Empowering Students to Seek and Find: An Interview with Kurt Hoffman

Kurt Hoffman clasps his hands close to his face and looks directly toward the camera.
Photo credit: Colleen Anderson, SAU 2019 Photography grad

Kurt Hoffman is an Assistant Professor of Social Work at Spring Arbor University (SAU) in Spring Arbor, Michigan. He has two Master’s degrees from Arizona State University: Master of Public Administration and Master of Social Work. He is pursuing a Ph.D. in Humanities, with a concentration in the anthropology of human flourishing and the philosophy of social issues, racism in particular. Kurt lives in Concord, Michigan with his wife and three children.

This is only a tiny slice of Kurt Hoffman.

He is much more. And he’s intentional about sharing it. He’s not afraid to address deep questions—and one way he did it was by publishing his first book, Young Heroes: A Learner’s Guide to End Human Trafficking. Another is by writing posters that tackle big ideas and connecting them in ways that construct a thoughtful and fresh perspective. Kurt shares the posters with students in class and makes them available for purchase. In the Triple Epiphany Poster Pack video below, Kurt introduces the posters and explains what influences his work.

I recently worked with Kurt to redevelop a few social work courses for SAU’s Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) program. I was intrigued with the natural way he focused on the student experience. He was dialed in on the importance of creating a curriculum that empowered students to be human, to see themselves for who they are, equals and diverse. We’d love to have all of our SMEs walk into the course development process with this focus.

Instructional designers (IDs) are challenged with creating a learning environment where students engage with curriculum and interact with others to develop a community where learning expands because of those interactions. Before we began, Kurt’s materials were already tailored for that purpose; but he made further improvements by eliminating busy work and bolstering the activities that created experiences to build confidence and meaningful practice. One simple addition he made was a statement next to the Quiz assignment in the syllabus:

“Note: if upon completion you have concerns as to how certain questions were worded or graded please just take a screen shot and simply send it to your instructor to inquire. Technological problems do happen in these [quizzes] at times and you are allowed to advocate for yourself.”

In fact, Kurt explains, social workers need to learn how to advocate. What a brilliant way to empower and prepare undergraduate students.

In our conversations, he mentioned his publications and that led me to his website, Drummer Boy Books & Media. The first thing I saw was his tagline:

“You are a superhero and thinking is your superpower.”

This statement is foundational to all that he writes (curriculum, training materials, books, posters, etc.) and promotes. That’s when I realized we needed to feature him here on Model eLearning. Aren’t we all striving to help students think? To help them reflect, and realize the importance of thinking critically? I started to wonder how my life would be different if I saw thinking as my superpower!

This could also be a tagline for all course developers everywhere.

When I sat down with Kurt, we began talking about Drummer Boy Books & Media, his “young, small, organically developing publishing house” that is not a ‘chip off the old block’ of publishing companies. In fact, the whole reason it began was to change the process of publishing. Kurt explains,

“Drummer Boy came into being because we firmly believe that people flourishing as equally dignified and diversely equipped human persons is the very way our deepest challenges can and should be solved. Not from top-down, but from the bottoms-up. Grassroots style. Strengths-based style. It is the only way for personal, local, and global change to be meaningful, sustainable, holistic, and genuinely beautiful. Which is the kind of change we like.”

Of course, I was curious about what motivates him. Why social work? Why does he teach? What transpired to bring him to this place? The common thread throughout our interview surprised me. It wasn’t about who he wanted to be, but what he wants everyone to be sure of: being human is amazing; and we are so much alike. We all have questions and look for answers and hope for purpose.

Kurt has taken his own human experience seriously, and decided to share the joy of finding answers to life’s big questions with others. If you’re sitting in his class, you won’t find him giving you answers to a set of questions—instead, you’ll find that you’re in an environment where it’s safe to ask your questions.

I asked him what he hopes for his social work students. He gave me three things:

  • Empower them to seek and find; give permission to ask questions.
  • Help them realize the significance of being human—as equal and diverse.
  • Confront the problem of evil and that we grow from suffering.

Now that you know a little about him, I encourage you to discover more about Kurt. Chances are you will find dignity and joy in his writings and activities. I know that was my experience in our short interview! And as an ID for the BSW at Spring Arbor University, I am fortunate to watch first-hand how his insights are finding their way into the online and blended classroom; an environment where many still believe that “human-ness” is not possible.

Author: Gwen Hersha, Assistant Professor & Instructional Designer

Gwen is fascinated with teaching and learning and loves designing ways of "doing it better." She finds joy in the everyday practicality of life: writing, teaching, gardening, and trying new things.

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