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The Big Shift


Jenn: There's been so much technology thrown at us this past year, it's really important for people to sit back and reflect on who they are and what is working best for them. Because these are all just tools that are out there. We can strive to use them more efficiently and effectively.

Welcome to Redefine U. I’m Dan Baum. Join us as we continue to explore what happens when we’re challenged to change our thoughts, beliefs or even who we think we are.

There has been so much to process since this pandemic began that it’s easy to forget how much we have accomplished in a year (plus) of dramatic change.

This week, we’ll talk with Jenn Bopp, manager of instructional design in AACC’s Virtual Campus. Jenn will share with us what it took to move an entire catalog of classes online and how technology is just one tool to open the door of possibility.

Dan: We want to welcome Jennifer Bopp, manager of instructional design at AACC. Hi Jen. So good to talk to you.

Jenn: Hi Dan. Thanks for having me today.

Dan: How are you holding up during this pandemic?

Jenn: Well, we've gotten a lot of work done in the virtual campus and from the homestead perspective, we’re homeschooling our 10-year-old son and that's been a great experience. We were able to go to a field trip yesterday, which was nice. One of the first for the year. A couple of weeks ago, we went to another homeschooling field trip, which was visiting in an exotic animal farm. I made some friends with some alpacas and zebras. I don't know. There’s all kind of … I even got to pet a sloth. Yeah. Interesting.

Dan: I'm glad everyone's doing well. That's great. What exactly is instructional design?

Jenn: Instructional design. Well, if you want the textbook definition of instructional design, it's basically a systematic approach to creating learning experiences. That's the definition.

However, when you are an instructional designer, you do many things from computer technology support aspect to faculty training. There's just a realm of things that you focus on, which makes it really interesting.

Dan: I'm sure this was an interesting year, but talk to me about pre-COVID. What was your primary focus as an instructional designer and what was the volume like in terms of the amount of things that you were helping to design?

Jenn: Pre-COVID it was ... You know, sometimes it was like pulling teeth. Getting folks to come to our table and have a discussion about how we can improve the student experience and change what they've been doing in the learning management system. We were doing the same old thing with our asynchronous courses. Asynchronous meaning that they're fully 100% online. Not necessarily self-paced, there's due dates that go along with that. It was a lot of the same. We've been doing this for quite some time now. So, that was pre-COVID.

Dan: Presumably getting pretty good at it. You've been doing it for a while in the same way.

Jenn: Of course.

Dan: So then COVID hits. What's it been like? Actually take me back to the shift that was required basically a year ago, spring of 2020.

Jenn: Sure. So spring of 2020, the idea was that everybody had to move online, right? There were some faculty and courses that have never been taught fully online. We really needed to get them on board and get them in a process to make a quality course that they could then teach for the summer or for the fall and kind of actually midstream, right? Because we were on spring break and all of a sudden they said, "Well, we're all going online from here on out."

First we had 50, then we had a hundred. When it's all said and done by 2021, we had practically 150 courses that we had converted to fully, 100% online, or also they may have had an online sync component. It has been quite a journey this past year. Quite a journey for everyone not just the virtual campus or instructional design. It's been a journey for faculty and students, of course, and staff as well.

Dan: What makes for the ideal where you can step back and say that project or that course was a success? What determines that? What does that look like for you?

Jenn: Well, we do have 50 quality standards that focus on technology, content and design. Accessibility is a big one. There's different categories that we look at to say, "Oh, this one is really strong in accessibility, however, when it comes to engagement they could use a few more interactions with students or different tools that they may need to use.”

Dan: So you have some clear benchmarks that you're shooting for and able to measure.

Jenn: Absolutely.

Dan: What are some of the challenges faculty face when designing a course or converting a course to online instruction?

Jenn: Well, one, I think a lot of times it's the technology that tends to be the obstacle for them. They don't truly understand what the technology can be used for. Really we want the technology to be used as a tool and the faculty focus is teaching, right? So, if we can create a course design that allows the teacher to actually provide more feedback to students and let them focus on more of the content that they need to make those connections with students. I think that's what we're looking for. A lot of times they just get overwhelmed. Faculty, they're teaching multiple courses and it takes a lot of time to work on these courses.

