How to Make

an Instructional Technologist

Johannes Cronje
University of Pretoria


The idea for the title of this paper is derived from Lloyd Rieber's contribution on "How I became and Instructional Technologist." Like Lloyd I also traveled far and wide before entering the field, never as an Instructional Technologist, but as the coordinator of a Masters' program in computer-assisted education.

What follows here then, is not theory, but a reflection on six years of practice. So this paper will differ from the "Academic" ones--in particular as it will show a great lack of references to literature. Instead it will take the form of a case study and include comments from recently manufactured instructional technologists. I am sure, though, that, during the discussion which will follow, Tom Reeves, Lloyd Rieber, Steve Tripp, and others will probably supply us with ample references either to back up or refute what I write. I am looking forward to that.


The Masters' degree in Computer-Assisted Education at the University of Pretoria was instituted by Dr. Renate Lippert, a University of Minnesota Ph.D., in 1992. It was designed as a two nights a week course running for two years, culminating in a mini-dissertation. The dissertation involved either developing a piece of software, a series of lessons, or a critique of existing material.

The curriculum for the course work is available at...

I took over from Renate in 1994. The format of the course was changed in 1995 to entail six block visits per year. A block consisted of four days. Students belong to a class e-mail listserver and to ITForum in order to keep them in daily contact with the field--particularly since they are away for periods between four and six weeks. A new intake to the two-year course is taken every year. An intake has roughly 12 students, which means that at any given time there are about 24 students enrolled. Students live geographically dispersed in a radius of about 800 miles from Pretoria.

Students construct their own web-sites in response to tasks given. The home page of the course is at...

This site is mainly for use of the students, so, while you are welcome to browse it, it is at your own risk. The information management, interface, etc., was organically grown and not "designed." Its purpose is for the students to have a place to put their work, and for the lecturer to have a place to tell them what to do.

So, do we manage to turn them into instructional technologists? And if we do, how? When I started working on this paper I e-mailed 55 of the 120 graduates of the course and asked them the following:

  1. Did we manage?
  2. How did we manage?
  3. What was it that made the course work for you?
  4. What was it in the course that did NOT work for you?
  5. What did the course eventually do for you?

Nine students responded and from their responses and my own reflection, the following recipe evolved

The Recipe


1. THE RIGHT GOAL -- The outcome of our course is very clearly specified. We want to produce consultants in the field of computer-assisted education. In order to refine this goal, we have identified a number of role models. What we are trying to "make" are variations of these:

a. Sylvia: Sylvia manages her own small software production company. She produces tailor-made solutions ranging from traditional stand-alone CBT, web-based intranet training, and Electronic Performance Support Systems. What sets Sylvia's company apart is the strong theoretical foundation upon which she builds her products.

b. Johan: Johan works for a large university and specializes in Instructional Design. He produces information kiosks, multimedia CD roms to support classroom instruction, web-based instruction sites. His strength lies in his capacity for lean and elegant design.

c. Anne and Ilse: Anne and Ilse run a company that specializes in implementing computers in schools. They take them through the entire process from situation analysis, right through to implementation. This includes curriculum development and staff training.

d. Annette: Annette runs a university-based further diploma in computer-assisted education. She drew up the curriculum, designed the materials, trained the presenters and is currently responsible for quality assurance. She has about 150 students. They range from very sophisticated teachers in very wealthy schools, to teachers in previously disadvantaged communities, who have never worked on a computer before.

2. THE RIGHT OPERATING SYSTEM -- Since programs are dependent on operating systems, this is of crucial importance. Until recently our team consisted of four members with radically different approaches to teaching and learning--as well as to the way in which students should be treated. The easiest way to explain this is to use the metaphor of computer operating systems.

Annelise: Annelise works in DOS. She is stable, powerful, and reliable, but not very user friendly. If she does not get exactly what she asked for, she returns an error such as "Bad command or filename". She is able to process with good speed and reasonable elegance, but prefers not to multi-task.

Knoetze: Knoetze works in UNIX. Powerful, versatile, able to do anything at lightning speed, able to multitask, but seriously user-unfriendly and CASE SENSITIVE.

