eLearning Design Lab
The e-Learning Design Lab Strategic Planning Document August of 2006
Due to ever-emerging technologies and instructional methodologies applicable in learning environments, the e-Learning Design Lab (eDL) must be continually engaged in strategic planning. Specifically, the goal of this process is to ensure that the lab is positioned to respond to research and development opportunities that result in solutions to e-learning challenges in learning environments. The intended outcome is a forward looking work scope and culture that is supportive of the interests and expertise of participating researchers while being responsive to outside opportunities.
Strategic Planning Context/Process
The history of the eDL:The e-Learning Design Lab has emerged from a history of collaborative relationships between faculty from the School of Education and the School of Engineering who share a common interest in the application of technology to instruction. As these relationships have evolved, a number of projects have been pursued. Some have been externally funded while others were carried out through the collective efforts of the participants without the benefit of special funding.
In 2000, the Center for Research on Learning (CRL) and the Information Technology and Telecommunication Center (ITTC) partnered to create the e-Learning Design Lab. During its history, the eDL, which is administered by co-directors from the Schools of Education and Engineering, has largely focused on research and development addressing related to e-learning at the postsecondary level, including professional development. Recently, the organization has expanded its target audience to include children and youth, with a special focus on enhancing the education of students with disabilities. To date, such efforts have resulted in the development of content- rich online instructional products and the creation of validated tools and processes applicable to e-learning.
Status of the eDL:The eDL has achieved national visibility stemming from the products that have been disseminated along with published research, professional presentations, the contributions of affiliated students, as well as conferences and seminars sponsored by the eDL during its early history. Since its inception, the eDL has received 17 grants and contracts totaling over $6.5 million and has produced fifty _____products that have been disseminated nationally. Over 400 student appointments have been supported through graduate research assistantships (GRA) and student hourly positions. Currently, the eDL is engaged in projects awarded by the Fund for the Improvement of Post Secondary Education (FIPSE), the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) , through a leadership grant, an on-going contract with a department of education of a state in the southern United States, and a collaborative project internally funded by the Center for Educational Testing and Evaluation. Two additional proposals were recently funded by the KTEC FY2007 Technology Development Fund also the National Science Foundation (NSF). Other agencies with pending proposals include the Institute for Education Sciences (IES), and a supplemental proposal to FIPSE.
Rationale for strategic planning:Historically, lab management has been vested in co-directors and a management team comprised of participating faculty and two staff members. A strategic plan was developed during the first year with subsequent planning largely driven by funding opportunities and the interests of participating faculty. During the history of the lab a total of five individuals have served as co-directors. One person has served as co-director since the inception of the lab. The pending retirement of this individual and the desire to phase out of his administrative responsibilities, combined with changing conditions in R&D related to e-learning, and evolving interests of participating researchers, has provided the rationale for strategic planning at this time.
The legacy of the eDL has positioned the lab for this planning process. Thus, each member of the management team has served for more than six years and both staff members on the team have been with the lab since it was created. In addition, the GRAs in leadership roles are experienced in the processes employed by the lab.
Further, the School of Education is in the process of strategic planning for the graduate program in instructional technology. Thus, the landscape for future research and development priorities in the broad area of e-learning has changed dramatically since the inception of the lab. Most importantly, the timing for new leadership is appropriate. The lab had matured to a level where it is well positioned to extend the scope of its work, reexamine the target audience, and increase the number of participating researchers in fulfilling the evolving mission of the eDL.
The planning process:The planning process used a series of stimulus questions designed to cause members of the management team to reflect on the operations and history of the lab. with particular attention to their roles and contributions to the lab in the larger context of the future. The questions were grouped in themes of the work by individual participants, the strengths and weaknesses of the lab, measuring the impact of the lab, and the personal perspectives of participating researchers on the lab. Responses were summarized and served as the framework for the early discussions.
