From time to time, I’ve shared links to a web series that my colleagues (Jason Kane and Kaylynn Mortensen) and I created called What’s Your Problem? - a compilation of short episodes that we share with faculty at our small community college outside of Detroit, Michigan in the hopes that each one would provide helpful solutions to a common “problem” (whether real or perceived) that exists in the day-to-day of teaching online courses.
The full title of the series is actually, What’s Your Problem? A Fundamentally Kind of Useful Production. It was so named to reflect our original, tongue-in-cheek hope for the show - that, from time to time, when they needed it, our faculty would glean something that would make their lives a little easier.
It took us a little while to figure out how to actually create and film a web series. Ultimately, we leaned on an outstanding Media department to help us (complete with teleprompter and green screen) and, in August 2016 we released our first episode. The problem? Cheating in Distance Learning Courses.
That first episode (and the series in general) was extremely well-received by our faculty, and - as we were encouraged by the initial reaction - I decided to share a recap of our first season with the Community. And that’s when things started to get interesting.
Debbora Woods, now the Senior Manager of Global Client Programs for Blackboard, saw my post and asked if Jason, Kaylynn, and I would be willing to present our solutions for preventing cheating in online courses as part of the Higher Education BITS series that she coordinates. We were happy to do so, and our session, Effective Strategies to Prevent Cheating in Distance Learning Courses, was well-attended and produced overwhelmingly positive feedback.
So, we decided that we’d try to present on our process and the benefits of the series at BbWorld17 in New Orleans. This was, for us, a nerve-wracking endeavor. After all, we were just instructional designers from a small community college who were foolish enough to try something that (in all honesty) started as a joke. Ultimately, and in large part due to having worked with Debbora and the exposure that the BITS session got us, our proposal was accepted and we had the honor of presenting What’s Your Problem?: How a Professional Development Web Series Encouraged a Stronger Blackboard Culture at Our College to a gracious and bigger-than-expected audience (they actually had to switch us to a bigger room the night before we were scheduled to present!). The highlight of the trip, though, was hearing someone break into the What’s Your Problem? theme song while walking past us on Bourbon St.
And, since that first episode, we’ve written, filmed, and released 15 more episodes dealing with a range of “problems” from Accessibility to Lackluster Discussions, and a few special episodes, including a Student Edition and an infomercial that attempts to sell the Bb Instructor App to faculty. We’ve won a “Gold” Collegiate Advertising Award for best Online Education Series, and both myself and (more recently) Jason Kane have been named Blackboard MVPs - an honor that we both agree is due, at least in part, to the opportunities that What’s Your Problem? created for us to get involved with the global Blackboard community.
So, why am I sharing this story? Two reasons. The first is to remind everyone of the power that a place like Blackboard Community has for a group of people who are engaged in and passionate about what they do. The fact that this “thing” that we put together for a small group of community college faculty in suburban Detroit made it to the global stage and afforded Jason, Kaylynn, and I the countless opportunities it has, is remarkable. It’s a testament to the community - those who come here to find new ideas (like What’s Your Problem?) and those who share their own (which you should definitely be doing).
And second, this story should serve as a reminder that the role that each of us plays within our own institution is vitally important, even if it doesn’t always seem like it. We’re currently working on Season 5 of What’s Your Problem? It’s a struggle to keep it fresh and entertaining; to keep our faculty engaged. We sometimes kick around the idea of shutting it down. Two of the episodes from Season 4 only have 40-50 unique views. However, 40-50 represents most of the faculty who were teaching online for us last semester and, assuming the trend continues, when Season 5 comes out those numbers will go up as new or returning faculty discover the show. At it’s core, What’s Your Problem? remains exactly what we wanted it to be - a fundamentally kind of useful production. A resource that faculty still engage with and benefit from. It is representative of the countless things all of us do everyday to positively impact our respective institutions, whether we are recognized for those efforts or not. In our case, we are humbled and thankful for the support of the Blackboard Community.
Keep up the good work.
Thanks for reading (and watching).