Using “Information Mapping” Techniques to Generate “Reusable Learning Objects”

The “instructional design” that I am working with is a modification of the “information mapping” (IM) work of Robert E. Horn. It is based on the idea that various “blocks” of information can be set within generic templates, so that documents, web pages, presentations do not have to be regenerated from scratch every time. So the templates and sample documents generally save time and effort by requiring only the details and specifics to a situation. It is mostly used for formal, standardized types of communications in the business world, to my understanding.

For instruction, the IM techniques and templates I use are based on a “package” that includes a “wrapper” of auxiliary information around the instructional content itself. Since the delivery, information, and support components of the wrapper are stored in a database, they are accessible as “reusable objects” in a variety of different applications through links to the database. The information itself does not have to be re-created and regenerated for every specific use, thus reducing the 40% of time you describe to 10%, for “the goals, the learning outcomes, activities in itself, the planning of it, the fitting, the adjustment, the linkage between learning activities, the assessments points, the anchor moments…”. With wireless access to this information, students could locate this auxiliary information at their convenience, reducing instructor effort.

For the content information itself, Horn organizes topics into several types and provides model templates for each, insuring that all the necessary components are provided for the best learning efficiency. I use the topic types of: fact, concept, structure, procedure, principle, process, and system. Again, the preparation effort becomes a matter of fitting the content into the proper “containers”. So this addresses your second point, that “here is the first strong moment: you can focus on that activity alone knowing that it will fit the overall puzzle you already have.” I suggest that this interaction time with the students could become 80% of the time, up from the 40% you suggest.

Since quiz, test, assessment, direct observation, and other evaluation techniques are built into the “wrapper” as a follow-up component, the feedback is continual and ongoing, in both part-task and full-task completion points. So the time for this part of the learning cycle should be 10%, I feel, rather than the 20% you mention.

The big advantage to beginning with a “package” template that prepares the content in modular form, and puts a “wrapper” of auxiliary data around it, is that it is reusable and scalable throughout the curriculum. It can be used at the course, unit, module, lesson, and topic levels. This addresses your concerns that ” after students pass all the activities you feel that you create something strong: with coherence and focus on the learning target”, and “if want to change anything you have a road map that helps you detect and change what you want without collapsing the structure.”

My current efforts involve converting a large amount of paper information to electronic form. The next step will be to put it all into a database as “elements”, which can then be packaged using the IM templates described above. I would later on like to put it into an open-source CMS, such as Moodle, so that my work is not involved with proprietary issues.

For over three decades of teaching at the high school and technical college levels, I was continually frustrated with have to redo instructional materials to revise, update, and improve them every time the “newest and greatest” instructional technique came around. By integrating and modifying ideas from Merrill, Clark, Horn, and others, I feel I now have an approach to structuring curriculum for physics, math, and electronics technology that doesn’t require wholesale disposal of previous work done.

STEM in a Sentence

When talking about Science-Technology-Engineering-Math (STEM) in education, we need more precise descriptions of WHAT the topic content of science is, what we DO with science, and how we APPLY it to the world around us. When I refer to “STEM” as a “table of contents”, I also recognize that the artistic methods of visualizing, writing, and finding context in culture and history are important to the process and procedures of “doing science”. So, put into the standard sentence structure, the “STEM content” is the subject, the “artistic method” is the verb, and the “real-world application” is the object.

What we need, I believe, is a comprehensive, modularized curriculum framework, beginning with the STEM content delivered in high schools and colleges. The content of each module and lesson would be provided by “experts”, and then packaged by instructional technologists using “best practices” for learning with interactive multimedia, and finally made available using open-source, online delivery channels.

The content modules within this framework would have the STEM topics arranged in a sequence as one dimension. A second dimension would then be a tag or label that clearly identifies the “Basic Workplace Skill Set” needed for successful entry into several occupational levels, starting with “Home & Consumer” to “User/Operator”  and so on to “Engineer”, and “Scientist”.

Connections with the Communication, Social, and Cultural Arts (CSCA) would be specified with the appropriate techniques, methods, and practices used in these  occupational skill levels. These processes and activities would be developed in collaboration with specialists from non-STEM areas.

The grid would then be expanded and cross-connected with Career & Technical Education (CTE) pathways, so students could select applications and projects relevant to their career interests and preferences.

Such a framework, then, would allow students to pursue their own pathways through the multi-dimensional learning space of possibilities along the three content, skill level, and career directions. They would also meet required standards by touching certain “milestones” along the way,. There would be flexibility to participate in collaborative classroom projects, while stepping up the proficiency ladder to advanced and related topics at their own pace, using online resources.

STEM in 3-D

Many comments about STEM seem to reflect the ongoing traditions of “silo-thinking”, promoting favored “channels” of instruction, while knocking down other viable approaches for STEM. As a retired instructor of physics, math, and electronics technology at a regional technical college, I continue to be involved in ways that include ALL students in the STEM curriculum as preparation for their lives and careers after high school.

 

These STEM goals need change in three directions, I believe, which extend across the grades and the disciplines. First, a systems approach should build the science content topics in the order of increasing complexity. This means that the high school courses need to be flipped to the natural evolutionary sequence of physics, chemistry, and then biology. Second, a clear definition is needed for each step of the “basic skills set” required for entry into the workplace at several occupational levels, beginning with a “Home and Consumer” baseline that matches the state science content standards for all high school graduates. And, finally, students need opportunities to explore various career and technical education (CTE) pathways throughout their high school years, so they can get a taste of where they might apply their abilities, interests, and learning in their productive years.

 

In comparison to the many “magic pill” proposals, such a multi-dimensional framework of core content realignment, basic workplace skill steps, and application in career pathways could give us the comprehensive STEM curriculum reform we need for the 21st Century workplace.