Journey of a flower child into the land of educational technology consulting. Educational Technology Magazine. 9(4), 24-30. 1999.
|The author pictured where he works as a graduate assistant in the Instructional Media Lab at San Diego State University’s Department of Educational Technology.
This report is the story of one graduate student’s experience in the fall of 1998 while taking Allison Rossett’s class, EDTEC 644: Advanced Instructional Design at San Diego State University (SDSU). EDTEC 644 is an advanced class in the Master’s Program in the Department of Educational Technology. The class places students with real clients for a semester of instructional design and technology consulting work.
This report is formatted using Joseph Campbell’s theories on story telling in his famous book, “The Hero With A Thousand Faces” (1949). It also uses the later interpretation by Christopher Vogler, “A Writer’s Journey” (1992). Campbell found that all cultures tell stories in much the same way. He identified seven common characters, and twelve common plot points in most of the world’s storytelling and mythology.
The author hopes that sharing his experience using the structure of a Hero’s Journey will help future students learn about the softer side of educational technology consulting.
The Comfort Zone: San Diego State University (SDSU)
Amid the sprawl of San Diego, California sits the campus of SDSU. Palm trees and flowers that bloom all year grace its campus. 30,000+ tan and barely dressed students study and play here. SDSU is the flag ship school of the 22 Campus California State University system with a total of 300,000+ students. SDSU started over a 100 years ago as a teacher’s college. Within its respected department of education is the 25-year old Department of Educational Technology, or “EDTEC”. It is here where we will find our Hero pursuing a Masters degree.
A particularly comfortable part of this comfort zone is the EDTEC Instructional Media Lab, where our hero works as a lab staff Graduate Assistant. This high-end multimedia computer lab has an atmosphere of constant learning as the lab staff helps beginning EDTEC students build instructional products on high-end computers.
House in Point Loma
A 15-minute drive from SDSU, where our hero lives with two other male graduate students in a small house. By their standards the house is reasonably clean, most of the time. Others have different opinions. It’s a small house, so everybody knows exactly what everybody else is going through all the time.
Red’s café/arthouse/performance space/boutique
In Point Loma. Reds is an extended environ of the comfort zone at SDSU. It’s owned by a red-haired-earth-mother and staffed by angelic hippie chicks. Reds’ mission statement hangs near the coffee re-fill counter. It is so attractive that every refill of coffee results in urges to quit it all and live the simple life as a Java jockey.
The Cast of Characters
The Hero: Caleb John Clark
Our hero’s name is Caleb John Clark. He is a flower child, not to be confused with a hippie. His parents were hippies. He was born amid the left leaning winds of 1966 and raised during the screaming liberal gusts of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Before he could read he saw Hendrix burn his guitar and the Rolling Stones rock Golden Gate Park for free. After college Caleb picked his revolution – the Web, and moved into the geek culture in San Francisco.
Our hero is a man who has never worn a matching suit in 32 years – ever. Sure, he’s been forced into a coat, tie, and slacks, but they never matched. To this day merely passing a building where “suits” are coming and going causes involuntary scorn.
The Mentor and Trickster: Professor Allison Rossett
A ball of fire wearing parachute pants and cowboy boots. The only professor who makes a habit of cruising through the computer lab once a week to see what students are working on. A fast talker and 20+ year veteran of the department. Along with being the mentor, Allison is constantly tricking people by dancing between the world of corporate America and academia with apparent ease.
The Shapeshifter: The client, Debbie Smith
Debbie is young, attractive, tough and smart. She is the head of Widget Inc. training department and she is Web/Net savvy. But she is a client. And as any consultant will tell you, something happens to people when they become clients – they morph into shapeshifters. First they want one thing then they shapeshift and want a different thing.
The Shadow: The corporate world
A world that our hero must journey through successfully to pass EDTEC 644. It is a world he was conditioned to hate, a world that runs on different priorities, and a world he does not want to dress for.
