May 12, 2022

Meet the instructional design “first responders” who help faculty teach in an emergency

As the coronavirus pushed campuses across the country to close and college after college issued orders to resurrect online classes, it became clear that professors needed help, stat.

Diann Maurer answered the call. An instructional designer in Texas who weathered Hurricane Harvey, she knew firsthand what it’s like to try to keep education alive during a crisis. So she created a few online forms, sent messages to her colleagues on Twitter and together they created the Instructional Design Emergency Response Network.

It’s a simple system that connects instructors who need help teaching online with instructional designers who are willing to help. So far, the network has 300 volunteers and is still counting.

In this interview with EdSurge, Maurer explains his goals for the project and highlights the importance of competent online course design. But she also advises teachers teaching remotely for the first time not to worry about perfection.

The conversation has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

EdSurge: How and why did you start this effort?

Maurer: When Hurricane Harvey passed and hit hard, a colleague mentioned that it would be great if we had a network of instructional design “first responders” to deal with these kinds of crises that can really disrupt student learning. . I think it was perhaps too localized a disaster to really generate much interest. She kind of left it on the table.

About eight days ago, I texted him and said, “Do you mind if I get on it now?” She gave me her blessing and told me to run like a young boy in a field.

I do it on my free time with my own resources. I got the technologies that were available to me for free; created a few Google Forms, one to offer help and one to get help; created a Twitter account to promote it; place them on a Google site; and went from there.

What was the response?

In the first 48 hours, about 100 people volunteered, and almost all of them said they would do it in their spare time and didn’t need to be paid for it – instructional designers, technologists and people who have many years of online experience. education. PhD students in educational technology. I was expecting people from K-12 and higher education, but I also had a lot of people from corporate instructional design.

It reaches people I never expected it to reach. A few days ago I had to go in and modify my form so that I could allow people who are in time zones outside of the United States

It’s been a little over a week. I have 300 people who are available to help. Some are only available for a few hours a week. Some are available 20 hours or more; some are retired e-learning professionals who come in and volunteer to help.

It was a very good experience, simply because it warms my practical little heart to see people willing to give their time to people who teach in other institutions just to help each other through this ordeal.

What types of requests for help have you received?

They didn’t pick up as quickly as I expected or as quickly as the offers, and I think I have an awareness issue. I think the people who really need help may not be on Twitter. I ask people in the network to raise awareness with teaching and learning centres.

I was contacted by the director of the Caltech Center for Teaching, Learning, and Outreach. They have a drafted scope of work and they need a few more instructional designers to supplement what they were already doing.

I was also contacted by the Vice President of Academic Affairs at Miami Dade College, which is huge. I heard from her today that she thinks they’re probably fine, but she’ll let me know. She can send teachers directly to us.

We have more people than we have applications, which I think is a good thing. At this point, I would like to convey a bit more the message that we are available for people who really need help.

Most of the requests I get, I get them after midnight.

With faculty scrambling to upload their in-person classes, why do we need instructional design expertise?

The relationship an instructor establishes with an instructional designer is really, really important. The way I would typically describe it to an instructor is to say, “You’re the subject matter expert in biology, I’m the subject matter expert in quality course design,” and recognizing that those two skills are equally important.

It is a partnership that we are developing. They can imagine what they would really like to do in a course, then I help them figure out how. I can help them understand how to make a lesson speak for them when they are not in the room, how to have their personality present in their lesson when they are not in the room.

Instructional designers will have specialized knowledge in digital accessibility, copyright, and technology skills. We have a bank of third-party tools that will accomplish different things and solve different problems.

If you’ve written something in your native language and need to translate it into another language you don’t know, you can use a web-based machine translation tool. But how good will that translation be compared to a translation done with the help of a human who is fluent in that second language? It’s the difference between having to “pivot to online” on your own and working with an e-learning professional, such as instructional designers and technologists.

Teaching online is a skill and should be done thoughtfully. It’s something that we don’t have right now. The more help you can get from people who already have a lot of experience in this area, the stronger your teaching will be and the more successful your students will be.

So there is a sense of professional responsibility at work here. What else motivates you?

The reason I try to contact faculty in my spare time [to support] other instructors who have never taught online, it’s because I know the people who are ultimately going to suffer are the students. I wonder how much students will be able to learn and retain this semester. I worry so much for them.

For schools that have canceled classes and early years, where they are not providing distance learning, are these students going to be left out? Are we going to have a whole year of students not graduating because they didn’t finish their courses? What will happen to these children? These are the things I think about at two in the morning.

Some educators have been appalled at the idea of ​​pushing professors to teach online without training, while others have embraced it as an opportunity to experiment, or think it’s better than nothing. What do you think?

I think it depends on the instructor. I spoke to an instructor the other day who was herself at high risk, so she had a compromised respiratory system. She’s older, probably in her 70s. She taught face-to-face and she said, “My students take my course face-to-face for a reason, and I teach face-to-face for a reason.” She has minimal technological skills. Part of that is giving her a plan she owns that she can follow on her own with the skills she already has.

I’m very committed to the idea of ​​meeting someone where they are, developing a strong relationship with them, and continuing on a model of continuous improvement. Where she starts her course next week may not look like week 16 of the course. She will learn and grow as she goes.

We just operate a MASH unit at present. We’re trying to keep people together, to stop the bleeding, to get you to a place where you’re at least functional. Not to mention a war zone, but some of the professors I talk to feel very overwhelmed by it all.

It’s really not “online learning”, it’s “distance education”. I think that’s a more accurate term, but we need to stop arguing about language and just help each other.

What are some great tips you would give to an instructor trying this for the first time, right now?

Call your instructional designer and use the resources offered by your university.

Me and all the instructional designers I know are nerds who love our jobs and we love it when someone wants to come and play with us. When I first meet someone, they are aware of their technology skills or their online teaching strategies. Now is not the time to feel embarrassed about it. I will never judge someone for not having the same skills as me.

Don’t be too hard on yourself and don’t be too hard on your students. The technology will fail. It’s important to show students resilience and be able to say, “Well, I didn’t do that well, it didn’t work out, but that’s okay, we’ll get through it.” »

Try to ride it and don’t be too hard on yourself. Don’t worry about whether you’re doing exactly the right thing. What you should be looking for is your best strategy and your best way forward from where you are right now, as opposed to what a famous teacher is doing. You don’t have to be them right now.

Final thoughts?

I want to point out that I sign my emails with “network administrator” instead of my name because it’s really not about me. These are the 300 people who are so invested in this work that they came to create this network together. They deserve so much recognition for the sacrifice they make. Many instructional designers already feel underpaid, underutilized and undervalued.

I did not expect to be in a situation where there is so much to do, where we work overtime and weekends, and we give extra time to [help] other institutions and other faculties. It makes me feel so warm and confused inside that when some people go to the grocery store and buy all the toilet paper, there’s also this surge of generosity. It’s important to see that. I want to thank all these people for submitting a form, it really means a lot to me.