Former educator, current instructional designer and BUG Leader, and double graduate-degree holder - Adam Authier knows his stuff. However, he says that most of the time, he "feels more like a student" than anything. Read on to find out why building courses for students has created a learning opportunity in itself for this Schoolcraft College staff member.
Rachel Reiss: Tell me a bit about your role at your current institution.
Adam Authier: I am one of 3 instructional designers at Schoolcraft College's distance learning office. We work as team to build master courses for college, and work with subject matter experts, faculty, and project manager. Our faculty and developers go through a three part credentialing series before they develop with us, and then I work with the faculty to build the content for the course and we pass it off to project manager. So if we develop an English 100, for example, that’s the English 100 for the entire college. We are just shy of 10,000 FTE or full-time enrollments. In addition to course development, we do a lot of training and conference presenting, so we are in charge of maintenance and support.
RR: Do you learn the content as your are designing courses?
AA: We are not subject area specific. I used to teach English and certified to teach history, so I may develop some of those moving on. We tend to pick up information from subject matter experts, so I feel as though I am constantly learning.
RR: You spent a decade teaching Secondary English. How did you use technology in your classroom?
AA: I completed a Master’s degree and Ed specialist degree while I was teaching, and both in instructional technology, so I did a lot of blind implementation and experimentation with the tools and practices I was learning. That came with a lot of trial and error, but I also did convince my principal to let me take one of my classes one year and turn it into an online course. In K12, students have to be there, but I built my face to face classroom in an online environment. That way, I convinced my principal that instead of teaching it traditionally, it was okay to bring in laptops and have students work at their own pace.
RR: What was the most insightful part of that?
AA: I did it for a semester. It was interesting because right now I design courses but you never get to see someone take an online course, so it was an interesting experience since I had to supervise them. I learned a lot about how different students progress through material. That particular group was high school freshman. I taught 7th grade before I taught high school, and I was expecting there to be a big jump in responsibility in terms of how disciplined and self-motivated the students would be to progress through their course work – there wasn’t.
AA: Design doesn’t differ much. You have to get kids engaged, interested, have clear goals, present material in a meaningful way – the basics are what matter. I think the challenge really dependent on age is engagement tactics. And it gets a little easier in college when students have more say in the classes they are taking, and a little closer to doing what they want to do with their lives.
RR: What were some of the challenges in transitioning from teaching in the classroom to designing an online classroom?
AA: The biggest is that in my classroom, I was a subject matter expert (SME). I knew English, history, what it was, what it meant, I knew how I was trying to get everything to go. In this job, I need to collaborate with a SME, and somehow translate the content in an engaging way and showing the meaning behind it. However, it becomes an advantage because in most of the
courses I work on, I feel more like a student than a designer. The faculty appreciate that a lot of the times they put together what they think is a great assessment and we come back to them with questions. Not because it was bad, but because they understand what they are saying so well, that they don’t understand. I even told a faculty member: I think I get where you’re going here, but I don’t quite understand the direction. I have 2 graduate degrees and don’t think they’re going to have a shot. So we went back and changed the language. Since I am one of 3 people in the office, we’ll tweak it and pass it around.
RR: What would you like to see changed or added to the Community Site?
AA: It seems like everything I've wanted to do, I've been able to do.
RR: What is your go-to page on the Community site?
AA: My BUG site, I am a co-chair with a childhood friend of mine – so we check our user group; posting and holding monthly webinars, curating the content and posting the news. It is the Michigan BUG.
RR: Let's end with some inspiration. Favorite quote?
AA: Since I’m a former English teacher I‘ll go with Shakespeare. From Romeo and Juliet: “wisely and slow, they stumble who run fast” that is Friar’s advice to Romeo. I also repeat it to myself because it is words to live by in a society where everything moves so fast and people make changes just to make changes. You still have to look at the big picture and make some analysis.
Thank you, Adam ! Want to learn more? Check out "What's Your Problem?" - a web series of short, 5-minute episodes designed by Adam and his team members created to provide additional professional development resources to their faculty. They address common issues faced by instructional designers, and the first series can be found in his blog post, here.