The planning sessions replaced the weekly management meetings, and every effort was made to meet when all members of the management team could participate. During the latter stages of the process, during the spring semester, it became difficult to engage the full team at the same time. Thus, in some cases multiple sessions were held on the same topics, with two of the team members present at all sessions. A summary of responses served as the agenda for each session. Detailed notes were recorded and summarized and reviews of the material were presented at each subsequent meeting to ensure consensus. This process served two purposes: (a) the summaries contributed to building a legacy document that captured the discussion and decisions resulting from the planning process ; and (b) the discussion sessions on the responses to the stimulus questions helped to frame the final decisions resulting from the planning process.
After the discussion sessions, the agenda moved to the key topics that were judged to be critical to the strategic plan. These topics included the mission and value statements, the foci of the lab, the organizational structure, criteria for adding participating researchers, the engagement of students, and the relationship of the lab to the academic program in instructional design in the School of Education. Subsequent sections of this document contain the consensus statements on these topics as framed by the management team during the planning process. Appendix B contains the legacy document that includes summaries of the information that served as support for the decisions made by the management team. Appendix A contains specific suggestions for actions to be taken by the management team in the future. They are derived from the legacy document and edited to make the information more concise and useful for implementation purposes. These include the following:
- Visibility of the e-Learning Design Lab
- Strengths of the Lab
- Weaknesses of the Lab
- Opportunities for the Lab
- Potential Threats to the Success of the eDL
- Measuring the Impact of the Lab
- Accommodating the Research Interests Participating Researchers
Mission and Value Statements
The first step in the decision-making process was the framing of a concise statement describing the mission of the lab and the values that we place on the culture of our work environment. These two statements combine to communicate the foci of our work, our core expertise, and the manner in which we aspire to carry out our work. These statements guide decisions on what we do, the target audiences we strive to serve, and our relationships within the lab and the broader community of individuals and groups who share our commitment to furthering the effectiveness and applications of technology to teaching and learning.
Mission:The mission of the e-Learning Design Laboratory is to create new solutions to emerging challenges and opportunities to optimize the application of technology to enhance learning in educational and professional development settings. This involves the study, development, and research of new designs, principles, practices, tools, policies and learning environments that contribute to the engagement of learners across the lifespan in teaching and learning.
Value Statement:The faculty, staff and student participants in the e-Learning Design Lab share a common concern for advancing learning and teaching with technology. The core values of the lab include maintaining a culture supportive of collaboration, respecting and enriching research of individuals, and engaging learning communities who share a commitment to e-learning and teaching with technology.
Construct for Implementing the Mission Statement
Central to transforming the mission of the lab in an operational plan was the process of defining the work to be done and the population the work is intended to benefit. The construct developed by participating lab researchers and published in 2003 continues to represent a viable framework for guiding the work of the lab. As a construct it constitutes a work in progress that is subject to modification based on experience, changing societal conditions, and the interests of participating researchers, collaborators and students. It is important to create an environment and to set parameters of work that will serve the mission of the lab and the participants of the future. The following represents the version that emerged from the planning process.
Parameter Construct:The construct in Figure 1 represents a beginning attempt to refine the parameters that will guide the lab in the future. Each dimension and item has been defined. The intent is to communicate what might be included as lab-affiliated work; it is not to suggest that each cell is filled with work. However, it does suggest that the cells represent potential work of equal importance to the lab. This model represents an approach to considering the broad range of factors that influence e-learning. Because the technologies, pedagogies and settings are continuously evolving, Figure 1 must be considered as one possible representation of the construct.
Once the parameters are refined and individual interests are known, decisions can be made organizationally on how the interests of individuals and collaborators can be accommodated. For example, there may be a need for a K-12 division, a division related specifically to universal design or a division emphasizing professional development. The goal would be for the construct to influence an organizational structure that enhances the work of participants, encourages collaboration, facilitates independent work and results in a unified collection of work representing the mission of the eDL.
Underlying PrinciplesCentral to the parameters that define the work of the lab is a set of unifying principles grouped under the headings of generalization, intellectual merit, broader impact, and scalability that are proposed to guide the work in the future.
