Demystifying Instructional Design

S2E13: Stan Skrabut - Where instructional technology and design meet

June 19, 2022 Rebecca J. Hogue Season 2 Episode 13
Demystifying Instructional Design
S2E13: Stan Skrabut - Where instructional technology and design meet
Show Notes Transcript

Stan Skrabut is a card carrying lifelong learner who has spent his career helping people and organizations achieve improved performance. He is a scholar, teacher, author, veteran, martial artist, and avid reader. Throughout his working life, he has changed roles and responsibilities countless times. He worked as a guard, organizational trainer, instructional technologist, webmaster, systems programmer, lecturer, and director. He uses informal learning, especially reading, as a way to improve himself and subsequently his teams. His interest in informal learning inspired his dissertation topic, Study of Informal Learning Among University of Wyoming Extension Educators.


Stan is the Director of Instructional Technology and Design at Dean College in Franklin, Mass. He lives with his wife and two dogs in Rhode Island. Nomadic in nature, he loves to travel and has lived in Germany, Belgium, Holland, Turkey, and various locations across the United States. His number one passion is helping others achieve their goals. He has published two books and is working on a third

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REBECCA:

Welcome to Demystifying Instructional Design, a podcast where I interview various instructional designers to figure out what instructional designers do. I'm Rebecca Hogue, your podcast host. If you're interested in a different kind of professional development this season, check out myfest.uquityunbound.org. That's myfest.equityunbound.org. If you enjoyed this podcast, please consider subscribing or leaving a comment on the show notes blog post and consider helping to support the podcast with a donation to my Patriot account. Welcome Stan to Demystifying Instructional Design, a podcast where I interview instructional designers about what they do. Can you start by telling us a little bit about yourself?

STAN:

Thank you ever so much, Rebecca, for inviting me on your show. I'm Stan Skrabut. I'm the director of Instructional Technology and Design at Dean College in Franklin, Massachusetts. I have been working as an instructional technologist designer. That kind of blur. It goes back and forth ever since I left the Air Force back in 1999. So I've been doing it for just a few decades. But while I was in the Air Force, part of it was I was a trainer for all these airmen, and I absolutely loved it. And I was getting degrees in computers. And I found an absolute love of combining the two, combining my love of providing instruction, but also the technology part. And I realized that technology was a force multiplier. So I got out of the Air Force, I got a job at Hobart, William Smith Colleges, where I was one of the first instructional technologists that they had. And yeah, I found my dream job. And then from there went to the University of Wyoming and I was the director at Community College in upstate New York. And now here I am a director in college. In most cases, I've worked as a solo instructional technologist designer. Very seldom did I have other people working with me. Yeah, I've enjoyed it as far as my education, but just worked. My bachelor's was in information systems management, learning how to use computers as a force multiplier. Then my master's I found a master's program totally online was the weaving of computers and learning, basically the instructional technology so done entirely online. I've never been to the college. I've never seen my instructors.

REBECCA:

When was that?

STAN:

That was in 96 through nine.

REBECCA:

Wow. Things were very new then.

STAN:

Yeah, it was pre LMS management system, so a lot of things were done with email and submitting files via email and having discussions through emails. Working out a group project entirely by email is fascinating experience.

REBECCA:

Yeah, I'm a few years after you, so I did my master's fully online in 2002 and so we had MSN Messenger. Okay, so we can actually text chat for our group projects.

STAN:

Oh, fun. Yeah. No. Yeah. Most of it was asynchronous, so we were on our own to work to try to negotiate all that while I was in the University of Wyoming, got my doctorate and it was primarily in distance education. And that's what I, where my niche is working with learning management systems, building out course shells and support of both online and face to face or hybrid courses. That's where my focus has been.

REBECCA:

Where you're at now. How many people do you work with? Like, how, do you work with instructional designers?

STAN:

I am it. I am the instructional technologist slash designer. I'm the leader of a team of one.

REBECCA:

What would your typical day be?

