Demystifying Instructional Design

S2E5: Greg Dillon - Creating Social Presence

February 26, 2022 Rebecca J. Hogue Season 2 Episode 5
Demystifying Instructional Design
S2E5: Greg Dillon - Creating Social Presence
Show Notes Transcript

Gregory Dillon is a Learning Designer at Brown University in Providence, RI where he lives with his border collie iuna. He holds masters degrees in Instructional Design and Portuguese from the University of Massachusetts. Gregory’s work is primarily guided by Freirean principles, digital critical pedagogy, and open educational practices. He believes deeply in building community and its benefits to the learning experience.  Gregory lived in Brazil and has trained Capoeira, an Afro-Brazilian dance-fight, for over 20 years.  He was granted a teaching title in 2010 by one of the most widely recognized Capoeira groups in the world.

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REBECCA::

Welcome to Demystifying Instructional Design, a podcast where I interview various instructional designers to figure out what it is instructional designers do. I'm Rebecca Hogue, your podcast host. If you or someone you know would like to be a guest on demystifying instructional design, please complete the Be My guest form available on demystifying instructional design dot com. I'm particularly looking for guests who do not work in higher education. If you enjoy this podcast, please subscribe or leave a comment in the show notes blog post. And consider helping to support this podcast with a donation to my Patreon account. Welcome, Greg, to demystifying instructional design. To begin with, can you start by introducing yourself?

GREG::

Absolutely. Thanks so much for having me. So my name is Greg Dillon, and I've been in the instructional design field for the past five years. I'm currently working as a learning designer at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, and I was your student at UMass Boston, where I got my master's degree.

REBECCA::

Learning designer is an interesting new term. How is that different from what you've done previously as an instructional designer?

GREG::

I think essentially the role is the same. I only started a month ago. My colleagues, they're all instructional designers before, and they changed the term to learning designers because they specifically wanted to have a focus on the student experience as opposed to the instruction itself. So moving the focus from the teacher to the student.

REBECCA::

What would you describe as your origin story? How did you find instructional design? Around 2014 2015?

GREG::

I was working in Rhode Island School of Design Global Department, and I worked on a really unique project. The Princess of Abu Dhabi donated a substantial amount of money to create an emerging Abu Dhabi artists program. A few weeks of the year, the faculty would visit the UAE or the artists would visit campus, and I was responsible for organizing these trips. However, the majority of the year the artists would work with the faculty online and for this RISD, needed to hire an instructional designer. And I had never heard of an instructional designer before, and I was fascinated and I learned so much from this person who was hired and decided that I was interested in learning more. So I started taking classes at UMass Boston, and that's where I met you, Rebecca, in my very first class. And the rest is history.

REBECCA::

How would you describe what your typical day is, and I know you're into a new job at the moment. How you envision your typical day?

GREG::

Yeah. As you mentioned, I've only been there. I haven't been there too long. I've only been there a month, but my position is very faculty facing and from what I've done so far and what I anticipate that I'll do in the future, it's going to be meeting with faculty to discuss goals for their courses, collaborating with them to build the courses, collaborating with the media and technology departments to create content and use tools that meet the faculty goals. For the courses, I'll be doing quality control on courses in the learning management system, which is Canvas and then researching different pedagogical approaches that might be helpful for faculty at Brown Research.

REBECCA::

That's interesting.

GREG::

That's been a really nice part of my job because I really haven't had too much time for that in previous positions. And as I'm a huge fan virtually connecting and you and I have an item and I love just being a part of the community of practice and learning about what everybody's doing and how those kind of ideas that are being discussed could be helpful to the faculty at my institution.

REBECCA::

How do you describe what you do if we're talking

GREG::

about, how do I describe what instructional design is? And this is a question that comes up literally every single time I tell someone my job, no one knows what instructional design is. I usually discuss the history in training of instructional design, and I'll go to something that pretty much everyone is familiar with. So just to start off, I'll say any job you've ever had, you've probably taken some kind of module on sexual harassment or on boarding and something along these lines. And this is something that's very commonly developed by instructional designers and that kind of serves as a base for people who have no idea what the position is. But I'll talk a little bit about instructional design in the corporate world and health and developing modules for training. And then I'll talk about instructional design in higher education, which is I've only had positions in instructional design in higher education, which tends to be more along the lines, of course, development and faculty support. And for me, for personally, for me, it's been very different in all of my positions. One position was faculty support for educational technology. Another was specifically focused on developing interactive lectures using Camtasia or Storyline. Then in my current position, I primarily advise faculty on best practices for their online courses and work with them closely to build those courses.

REBECCA::

What kind of projects do you find fun?

