The Skinnerian teaching machine (1953-1968)

I wrote this design case based partially on my thesis research from 2002-2003, and original research conducted earlier this year. One of the reasons I wrote it was because I’m getting more interested in the design knowledge that can be communicated through means like design cases. And I used this chapter as a chance to explore this further: how far can we go in generating real and unique forms of knowledge in a design case, that make a meaningful contribution towards designers’ practical judgments? In particular, what does it really look like when theory has been intentionally and rationally applied to a design? I couldn’t think of a better example to illustrate this than the work of B. F. Skinner. Even though I don’t endorse teaching machines as an educational technology, it’s hard to deny that Skinner was one of the better examples the field has produced about how to operationalize theory. And while the purpose of a design case isn’t to pass judgment on the design (so I didn’t discuss this in the chapter directly), I think one of the lessons we learn from Skinner is that using theory as an explicit guide to practice creates some real difficulties. Designs may be theoretically pure, but functionally inelegant or even counter-productive. That’s one of major lessons of the teaching machine movement, at least for me.

As I said in my chapter introduction:

This design case describes B. F. Skinner’s teaching machine, an educational tech- nology developed in the mid-twentieth century, commonly viewed as a precur- sor to later innovations such as computer-based instruction (Niemiec & Walberg, 1989) and eLearning (McDonald et al., 2005).The value of this case is not only as historical precedent, however. Although it does provide insight into the design of later approaches, Skinner’s device was only one antecedent of modern educa- tional technologies, and, in fact, was not even the first mechanical apparatus that could be referred to as a teaching machine (Benjamin Jr., 1988). An additional benefit of the case, then, is found by examining how Skinner made design deci- sions to intentionally apply his behavioral theory of operant conditioning in the development of his machine. Even today, despite how Skinner and his behaviorist approaches have fallen out of favor, his work is still an important illustration of how a psychological theory has been operationalized for practical implementation in a specific technology.

At Academia.edu

At ResearchGate

Reference:

McDonald, J. K. (2021). The Skinnerian teaching machine (1953-1968). In Boling, E., Gray, C. M., Howard, C. D. , & Baaki, J.(Eds.), Historical instructional design cases: ID knowledge in context and practice (pp. 85-103). Routledge.

Design considerations for bridging the gap between instructional design pedagogy and practice

This is an article with colleagues Jill Stefaniak from the University of Georgia and Rebecca Reese from the Colorado School of Mines. Our purpose was to capture some of the practical wisdom that we’ve developed about teaching instructional design in different contexts. There’s more than there’s a difference between schooling and practice. There’s also a difference between schooling and particular types of practice. That diversity is what we were drawing attention to in this article, along with some suggestions for coping in various kinds of situations.

Abstract:

Research indicates there is a gap between employers’ expectations of instructional designers’ roles and responsibilities, and what designers actually do. The purpose of this paper is to explore the unique nuances inherent in instructional design practices from a variety of work settings. Our paper is grounded in a practitioner’s perspective utilizing long-standing careers in the instructional design sectors and informal discussions with many practitioners. The goal of the paper is to highlight constraints and contextual considerations that instructional designers must address while working on projects. We also discuss how instructional design educators can support instructional design students to better prepare them for real-world instructional design contexts.

At Academia.edu

At ResearchGate

At BYU Scholar’s Archive

At the journal website

Reference:

Stefaniak, J., Reese, R. M., & McDonald, J. K. (2020). Design considerations for bridging the gap between instructional design pedagogy and practice. The Journal of Applied Instructional Design, 9(3). https://edtechbooks.org/jaid_9_3/instructional_design_pedagogy

Instructional Design for Learner Creativity

Another chapter for the 5th edition of the Handbook of Research in Educational Communications and Technology. This is a broad survey chapter about the importance of designing learning environments in a way to nurture the habits and dispositions of creativity in learners. One of the big challenges in writing this chapter was the scope of the topic. Not only does creativity have a deep body of literature in a number of different fields, but it’s thought of very differently, and approached from a very different set of assumptions, across cultures. We chose to address it mostly from the perspective we’re natively familiar with, while also recognizing that there were a number of other ways we could have taken our writing.

