Preparing for Fall 2020: Reimagining Higher Education

I am currently in a summer book study with fellow faculty discussing Teaching and Christian Imagination by David Smith and Susan M. Felch. Through my personal reading as well as group discussions, I’ve realized we need a significant reimagining in the way faculty and instructional designers view teaching and curriculum design in higher education.

Instead of providing a cookie-cutter process of how to teach and design curriculum, Smith and Felch invite readers to reimagine higher education through three metaphors: a pilgrimage, a garden, and a cathedral. In the wake of the many changes and uncertainties of COVID-19, I want to invite you to reimagine higher education through sharing some of the things I am learning from these metaphors and encourage you to begin taking steps toward making your reimagining a reality.

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The COVID-19 Semester is Over: Now What?

Three ways to move forward

It’s June 2020, and we just emerged from an unprecedented semester at the small midwestern university where I work as an Assistant Professor and Instructional Designer. Our semester-end faculty meeting brought together 90 professors who had just ended a semester of teaching they never in their wildest dreams could have imagined.

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Self-Care for Essential Designers

I don’t know about you, but these past few months have been crazy for me. The week before the coronavirus (COVID-19) started picking up in my hometown, I was out of the office focusing on my first residency for my doctoral program. When I returned, my inbox was full of emails about projects that were already in progress before I left as well as emails from instructors asking me to help them transfer their face-to-face courses to online using web conferencing and our university’s LMS, Blackboard. So, March 2020 was pretty much a blur.

Once I began working from home, I discovered it was more difficult to maintain a balance between my work and personal life. My daily schedule and routine remained the same, but it was all within the comfort of my home. Throughout March when people asked me how I was doing, the analogy that I liked to use was I felt like a steam engine or a bullet train and I wasn’t slowing down. Herein lies my problem:

I wasn’t slowing down.

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Remote Learning: A New Journey

In the time of Covid-19, we’ve been thrust into The Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle-earth. We have to battle villainous foes, make courageous choices, and strike a blow against the evil that threatens the land. This is the best way I know to describe the feeling as we find ourselves in with little to no advanced warning—forced by circumstance to teach all courses online. 

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Moneyball Learning

The Oakland Athletics were always a budget-minded franchise.

In 2001, they finished 16 games behind the winner of their division and lost to the New York Yankees in the first round of the postseason. Then lost three All-Star caliber players in the offseason. 

In 2002, they won their division, went on a 20-game winning streak in the regular season (breaking the American League record), and won as many games (and went as far in the playoffs) as the Yankees—who spent almost three times what the A’s did in player salaries.

How?

By playing Moneyball. 

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But what about nonverbal communication?—A look at interactions online

With the continuing growth of online learning in the past few decades, one significant argument against it has been the perceived loss of non-verbal communication and human relationships within the course. Instructors new to the modality often believe that the online delivery format is less interactive than face-to-face, and therefore assume it’s harder (if even possible) to get to know the other participants. Some university instructors even hesitate to teach online because they feel there is a lack of connection and communication, which then creates more room for misinterpretation, negative reviews of the experience, or even failure for some students. Today, I’d like to share the data behind this topic and help to point to the fact that this is not as worrisome as these instructors assume. 

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Develop Your Instructional Design Skills

Instructional design is often a career people fall into. When you scroll through comment sections online, you’ll see the same question from people interested in entering the field: Where do I learn instructional design skills?

While you might find a graduate degree or certificate useful (especially if you plan to work in higher education), it’ll depend on the industry you focus on. Even if you decide to hold off on the degree for now, there’s plenty of low-cost options resources to help you develop your skills.

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Sharing Accessibility Stories: Making eLearning for Everyone

In November 2019,  several members of our eLearning team attended Michigan State University’s (MSU) 5thannual Accessible Learning Conference (ALC). The theme of the conference was storytelling, emphasizing that the core of accessibility is “people and their stories.” As someone who’s been a student in the communication and theatre fields for almost a decade, this theme struck a chord with me. Often, at both private and public universities, the majority of students’ disabilities are often unidentified, so their stories go untold. These untold stories create a roadblock in these students’ ability to succeed in learning environments.

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Solving Tough eLearning Problems

As instructional designers, we’re often asked to solve a variety of problems. From finding ways to help the transfer of knowledge to developing training or learning resources, sometimes the solution is much more complicated than what our subject matter expert or client realizes. As we juggle many projects and find ways to deliver solutions on a deadline, it can become frustrating for everyone involved when they just want us to “put it in the learning management system.”

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The Importance of Being Present in Your Online Course

You can have a well-designed course with relevant content and an expert instructor, yet the course can still be perceived as a negative experience by students. Why? The instructor was not “present” in the course. 

It takes more than grading to create instructor presence. Bangert defines instructor presence as “the ‘methods’ that instructors use to create the quality online instructional experiences that support and sustain productive communities of inquiry” (Bangert, 2008, p. 40). Without instructor support, courses quickly become barren.

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