GREG::

Well, the projects that I find to be the most fun are really based on the people, the faculty that I'm working with and the best ones are when faculty are really passionate about effectively teaching their students. And when I get to learn about their unique strategies and unique assignments that they employ because this then becomes a part of my pedagogy, it adds to me and I really like how I can facilitate a certain culture of the institution. The more I learn about what faculty are doing and what they think is effective, the more I can recommend those things to their colleagues. And if faculty know that their colleagues are doing certain things that's helpful, then it's way more likely that they will adopt those practices themselves. And so I really like when I work with a faculty member who has those kinds of ideas. For instance, when I was at Gordon, there was one professor who used 360 cameras to develop a virtual map of Jerusalem. Gordon is a Christian college, and then in another instance, for a critical thinking course, I created a simulation that students would go through so that they could experience cultural bias. And these are kinds of things that I would also talk about with other faculty members who come to me asking, What can I do with my course? And I'll say, Oh, your colleague had a lot of success with this? And they'll say, Oh, really? He did or she did, and I really appreciate those projects the most.

REBECCA::

That's actually a really useful strategy for finding somebody who would be a peer, in essence, another faculty member that's doing it so that you can call upon. Oh yeah, your peer is doing this. And it's not just coming from random instructional designer.

GREG::

Exactly. Because it's one thing. I'm sure they trust my expertize, but it's one thing when I say this is a best practice and you should use it. And it's another thing when I say, Oh, your colleague, who is your friend and someone that you, you respect and have known for many years is doing something that's really effective with with her students. That's going to be and that's going to work way more.

REBECCA::

You've been at this for a few years now. What area would you describe your niche to be?

GREG::

That's a complicated question, I would say, because I have certain things that I'm good at and instructional design and then certain areas that I'm very interested in growing. And so for me, the past three years, I've been doing a lot of work with creating simulations and interactive lectures with Storyline. So that's something that has been my niche the past three years. I've always been the go to person for that. I've also worked a lot with doing open educational resource workshops with faculty, and that's actually I've really enjoyed that and I would consider continuing to do that in the future. But in my current position, I feel like we have yet to create the kind of experiences in online courses that replicate social presence, the social presence of in-person classes. And I think this will be accomplished by focusing on community building, and I hope to invest more of my time in that in the current position. So that's where I hope my niche to be.

REBECCA::

That's pretty much what I do, right?

GREG::

Yeah, I've always felt my experience in your classes. I always felt that there was a great sense of community and social presence. And so I definitely model my practices off of my old teacher.

REBECCA::

What are some of the biggest challenges you face as an instructional designer?

GREG::

The challenges I face are related to the challenges faculty face. When faculty try something different in their courses that they feel will benefit, their students can sometimes submit negative feedback and evaluations because the pedagogical approach is different than what they're used to. Students can rely on the comfort of a consistent format across their curriculum that might include long lectures or limited student input. And this is just something if they're used to it, then it's a comfort for them to see. They know what to expect. That makes sense. But then when the teacher receives those negative reviews, administration tells them to stop introducing new methods so that they can keep course evaluations up and then faculty are no longer willing to try anything new or innovative in their courses. When faculty are not supported by the administration, it also makes my work more challenging. That's what I would say is a challenge for my work.

REBECCA::

That's the challenge with the way tenure works at universities and colleges, because typically those that have that desire for most innovative pedagogy are the newer instructors. But they are also the instructors that can't afford to not have great ratings.

GREG::

They have that pressure to appeal to the administration and to because they have that tenure lingering over.

REBECCA::

Yeah, they need the performance numbers in order to make their tenure. And so. That also drives a lack of innovation. What skills would you find most useful in the work that you do?

GREG::

The most valuable skills are empathy and patience. One concept I really appreciated learning about during the pandemic is the pedagogy of care, and it's generally applied or was applied to students. But as an instructional designer, I also find it helpful to apply it to my relationship with faculty. And there's no telling what experiences they've had in the classroom that directs their teaching approach or what they might be dealing with otherwise. So I'd say empathy and patience in my interactions with them really benefits my work.

REBECCA::

I really like that. You called on the pedagogy of care. I think that's something that really came out with the pandemic. It was something we were playing with a little bit earlier, but really got highlighted at the beginning of the pandemic.

GREG::

Absolutely. And I think like a lot of things in the pandemic, it's bringing certain concepts to light or pushing forward certain things like online learning. There's a lot more online learning now, and it's creating a new normal. And so it's bringing these ideas to light like pedagogy of care, but knock on wood things slowing down or however, things will proceed. I think pedagogy of care is something that we should continue to keep in mind in the future, because it's a really helpful concept and something that just keeps us conscious of our students and their experience. And then, like I mentioned, the experience of faculty members as well.

REBECCA::

Yeah, I think that's also very critical in the work that we do is, you know, not just the student remembering the teacher.

GREG::

Absolutely. Yes, absolutely. Yeah.

REBECCA::

What do you wish you knew sooner?

GREG::

I would say the thing that I wish I knew sooner in instructional design is giving faculty the benefit of the doubt. And I think in instructional design, it's a career that's focused on best practices and hypothetical ideals in the classroom. And that's great. I think we should always shoot for the ideal and be critical, but sometimes we can forget that teachers are the ones with the applied experience. They know what works and what doesn't, and the barriers to success because they deal with them every day. So it's important to keep their opinions in mind and trust that they have their students best interests at heart.

REBECCA::

It goes along with the empathy, actually.

GREG::

I think so.

REBECCA::

That type of remembering that instructors are human.