Chapter 1: The Normal World
We find our hero in his last year of a Master’s degree program in EDTEC at SDSU. He loves his job working in the computer lab, helping students use the many high performance computers in the department. He is a happy techie in a world of state sponsored technology. This entire world can be negotiated successfully in shorts and sandals, tee shirts and jeans, which fits Caleb’s closet to the tee, as he has no other clothing.
Chapter 2: The Call to Adventure
One day Allison came into the computer lab while our hero was on duty. She was on one of her weekly tours to see what students were up to. Since Caleb was in the middle of signing up for next semester’s classes, he shouted, “Allison, if I could take only one class from you, which one would you suggest?”
Allison thought deeply for a moment. The students in the Lab couldn’t help but notice this drama unfolding and looked up from their computers. Finally Allison spoke, “Well, I’d say 644, the class where you work with clients on real projects” she said, looking around the Lab with a slight smile, “I’d like to get you out of your comfort zone.”
Chapter 3: Refusal of the Call
Caleb liked his comfort zone, it was comfortable. And he was much more interested in Allison’s other performance technology class, EDTEC 685. And it had been years since he had worked as a Webmaster and resided in a corporate cube. Besides, he didn’t own anything even remotely suit-like anymore, and he was happy about that simple fact. Caleb decided to take her other class, EDTEC 685.
Chapter 4: Supernatural Aid
One day Caleb was sitting outside enjoying some full spectrum light when a series of sane thoughts magically shined into his head. Maybe Allison was using her laser pointer on him from afar? Maybe it was a higher power? Or maybe it was the double latte he’d just sucked down on an empty stomach? The sane thought sounded something like this: He’d asked Allison which class to take. Maybe he’d be well advised to take the class she suggested.
He signed up for EDTEC 644 that day. He figured he’d be just fine outside his comfort zone. He’d just view it as an “EVA” (Extra Vehicular Activity) like on the space shuttle and keep it a short journey into this hostile environment. Or course he’d need to pick the right client.
Chapter 5: Crossing the First Threshold
The first night of EDTEC 644 the clients presented in class. They represented every corner of the industry, from public schools and community organizations, to Fortune 500 corporations and small Internet companies. One of the clients was from a 23 person local corporation called Widget Inc.
A young hip looking woman from their training department named Debbie presented for Widget Inc. She was well dressed in California business garb that cost more than our hero’s truck.
Debbie explained that her company helped businesses learn more about health insurance options for their employees. Widget Inc. consulted, offered workshops, and sold CD-ROM products that explained all the ins and outs of the complicated health care options. They were looking for a new approach to educating their clients and they wanted to use the Web. She went on to say that they had lots of data from commissioned surveys, product evaluations and workshop questionnaires. And that a focus group would be set up for this specific project.
Caleb listened and knew he wanted Widget Inc. as his client. He figured this would be a great opportunity for him to setup an online community. He’d been studying online communities, and working as a professional online forum host, for the past year. It was a subject he felt experienced in and this sounded like a situation that could capitalize on the information sharing a good online community spawned. He requested Widget Inc. as his client, and after a few tense days, was assigned by Allison to work on their project.
At the next class Allison mentioned that dressing in business attire was expected for the first meetings with their clients. She suggested that a little over dressing for the first meeting couldn’t hurt. These were not good words for our hero’s ears.
The night before the first meeting our hero ranted around his small house subjecting his roommates to endless speeches about having to change his style of dress for any reason, for anybody, any time. Also, after a year of graduate school, he didn’t have any clothes remotely close to business attire. He resolved to be himself and wear what he always wore this time of year – shorts, a tee shirt and sandals.
After much sane and calming talk by his roommates, he was convinced to wear a button down shirt and black shoes with clean jeans. He even buttoned the top button on the shirt, but he held the line at a tie.
At the meeting Debbie did not noticed the rash that formed around his neck from having a collar buttoned tight, nor did she see the uncomfortable way he walked due to having his clothes tucked into his pants.
