Why an Instructional Design Degree from Bloomsburg University ROCKS!

(This is a cross-posting from http://karlkapp.blogspot.com/2009/12/why-instructional-design-degree-from.html)

The discussion that Cammy Bean and I have gotten into concerning “Accidental Instructional Designers” and When “Accidental Instructional Designers become Intentional” has brought about a number of interesting discussions about the skills of ID people and what ID programs should look like and I realized that:

  1. People who haven’t been in Bloomsburg’s ID program don’t realize what we teach in our ID program
  2. There seem to be ID programs out there that fall short and that is giving people an unrealistic image of what a quality ID program really is.

So, let me describe why getting a graduate degree from Bloomsburg University’s Department of Instructional Technology ROCKS and why our ID graduates can easily hold their own against non-degreed folks (and then some).

*Full disclosure–I am a professor in the department and might be biased in my opinions but I am going to try to stay neutral*

First, Cammy said, “maybe ID programs need to come out of business schools instead of education schools.” The Bloomsburg program is not out of the business school but it is not in the School of Education either. Our program is housed in the College of Science and Technology and originally was housed in the College and Math and Computer Science. So we have a different focus than programs housed in the school of education. We are more corporate focused. In fact, within two years our program will be physically housed in the same building as our business school.

Second, we teach our students strong ID theory in our Basic ID class as most programs do. But, in our Advanced ID class students apply that theory to a problem in the field. In Advanced ID class, students are formed into a team, introduced to an actual client (local hospital, school, manufacturing organization, police department) and create a finished instructional module for that organization, complete with pre- and post- testing of a sampling of the learners. Our students work with an actual client from the community and learn first hand about deadlines, clients refusing to sign off, clients signing off without authority and actually sit in meetings with a real client. Every student must go through this process and deliver a WORKING product (not just design it). Advance ID gives students the real-life experience of doing a needs analysis, creating objectives, applying the right instructional strategies, implementing and evaluating e-learning all under the watchful eye of both a faculty member and a client with a vested interested in the outcome. (this happens for online and on campus students).

Third, our students work with software currently used in the field to create online learning. The latest version of Adobe PhotoShop and Flash, Lectora, Adobe Captivate, Plateau (LMS), Adobe Connect, and Saba’s Centra to name a few. Students use the tools used in the field (sometimes they are even ahead, for example when we use Second Life and ProtoSphere.)

Fourth, our students stay on the cutting edge. They blog, contribute to wikis, and design instruction for a 3D virtual environment as well as create web sites for mobile learning devices. They continue to learn about the latest tools and we discuss how they are used in organizations to facilitate learning. We also have a game course where they create interactive games for learning to solve the needs of a client (again the students  interact with external clients and produce a solution to their problem). Students are on Facebook and Twitter with faculty and have discussions about how to use social media for learning within organizations.

Fifth, our students learn how to write a proposal and handle themselves in a high pressure sales situation. In a class I teach, students are formed into teams, given a Request for Proposal, and required them to write a 40 page proposal and create a working prototype to solve a learning problem within an organization. Students present their solution and prototype for 20 minutes to 30-40 learning and development professionals (3/4 alumni) who then question them for 15 minutes about their solution and then evaluate the students’ work and give them a grade. This teaches students presentations skills, handling difficult questions from clients and being forced to “think on your feet.” Students have to defend their solution against professionals who pick it apart.

Sixth, we have a “commercial” arm of our academic department, The Institute for Interactive Techologies, that does ID work for companies like Kellogg’s, Black and Decker, L’OREAL, Toys R Us and other organizations (real life experience) that include students working on projects. We don’t take on a project in our Institute without students working on the projects. If a student has a graduate assistantship, they will work with an external client, drive to client sites (fly in some cases), sit in good and bad meetings, stay up late to make a deadline and work hand-in-hand with the client to deliver the instruction. All under the guidance of a faculty and/or a full-time senior instructional designer who serves as a mentor (and has a degree from our program.) This is experience provided under the guidance of faculty while students are in graduate school a mixing of theory and practical hands-on experience. (we also work with non-profits like the PA Department of Public Welfare and the PA Coalition Against Domestic Violence.)

Seventh, twice a year we bring in professionals who are working in the field of instructional design, e-learning and performance support to provide feedback on our curriculum, RFP exercise and our initiatives within the department. These professionals keep our curriculum up-to-date by offering topic areas and subjects that we should be teaching and hold us accountable by returning twice every year. Based on their feedback we continually upgrade and improve our course offerings.

Eight, our mix of students is one third from outside the United States, one third right out of undergraduate and one third who are experienced in the workforce and come back for more education. Since many of our class projects are team-based, the students are forced to intermix. The experienced students share knowledge and experience with students who have not yet been in the field and the newly graduated students share energy, enthusiasm and “what if we try this” attitude and the international students bring in a world perspective. The mix creates grounded and not arrogant designers.

Ninth, our faculty are active in the field. From writing books to presenting at international conferences the faculty stay involved in the field and work hard to stay current with the latest theories and software. While ID is timeless, it needs to be constantly adapted and modified to ensure it is meeting the needs of clients. Students are working with faculty who are impacting the field and driving innovation.

Tenth, we bring experts and professionals from the field to speak to our classes. It is not enough for our students to hear about the design process only from our faculty. With virtual classrooms and other tools we’ve had people like Clark Aldrich, Donald and Jame Kirkpatrick Steven Just, Cal Wick and others share their knowledge and expertise as well as alumni who are in leadership, development or creative positions who discuss managing projects, overcoming difficult clients, designing games for learning and other current topics of interest.

Eleventh, we have an extremely high placement rate because twice a year, we bring companies on campus to recruit our graduates. In Fall 2009 (this semester) we had over 10 companies on campus recruiting our students including RWD TechnologiesKodakTyco Electronics andGeisinger Health System. In fact, we had more opening available than we had students to fill the slots (this is a common occurrence.) Our program requires either an internship or a thesis for graduation (99% of students choose an internship…more real experience in the field).

Twelfth, in our corporate track, we focus on the business aspect of the field. It shows. Many of our alumni have become entrepreneurs. This semester we had alumni who founded two companies present to our current students. We had Chris from Zerion Software as company that builds iPhone Applications and Mark from viaAcademies which provides online Instrumental Music courses for school-aged students.

Our program is a year long if a person enrolls in the land-based option and attends on campus (a little longer for online). We have problems and issues like any program in terms of not being able to fit all the topics we want to teach into our curriculum, we could spend more time on certain topics, get more in depth on a few but, as a whole, our program ROCKS because we prepare our graduates to hit the ground running and to positively contribute by giving them the tools and skills to make an impact and not to be dinosaurs about ID.

Now, don’t take my word for it. I challenge alumni, employers of our graduates and others to comment on the program. I want the good, the bad and the ugly so everyone can get a good understanding of what ROCKS about getting an ID degree from Bloomsburg University.

And, I am sure other programs are out there ROCK as well. I want other faculty from other programs to tell us why their programs ROCK (leave a link here and we can get a list of ROCK’N ID programs) that properly prepare ID people to ROCK the field.

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