Johannes: I work in Windows. Colorful, flamboyant, user friendly, able to run any number of applications at the same time and likely to suffer from memory overload, leading to a crash of the system and resultant loss of data.

Cheryl: She works in Macintosh. Elegant, free of errors, well designed, but very expensive and almost unobtainable in South Africa.

The advantage of having four very different individuals on the team meant that students had to learn to analyze us as clients. I might want work reflecting their creativity and their ability to generate diversity. Cheryl might want to see evidence of elegance and leanness in design. A project that would generate a distinction from me might return a C from Cheryl.

Patsy summarized this nicely in response to my question. "The key to success lies not in the methodology/technology but in the creativity and flexibility expressed by the instructors. The role of diverse presenters with diverse approaches helped give insight into the field."

3. THE RIGHT STUDENTS -- There seems to be a direct correlation between students' determination to be allowed onto the course and their achievement. Those who have to travel far seem to do better than those who are close by. Those who had to fight to get in because they did not quite meet the entry requirements seemed to do much better than we had expected. I try and select students for what they have to offer. They are going to work in groups and they will have to contribute to the group effort. Students are selected for their technological skills, their academic skills or even their interpersonal skills.

4. THE RIGHT PERIPHERALS -- Students are requested to subscribe to two listservers. ITForum and the alumni association, C@TTS (The Computer-Assisted Teaching and Training Society of the University of Pretoria). ITForum gives them a depth of insight into the field, and C@TTS lets them know their place in the country. The alumni serve as quality assurers and possible employers. We rely heavily on them to help create new instructional technologist. Another very important peripheral is the support system of the students.

Pam lists the following:

"Having a good support system at the university in the form of the library with whom one could work via e-mail. Being able to communicate with fellow students via e-mail. Meeting other like-minded positive students, of a similar age or background."

5. THE RIGHT ATTITUDE -- What always amazes me about the course is the amount of growth shown by students. This is directly related to the fact that they get thrown in at the deep end and are expected to help each other to swim. We expect two things: The ability to take responsibility for themselves and the ability to take responsibility for their class mates. Students who do best AFTER the course (I like measuring the success of the course not in the pass rate, but in the rate of students who improved their positions after completing the course) all have one thing in common--the attitude with which they come onto the course. They have already decided that they see a future for themselves in computer-assisted education. They already have clear goals in that respect. They see the course as their passport to those goals, and they see their lecturers as the ones who will help them get those passports. We are not experienced, as traditional lecturers often are, as barriers to the obtaining of the degree.


1. MIX ALL THE INGREDIENTS TOGETHER -- The course functions very strongly on the basis of co-operative learning (Johnson & Johnson, 1991). Students are assigned to co-operative learning groups that are designed around a mutual goal, individual responsibility and positive interdependence. The composition of the groups varies with the nature of the task and we try to make new groups for every activity so that every student will eventually be in a group with every other student. We try to limit group size to three. This results in a very strong group cohesion and the building of trust within the larger group. Because the groups are re-composed often, it tends to prevent the forming of cliques.

Likewise the lecturers are grouped together. We usually assign one lecturer to a specific module, depending on interest and specialty, but sometimes two instructors will co-teach a module. What also works well is interspersing lecturers of different temperaments so that students can meet different styles and to prevent their getting frustrated with any one particular lecturer.

2. PUT UNDER PRESSURE -- We have found that, the more we expect from students, the better they perform. Students who for some reason have been exempted from pressure (i.e., by having a deadline extended) tend to expect such lenience more often, with a resultant drop in the standard of their work. The course is highly demanding, yet there have never been complaints of too much work.

This is borne out by Linda's response to my question: "What was it that made the course work for you?"

"The constructivist approach--Somehow this course got me to become self-motivated. I wanted to learn more; I got excited about the prospect of mastering the challenges that was thrown our way. I think that you challenged us beyond the levels of comfort. Also the amount of work expected of us, together with the variety in terms of assignments, kept the pressure on and the interest going. I am by no choice of my own a procrastinator - the more I have to do, the better I function. This course managed to accomplish more than I ever thought possible (whilst still having another life at home, and yet another one at work!)"

