Do instructional designers secretly serve as change agents in higher education institutions? Change is a faint tremor that rarely erupts to alter the academic structure cemented in tradition and intricate policies. However, instructional designers have a unique role that gives them access to the three primary stakeholders at a university: faculty, administration, and students. Acting in a supportive, non-threatening role, instructional designers have the opportunity to create change without having to move the weighty levers of the academic machine. Taking a look at the five characteristics of change agents identified by George Couros, author of Innovative Mindset, provides a better understanding of why instructional designers may be the secret change agents in higher education institutions.
Have you chosen a career that is causing your stress level to be extremely high? Do you enjoy going to work? Do you view it as a place where you can perform your daily duties without experiencing anxiety or depression? Do you ever find most of your conversation in life is centered on complaints about your place of employment?
I am quite sure if we were to hold a round table discussion of these questions, there would be a lot of “collaborative dialogue.” I have read countless articles about people feeling overworked and overwhelmed in the workplace. As a matter of fact about 3 years ago I was one of these individuals who went to work daily with a smile on my face while on the inside I felt like a wounded, helpless puppy. So the question I have for you is: Do you truly understand the effects of working in a stressful environment?
During a recent research jaunt to update some FITS resources on online learning, I stumbled across an article about the value of including the instructor’s face in course videos. If you don’t have time for the entire piece, here’s my TL;DR:
Faculty often ask me “if it matters” to include their faces within course videos. My standard response is that they should try it in the introductory video. Start the video with your face on the screen, either in full-frame glory or in a small square in the corner (depending on the software you’re using), and then transition to the other typical intro video elements, like a tour of the course or syllabus. That way, you only have to think about being “on camera” for a minute or two.
But what faculty are really asking is this: does including my face in videos either (1) make students feel more engaged with the course materials, or (2) actually result in better learning?
In my last post, I detailed a study in the summer of 2016 using the Knewton Adaptive Learning engine built into Pearson’s MyMathLab. This was a limited study with a trial of Knewton in 4 developmental math courses. The results of the trial were compared to sections of the same courses in which the adaptive engine was not used. In that limited study we found that students got better scores overall on the MyMathLab quizzes and that they spent less time on task.
The summer cohort of students isn’t reflective of regular semester classes (in DePaul’s First-Year Program we typically see entering freshmen, where this is the first university level course they have encountered), so we implemented the same trial in 4 courses with larger enrollments and traditional students during the winter 2016 quarter. Please see my previous blog post for information about the Knewton engine and the previous trial.
When I’m contacted by faculty who want help creating video for their courses, one of the first things I ask is why they want to make a video. Most of the time it’s to add some instructor presence in an online or hybrid course, but often it’s to replicate a lecture they’ve given in the face-to-face version of the course.
I’m always a bit apprehensive as I tease out the reasons for the request. I don’t want to trespass on the instructor’s prerogative to teach the course as s/he wishes, but I do know that many of the videos I see don’t serve their intended purpose—assuming the purpose is to promote learning or add instructor presence.
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.
In 2016 I learned about a conference hosted by Ashoka U, an organization that supports universities in fostering “social innovation” and “changemaking” on their campuses. It sounded fascinating despite the fact that I had no idea what these terms meant. After reading a bit further, I learned that these are relatively new umbrella terms that include elements of social justice and social entrepreneurship. In a nutshell, social innovation in higher education can include any initiative that exposes students to social justice, intercultural collaboration, and concepts like design thinking and business/nonprofit management.
I wasn’t quite sure how all of this might relate to instructional technology, but I had a feeling it could be relevant to the type of online international collaborations we’re establishing at DePaul through our Global Learning Experience (GLE) program. In GLE projects, our students collaborate online with faculty and students at foreign universities, and I’m always on the lookout for ways to help our students collaborate more effectively with peers from different cultural backgrounds. While I can’t fit everything I learned at the conference in a single blog post, I’ve included a few of my favorite lessons below.
I’ve always been research-oriented, and I’d like to believe that I’m a curious soul. I love asking questions, often with little hope of finding a definitive answer. One thing I’ve always wondered is how we think about the things we hold important. It started with what apps I keep on my phone’s home screen. I was looking at the difference between the home screen on my phone versus the home screen on my boyfriend’s phone. He had folders on the front; I put folders on the other pages. I kept a lot of the “pre-installed” apps on my home screen; he just had one or two.
So I started to think about what my home screen might say about what I value and what I use a lot. In this search, I noticed quite a bit about myself:
Recently, on “Pi Day” (3.14, or March 14 for the non-nerds out there) I was reading an article about the benefits of learning programming on the Raspberry Pi, a micro-computer that costs only $35 dollars, and all the ways that it helps tinkerers learn programming and solve obscure issues by creating their own software and hardware solutions. I had recently fallen into the trap of tech lust—the feeling nerds get when they suddenly want to buy some piece of technology they may or may not really need—and decided that I wanted to buy a Pi device and get back into programming, having not written a line of code since high school.
That last bit presented a bit of an issue for me, however. Learning to code was always easiest for me when I had a specific issue to solve, since it helped me predict what kind of code I needed to learn, while also making the motivational factor much easier to maintain. It’s this feeling of not knowing where to start that I often see students struggle with as well.
Facing this issue myself, before I decide which Pi to purchase I’ll look online for specific Pi projects that others have done, to see what solutions I may be able to integrate into my own network and test bench at home. At the same time, I think it is helpful to consider the different pedagogical approaches available to instructors to naturally integrate problems into the assignments we give, in order to help students learn to solve them.
As a child one of my favorite stories was The Sneetches by Dr. Seuss. I have since learned that many have never heard of this wonderful story about Sneetches with stars and those with none. Seuss intended the story to be a satire of race discrimination—in particular antisemitism.
I always loved the message of The Sneetches, especially the fact that by the end “neither the Plain nor the Star-Bellies knew whether this one was that one… or that one was this one…or which one was what one…or what one was who.” I loved this idea of the world, a world where it didn’t matter where you were from (or whether or not you had a star on your belly). This world view is one I think you achieve by being exposed to many different cultures.