they would both meet the same objectives. Miremba would actually build a cookstove, though we were sure she had never built anything ceramic before. Sam would actually cook on a cookstove, though he probably had never cooked a meal for a family before. Miremba and Sam would have to work together though their level of formal schooling was quite different. Both Miremba and Sam were held in high regard in the village, but their social status levels were different. As, of course, were their genders. We even dared to imagine that they might work together, in tandem, bringing this new technology to their community as a team.

So are we crazy, or just bold? Will our design be radically innovative or just a failure? Stay tuned . . .

* Rogers, E. M. (1983). Diffusion of innovations (3rd ed.). New York, NY: The Free Press.

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