STAN:

When I first got hired on, especially for this particular job that we were transitioning from one learning management system to another, my primary job was building all the support for the faculty to make this transition here. In two months we will have finally gotten through our first year, but putting together templates for courses and migrating content from the other learning management system into the templates and getting it reorganized and trying to make all those modifications. So I have been primarily heads down doing that for probably eight months. Things are starting to loosen up because now we can roll over courses from one term to another, make those modifications, and so now it's starting to become a little more enjoyable instead of just grinding and just repetitive stuff. Is now the questions are becoming more interesting on how to really use the learning management system to its full capacity. So my typical day when I start the day is I have a morning routine I have. Feedly running. So I have a lot of blogs that I'm reviewing and just keeping up on my own personal learning and then certainly checking through emails and after that, is it really taking care of meetings, working with different faculty who have a request for assistance or want to learn something new? Or I have projects that I'm working on building like standalone courses in the LMS in order to help faculty learn a new set of skills or putting together a video or so. It's very varied. There's no day is the same, and I always just try to work on building resources to help my faculty do what they do at a higher level. So that's what I do.

REBECCA:

What kind of projects do you find fun?

STAN:

Ones that are just not repetitive. So right now, building courses is just a lot of loading content in. The things that I find fun is when I really get to sit down with an instructor and look over their course and we start having this collaborative back and forth to determine what we could do to make an experience better for the students. A lot of it is really educating the faculty we have in our college right now faculty who have been primarily face to face instructors. And so now I'm showing them how to use the learning management system to basically amplify what they're able to do in the classroom and provide rewarding experiences for the students. So any time I can do that, showing them how to use active learning methods or universal design for learning in order to provide better supports and choice in the student experience. Those things. For me, I find fun because there's lots of great science on how to learn and we're just really not tapping into it to the degree that I think we could. Now it's starting to become a lot more fun for me where I'm at, because we're getting to this next level. We're turning the curve of getting into the LMS. Now let's use the LMS.

REBECCA:

What are your biggest challenges?

STAN:

We talk about mindset for students all the time between a fixed and a growth mindset and. But my biggest challenge is when I run into faculty who have a fixed mindset that, Oh, I can't learn this, I don't know how to use technology. And I'm thinking to myself, We've had desktop computers on our desk for 40 years. We need to get past this. I don't know how to use a computer. I find that often frustrating, or when instructors will take a shortcut, that they won't buy what's out there is good research, and they're doing it doing things as a convenience where if they took a little bit of extra time, they would be able to provide a better experience that would in turn provide less work for them just by doing good instructional design and those type of things. Those are the things that I'm working hard to get faculty passed.

REBECCA:

What skills do you find most useful in your work?

STAN:

There's a variety of skill sets that I'm finding more and more important. One is in the area of productivity and time management and project management being able to block out time on your calendar to do some deep work type things. So that that is certainly one of the skill sets. One of the skill sets that I've found to be absolutely invaluable is knowing how to edit HTML code, being able to have no fear by flipping it in to code and going in and cleaning up junk. Because when you move things, when you copy things over from a word document, it brings all of this extra garbage in and you have to spend quite a bit of time cleaning it up. But just knowing the code, knowing just going in there and making a tweak to it, that is certainly has been a skill that is served me quite well. And also manipulating spreadsheets and being able to collect the data so you can report out what successes that you've had, how successful programs have been, and the usage of different things. Those are some of the things that come to mind right now.

REBECCA:

What advice would you give to a new instructional designer?

STAN:

That's a good question, really is do a lot of listening, right? Listen to, don't come with solutions on top of mind for your faculty. Really try to understand what the problem is that they're facing and what they're really hoping to do and be able to listen to that. The other thing which has served me well over the years is this idea of working out loud. The idea of working out loud is you you will get email coming in and very often the same questions for each email. You need to respond because you need to solve individuals problems. But if you work out loud and you have a blog, for example, that you answer the question in a blog, you can then very easily just grab the link and share it back out to somebody else who has the same question, because you've spent time crafting this wonderful post, but also if you have a blog and it's public in nature, other people can find out about you. They can find out about solutions that you have created, but also find out about your institution that helps later as you're looking. When I was applying for jobs, one of the things that I would do is say, Please Google me, because if you Google me, you will find a wealth of stuff that I have created in order to help my faculty be successful. I would just say be bold and work out loud. Share what you know.

