Students and Critical Instructional Design

Being someone interested in exploring the potential of technology and digital tools to create positive change in the world, I found the intern position at the Office of Digital Learning as a great starting point. As I learned more about the ODL and our approach to digital learning, I started to become more aware and concerned with concepts related to critical instructional design and digital pedagogy, particularly from a student perspective.

In my opinion, a very valuable and distinct characteristic of liberal arts education, second to the multidisciplinary perspective that it pursues, is the emphasis on critical thinking as a way to approach subjects and issues. It is very exciting to see students passionately engaging with one another, intellectually pushing their own boundaries and comfort zones to question and deconstruct case studies, theories and models. A downside to this, however, is that we’ve become so good at thinking critically about the content, that we don’t think critically about the form and the processes of our “learning experiences”.

Maybe a way to start understanding what I’m talking about is the reason why we say things like: “the education that I receive” as opposed to “the education in which I participate”.

The responsibility or power to change this,  however, is not in students’ hands. Even if we were to think critically about the form and the processes of our education, how much agency and space do we, as students, really have to speak about the practices that shape our learning experiences? For example, how and under which circumstances might we tell a professor that his/her biweekly, one-hour-long PowerPoint presentations create a monotonous learning experience? In which circumstances might we as students suggest to a professor that perhaps a YouTube video, a Lynda tutorial or some Google visits to online forums/conferences can be more effective as a learning experience? As opposed to passively receiving slides of text one after the other, with 15 minutes at the end of class for questions [Banking model anyone?]

If we understand instructional design as “intentionally designing spaces and opportunities for learning that take into account who our students are and who they want to become,”  then wouldn’t it make sense to actively engage and incorporate students — and most importantly their contemporary practices and ways of thinking — in the decisions regarding their own learning experiences?

As Sean Michael Morris mentions in his post“The seat of critical digital pedagogy is one of inquiry and observation. It is mindful of all the variety of dimensions the digital has in our and our students’ lives.”

I believe that the importance of a critical approach to instructional design lies in the fact that it takes into account the student experience, and leverages the tools and ways of thinking that students are already familiar with, thus achieving better learning environments and outcomes.

 “Teachers and leaders steeped in critical pedagogy . . . understand the social, economic, psychological, and political dimensions of the schools, districts, and systems in which they operate. They also possess a wide range of knowledge about the information systems in the larger culture that serve as pedagogical forces in the lives of students and other members of society: television, radio, popular music, movies, the Internet, podcasts, and youth subcultures. “                              –Joe L. Kincheloe’s description of The Freire Project, also cited in Sean Michael Morris’ post.

Moving forward, I want to invite students to think of what is and what should be the role of students in our own education.  How can we bridge the cultural, generational and social gaps between professors, students and instructional designers at the institutional level to create a participatory, healthy and productive environment that promotes the acquisition of knowledge? Is that environment a physical one? A digital space? Both?

Jose Alfredo Torres

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