Despite the clothes throwing him off, it was a good meeting. Debbie and he had a good work vibe and the work ahead seemed exciting. His charge was to research their extant data (wow, he was using the jargon already), then write a report recommending a new approach to educating their clients, and then make a prototype of one of his recommendations. He felt excited about the prospect of implementing what he’d been learning about online communities as well. As we shall see our hero was not only putting the cart before the horse, he’d put the horse in the cart and was hauling it blindly up a hill.
Chapter 6: Friends, Foes, and Tests
The next day Caleb drove his old truck to Widget Inc.’s office where he picked up all the Widget Inc. CD-ROMs, and extant data.
He drove to a café and started reading the reports, questionnaires from workshops, product reviews, telephone interviews with customers of the CDs, and consultants spread sheeted reports. These were foreign documents and foreign languages to our hero, so it took a long time for him to figure them out.
After several sessions with the extant data it was becoming obvious that Widget Inc.’s clients were confused in the process of learning about this subject, and that Debbie was right, a new approach to educating their clients was needed. But our Hero was beginning to see that maybe his idea of recommending an online community was a little off. Also, Allison’s classroom teachings about the value of analyzing optimals, actuals, and drivers was beginning to make him think he may be a little ahead of himself.
Upon further reflection Caleb had to admit that his original idea of an online community was probably not going to fit here. These business people were too busy to become part of an online community! What was he thinking? They needed some new kind of quick education on the run. But what was it?
Later in a café, as he sipped a beloved cappuccino, our hero thought maybe some sort of a map in the woods or a guide in the jungle was needed here. But remembering the fresh, and terribly young, death of his first born idea about online communities, he put this idea safely under wraps for the time being.
As the caffeine hit, his thoughts turned to the up coming focus group organized specifically for this project. The focus group sounded like an opportunity to try some material he’d been reading in Allison’s “Training Needs Assessment” book. He’d just read about groups being a good place to “solicit options on optimals, actuals, causes, feelings and solutions” (Rossett 1987). Allison had also been letting students read advanced drafts of her soon to be published “First Things Fast” book.
“The major part of performance analysis is to figure out what to do. During performance analysis, we emphasize the quest for drivers rather then the detailed definition of the domain or content area, because it is the drivers that define solutions.” (Rossett 1999)
Maybe this focus group would flush one of these drives into the open. Our hero was excited at the thought of actually seeing a real driver in the wild.
This excitement was soon quelled. The day before the focus group, Debbie informed everyone that the dress code was “Business formal.” Not good! Caleb panicked. He got mad, then he got madder.
The night before he subjected his roommates to a fashion show of desperation – and in their borrowed clothes! After hours of ranting, an outfit was picked: black pants, a borrowed white shirt, a borrowed tie and his grandfather’s suit coat. It felt workable.
Arriving at the focus group his mistake was immediately obvious. He had reached too far and failed completely. Looking around at the crowd, he could see plenty of suits, and plenty of businessmen in weekend jeans and shirts. But he could find nobody wearing a borrowed mishmash of clothes that traversed both worlds. He would have been much better off having worn clean jeans and nice shirt and shoes. It was a painful fashion lesson: “Never attempt a look you can’t pull off.”
The focus group lasted for two hours and involved listening to 8 intelligent business folk talk about their needs, feelings, and thoughts. It was run by an experienced outside consultant and tape-recorded. The focus group resulted in the most valuable data for the whole project. The main unmet need that came about from this focus group was that clients needed a map to help them figure out employee healthcare options. They were lost in a process.
The next challenge was to outline what his report would look like.
