Confessions of an Instructional Designer

This blog post is a reflection of learning during my participation in Hybrid Pedagogy's MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) on Instructional Design taken in January of 2016.

Most days I make sure hyperlinks do not break in our LMS (Learning Management System), or set up forums groups in a 75 student course or I talk a faculty off the ledge around a quiz deployment gone awry. My charge is often to ensure less helpdesk calls.  Some days I secretly wish the helpdesk phones lite up because it might mean we pushed the envelope on technology or that faculty are stretched to new capacities and perhaps learning is happening.

I am here to share what feels like an existential crisis that is more beautiful than I could have imagined.  It started when I met Sean Micheal Morris of Hybrid Pedagogy, in October of 2015. I will not place him on a pedestal, but I will put him at the esteemed position of "greeter" to a networked online community of critical pedagogues.

You see, I an instructional designer with my eyes wide shut. Conforming to the conservative and risk averse arena of a medical institution that values research and publication over teaching and learning.  I am not complaining, I am naming my lived experience. I remain here because a story is unfolding in front of me and there just might be an opportunity to contribute to the shape of it.

How will my institution respond to student demands for flexible, collaborative online learning spaces?  Can the institution foster a culture of compliance to FERPA and HIPPA in its students that allows the use of social media  and collaborative online technologies? Will the institution have no choice when policy blatantly hinders learning or will it ever notice?  Will the CIO (Chief Information Officer) be invited to contemplate more deeply the educational needs over the medical center so that compliance does not hinder innovation?  

In walks Sean Micheal Morris and what follows is my first click into the Hybrid Pedagogy Journal. It is a rabbit hole of the most beautiful and exciting kind. 

I sign up to take my first MOOC offered by Hybrid Pedagogy on Instructional design in January of this year. It’s hashtag is #moocmooc.  My own meta-learning experience starts with complete frustration at 140 characters for a live class chat.  Yep, I am new to Twitter.  Feeling completely late to the party, tears almost shed at trying to follow and contribute - even with TweetDeck. Thankfully, epiphany after epiphany arose from the readings and the quick morsels of insight flashing across my Twitter feed on the daily, keep me going.  By the last live chat, I am moving along fast and even experienced a fun 'side chat' around designing for HIPPA compliance.  Simon Ensor posted a photo of an elephant painted with "ignore this" stating:

"Designing around compliance can get uncomfortable".  

Thank god I am not alone.

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And so the magic begins. The first assignment is to redefine ADDIE & Bloom's Taxonomy on a shared google doc.  I am stunned and think to myself: "There is a LARGE community of academics putting foundation & prescription into question? You mean I have permission to ask different questions?"

My favorite response to the assignment came from Autumn Caines: The subjective ADDIE, an unmeasurable look at an ID standard.  She wrote a delightful re-definition of the ADDIE model. She suggests a different set of questions for the A of Analysis:

What does this course mean to you?

Will this course feed learners souls?

Is there some aspect or assignment in this course (or that you envision for this course) that particularly tugs at your heart?

How will you understand your students’ point of view throughout the course?

Are you ready to learn from your students?

And for the D of development which brings content from paper to screen, Autumn bluntly croons:

“I say go make art”

Perfect. As a designer that is often what it feels like to place course content, its words, documents and links elegantly on screen that result in easy and logical navigation. Yes, I do much of this work for faculty since our department emphasizes consistency across courses which brings this task to the hands of Instructional designers. I often wonder what is best in terms of scope and scale of this part of the design process? The relationship and work flow between faculty and Instructional designers seems widely different across institutions and fields of study.

As an instructional designer it is my job to guide faculty through the processes of designing a learning experience for their students. From the syllabus to the assessments to the course evaluation, faculty must consider what and how their students will learn. Week 3 of the Instructional Design MOOC brought forth a new set of questions to consider when guiding my faculty:

“How do we bring who we are, in all our complexity, to the design of a course?
How do we create a platform for learners to bring who they are, in all their complexity?”
”What is the role, if any, of agency and authenticity in traditional instructional design?
How are they reinforced, how are they not?”.

Enter Jesse Stommel and his 12 steps for designing an assignment with emergent outcomes. Here he suggests bringing students in to the design process as early as possible.  Invite them to collaborate on the syllabus, the learning activities, and the assessments.  This is a radical idea in nursing education that is grounded in licensure built on a set of skills a person is authorized to use in the care and even life or death of another person.  But it is emerging for me as a designer in medical education to consider how to design for emergent learning and discovery. I believe both emergent assessments and external summative assessments can live side by side. This MOOC inspires me to go deeper into the questions I now ask daily: What is the goal in assessing student work? Is the assessment enhancing student learning? Recognizing that Jesse Stommel stands in the humanities field, I still believe this quote is true in medical education:

“The goal of education should not be better assessments but better learning. We have built a system that puts far too much emphasis on grades and we shouldn’t blame students for the failures of that system.”

Grades motivate the design of tools developed by edtech software engineers.  Grades are coded into all our institutional and technological systems. There is a monetization of education that is mechanistic, where by credentialing is our currency.   This is the current container I must design in, so it is not a surprise to find myself engaging with a new community of scholars who advocate for marginalized faculty, scholars and students. A community that believes in open collaborative peer review where knowledge is produced in community and not in competition. 

I am grateful for the work of Sean Micheal Morris and Jesse Stommel who invite us all to collaborate to define Critical Digital Pedagogy. Critical digital pedagogy and the community of teachers, learners, technologists and theorists it serves provides the foundation and the inspiration for my work.

Thank you Sean Micheal Morris, thank you Jesse Stommel, thank you Maha Bali, thank you Sarah Honeychurch and thank you Autumn Caines and thank you Angela Brown for welcoming me to the fold. I am inspired to engage and contribute.

As my digital identity emerges from this first ever blog post, I press publish with hope and possibility.