GREG::

Yeah, I think with critical pedagogy and we're always shooting for the ideal, we often shoot for the ideal in instructional design based on research, but we need to remember that it's not always going to go perfectly in every situation in the classroom is not always going to be the same. The students are dealing with stuff going on outside the classroom and they have their own issues that they're dealing with. The faculty member has things that they're dealing with, and even if we have these strategies that we introduce as best practices, that might even be a subjective term like best practice, it's really it's not going to be best practice across the board. We need to leave it up to the teachers and trust that they have their students best interests and they are going to choose the best path forward in their teaching and their students Learning

REBECCA::

A term that I've used or that I've learned and I'm working on using is better practices that, yeah, it's better, not best because there isn't a best practice. Yeah. And but some practices are better than others. It's like how we describe design, right? There isn't one solution, but some solutions are better than others.

GREG::

Absolutely.

REBECCA::

What advice would you give to new instructional designers?

GREG::

The advice I would give new instructional designers is actually something I learned on day one with you at UMass Boston, which is to find a community of practice. Even at times in my career where I felt there were few opportunities to grow in my job. I always felt inspired by the many brilliant, talented people in my community of practice, which in this case is people I met in Virtually Connecting. People I met on Twitter through those Virtually Connecting channels in different conferences that I participated in. And I think this may be even more important than the degree itself after my colleagues have continued to teach me long after I graduated with my degree. And so that's something that I learned very early on with you. I know you brought in Autumn and Michael Berman, right? I think lots of different people you brought into your classes. And this is the first time that really happened to me in my education that the teacher introduced experts in the field. And that was really encouraging for me. And then I would immediately after that, meeting those people and talking with them, I would immediately connect with them. And all of a sudden I was part of this greater conversation that wouldn't even end with my higher education that is at the university. I really find a community of practice so valuable. I found it valuable when I was in school, and I continue to find it valuable until now. So that is absolutely the advice that I would give.

REBECCA::

Is there anything I haven't asked you about?

GREG::

One thing I always found really valuable in your classes is that you each week you presented a number of resources where you could do research. That was something I always found valuable is just like always looking for new resources that might help you om instructional design.

REBECCA::

That was probably not my class.

GREG::

No, it was. Yeah, it was. You included like the hour of Oh yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, like stuff like that where it was like a page where the students had to choose, like maybe a four or five resources or skills you had till you would have to like, essentially learn like different skills. So one of them?

REBECCA::

Oh yes. Yeah, OK, I did that that choose your own adventure. I can't even remember which class I did that in. We now do technology. I call it this week in Ed Tech, but I introduce ed tech that is directly related to the topic of the week. For example, when we're talking about doing task analysis, I might introduce mind mapping at the same time or a flow charting or something like that. So introducing tools that might support that given lesson.

GREG::

And for me, I believe it was in the introduction class, and I thought that was really great pedagogically because in that first class, you're getting a general understanding of instructional design and how it can go in many different directions. You can be many different kinds of instructional designers, and based on those skills, they might be skills for subset, like a certain niche of instructional design. And I find that I found that to be really helpful in guiding me down my instructional design path, like learning the skills that I felt would be most helpful for me, put me in the right direction that learning

REBECCA::

how to learn. Yeah, yeah, that's a big part of 601. Actually, that's a big part of the first course in the program, especially because a lot of students come to it, not having been in the classroom for a long time and never having learned online.

GREG::

This might have been my first online class. I'm trying to remember. I think it was.

REBECCA::

Yeah. So there's a big learning curve there. I actually have a note to self every semester that says, do not underestimate the amount of learning how to learn that happens so I don't overload the course. Remember that there's a whole lot of that going on.

GREG::

I think about that quite a bit like how you might not even understand how much learning your student is going through. For me, I like you probably didn't know it was like a really impactful time for me. And so, yeah, I completely agree. There's a lot going on there.

REBECCA::

We'll get to the last question, which I like to leave everyone off with. I love this question as a last question, and that's what's your prediction for the future of instructional design.

GREG::

I had mentioned before there's been a huge pickup in online education during the pandemic, and I think it's likely that it will continue to be a popular option that is online education. And I feel that the future of instructional design will focus on creating the same level or better of social presence and community in online courses that is created in-person classes. I think that's something that we really need if we want online learning to be on the same level as in-person learning. We really need to figure out community building and creating that sense of social presence that sometimes just organically happens in-person classes. We need to be conscious about creating that in online classes. So I think that's going to be really important for the future.

REBECCA::

Thank you, Greg, for joining us on demystifying instructional design and helping to enlighten us on what it is instructional designers do.

GREG::

Thanks so much. It's been such a pleasure to be here.

REBECCA::

You've been listening to Demystifying Instructional Design, a podcast where I interview instructional designers about what they do. I'm Rebecca Hogue, your podcast host. If you or someone you know might like to be a guest on demystifying instructional design, please complete the Be My guest form available on demystifying instructional design Dot com. Show notes are posted as a blog post on demystifying instructional design dot com. If you enjoyed this podcast, please subscribe or leave a comment in the show notes blog post.