About one week of every month I’m responsible for monitoring the instructional technology support channels DePaul offers to instructors. Instructors email their questions and requests directly to Faculty Instructional Technology Services (FITS), or can submit help requests through DePaul’s general technology support center (TSC). Those requests eventually make their way back to FITS, the Central Team, and for that one week out of the month, me.
Despite serving a support role regularly, I recently had an agitated conversation with customer service representatives associated with an in-flight wifi company. I purchased in-flight wifi before my trip because instructions online indicated it would be much cheaper if I did so. Then I got on the flight and not only was it cheaper to purchase wifi on the plane, but my previously purchased access code wouldn’t work.
I teach in the First-Year Writing program at DePaul, and during Autumn Quarter especially, my classes consist mostly of freshmen. I love to watch how their demeanors evolve throughout the quarter as they become more confidently part of DePaul’s academic community—but joining this community isn’t natural for everyone (and wasn’t for me when I was an undergraduate student).
So as I’m submitting final grades for Autumn Quarter, pouring over my course evaluations, and thinking about the fast-approaching Winter Quarter, I’m reflecting on how I can better help the students that don’t as easily find their groove in my classroom and others.
My colleagues at FITS have already provided many helpful tips for developing and facilitating effective discussions in online courses. Josh cautions against teaching a correspondence course and explains, “the best discussion questions don’t have a clear answer, and sometimes they aren’t even clear questions.” He also encourages instructors to provoke debate and ask those pointed and room-dividing questions. And Ashanti provides strategies for generating discussions that matter, such as providing opportunities for student-led discussions and pushing students to draw real-world connections.
Still, even with these strategies and course design principles in mind, it can be hard to get every student involved and engaged. Julie Stella and Michael Corry recognize this, and engagement is a focus in “Intervention in Online Writing Instruction.” Stella and Corry argue for “an interwoven perspective of motivation, engagement, agency, and action in Online Writing Instruction,” and in the process provide some helpful tips for all online educators.
Stella and Corry begin with an overview of the current literature centered on engagement and agency, and specifically the ways these concepts are treated in Self-Determination Theory (SDT). As they explain, SDT is “a framework through which educators may be able to reliably predict the motivation a student feels toward academic tasks.” In other words, the good stuff instructors are always trying to tap into. In SDT, all students – and humans – are thought to be working towards satisfying three needs: autonomy, competence, and relatedness.
I have only been working in instructional technology full time for a few months, so I am not really prepared to call myself an expert on anything. Except, maybe, on providing support in an instructional technology department.
As a newcomer to instructional technology, I have spent a lot of time figuring out how to make stuff work. In my current role as a member of a support team, I not only have to figure out how to make stuff work for my own benefit, but also help other people at a university learn to use our learning management system and other educational technology tools.
So I am no course design expert, but I am good at troubleshooting what I do not know, and helping others to do the same. This is what I’ve learned is key in a support role. Continue reading