To give a sense of how we treated the topic here’s a paragraph from our introduction:

Our discussion is structured as follows: first, we briefly review the literature of creativity, both to describe some attributes that are important to nurture when foster- ing learner creativity, as well as to identify common conditions for promoting cre- ativity in learners. Next, we examine some examples learning environments that foster learner creativity, particularly as related to helping people develop an inte- grated creative identity and not just the acquisition of intellectual or skill-based components of creative action. Third, we discuss implications from the research and examples and offer recommendations for the practice of instructional design and technology, to help designers better address learner creativity through the instruc- tional environments they create.

At Academia.edu

At ResearchGate

At BYU Scholar’s Archive

Reference:

McDonald, J. K., West, R. E., Rich, P. J., & Hokanson, B. (2020). Instructional design for learner creativity. In Bishop, M. J., Boling, E., Elen, J., & Svihla, V. (Eds.), Handbook for research in educational communications and technology(5th ed., pp. 375-399). Springer Nature Switzerland AG. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-36119-8_17

A Design Case of an Enterprise-Wide Learning Management System

This is a design case chapter for the 5th edition of the Handbook of Research in Educational Communications and Technology. The challenge in this chapter was to describe the case honestly, while still being diplomatic and generous to all those involved (needed because the project was not an easy project!). Here’s how we introduced it:

In this case we describe the in-house design and development of an enterprise learn- ing management system (LMS) at Brigham Young University (BYU). The purpose of the project was to replace a commercially available LMS that was becoming too costly as well as unresponsive to the interests of faculty and other stakeholders. In the case we discuss why administrators made the decision to develop a complex piece of software using university resources instead of relying on other commer- cially available products. We also describe their goals for the project and how we attempted to meet those goals by designing the new system on a foundation of exist- ing components and by focusing on the most frequently used functions from the previous LMS. A central feature of our discussion is how we and other participants made decisions in a high-stakes environment of multiple stakeholders and a com- pressed timeline, which had an impact on the emerging design of the product. We also examine some of the challenges that arose among members of the design and development teams during the course of the project as pressure on the team became more intense.

At Academia.edu

At ResearchGate

Reference:

Johnson, M. C., Seawright, L. L., & McDonald, J. K. (2020). A design case of an enterprise-wide learning management system. In Bishop, M. J., Boling, E., Elen, J., & Svihla, V. (Eds.), Handbook for research in educational communications and technology (5th ed., pp. 675-688). Springer Nature Switzerland AG. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-36119-8_31

Relationships, feedback, and student growth in the design studio: A case study

This is another chapter led by a Master’s student. It also comes out of the same study that led to our paper The Design Critique and the Moral Goods of Studio Pedagogy. In this chapter we focused on the relationships that developed between one student and the faculty she worked with, tracing the changes in the students’ abilities and confidence as she worked closely with her faculty mentors.

Abstract:

In this study, the critique is studied from the perspective of how, as an instructor- student interaction, it can influence the learning experience beyond only the acquisi- tion of course content knowledge. While this, in and of itself, is not a new insight, we assert that viewing the critique in this way can help clarify how the phenomenon can be shaped by instructors to help benefit their students’ development and growth. Studio critiques create opportunities for teachers to interact with students in an intensely focused manner. As we have researched this process in a university-level studio course, we have seen that an implication of this type of engagement is the opportunity critiques can provide instructors to build positive relationships with their students. Instead of provoking fear or dread in students (as is sometimes con- cluded), critiques may, in fact, provide a unique opportunity for instructors to sup- port students in developing dispositions that will be necessary as a foundation for their professional identities. In this chapter, we explore one particular example of this possibility by examining the experience of a student enrolled in an interdisci- plinary, entrepreneurship, studio course. We focus our inquiry into her experience by asking the questions: How did one female undergraduate describe her experi- ence being critiqued in a studio-style, interdisciplinary, entrepreneurship course? And what does her experience suggest about using critique as a method to influence student development of attributes other than learning the content knowledge of a discipline?

At Academia.edu

At ResearchGate

At BYU Scholar’s Archive

Reference:

Michela, E., & McDonald, J. K. (2020). Relationships, feedback, and student growth in the design studio: A case study. In Hokanson, B., Clinton, G., Tawfik, A. A., Grincewicz, A., & Schmidt, M. (Eds.), Educational technology beyond content: A new focus for learning (pp. 183-192). Springer Nature Switzerland AG. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-37254-5_16

The playable case study: An online simulation for skill and attitudinal learning

This is a chapter led by a Master’s student of mine, and contributed to by a number of members of an interdisciplinary team I work with at BYU. The student leading the chapter was interested in helping underrepresented populations (especially women) have more opportunities in STEM education, and this chapter looks at how the one of the simulations we designed can improve students’ attitudes towards topics and skills that are often seen as being too difficult.