REBECCA:

I like that. I'm encouraging my students in one of my classes to blog and create specific blog posts and share. We talk about networking as, networking as generosity, instead of networking as What can I get? It's no, it's what can you give?

STAN:

So there was a, I forget the name of the gentleman, but before it was knowledge is power, right? That that knowledge is power. And I think he was the CEO of LinkedIn, but he's, no it's this sharing of knowledge that's power, because now you have all this information available in the world. But if you're not the one sharing it, then who are you? And so being able to get out there and share, I think, is absolutely essential, especially to what we are doing. And I'm also grateful to all the people that have shared because I rely on them tremendously, day to day, on how to solve a problem that I'm facing or my faculty.

REBECCA:

You mentioned earlier, not in the podcast, but anyway, you mentioned that you're working on a book. Can you tell me a little bit more about that?

STAN:

Yeah, absolutely. Thank you ever so much for asking. This is going to be my third book. So I've done two books already. One is dealing with Read to Succeed. And, you know, the conversations in the hallways people were talking about, students are not reading and I'm driving to work, listening to podcasts. And these entrepreneurs read like books are going to be banned. And there was a disconnect between folks that want to be successful and those that were. And so I wrote a book about that. And then this recent book was on Evernote for college students, a success guide for them. And so now this third book is a survival guide for solo instructional technologists and designers. And really, this is an extension past the classroom that I don't think a lot of people realize. It's the things that I think have helped me be successful as an instructional technologist over my career. Things that I've learned, each opportunity when I move from one place to another took on a new job. I was able to jettison things that didn't really work and strengthen the things that are working on and try new ideas. And so it's a culmination of that. Talking about productivity, talking about ways that you can support your faculty, talking about how to just manage if you're by yourself, how do you manage all the requests and without losing your mind? And so that's what the book is on. I've pretty much pulled all my material together, and right now I'm getting through that first draft of cleaning up what I did.

REBECCA:

Can you share a little bit? A tip that you've learned over the years?

STAN:

One is dealing with, okay, was a gentleman named John Doerr. He wrote a book called Measure What Matters. But these OKRs are objectives and key results and it is a way to keep your mission moving forward. He shared this strategy with Google, and Google's been using it ever since. And what they do is they work in quarters and in academics, basically working in terms, right? So spring term, fall term, summer term. But you set out what your objectives are, high reaching things that you want to build, things that you want to create in order to raise the level of the mission, your capacity to deliver. And so my team and I, each quarter or each each term we will build our OKRs and then we'll that's what we work on. That's the things that we do. And what I found out is if you just have annual goals. Ten months usually goes by before you start working on those goals. And now you're racing in the last two months to try to meet your goals. But what we do is we do this three times a year and really just focus and we're able to move the mission forward a lot quicker. The other tip that I talk about, it goes into managing your calendar and really just looking at your calendar, all the meetings that you have that are reoccurring. Make sure that they're on the calendar, blocking off time for your morning routines, for your end of day routines. Blocking off those type of things. And then what I do, one of the strategies that's worked well for me is at the end of the day today I will look at tomorrow to see if I have any meetings that faculty have scheduled with me, if they have not. I will then start blocking out those empty periods of time and those become my focus work times where I can start working on courses or videos or other projects. So I do this the night before, and otherwise my calendar is open for anyone to jump on it to have a meeting with me. I like to end a day today. If tomorrow's not filled, it's now my time. So I push them down the day and sometimes it's hard because we get these last minute requests. But it's, it's, it's really trying to work with the faculty that there are no instructional design emergencies. We have to learn to do better planning and such. So just controlling that environment a little bit has helped me build a lot of support for my faculty. The more supports I build, the less reliant they are on me individually.

