I’m enrolled in a MOOC where we are encouraged to reflect upon questions such as: “What’s the biggest design challenge that you have ever faced? Did you overcome it? How? “
I have experience with design projects on two educational levels: secondary education and higher education. My experience with both levels is more or less the same: a design challenge is usually not the problem, the barriers on the teacher and the school level are much harder to overcome.
My most ambitious design challenge was undoubtedly the research I conducted in order to obtain my PhD. We developed a teacher survey to investigate the instructional use of LMS (Learning Management Systems) in secondary education. Based on these results, we designed learning paths and examined in two quasi-experimental studies whether gender, group composition (collaborative learning) and the way learning paths are designed and implemented, have an impact on learning outcomes. To complete the circle, my last study reported on teacher perceptions of learning path usage within the LMS.
In short (my complete dissertation can be downloaded here), we faced some design challenges, but those were rather easy to overcome. However, we also identified clear barriers at both the school and the teacher level, and they were out of my league. More specifically, the lack of a reliable and accessible ICT infrastructure, the unavailability to the teacher of qualitative technical and pedagogical support and the underinvestment in professional development (resulting in low levels of teacher related ICT competencies), were frequently reported as essential factors hindering ICT-usage in the classroom.
I have been involved in few design projects within my University College (my current employer). Obviously, the identified shortcomings in secondary education play a role in higher education as well. But most difficulties I encountered were either caused by platform-related problems or the lack of institutional structures that guarantee the successful functioning of those projects. Most probably all institutions of higher education currently encounter the same problems. Given the challenges our institutions are facing (divers inflow of students, cutting public funding to higher education, lifelong learning…), they need to be urgently addressed.
I believe It will be hard to create learning environments that contribute to the future of our education, if we don’t tackle our barriers first. To conclude in a positive way, there is still a lot of work to be done, we (educational researchers, designers, consultants) will certainly not get bored. 🙂