Digital Architecture:
Imaginative Pedagogy for Educators

digital architecture logo
Digital Architecture (DA) is a new way of conceptualizing online content design because it integrates ID (Instructional Design), HCI (Human Computer Interaction), database design, project management, human communication theory, and the humanist disciplines of history, psychology, cultural studies and political economy. DA was conceived and developed by Learn Canada with the funding support of the University of Ottawa and Canarie.

The 11 modules of this course are structured to meet various needs; the course is aimed at all educators and trainers and starts from the premise that knowledge, communication, innovation, motivation, and experimentation are common activities of all educators. Each theoretical module can be enhanced by a workshop, or the whole course can be enhanced by a practicum.

Module 1: From Correspondence to the Internet.   The learning objective of this module is to acquaint the educator with the historical evolution of distance learning from the 18th century to now and to survey the emergence of the profession of distance education. What is Distance Education? How has it been defined historically? How is it currently being defined? Is there a meaningful way to sort through the bewildering number of terms that describe the phenomenon of remote learning (distance education, autonomous learning, self-directed learning, etc)? Is there any difference in these definitions? What are the issues as correspondence and in-class courses are transformed into online content, and why or why not? How are faculty IP (Intellectual Property) issues shaping the evolution of DE? Finally, how do these developments impact the pedagogy of online teaching and learning?

Module 2: The Political Economy of Distance Education.   This module explores the current financial crises in the education industry and examines the impact of consequent growth strategies on researchers and educators (funding, IP, copyright, universities in competition, winning and losing stakeholders). Does the learnware shape the pedagogy or vice versa, or both? Should educational institutions develop and market their own learnware? This module also explores the role of student demand (consumerism), the advantages of large amounts of financial capital and human resources, and the intrusion of government and profit-driven corporations into the educational sector. Who are the world educational leaders and how did they achieve their status? What battles are ahead, who stands to win, and who stands to lose? As online education becomes increasingly globalized with larger and larger consortia of public and private sector partners, how can smaller institutions survive, and how can online content assist in that survival?

Module 3: Under the Hood.   It is a remarkable fact that so many students take online courses, and so many educators develop them without ever acquiring any basic working knowledge of the toolset they need and, more importantly, of the networking environment in which they are working. This core module is a basic layperson's introduction to the technical workings of the Internet, and its learning objective is to show how knowledge of this technology can reduce academic dishonesty and how testing and online assessment can be made more reliable. This knowledge will also help with research methods. As intimidating as the idea of networking theory might be, these topics are all treated at a basic level, and will empower participants to talk to their tech support team intelligently about online content. It is designed for non-technical people, and it provides the necessary essentials of networking, security and background, including the historical origins of the Internet, Email, TCP/IP and other protocols, including FTP and Gopher, security basics including encryption, LANs and WANs including DNS and Routers, web languages, and other relevant topics.

Module 4: Digital Media and Digitization Processes.   Starting with a definition of digital and analog, and then moving to history and theory of digitization, this module looks at what digitization is, and how it works in various media such as sound/music, images, video, and animations. Digital media is at the core of any enhanced on-line course, and helps educators to reach different kinds of learners, not only those who are text-based, but auditory, visual and tactile learners. Some consideration is given to hardware & software needed, acquisition methods available, bandwidth issues, and media choices for format, storage and delivery. This is not a module that will teach you how to scan, but it will empower you to choose between when to scan in high or low resolution, and will enable you to design course environments that are suitable to the access speeds of your students. Some time is also spent on an overview of authorware (Dreamweaver, Front Page, and so on). The learning objective of this module, then, is to provide a knowledge base for the comprehension and use of digital media as an instructional enhancement; much of this material will also be directly relevant to Module 10, Discipline Specific Issues, where media-enriched environments are discussed. If you already use digital media in your on-line work, the module will also encourage you to imagine new solutions that will enhance your content even more.

Module 5: Thinking of On-line Content as Asynchronous Human Communication.   The learning objective of this module is to encourage educators to build a wish-list of features that they would like in their discussion forum, and to encourage them to think about the advantages and disadvantages of building a learning environment within proprietary, bundled software (ex: Web CT) and open standards solutions. What are the essentials of human communication? Does digitally mediated asynchronous learning distort, preserve or improve face-to-face communication? How do email, voicemail and v-mail alter human relationships in the virtual classroom and how can these technologies alter teaching and learning? Do differences in brand name conferencing software applications have any impact on pedagogy and on learning curves? What are some of the software options available to use? Are there any true best practices out there? How can we stimulate discussions while simultaneously ensuring that threaded discussions have appropriate subject headings that are easy to search?