Generalization: Does the proposed activity apply to other populations of learners? Can it be modified to benefit a larger set of learners? Is it useable in other learning environments, curriculum content or instructional designs? Are its applications limited to a narrow set of features and/or tasks?
Intellectual Merit: What is the intellectual merit of the proposed activity? How important is the proposed activity to advancing knowledge and understanding within its own field or across different fields? To what extent does the proposed activity suggest and explore creative and original concepts? How well conceived and organized is the proposed activity? Is there sufficient access to resources?
Broader Impact: What are the broader impacts of the proposed activity? How well does the activity advance discovery and understanding while promoting teaching, training, and learning? How well does the proposed activity broaden the participation of underrepresented groups (gender, ethnicity, disability, geographic, etc.)? To what extent will it enhance the infrastructure for research and education, such as facilities, instrumentation, networks, and partnerships? Will the results be broadly disseminated to enhance scientific and technological understanding? What may be the benefits of the proposed activity to society?
Scalability: Can the intervention, tool or activity be applied routinely at a national level without modifications or having to meet special technical requirements? Does the tool, intervention or activity possess the necessary features to maximize benefits to intended learners in varied learning environments?
Target “Diverse“ LearnersDiversity among individuals in our communities, schools, and the workplace is increasingly the norm rather than something out of the ordinary. To be optimally effective, pedagogical designs must ensure access to full participation in a broad array of learning environments. The deliberate inclusion of populations with disabilities in research studies will ensure that resultant innovations are sufficiently powerful, robust, and sensitive to individual‘s differences. Thus, a central feature of our research paradigm is to design and test the degree to which interventions are responsive to individuals who may be most resistant to traditional instruction or who evidence unique learning profiles. This view is compatible with the goals of universal design and the commitment of the lab to focus on e-learning solutions that address significant challenges in design and /or delivery.
Pre-K-12 Education: Learners representing students from different backgrounds and ethnicity in public or private educational programs, including charter schools and home schooling.
Postsecondary Education: Learners participating in educational and/or training programs beyond high school, including those enrolled in colleges of all types, vocational schools, the military, and industry.
Professional Development: Learners in a wide array of careers and positions where additional preparation will strengthen performance and enhance opportunities for advancement.
R&D FociWe opted not to delineate or limit the technologies that might be developed and/or researched. For example, simulations might apply across the elements of each dimension.
Content Structure: R&D that relates to framing content to meet the particular requirements of different disciplines and learners in order to maximally benefit from e-learning.
Universal Design: R&D that relates to enhancing the benefit of e-learning to all learners through deigns that address the unique needs of some learners but generalize to society in general.
Communications Design: R&D that relates to presenting and interacting with information in electronic forms that maximize understanding and learning. This includes creating formats, visual displays, and other presentation forms that enhance understanding and can be rapidly employed in dissemination. It also includes R&D in the area of exploratory learning modes in which students are allowed to interact with visual representations in a very general way. Examples might include, but are not limited to, simulations.
Policy: R&D that relates to the development, validation, and modification of policies that govern educational applications of e-learning in environments serving diverse learners.
Learning Environments: R&D that relates to the varied settings in which e-learning may occur (e.g., classrooms, labs of all types, independent study arrangements, on the job settings, and studios).
Instructional/Assistive Technology: R&D that relates to the design, development, validation, and/or implementation of designs for instruction through the use of technology and/or the creation of technologies that enhance the performance of individuals in areas of motor, cognitive, or affective behavior.
Consideration of the organizational structure was deemed critical due to the collaborative model under which the lab operates and the self-supporting requirement that governs it. The organizational structure overlaps with all other decisions made in the strategic planning process. The effectiveness of the structure is largely tied to the responsiveness of the staff and participating researchers and the roles they assume individually and collectively. By necessity, the organizational structure will remain a work in progress with a focus on continuing to meet the needs of the lab and affiliated colleagues. Central to the way the organizational structure operates is the manner in which it contributes to communication and efficiency on the part of participating researchers, accommodates the co-directorship model, enhances efforts to generate support for the work of the lab, complements the culture of engaging students, and supports the mission of the lab.