Chapter 7: Nearing the Main Crisis
After the focus group, Caleb listened to Debbie go over what they expected from his report. He was shocked. It was clear that he was not going to get out of this by just recommending an online community, or other cool Web technology that he thought would be work. He was actually going to have to justify his decisions with data, literature and theory. Debbie was expecting a report from him that detailed the extant data and what he had learned from synthesizing it; a review of the existing products strengths and weaknesses; a detailed synthesis of the data from the focus group; all wrapped up in report with an executive summary, conclusions, and appendices. It was a lot of work! A meeting was set up at Red’s Café to solidify the outline. “My god” thought Caleb “a meeting just for the outline! What have I got myself into?”
That week our hero had read an article in Allison’s readings packet entitled “The Instructional Designer-Subject Specialist Relationship: Implications for Professional Training” and one passage had jumped out at him:
“There are also some drawbacks to requiring or encouraging students to work with individuals outside an academic setting. As a professor, one is endorsing a student to work as a professional, yet the student is a novice, not a professional.” (Morrison 1998)
He made the mistake of thinking about this on his way to the meeting. It made him nervous.
Chapter 8: Major Crisis
At the meeting all went well until the conversation turned to the subject of who the report was for, and what its main goal was. Then things started to get sticky between Caleb and Debbie.
Debbie made it clear that the report was for her to get money for the project from her superiors and that as a consultant, his “allegiance was to the client”. She also made it clear that the URL for Caleb’s personal Web page should not be included because although she loved his site, it was not professional looking. He’d been building his Web site since 1994. It was a strange digital portfolio in the style of the Internet generation, and very personal (see: http://www.calebclark.org).
Caleb’s heart started pounding. His face flushed. Someone was telling him where his allegiance was! He was hearing a suggestion that his personal truth, as he saw it, might be anything but paramount in his report! His Web site was being judged!
He believed that his off- beat Web page should not only be mentioned, it should be highlighted! He believed he should use the page as an advantage to prove his “Wiredness” in the new information age, strengthening the credibility of his recommendations. And his recommendations should pay allegiance only to the truth of what he believed he should recommend!
He could not hide his feelings and spoke about them. Debbie pointed out that if he wanted to work in the field as a consultant he’d have to start putting the client first. And that his report would be used by her to get funding for projects, so he should do all he could to help her.
Caleb disagreed and countered that the best way he could see to help her was to give her a truly objective list of recommendations that she could use along with other data to get funding. The meeting ended badly, with both sides talking about apples and oranges.
Caleb drove off to school and let loose an uncensored email to Allison venting all his anger. He spent the rest of the day fuming and ranting. Allison read Caleb’s letter and didn’t throw him out of class as he had half expected. Instead she addressed each of his concerns, mostly agreeing with the client, but also giving him way to maintain his identity. She also told him some stories about her beginning consulting years that were similar to his experience. It was exactly what he needed, to be heard and have it understood that he was mad and why.
After a good nights sleep Caleb set out to write the report with renewed vigor. His goal: To please the client, while at the same time maintaining his personal beliefs and honor.
Chapter 9: Taking the Reward
One day our hero happened to talk to his crazy hippie uncle and tell him the story of his focus group fashion disaster. To his surprise his uncle was shocked that he didn’t own a suit and said, “A nice suit is one of life’s necessities.”
The next thing he knew he was with his uncle at a nice store wearing a 100% worsted wool classic charcoal business suit. On his feet where shiny Bostonian shoes. Under the suit was a new pressed light blue shirt with a new tie, albeit slightly hippie in design.
Wearing the suit our hero could not deny that he felt richer and quite handsome. This was amazing given the fact that he was actually poor and sporting a mature case of “grad gut”.
He realized that his rebellion against suits for the last 30 years had been misguided. He had never had a good suit; that was the problem. And his rebellion was not against the suits, but certain types of people who wore suits. Armed with his new fashion weapon, and a new understanding of how to use it, our hero started on the report.