Much of the pressure comes from giving students tasks to perform which involves consulting the literature, identifying a problem, designing a solution to that problem, implementing it and reporting on what they had learnt.

A typical task would be: "Design a spreadsheet that will measure the extent to which any learning experience was designed according to behavioral and constructivist principles, and plot the result on a matrix. Work through the programs Active stats and Statistics for the terrified. Measure both programs against your spreadsheet. Compare the results of the two evaluations in an essay of 1,000 words. "

In order to do this task, students have to get to grips with the literature involving both behaviorism and constructivism. Moreover, because of the task, they are to do so without prejudice to either of the two. Bettie's spreadsheet can be viewed at:

and the essay at

It is important, however, not just to have pressure. The pressure needs to be perceived to lead in some direction. The "Story" of the Masters in Computer-assisted education is as follows:

Module One: Evaluation of software and its effect on learning. The rationale for beginning with this module is that many students have never seen educational software. This way they are quickly exposed to a selection of good and bad software, while they are also introduced to the process of evaluation research.

Module Two: Learning theory. If you have to look at the effect of software on learning, you need to know how people learn from a behaviorist and constructivist point of view.

Module Three: Teaching theory: If you know how people learn, you need to know how to make that learning happen individually and co-operatively.

Module Four: Drills, tutorials, simulations, and games, word processors, spreadsheets, databases, graphics and presentation packages--the tools of the trade.

Module Five: Design and development. The second year has optional courses for specialization. (See the link to the curriculum above)

3. ALLOW TO SIMMER -- Co-operative work, supported by a listserver, leads to a very close relationship between students and their instructor, particularly since the instructor is part of the list and reads every message. The temptation is there for the instructor to answer every query. Moreover, the pressure often causes small explosions in the group. It is amazing how well the group is able to sort out its differences without lecturer intervention. As Barry puts it:

"We managed because we had to and wanted to. One of the big factors towards success was the fact that we competed and worked together and although this might seem contradictory it worked as we knew that we had collaborate as there was so much to do and too little time to do it in, much of which you experience in real life. The other thing was that most people came to the course because they wanted to and were therefore overly enthusiastic and I had the feeling that some that exuberance at being able to do something new and exciting kept us going."

A further advantage of holding back is that it allows students to develop their own opinions. Barry again.

"For the first time at university I had a voice, I could contribute, I could think about new things, I made new things, I found out about new things and finally I was able to change my whole career."

4. STIR REGULARLY -- In order for students to develop into consultants it is necessary to force them to take issue with various aspects. This we tried with various exciting debates. Notably a debate in which we invited some members of ITForum to participate. We ran a listserver-based debate on the Clark's (1994) position that "media will never influence learning." The complete debate is available on

5. TURN THE WHOLE THING OVER -- The project-based nature of the course means that the students are really the ones who produce knowledge, not the instructors. This worked best in an instance where a student wanted to know where he could find a "Who's who" of Instructional technology. I asked on various bulletin boards and ITForum and found that none existed. Two months later I instructed the student, together with two others, to construct one. The result is at

Patsy concurs with that as follows:

"The processes that students experience in becoming IT's needs to be grounded in the actuality of using the tools and materials of IT. Viau(1994) contends in relation to this type of learning, that this active, hands-on approach results in an educational experience that is coherent in its context and results in usable and valuable products. (Am concluding here that an IT professional is one product of such a process.)"

6. ADD SUGAR TO TASTE -- From time to time students come up with work greatly in excess of what was expected. We try not only to give credit to such students, but also to ensure that the credit goes beyond the local sphere. When Johan, Ari, and Barry constructed the "Who's Who of Instructional Technology" we published its existence far and wide. It has since been selected as 1998 INTRO awards winner and a Links2go Educational Technology Key Resource.