Therefore, the organizational structure should include:
- Continuation of the ITTC and CRL partnership as sponsors with an emphasis on expanding participation of researchers from individuals affiliated with the sponsors.
- Retention of the co-directorship model with a division of responsibilities based on the respective interests and talents of those in this role.
- A provision for investigators and affiliated faculty to focus on the mission of the eDL, R&D agenda, key policies, ensuring a strong infrastructure and generation of fiscal support for the work of the lab. This might take the form of a Council of Investigators.
- Maintenance of core staff with defined responsibilities, dedicated to supporting the mission of the lab, implementation of the infrastructure, and the efforts of participating researchers in generating external resources for support the lab. Support for the core staff will be derived from affiliated projects and other sources of support.
- Continuation of a management team comprised of the co-directors and selected staff to focus on operations, monitoring of work, seeking opportunities for support, and responding to agenda items developed by the investigators. The functions of the management team should incorporate strategies developed by the co-directors and full-time staff to ensure the effectiveness of the daily management of lab activities. This feature should free researchers‘ routine administrative tasks and result in more time for them to focus on the mission of the lab and collaborative relationships.
- Establishment of standing and/or short-term committees as may be determined by investigators or co-directors.
- Provision for creating research groups of organizational divisions within the lab to enhance the development of research and/or development in areas of work that hold potential for emerging as programs of work.
- Appointment of advisory boards to provide input on fulfilling the mission of the lab and topics of strategic importance.
Expansion of the Core Group of Researchers/Developers
The success and continued effective operation of the eDL depends on active engagement of faculty and others who share a commitment to activities associated with its mission. Thus, it is through the collective efforts of researchers that resources are secured, work is carried out, students are supported, products are produced, contributions are made to academic programs, and the eDL achieves a national presence. The talents of the core group of researchers as well as their commitment to the mission of the eDL remains central to the long-term success of the lab. The self-sustainability of this group requires a collective effort in focusing the work of the lab, pursuing opportunities for external support, and attracting colleagues to the group. Their willingness to share in the responsibilities for the development and maintenance of the lab is central to their role.
Composition of the core group need not be limited to individuals with interests specific to those parameters of the construct that are content in nature; they may also focus on associated areas of expertise such as technical skills, process interests, design or learner attributes. A formative approach may be taken in adding to the core group to ensure a logical and systematic expansion of the work of the lab and the implementation of the strategic plan.
In adding to the core group of researchers/developers invitees must meet the following criteria:
- Have a history of prior work and/or demonstrated interest in selected elements within the parameters construct that defines the target populations and areas of research foci of the lab.
- Understand and support the lab‘s mission and values statements.
- Be willing to participate as principal investigators in seeking opportunities for external support of work relevant to the lab and participate in developing proposals for support of their affiliated work and for collaborative projects central to the lab.
- Be willing to participate in implementing and refining the organizational structure to ensure it adheres to the underlying principles of the lab.
- Be willing to participate in building the presence of the lab by identifying their affiliation with the lab on proposals and manuscripts when the emphasis relates to the mission of the lab.
- Be willing to assume an active role in building the capacity of the lab to contribute to the knowledge base surrounding the mission of the lab and in creating opportunities to enhance the efforts of students affiliated with the lab in their fulfillment of academic goals.
Optional processes to be employed in identifying individuals who meet the criteria and warrant consideration for membership in the core group include the following.
- Nominations may be made by members of the current management team, the new Council of Investigators, and directors of the ITTC and CRL of individuals accompanied by a rationale for how the attributes of the nominee matches the mission, parameter construct and future plans for the lab, as well as the selection criteria.
- The planning document may be shared with key people across campus in an effort to determine who is currently engaged in work that is aligned with the activities and mission of the lab and, therefore, potential candidates for participation.
- Nominations may be sought for individuals with special expertise central to the mission of the lab, but whose work is not directly related to e-learning (e.g., research design, evaluation, or data management).