As he wrote the first draft, he came to the conclusion that his main recommendation was going to be a Web based tool like he had imagined. His readings in class backed this up. Allison’s Job aid book (Rossett and Gautier-Downes 1991) talked about procedural job aids being good for complex subjects and made up of steps to follow not memorize. Procedural job aids also it answered the “How” and “When” questions and put forth actions using verbs. Further, her book said that the checklist format should be used when the task is “difficulty, new, or ambiguous challenge that requires the user to consider many factors.” Perfect! A Web based interactive checklist generator seemed perfect for the job.
As he wrote his report, the metaphor of being lost continued to be pervasive. Widget’s clients were lost in a process. It was like a graduate class without a syllabus. The content was there, but it was not framed in a way that let users build any kind of…of…. what’s that word…schema!
Wow! That was it! He leafed through his EDTEC textbooks reading about constructivist theories and schemas and scaffolding. He’d read this stuff before, but now the words were starting to make sense in a real world situation!
Next his journey lead him to rediscover “Advanced Organizers” in one of his textbooks titled “Instructional Message Design” (Fleming and Levie 1993). Advanced organizers were for building “the context in which a message is intended to be interpreted” (p. 84). Further reading revealed that advanced organizers set up cognitive scaffolding and were often in the form of overviews, and outlines.
It was all becoming clear! Our hero needed to propose a Web based interactive procedural job aid creator that would serve as an advanced organizer for establishing the context, and building a schemata, that the learners would use on their journey into employee health care options. Caleb was shocked at how professional that sounded.
This tool would be a Web page that would prompt user for some basic questions about the their situation using drop menus and check boxes. Then this tool would return customized and tailored answers to the user in the form of a checklist. This checklist would be printable and designed to have steps checked of as the user went through the months it takes to research employee health care options.
Such a tool skimmed the area of artificial intelligence, but Caleb realized that it didn’t have to be that complicated. In fact, the programming could be pretty simple, for a good programmer (he immediately thought of his friend Paul, who he’d worked with on other projects). Each question could have a paragraph of text associated with it. When the user selected an answer, the program would tag the paragraph associated with their choice. When the user hit “submit” only the paragraphs that were tied to each choice would be passed to the output text in the form of a checklist.
Our hero tore off into writing his report. His lead suggestion was this Web based interactive checklist maker.
Chapter 10: The Road Back
The first draft of the report was passed in. Debbie liked it.
Then, when Debbie suggested he add details about an macro process she’s been thinking about, things started to get dicey again.
Caleb felt the blood begin to boil again. But this time he remembered some words from Allison’s letter. She had said that sometimes when the client is pushing your buttons, the best thing to do is concentrate on listening to them. So our hero composed himself and tried to do just that, he sat and listened. She spoke of this process she wanted the report to explain, how it was a systematic problem with the company as a whole, how to tie it all together and get funding from her superiors. Again, Advance Organizers came to mind. She was trying to make one for her whole company, and put it in his report.
Suddenly a ray of high-grade consultancy slammed into his head. It spoke to him as if from Allison herself. “Your draft reports are causing Debbie to come up with great ideas-which is a good thing. What isn’t a good thing is that she wants you to re-write the report to include each subsequent set of ideas that your drafts of the report stimulate. The report needs to be finished and Debbie needs to use it as only a part of her pitch, not the whole thing.”
When Debbie was done, Caleb agreed with her ideas, but suggested that his report was not the place for the new ideas. He urged her to summarize her ideas in the cover letter that she present to her boss along with his report, her other data, and his prototype. He suggested that now he should start building a prototype.
To his surprise, Debbie agreed.
Chapter 11: The Climax
For this next meeting Caleb wore his suit. Glancing up into the sky as he walked to the office building he expected to see Jerry Garcia, Wavy Gravy, and other famous hippies sitting in the clouds taking aim at his head with huge burning joints. But they weren’t there when he looked up. Maybe it was his slightly hippie tie.
At the meeting the suit got a big reaction from Debbie and the staff. When asked about it our hero said, “I just felt like wearing a suit.”
The meeting was a great success. Debbie then explained her plan for implementing the main idea from his report; a Web-based interactive checklist generator that would customize and tailor a checklist to the user’s company.