7. COOL DOWN RAPIDLY -- As you will see from the comments of the students, they tend to be very enthusiastic about their achievements. By the end of the second semester this develops into an attitude of self-righteousness and such pride that they believe that they are the only ones who know anything about the field. Then they start writing messages to ITForum belittling the attempts of anyone else. It then becomes necessary to sit them down and explain that we are all looking for some bit of truth, and that there is no such thing as completely right. Dolf refers to this as a "Good balance between kiss & whip from lecturer group".

9. REMOVE IMPURITIES -- The lecturer is not the only one who cracks the whip, though, students can be harsh in their criticism. It is important to take note of these when one designs for the next year. Here is what they say they did not like: Maybe this is the most important part of this article. Throwing students into the deep end can be highly traumatic as Pam points out: "The Authoring session did not work because I did not have enough skills, at that time, for what was required. Most stressful." Linda concurs: "My limited experience with technology held me back at first. Not only did I have to complete the tasks and projects, but I also needed to learn how to use the applications. With the bulk of my experience in the field of education, I had only limited knowledge of word processing when I enrolled for the course. I desperately needed a bridging course to bring me on par with the rest of the 'technoboffs' in the class."

Linda adds a caution about co-operative learning: "I learnt a lot from working in groups--mainly incidental learning--but I hated having to depend on others to produce their best. I hated having to negotiate everything. I hated working together with a self-proclaimed behaviorist on a constructivist assignment! I hated not being able to do everything exactly as I wanted."

Jill agrees: "being sometimes put by default into groups with students who did not pull their weight, thus detracting from the efforts and results of all of us."

In spite of this, Barry calls for more peer contact: "I would have liked more contact as I liked the face-to-face contact because of my verbal learning style and the fact that the discussions and group work served as catalysts for new ideas.

8. GARNISH AND SERVE -- In South Africa the fields of Instructional Design and Instructional Technology are relatively unknown. Not many Universities take it seriously, and it is usually found as a sub-section of something else. So, when you have made your Instructional Technologist, it is also your job to make her attractive. We try to attend just about every training and educational conference in the county to speak about what we are doing. Fortunately a number of alumni are involved in the Bureaus for Academic Development at Universities and Colleges and they have also taken up the challenge of publicizing their skills and the skills of their fellow alumni far and wide. This has led to a country-wide network of alumni who create work for each other--and who constantly refer new students. Thus, if one wants to measure the success of one's training at the highest level as Kirkpatrick (1979) suggests, one needs to measure the impact of the course on its participants and their environment, rather than just look at the number of graduates, or even just at their response to the course. This is why I asked the question "What did the course do for you?" To which some responses were:

Patsy: "I consider that the grads of the course can take their place in the IT field with confidence locally and internationally."

Barry's case brings a further problem: "I would also suggest that the dissertation be started almost immediately as I never got time to complete it--I got a new job before the end of the course and never had enough time after that."

Jill shows that we achieved exactly the outcome we were looking for: "Lifelong friends, associates, and contacts. A source of advice, help, and cooperation. Confidence to attempt the design and development of training material in fields in which I first have to master the content... Sufficient contacts in the real world of business, in order to establish my own business, which I would never otherwise have attempted."

So much for the garnish. The SERVE part, is the service provided by the lecturer. The students do it for their careers. The lecturer does it for the money. It is our JOB to make them instructional technologists, so while one is tempted to consider oneself the supervisor of the students, the success of the product ultimately depends on how well you were able to serve the needs of the Instructional Technologists in the making.


This then, a perspective from the southern tip of Africa. I offer it as a case study. Much of it will sound familiar to you. Other aspects may make you angry. But that's why this is ITForum. Please let us hear of your successes and lessons learnt as you go about making instructional technologists--or as you suffer while becoming one.


Clark, R.E. (1994). Media Will Never Influence Learning. Educational Technology Research and Development, 42(2), 21-30.

Johnson, D.W. & Johnson, R.T. (1991). Learning Together and Alone. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

Kirkpatrick, D.L. (1979). Techniques for evaluating training programs. Training and development journal, June 1979, 178-192.

Viau, E.A. (1994). The mind as channel: A paradigm for the information age. Educational Technology Review, Fall/Winter, 5-10.

Johannes Cronje, Professor
University of Pretoria
South Africa


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