Engagement of Students
Central to the mission of the lab is its commitment to providing experiences for students related to the design, development, content management, delivery, evaluation, and/or research of e-learning across disciplines and age groups This commitment has been implemented through the staffing of projects by creating GRA and student hourly opportunities; supporting students in conducting thesis and dissertation research; and structuring roles that approximate career paths.
Basic to the eDL‘s commitment to students is the creation and maintenance of a culture that is characterized by mentoring, providing opportunities to grow and develop new skills with priority placed on opportunities for participation in collaborative scholarship and an expectation of maturation in their career aspirations and independence as scholars/developers. The focus is on recruiting students whose talents and career objectives match the mission of the eDL. Preference is given to the selection of student employees who are studying with or known to faculty members participating in the lab.
In support of students the eDL will:.
- Maintain a salary scale that is competitive and recognizes experience, performance quality, and longevity.
- Implement a performance evaluation system that is administered annually and based on principles that influence students‘ academic growth and enhance their performance in their respective roles.
- Develop a portfolio system that allows students to maintain archival evidence of their lab-related professional work and to document their performance related skills and knowledge in preparation for career opportunities.
- Integrate work, practicum, and internship experiences with the graduate program in instructional technology and other programs wishing to affiliate with the eDL.
The eDL will professionalize the roles of students by:
- Implementing work opportunities that build on the various core competencies of the lab (e.g., design, content management, production, evaluation, and implementation related to the development of e-learning products and tool development) and that allow students to acquire the skills and knowledge they will need is a professional role.
- Structuring student work opportunities so that student roles approximate career opportunities in the e-learning industry and students are held in their performance to professional standards.
- Developing position descriptions for all roles for which student are hired in the lab.
- Creating policies governing student employment that approximate professional conditions in the e-learning industry.
- Establishing a process for student representation in the organizational structure that allows for the student representative(s) to interact with fellow students in ways that enhance their representation of student views.
- Implementing procedures for obtaining assistance and/or support for student-related research or academic program opportunities.
Academic Program Commitment
The eDL represents a significant and, in many ways, unique resource for academic programs that have as their primary or related mission the preparation of professionals or scholars in instructional design or educational technology. The legacy of the lab as an R&D unit, combined with the space and equipment resources, established relationships on campus, and visibility among students and faculty across academic departments where e-learning is an area of research interest, has resulted in the capacity to benefit students in their pursuit of academic programs in fields preparing professionals for careers where skills related to related e-learning are required.
The ITTC/CRL partnership and its visibility among campus units position the lab as a resource that is unlikely to be replicated in the future due to competing resource needs and priorities within the University. Thus, the lab provides academic programs, opportunities for student research, employment, and training experiences related to e-learning in a sustainable environment that does not exist elsewhere on campus.In an informal way, through participating faculty and the engagement of students, an implied relationship has existed. In a similar, but not identical manner, there has been a relationship with other departments through the recruitment of student employees and with the Department of Special Education through content and development initiatives driven by concern for the needs of learners who benefit in significant ways from technology. The lab is not and does not aspire to be an academic program, but it can be leveraged in major ways to contribute to building a department of instructional design of considerable stature at the University of Kansas. For this to occur, a relationship must be made operational in a manner where benefits are mutual. The ITTC, EECS, CRL and Special Education department models have much to offer in framing such a relationship between the academic program in instructional technology and the eDL.
The eDL could provide the following core opportunities that would enhance the quality of an academic program such as the one proposed above:
- Offering ad hoc academic appointments for lab-affiliated faculty with skills and knowledge applicable to the academic program.
- Developing joint proposals for external support of R&D and/or training activities that result in opportunities for student support and experiences relevant to the academic program.
- Developing web site information on the lab describing the use of GRA and student hourly opportunities in the lab as a basis for the recruitment of graduate students into the academic program.
- Formalizing arrangements for practicum and internship opportunities in the lab.
- Seeking a relationship with the School of Education, where the academic program in instructional technology is housed, that results in some subsidy for support of internships and related professional preparation experiences.