REBECCA:

That's a great tip that's really useful. And again, as you mentioned earlier, not something they teach in the classroom. It's those things that you learn by experience. Can you tell me a little bit about the tools that you use in your work? You mentioned the LMS. My students often ask. They come in very tool focused. And so I'm curious what tools you find useful.

STAN:

I have a slew of tools. So if I showed you my Google Chrome, which is like my hub of everything, but one of the first things I do is I pin all these websites that I frequently go in, in and out of. So I make sure that they're readily available. That speeds up the process of getting to things. But then also I have different tools. So one for my personal learning. One of my favorite tools right now is hypothesis. So I can go in and mark up blog posts and PDF documents, which will then save that information through a site called Readwise. So I have a subscription to Readwise that in turns creates these tailored posts in Evernote. So I've automated that process that I could just go highlight later. When I go to Evernote, I have a post that for each of the documents I reviewed, the things that I highlighted.

REBECCA:

Oh, that's cool.

STAN:

Yeah, it's pretty cool. I also use Daigo a lot. Diigo is social bookmarking. When I'm going through the web, if I look at something, I say, Oh, that's nice to keep. I will save it to go and market with a tag or taxonomy that I've created. And then if someone says, Hey, what can you tell me about adult learning or andragogy and all that? I go back to my site. These are pages, sites that I've looked at and I just give them one tag and it may end up being 50 different sites that I've already reviewed. And so I use that in and out of the classroom. I have a tool called Go Video from Vidyard. And so it's a very quick screen casting tool. So when I'm helping a faculty member solve a problem, I will bring up my screen and I will turn on the video and I will talk them through the problem and send the link in the video to them. That's also a very powerful tool for when you're in the job search. So when you're done, you can send a thank you note by email. But if you do it as a video and send a thank you, huge impact.

REBECCA:

That's a really useful tip for people that are looking.

STAN:

Those are some of the some of the tools that I just use on a regular basis, Camtasia to create video. I'm more of a fan of Google and Google Docs, and because of the collaborative nature, especially in the classroom, I try to do those things. Embedding objects into an LMS rather than just provide links, I think makes it a little richer. And TextExpander Techs Expander is a wonderful tool for

REBECCA:

Its teachers best friend, I tell ya, as an instructor, TextExpander is actually quite brilliant and saves so much time because yeah, especially if you teach the same course multiple times. I have certain things that yeah, I just type in my little code and it appears and it is. Yes. Super handy for that.

STAN:

Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah, I'm a fan of tools, but it's really going back to what is the problem and trying to find the best solution for that problem. So not coming with the tool in mind, but really trying to understand the problem. So that's in that listening phase.

REBECCA:

I have one last question that I like to ask everybody, and that's what's your prediction for the future of instructional design?

STAN:

I would say the prediction for the future of instructional design is it's certainly not going away. I think that going through this whole period with COVID and everybody going to a kind of an online format that a lot of faculty are walking away from that experience saying before I thought going online was the worst thing we could ever think of doing, but maybe not so much. Now they're thinking that, hey, there are a lot of very positive aspects of being online, but in order to really do it well, I think that instructional designers need to be in the mix to help faculty learn how to use this environment more successfully. Very often they walk into the classroom as a subject matter expert, but not necessarily someone who is well designed to be an instructor. And so they're just relying on what they've done in the past. But the research is out there. There are certain things that if we do this, we're going to get better results out of our students. And this is what instructional designers and technologists know. So I don't think that's going away. But I would also say that you're going to see a lot more in terms of artificial intelligence coming into the classroom, adaptive learning, where we're personalizing instruction more and how do we do that. And I think instructional technologists and designers will be solving those problems. How to do that and how to make it more faculty are able to do it. That's what I see in the future.

REBECCA:

Stan, thank you very much for being a guest on Demystifying Instructional Design.

STAN:

Thank you ever so much. I'm excited to hear it and get it back out to my folks. So it's been wonderful.

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. Show notes are posted as a blog post on DemystifyingInstructionalDesign.com If you enjoyed this podcast, please subscribe or leave a comment in the show notes blog post.