My Reflections on the Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT) 2017 International Convention

Lewis Chongwony, Ph.D.
Tuesday, November 14, 2017
A promotional poster for the AECT 2017 conference, whose theme was "Leading Learning for Change."

4,000+ Years of Combined Experience

From November 6 – 11, 2017, the Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront in Jacksonville, Florida was a beehive of activity, as members of the AECT, one of the oldest professional organizations, passionate about uncovering better ways of helping people learn, congregated for the 2017 convention. With close to 400 concurrent sessions, several workshops, and more than 1,000 attendees, the place was beaming and brimming with excitement and an aura of freshness as attendees imbibed from pots of research, best practices, and experiences of speakers and peers both in sessions and during breaks. Looking around, I could easily tell that the 2017 conference was a host to more than 4,000 years of combined professional experience. Just ruminate on that for a moment. Yes, you read it right: more than 4,000 years of combined professional experience. What learning problems can such a group not solve?   

The majority of attendees were college professors of instructional design and/or educational technology (full professors, associate professors, assistant professors, and faculty members with open ranks) and their graduate students. Eminent professors in the field were present. Others in attendance were practitioners from industry, professional bodies, government, military, and nonprofit organizations, vendors of technology products, and other administrators and staff from learning institutions (higher education, community colleges, and K-12 schools) – all eager to listen and find new solutions to vexing learning problems, as well as advance the field of instructional design.  

Same Old Learning Issues

As the session got underway, it became abundantly clear that members of the 94-year-old organization are still grappling with the same old learning issues we commonly hear in the corridors of our respective institutions, couched in various phrases, questions, and complaints:

  • How did the student get to this level of education?
  • Colleges are not doing enough to prepare students for the job market.
  • Schools are not doing their work to prepare students for college.
  • We need state-of-the-art technology in our lecture halls and classrooms.
  • Our teachers can’t integrate technology into their lessons.

The blame cycle is unending, with various stakeholders pointing their fingers at each other; yet there is so much knowledge on learning being churned out of AECT and other organizations of similar kind. Could it be that wrong questions are asked and answered, rendering such knowledge dead on arrival? Alternatively, could it be that the wrong variables are being addressed, or the sheer number of variables involved makes it difficult to focus on critical ones that have the most impact on learning? On the other hand, could it be that knowledge embodied in research presented in such venues as AECT is confined to the ivory towers of academia?

What would you say about AECT or your own organization? Is it a household name and the go-to place for effective solutions to learning problems? What about you at a personal level? Are you the go-to person for effective research on learning and integration of technology, design of learning solutions, and infusion of best practices in learning and teaching? What is hindering you?

Moreover, why do we continue to experience similar learning problems year in and year out when expertise on these issues is represented, for example, by members of AECT, with more than 4,000 + years of combined experience, who descended on Jacksonville like a swarm of locusts, ready to devour any learning problem? You could not have asked for more density of experience at a single conference. Could it be the case of preaching to the choir in such settings, where little of what is exhaled and inhaled in terms of research findings and best practices is propagated to a wider audience who needs such interventions and exposure the most? The same could be said about many great things happening at institutions of higher learning, which, in most cases, have been reduced to self-contained silos. What then do we need to do?

Some Golden Nuggets from the Conference

To bridge these challenges in academia, one of the keynote speakers, Dr. Marcy Driscoll, in her speech implored that we do the following:

  1. Think about education differently. I could not agree more with her, especially if we consider that we have been trying to solve the same educational problems without much success.
  2. Look at the big picture, beyond our discipline conclaves, immediate context, and labor with others to come at big, vexing issues with different assumptions and values than we are used to. We need to consider fresh insights able to address learning challenges.
  3. Be bold and recognize our abilities to lead, whether as individuals or collective groups, endeavor to position ourselves as leaders, and work diligently to get our work into the public sphere through what she called “public scholarship.”

As I close, help me reflect on the following questions and issues:

  • What is your understanding of public scholarship?
  • How are you enabling and facilitating conversations on campus about public scholarship?
  • Do you know what other people are thinking/doing about the challenging learning issues you are facing? Can you find out?
  • How are you communicating to people who are not interested or don’t know about what you do in academia?
  • Do you know any reporters or editors of local newspapers or blogs? Would you mind befriending one who will help you do a story of your work at least once a week? 

Finally, what questions, suggestions, or feedback do you have on what I have shared? Just leave a comment and we will connect to continue the discussion.

Image Reference

Blog Category: 
Educational Technology
Instructional Design
Teaching Effectiveness



Dr. Chongwony, I was excited to read your very well-written recap of some of the ideas and questions expressed at the AECT Convention, this year. Moreover, your questions are compelling and worth consideration for all Educational Technology and Instructional Design experts in higher education. As a field of researchers, are we making any impact on educational practice? If so, how do we measure that impact? If not, what must we do to have greater impact? I love the idea of public scholarship - to me this means: - Publishing summaries of work in non-academic settings such as newspapers and accessible books - Blogging or video blogging - Writing books that are extremely accessible to non-academics and that explain how to apply the concepts in simple terms - Presenting research results to the audience that is impacted by it, again in a manner that is accessible and easily applied. (This should be easy, given our expertise in designing instruction!) :) Thanks for a great post, Lewis!

Hey Lewis, this is a great post! I was really interested by your bulleted list of common learning issues, and then your question regarding if maybe we're asking the wrong questions. Is there a way we can look at the bulleted questions and reframe them into more helpful, answerable questions/issues? For example, what question should we be asking instead of just saying "Colleges are not doing enough to prepare students for the job market"?

I agree with both of your sentiments, Joel and Carolyn. We at i4 are fortunate to work in a centralized instructional design hub, where we are already asking many of the questions above. To Carolyn's point, I think our team is already defining some of the challenges addressed here in specific ways and creating unique solutions. For example, at Franklin we offer state-of-the art technology such as an in-house designed learning management system that is continually evolving, yet we have found that it's not enough simply to offer it, or even to train users on it. We must be the cheerleaders, the star players, and the coaches, too. We must also step back and play the role of the statistician to determine how effective a new LMS feature is. As Carolyn said, I would be interested to see how we can transform more of the challenges listed here into answerable issues. To Joel's point, once we have successfully put such a solution into practice and assessed its effectiveness, we need to find platforms to share it with the larger community. And that is what you've done here, Lewis. Great work!

Amy, you have made a great point, here. There are groups who are actively researching and using the research that is done in the field of instructional design. We do a good job at applying some of this knowledge here at Franklin. I notice that many of the issues that we are seeing in education are systemic in nature and require systemic change. This is not a traditional response of the field of instructional design - we are focused on creating great learning solutions. Of course, that has a big impact on learning success, but I wonder what kinds of solutions we might come up with if we were to bring out systematic thinking to the issue and looked for other solutions, in addition to instructional solutions...

Lewis, your blog post really got me thinking, and I ended up writing a blog post with some of my own reflections. They mirror your own (and might not be as well written as yours), but I offer them here as my own set of reflections: The main thing I might have added is a few ideas that I have been implementing to make my own research and ideas more accessible to those who might be using it.