After listening patiently Caleb spoke up. “It sounds me to me like Widget Inc. is suffering from the same things that its clientele are. Namely a lack of a path to follow with easily understood goals and objectives.” The staff admitted that this was so. Our hero felt the rush of consultancy gone right, he saw the light!
Leaving the meeting our hero went straight to school in his new suit. He had a meeting with Allison that day and figured he might as well show off while he was all dolled up and looking professional.
Arriving at school caused quite a stir! Nobody had ever seen Caleb in anything approaching a business suit. Allison was so impressed she had Caleb have his picture taken in his suit in the Lab. All day long students coming into the Lab would stop and stare at the remarkable transition. And our hero was amazed at how the men seemed a little intimidated and the woman kept saying how good he looked. This was very good for our hero, who adores attention.
Chapter 12: Return with the Reward
With the report behind him, and a happy client, Caleb started building a prototype of the Web based interactive checklist generator. Debbie liked the prototype. And she mentioned that she’d like him to bid on building the real thing, and that this would involve real money.
A few days later our hero was back in Red’s café with his laptop building the prototype. The product would be linked off the main company Web site. The user would enter their first name, and then answer some basic questions about their company. After clicking on “Submit” the user would get back a checklist, like the one pictured below, with suggestions on how to proceed on their quest of information.
Staring at the almost done prototype on his laptop screen, it hit him. His journey was over! He’d made it back alive, a little wiser for the trip and a little better clothed. He ordered a fresh cappuccino and reflected on what he had learned from the journey:
* The value of analyzing extant data, and doing analysis with real users
* The danger of thinking you know the solution before you do
* People doing any project need a map of the terrain they will be negotiating, and a path to follow, or veer off from, as they progress.
* The value of reviewing literature and textbooks.
* Always have at least one nice suit, a clean shirt, a good tie that fits who you are, and new shoes, in your closet.
* A flower child can wear a suit and not become a mindless drone of the evil corporate money machine.
* We can all profit from a worthy mentor.
The author would like to thank the following people for their help in creating this story: Lisa Hasler, Brett Pollak, Carl Czech, The spring ’98 EDTEC 644 students and Uncle Binny and Uncle Cove, Kendra Sheldon. Also, my roommates Brett Clapham and Travis Wall for their borrowed clothes and for putting up with my clothing rants.
Readings Packet (Rossett, EDTEC 644)
Rossett, A. & Downes-Gautier, J. H. (1991) Handbook of Job Aids. San Diego, CA: Pfeiffer.
Campbell, J. (1949). Hero with a thousand faces. NY, NY, MJF Books.
Fleming, M. L. and W. H. Levie (1993). Instructional message design: principles from the behavioral and cognitive sciences. Englewood Cliffs, NJ, Educational Technology Publications.
Morrison, R. G. (1998). “The instructional designer-subject specialist relationship: implications for professional training.” Journal of Instructional Development 11(2): 24-27.
Rossett, A. (1987). Training needs assessment. Englewood Cliffs, NJ, Educational Technology Publications.
Rossett, A. (1999). First Things Fast: A Handbook for Performance Analysis. San Francisco CA, Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer.
Rossett, A. and J. Gautier-Downes (1991). A handbook of job aids. San Diego, Pfeiffer.
Vogler, C. (1992). The writer’s Journey: mythic structures for storytellers & screenwriters. LA, CA, Michael Wiese Productions.
EDTEC 644 Textbooks and Readings
Clark, R. E. (1998) Building Expertise: Cognitive Methods for Training and Performance Improvement. Washington, DC; International Society for Performance Improvement. [Aztec Shops]
Jonassen, D. H. (Ed.) (1996). Handbook of research for educational communications and technology. New York: MacMillan. [Aztec Shops]
Rossett, A. (1987) Training Needs Assessment. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications. [Aztec Shops]
Readings Packet (Rossett, EDTEC