Module 6: Thinking of On-line Content as Synchronous Communication.   To what extent do IRC, text-chat, videoconferencing and other realtime audio/video exchanges alter human relationships and to what extent do they re-structure the teaching and learning experience? In what ways are these media the same as face-to-face, and in what ways are they different? What is synchronicity, and can it really be achieved through videoconferencing? What kinds of videoconferencing technologies are currently available, and what kind of pedagogy is needed when various participants in a session are each connected at a different bandwidth and with a different protocol (ISDN vs the Internet)? The learning objectives of this chapter are: a) to provide the educator with a working knowledge of various technologies and protocols in videoconferencing, and the appropriateness of their uses, b) to suggest some best and worst practices c) simultaneously to show how this mode of communication is superior to other modes of communication while challenging the idea that this is a "realtime" method of communication. Educators will also become aware of how communication and culture liberate and limit each other through factors like camera sightlines and zoom, and other such measures of "visual intimacy".

Module 7: Thinking of On-line as a Community and a Culture.   This module addresses three main problem areas in on-line learning, and treats them as cultural problems that can be both responsive and/or resistant to technological solutions. Those areas are: intellectual dishonesty (plagiarism), discrimination (sexism, racism, ageism, classism, denial of accessibility needs) and the peculiar phenomenon whereby students show a reluctance to work together collaboratively in a formal context, but an eagerness to work cooperatively outside the (real or virtual) classroom. Central to this module will be the idea of accessibility and the new W3 (World Wide Web) Consortium's Accessibility standards (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0) which have developed under the new Web Access Initiative (WAI). The module argues that the on-line world automatically becomes a culture, whether the instructor wants it to or not, and that often educators do not have much control over how that culture evolves. Yet still, integrity, respect, and acceptance of difference can be instilled or permitted to grow. How can educators achieve these goals? Should course design take these factors into consideration in design, and if so, to what extent? Why do some educators think culture and human relationships are the essential part of on-line learning, and why do others avoid this dimension entirely? What are the human and educational costs of cultivating an on-line culture and what are the costs of not doing so? The learning outcome in this module is to foster a deeper understanding of how human relationships and culture play an integral role in learning.

Module 8: Thinking of On-line Content as Research Activity.   In what ways can your on-line course accelerate the research skills for your students, and contribute to your own and others' research? Should a course be set up this way? Are there ethics involved? This module also compares search engines and conventional library methods of classifying and cataloguing information, and explores the relationship between research (how to find what you want) and promotion (getting found). This module, therefore, considers the pervasive influence of both academic and commercial cultures on the Internet, and shows how new technologies such as bots, agents and spiders need to be used alongside good old-fashioned judgment and a systematic approach in order to improve search methods. The learning objective of this module is to make educators aware of how amorphous the information is that is now available on the Internet, and how problems of non-standardization can interfere in the search and discovery of good information. The learning outcome also encourages faculty to see how these inherent problems can become wonderfully useful pedagogical tools.

Module 9: Thinking of On-line Content as Data.   What is data? What is a database? Why are databases important? How does digitization impact the power and effectiveness of databases? How can a course be improved (or worsened) if its students and their activities are archived and subsequently searched and scrutinized as a database? What technologies can be used for database storage and retrieval? How can database thinking improve assignments, and how can database thinking be integrated into how you conceive of your own material? This session shows you how to re-think your course as a project from two perspectives: first, that of the students and their assignments by using Excel, and second, by discussing on-line databases in general, and in particular we shall look closely at Portals, and the new database-driven language of the web, XML/XSL; we will also look at the analysis of server logs. Finally, this module makes some distinctions between information (data) and knowledge, and suggests some ways in which the one can be transformed into the other while simultaneously showing that it is precisely the failure to transform data into knowledge that underlines many of our pedagogical problems. The learning objective if this module is to encourage educators to envision the power and the advantages of designing all on-line content and participants' activity as though it were a database.

Module 10: Discipline-specific issues.   This module asks the question whether there are such things as general on-line design principles that apply to courses in all subjects, or whether it makes more sense to consider on-line design from the particular perspective of the unique needs of a single subject area. Using principles from ID (Instructional design) and HCI (Human Computer Interface) as a starting point, the module then moves on to its main argument. Obviously some dialectical thinking is needed here, so the module is divided into three large sections: the first section discusses the generic features and guiding principles that are essential to all on-line course design. The second section categorizes subject areas by the design requirements of their content (i.e. professional training, memory-based courses, problem-solving courses, etc. etc.). We will also explore which conditions might be ideal for the use of realtime gaming and VRML immersion as viable teaching methods. The Third section provides a synopsis of the major philosophical approaches to leaning (cognitive, hermeneutical etc. etc.). Ultimately, the module asks how, if at all, these three different sets of principles can be applied together to produce a better-designed course environment or to critique an existing one. Thus the learning outcome for this module then, is to encourage educators to articulate as clearly as they can, before designing and after completing the design, what their principles are, and then to determine whether or not these principles were followed, or if they ever could be followed with any meaningful outcome.

Module 11: Thinking of On-line Content as a Project.   This session shows you how to re-think your course or your on-line material as a project, not only from the perspective of pedagogy and assignment design, but also from that of creating and managing your own time and intellectual property. We will explore ways to scrutinize your organizational environment & other institutions, getting funding, deploying resources, deciding how much to do yourself and how much to sub-contract, planning, and developing materials in stages. What are some effective (and ineffective) methods of measuring progress or success? Microsoft Project is also discussed as useful tool in planning and managing your on-line development.