Getting the Soil Right

How does a faculty member benefit from working with an instructional designer?

Working with an instructional designer gives you access to a vast array of distance education knowledge and expertise.  In a typical month a designer will work with an average of 20 faculty across the University,

  • seeing the activities they use,
  • the tools they incorporate,
  • the challenges they face,
  • and the solutions we develop.

If you work with an instructional designer, you gain easy access to the expertise and knowledge of all of those individuals.  You also gain access to the knowledge and expertise that instructional designers acquire when they attend learning events, like the 2016 D2L Fusion conference, which I just attended this past week.

In the spirit of connection and information sharing, I tried to encapsulate the value of this experience for you, the reader of this blog.  At first I took the analytical approach:

  • 1 moose selfie
  • 2 days of conference
  • 4 general sessions attended
  • 9 breakout sessions attended
  • 100 tweets (yes I counted my #d2lfusion hashtag tweets)
  • 1000 + attendees to interact with
  • way too much coffee

But numbers really don’t do the conference justice.  Next, I considered some of the questions raised and answered through the breakout sessions.

Why online education?

As Jon Becker (@jonbecker) said during his presentation on Connected Learning, “Because the internet is awesome.”  While true, he went further arguing that it enables Connected Learning with the instructional and design benefits like renewable assignments and the ability to cultivate wonder in students.

Why should I care about Universal Design in Learning (UDL)?

Because as Tom Tobin (@ThomasJTobin) said, “UDL is access no matter what the circumstances.”  He encouraged faculty to think about +1.  Add just one more way for the students to access the information or be engaged or demonstrate their understanding.

Why use gamification principles?

Because when done right, it can inspire enjoyment, engagement, and experimentation through the creation of challenge, choices, and consequences.  (Gamification presenters enjoyed their alliteration.)  Said another way, gamified courses create feedback loops where students get to keep trying to overcome learning challenges, receiving feedback each time they fail, until finally they reach mastery and succeed.

Yet questions didn’t capture the value of the conference either.  Finally, I considered the conferences broadest themes.

D2L used the theme “We Love the Way You Teach,” during the conference, but I prefer the message delivered from the two keynote speakers, Sir Ken Robinson and Angela Maiers.  While they each took a different tact, the core of both messages was the same.   Ken and Angela believe that every life matters.  That each person has unique gifts and talents that deserve to be in this world. That the role of an educator, of a teacher, is to help students recognize their value and bring it out into the world.

As Sir Ken Robinson was articulating his idea of human worth he argued that we need to change our educational system from one that is industrialized, focused on output and yield to one that is organic, that celebrates diversity and encourages mutual support and protection.  As he discussed his idea of organic education, he made an analogy to organic farming saying, “If you get the soil right, the plant will be fine.  It will flourish.” For some reason, that idea of “getting the soil right” stuck with me.

As educators, how do we get the “soil” right, so our students will flourish?  What makes up the “soil” in education?  Is that “soil” different in an online educational environment?

I don’t have easy answers to those questions, but I do know that we here at the Office of Distance Education are committed to getting the “soil” right when it comes to distance education. I also know that getting the soil right is impossible without you, the faculty.    We need you.  You matter to us.  So connect with us and benefit from easy access to expertise.

We make better “soil” together.

Published by

Tom Pantazes

Tom is an instructional designer with The Office of Distance Education at West Chester University. He has a Master of Arts in Education from the College of William and Mary, is a LERN Certified Faculty Developer, and a licensed secondary social studies teacher with a diverse set of face-to-face and online teaching experiences.

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