Starting off September, we have an interview with Jacob Spradlin of Sam Houston State University. A self-proclaimed "eLearning evangelist", Jacob is a leader, team member, designer, and trainer. He is passionate about online teaching and learning, equipping faculty and sharing his experience with others. With almost 20 years in the field, Jacob has plenty of experience working with different constituencies to connect them to proven methodologies and technologies that will help them succeed.
Rachel Reiss: For starters, tell us where you work?
Jacob Spradlin: SHSU online, the Distance Learning Office for Sam Houston State University in Hunstville, TX. We are responsible for Blackboard in all of its facets and provide support and help, as well as development options for students and faculty.
RR: What exactly is your role at the Distance Learning Office?
JS: My role formally says "system administrator", but that is only one of the roles that I have. I wear several different hats. I am in charge of faculty development efforts (trainings) and making sure they are comfortable, as well as maintaining the instructional tech environment. I organize online and face-to-face development opportunities, where educators can get additional certification, as well as provide "Just in Time" services. I work with a dedicated group of employees who run the support desk. Those people are the go-tos for students who call seeking help. And lastly, I work with instructional designers to make sure they have everything that they need. A lot of what I do revolves around communicating best practice.
RR: Tell us a little more about the people you work with?
JS: Our office is a holistic solution to SHSU's eLearning woes, and I am lucky to work with great people. We have a large group of instructional designers, a full time support desk, people that access our data and understand trends, people whose job it is to tell prospective students about our course offerings, and people who push that content out on the web. I work with people outside the office, too - especially faculty. I ensure that they know how to share their knowledge with students in such a way that they can understand trends in learning, and adjust their teaching practices accordingly. For example, are they uploading a 50 minute lecture? Or are they chunking it, incorporating activities that engage students, and then moving on to the next step? I also work with faculty via development, and we do blog posts and create best practice tweets. Everything under the sun. I want faculty and students to know that they can have an equitable experience in an online environment. It just takes time to work.
RR: As a system administrator, you seem to have a lot of knowledge about instructional design. How did you learn such best practices as you discuss in your blog posts?
JS: Instructional design is actually my primary background. When I started off here, I was an instructional designer for the College of Education. My Masters is in instructional technology. I have a firm background in teaching and learning, and have experience working with faculty on campus for nearly 20 years. I've been using Blackboard since we got it in 2000.
RR: How does your institution use Blackboard? Would you say they stick to more of a traditional style lecture with virtual course access, stay mainly virtual, or support a blended learning environment?
JS: All of the above. Definitely.
RR: What is one thing people may be surprised to know about you?
JS: I put together what is probably the world's first e-learning music video (check out the link at the bottom of page). It was one we did about elearning and the importance of updating your content and course.
RR: What's your go-to space on the Community site?
JS: Not necessarily a space, but a place to go is to check posts from those I'm following. I like following people who post things of interest to me - in Community, nobody should be in a vacuum. We should always be looking to people who are doing well, and people who aren't doing that well, so that we can all learn from each other's mistakes and successes. I've got the Bb Community open pretty much every day now as one of my tabs. I'm a member of the Certified Trainers Community, and newly-created Portfolio Community.
RR: What would you like to see changed/added to the site?
JS: I sometimes feel that a link to a YouTube channel for quick hits or how-tos would be nice, so that the rest of the community will immediately get updated about it. And, of course, integrating more multimedia material (like music videos!)
RR: Ending as we always do, with some inspiration: what is your favorite quote?
JS: It's actually a funny one by a musical satirist Tom Lehrer: "life is like a sewer. You get out of it what you put into it." In many ways, it is true of eLearning. The more that we, as a Community, put in and enrich the cognitive surplus, the more we can get out of this resource pool.
Thanks, Jacob! See the first music video on eLeaning, "Broken Links", here.