Abstract:

In this chapter we examine how knowledge- and skill-based learning might be integrated with broader views of learning that also account for changes in percep- tions of the discipline and attitudes toward professional practice. We do so by reporting our work on a mixed-reality educational simulation that we call a Playable Case Study (PCS). First, we describe the elements that define a PCS. Next, we describe a specific PCS designed to introduce students to the field of cyberse- curity and report survey data from a recent pilot study that illustrates the types of attitudinal- and skill-based learning this type of simulation might encourage. Finally, we describe insights we gained from our findings about how the PCS simulation could further facilitate students’ learning more than only the knowledge or factual components of a discipline.

At Academia.edu

At ResearchGate

At BYU Scholar’s Archive

Reference:

Winters, D. M., McDonald, J. K., Hansen, D. L., Johnson, T. W. Balzotti, J., Bonsignore, E., & Giboney, J. S. (2020). The playable case study: An online simulation for skill and attitudinal learning. In Hokanson, B., Clinton, G., Tawfik, A. A., Grincewicz, A., & Schmidt, M. (Eds.), Educational technology beyond content: A new focus for learning (pp. 127-140). Springer Nature Switzerland AG. http://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-37254-5_11

Towards a view of originary theory in instructional design

This is a theory paper written with my colleague Stephen Yanchar. It came out of conversations we had about how it seems that the modern field of instructional design always seems to be looking for some shiny new thing to guarantee its success. We most often notice this when it comes to technologies; when a new technology is introduced there’s a flurry of activity around how it can be used for learning. But harder to see is how we do the same thing with theory. We get excited about new theoretical developments in other fields but often don’t take the time to understand those developments properly before trying to use them to solve problems. We also don’t see that issues in the field might be unique enough that our theoretical views might be required to address them adequately. So in this paper we wanted to both draw the attention of researchers and professionals in the field towards the need to consider imported theory more critically, as well as build confidence in ourselves that we, as a field, can create legitimate theory that is powerful enough to solve the problems we face.

Abstract:

In this paper we offer a call for the development and utilization of originary theory in instructional design. Originary theory, which is generated by scholars within the field of its intended application, can be contrasted with imported theory, which is formulated in one field and later moved or “imported” into another for new purposes. In making our argument we first review the use of theories imported into instructional design and address limitations that might arise if these theories are overly relied upon, such as if they are treated as the primary source of insight for supporting the work of practitioners. Next, we define originary theory and argue that it should be emphasized within the field of instructional design because of the central role it can play in facilitating the field’s work of designing and developing excellent learning experiences. We further explore how originary theories can support instructional design practice by considering two examples of recent theoretical work that speak to the values, and challenge the assumptions, of instructional designers, disclosing aspects of the field that can help them better accomplish their work. First, we consider originary theory that conceptualizes instructional design as a design discipline; and second, we review originary theorizing that provides alternatives to common views about learners and learning. We conclude by considering what it might mean for the field to more intentionally develop and apply originary instructional design theory.

At Academia.edu

At ResearchGate

At BYU Scholar’s Archive

Reference:

McDonald, J.K., & Yanchar, S. C. (2020). Towards a view of originary theory in instructional design. Educational Technology Research and Development, 68(2), 633-651. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11423-019-09734-8

Designing for Informal Learning: The Case of a Mobile E-Reader

This article is a design case. Design cases are different than standard research papers. Rather than reporting the results of a study, the case describes a design in enough detail to give readers an experience of what the design process and/or product was like. This particular case draws on some experiences from my professional background, before joining the university. I tried to provide an honest view of the ad hoc and unpredictable nature of design throughout the case. I hope I succeeded.

