CII – taking the messy and making it work
Innovation can be messy. Fortunately for the Brandman University community, the Center for Instructional Innovation (CII) sees that as more of a plus than a minus.
CII Director Jennifer Murphy said her job is to provide a place where messy imperfection is tolerated, giving people space to come up with solutions by working together.
A year ago when asked to come up with the department’s accomplishments, Murphy’s list ran multiple pages. It’s likely to be just as long this year. The team of one Blackboard administrator, five academic technology support specialists (ATs), seven instructional designers, one quality assurance manager and one instructional media designer plus Murphy has its fingers in every school, every program, every class offered at Brandman.
They also work with Brandman faculty members, who range from tech challenged to tech savvy when it comes to working with computers, software and online coursework.
“Not everybody is going to be gung-ho, and that is okay” said Murphy, adding that the baseline keeps moving with new hires and a growing number of faculty members beginning to be excited about different possibilities for online learning. “The reality is, all of our courses have an online component and we want them to be high quality.”
It helps that the CII isn’t made up of just technology wizards. Many, including Murphy, have backgrounds in education. She spent 16 years in public schools as a teacher and principal before moving to higher education, working first as an instructional designer with the School of Business before being charged with managing the entire center.
The eclectic nature of the team she leads (some with education backgrounds, some with business backgrounds, some strong on educational theory and all very high-tech) gives them multiple ways of finding solutions.
Sometimes the solution can be quite simple. When instructors in one course were finding that they had to keep explaining to students how to fill out a particular form – wasting valuable class time and adding to student frustration – they worked with instructional designer Jeff Fazakerley to create a tutorial video showing step-by-step how to fill out the form.
“It changes the conversation (for instructors) so they can take it beyond ‘how do I do this, to how can I apply this?’”
Ideas for innovation often come from the faculty, who see where students are struggling or what additional needs might be.
“I think if you’re a content area expert and trying to come up with a course in a bubble, it’s tough. It’s better to bounce ideas off some other people who might have solutions. Our job is not to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ but rather ‘let’s try to get you there even if it is pie in the sky’.”
The challenge in all of Brandman’s courses is to make learning fit people’s lives and work, she said. “Adult learners are not interested in doing busy work. It’s a pretty huge responsibility when you’re in higher education, especially at Brandman where you’re serving older adults, to have authentic learning that is immediately applicable to their lives. I think that’s what we’re working to do.”Murphy and her team also understand the value of face-to-face contact. During a recent School of Business and School of Education faculty meetings at the Irvine campus, the CII team offered live training for the first time. The sessions, narrowed down from four options to two through a faculty survey, earned the department rave reviews.
“Participating in the CII training enabled me to think more creatively about the possibilities available to our online audience,” said Dr. Sharon (Cheri) Floyd, associate dean in the School of Business and Professional Studies. “CII provided real-time training – teaching us how to creatively introduce a course in Blackboard, through the use of software such as Prezi, PowToon, and Screencast-o-Matic. I’m looking forward to implementing some of these engaging tools within our courses for the School of Business and Professional Studies.”
Live training, said Murphy, gives faculty members a chance to learn from each other as well as from the CII team and focus on the things they still need to learn rather than work through a video that might cover basics they already know.
“I know the people who led the trainings are amazing at what they do and really responsive in the moment. I had no doubt that it would be a huge success. I hope we can create enough buzz that we get more buy-in from the others.” said Murphy. “I would love to have adjuncts be able to come in and do training as well.”
Increasing faculty knowledge also helps the CII team meet its overriding goal. “We serve the university. Every time a question comes up we ask, ‘Will it help students? Will it help the faculty be more successful?’ ”
- Prepare new faculty to facilitate learning
- Systematically promote on-going faculty development
- Collaborate with faculty to create high-quality instructional materials using the most current design approaches and technologies
- Provide support the development and maintenance of the virtual learning environment
- Collaborate with the library and learning commons (Online Writing and Math Communities) Develop and maintain a central repository of learning objects
- Offer self-sustaining workshops and certification programs for external constituents
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