Saturday, May 14, 2011

Using Research in Design

I was having a conversation recently about designing effective eLearning, and I made a statement that my design is research-based. When pressed for details, I mentioned the name of my ID guru: Dr. Ruth Colvin Clark. Dr. Clark was instrumental in the development of the instructional design model I used at Element K, and her work continues to have a profound effect on me.

But of course, Dr. Clark hasn't been specifically working with D/deaf college students, so of course while I can use her work as a starting place, it doesn't answer all the questions that arise when developing instruction for a totally different culture and language, especially a language that is manual versus spoken.

So for the past three years, I have been working on an instructional design model that starts with my specific audience, D/deaf college students. Many in this group  use ASL as their primary language, and English as a second.However, some use English, and only begin to sign when the come to NTID. And others are scattered along the continuum between ASL and English.

(Side comment: learning a second language while trying to invent an instructional design model for native users of that language isn't so much like building a canoe while rowing it as it is like growing the forest, felling and milling the trees, building the canoe and rowing it! Everyday I learn another little piece that helps me to internalize and know more.)

As I have thought about each section of my design model, I've asked myself: "What does the research say about D/deaf adult learners and this?" I've read mountains of research of various topics, such as:

  • How do ASL signers expect/want/need content to be ordered and chunked? How is this different from the way I (as a native English speaker) expect/want/need it done? (Because, let's face it: Our default audience is always "me".)
  • What features of ASL can be incorporated in to my instructional design? What features are critical, and what don't matter? For my my non-ASL students in the crowd, this would include things such as presenting material from general to specific, mentioning time first, using a topic-comment pattern, and showing, not telling. There is a lot more to it, but that gives you the gist.
  • What kind of illustrations/graphics are most effective? 
  • What kind of text is most effective?
  • If we incorporate captions, or English, what is the best use of that?
  • At what point are what kind of practice activities most effective?
  • Are there actually such a thing as visual learners? If so, what does this mean in the development of my content?
  • What aspects of Deaf culture are import to incorporate?
  • How can non-manual sign components (such as mouth morphemes, gaze, facial expressions, and body shifts be effectively used?
What I have found is that researchers like to research tiny tiny tiny little pieces of things. And I need research on much bigger chunks. So while I continue to read and ask questions, I have also started to establish relationships with researchers so I can hopefully influence the future direction of their research. I firmly believe that it will be through those partnerships that I will finally be able to craft the most effective and engaging instruction. 

We are starting to build the first prototype -- business skills content for D/deaf professionals that desire to move into first-time manager roles. I am confident that this process, with it's millions of design decisions, will lead us to ask more and better questions. And asking the questions, well, that's the first step, isn't it?


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