Abstract:

This case describes the redesign of a mobile eReader application. The purpose of the redesign was to convert an existing eReader from a means of only reading books into a tool for informal learning. The case reports how the design team’s definition of informal learning evolved throughout the product development process, and how design decisions were influenced by this changing definition. Over the period of time covered in the case, the eReader evolved from a tool used for reading eBooks, into one meant for personal study, and then into a product that supported serendipitous discovery of inspiring material (built under a philosophy that informal learning meant that people were able to discover interesting and uplifting material without exerting effort to find it). The end point of the eReader’s evolution was as a subscription service for the company’s eBooks and digital audiobooks, to allow customers to continually use them for educational purposes. This case is structured around the four iterations of the eReader design process. Each iteration reports how design decisions were made and what kind of results were achieved.

At Academia.edu

At ResearchGate

At BYU Scholar’s Archive

Reference:

McDonald, J. K. (2019). Designing for informal learning: The case of a mobile eReader. International Journal of Designs for Learning, 10(1), 91-102. https://doi.org/10.14434/ijdl.v10i1.23546

Direct link:

https://scholarworks.iu.edu/journals/index.php/ijdl/article/view/23546/32661

“It’s So Wonderful Having Different Majors Working Together”: the Development of an Interdisciplinary Design Thinking Minor

This is a practitioner-oriented article that describes lessons learned from the process of creating the BYU Design Thinking minor. In it we discuss the growing interest in interdisciplinary teaching at the university-level, and how we developed our minor though the collaboration of four departments in four different colleges. We conclude by providing three suggestions for others interested in developing programs similar to ours. This article is an example of how I have connected my scholarship with my professional faculty responsibilities, specifically my responsibility to plan program innovations.

Abstract:

Traditionally, university students’ education is siloed into disconnected courses and programs. Increasingly, however, there is a trend toward providing interdisciplinary learning experiences to help students develop meaningful skills for becoming more successful in their chosen careers. In this paper, we describe an instructional design project in which we engaged to develop an interdisciplinary minor in design thinking at a university in the western United States. This effort involved uniting faculty from the colleges of education, business, fine arts and communications, and engineering and technology. After reviewing our needs analysis process, we describe the structure of the minor itself, and how it was designed to respond to our analysis. We also discuss the following lessons learned throughout our project: (1) common vision is the beginning, not the end, of interdisciplinary design thinking; (2) personal relationships are crucially important in interdisciplinary design thinking; and (3) iterative prototyping improves interdisciplinary design thinking. Using principles such as those discussed in this paper, we believe the field of instructional design can help lead the way in the development of additional interdisciplinary learning experiences in higher education.

At ResearchGate

At Academia.edu

At BYU Scholar’s Archive

Reference:

McDonald, J. K., West, R. E., Rich, P. J., & Pfleger, I. (2019). “It’s so wonderful having different majors working together”: The development of an interdisciplinary design thinking minor. TechTrends,63(4), 440-450. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11528-018-0325-2

The Design Critique and the Moral Goods of Studio Pedagogy

Part of my work in studio curriculum has been to try and understand better what it means to be a studio instructor. This is a very personal question to me. Since I am a studio instructor myself I’m curious about whether my experiences are normal, whether my struggles are typical, and whether there is anything I can learn from other teachers about how to cope with the challenges of a very difficult, but very rewarding, way of teaching. This paper is one of the ways I’ve gone about building my understanding. It’s a phenomenological look into what my co-author (a student research assistant) and I call a world of significance for studio instructors (borrowing the term from Hubert Dreyfus). I’m quite proud of this paper. I hope you enjoy it.

Update: May, 16, 2020. This week Esther and I were notified that this paper was nominated as one of six finalists for the best paper of 2019 in the journal Design Studies.

Abstract:

In this paper we inquire into the moral goods that are significant for design studio instructors, by examining how they talk about the way critiques fit into the studio as a social practice. We studied this issue using in-depth interviews with six studio instructors. Through these interviews, we found that critiques are how they structure the studio so they can pursue three types of moral goods: a) for student development; b) for their own self-cultivation; and c) for other stakeholders. Along with presenting these goods, we discuss what instructors say about multiple goods exerting influence on them at the same time. Finally, we discuss implications these findings have for understanding the studio environment, and why critiques matter within this environment.

At ResearchGate

At Academia.edu

At BYU Scholar’s Archive

Reference:

McDonald, J. K., & Michela, E. (2019). The design critique and the moral goods of studio pedagogy. Design Studies62, 1–35. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.destud.2019.02.001