That is one of the obstacles as well. Technology and time. Don't let those get in the way. With the pandemic, we were able to provide resources to faculty to help them during this process. That was really key. I'm just so excited that we were able to have that. I always say, it's my dream, right? To have everybody come to the table and we can help design your course. That's what happened. I just didn't expect it all to come at the same time.

Dan:  Yeah. You had the technology and then you had the will, but you didn't have quite the time that you wanted. It sounds like it was all sped up so quickly.

What about challenges for students when they're first taking an online course? What are some of the challenges that they face?

Jenn: There's a lot of myths out there in regards to students. A lot of students think, "Oh, it's online. It'll be easier. That's not the case.” It really takes a lot of self discipline and time management skills. You need to know how to look at resources and connect with your instructor. That's one of the keys here is the connection with the instructors. You have to make that from the beginning of the course or you may have already lost the student. It's really key to have them in the course and making those connections, not only at the beginning, but throughout the whole term and to make those connections with each other.

Dan: We're hearing this theme of connection a lot as I'm talking to people during the pandemic. Tell me more about how you help overcome these challenges, whether for faculty or students. What are some of the techniques or best practices or tools that you used to help either faculty or students overcome some of the challenges that they will be facing?

Jenn: Yeah. How's that saying go? How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. That's really how you build a course. One step at a time. You really have to break it down into a process for them. A systematic approach that they can adapt to. We have that and which is really helpful. Even that process helps the students in the end because students can reflect and say, "How am I meeting these learning objectives?" The faculty can actually share and say, "Look, I've mapped it all out. These are the course outcomes. These are the module level learning objectives. Here we are, this is how you met them. You completed all of these assignments and assessments."

It really is a process that is behind it. You have to follow it step by step and break it down. That's how a student would follow and be successful in a course as well. One step at a time. One day at a time. We always recommend that it's in bite-size chunks or in chunks for the students. That they can take time to reflect and digest the information. It really takes some thought to do that.

Dan: We're focusing on the future of education this season. How do you see this experience through the pandemic and the aggressive shift to more remote online? How do you see that impacting higher education going forward?

Jenn: It's a big shift. I think for a lot of folks that were doing the same thing for the past 10, 15, 20 years, we've now shifted. We shifted quickly to a more synchronous environment, meaning we're in real time. If students can't come to the campus, they can meet online, say at 9 a.m. and have their instructor show up right in their house. We've brought AACC to them, into their homes, which I think is so impactful. You know? One of the big reasons students don't come to campus is because of transportation. This has really changed the whole landscape for us in regards to what online looks like in the future for us.

I always say, "Let's not let the technology get in the way. Use it as a tool to make it as efficient and effective as we can." Like the course, the student experience. Technology is a tool. It should not be an obstacle. We need to utilize that better, I think and I think we are. We're starting to. For sure

Dan: Oh, absolutely. I hear real enthusiasm and excitement in your voice. Did you always dream of being an instructional designer?

Jenn: To be honest with you, Dan, I sat in 7th grade in my fundamentals of design class and I wanted to be a commercial artist. Now I'm showing my age, commercial artists. I don't think they're even called that anymore. When I did finish my undergrad degree, I became a graphic designer and a web designer. Also, I was asked to come back and teach at Anne Arundel Community College and teach graphic design. I did that and I could not believe how much I loved it. I thought, "Oh my gosh, I love this teaching thing. I need to do this forever." It was just a natural step for me to get my Master's in Educational Technology and marry the two. I married design and technology together. I was still teaching at Anne Arundel and the instructional design position open up and I jumped on it. Here I am 20 years later.

Dan: Awesome. But to say, "To come back to teach", then you had already been at Anne Arundel? You started at AACC?

Jenn: Yes. I was a first generation student at Anne Arundel as well.

Dan:  Wow, fantastic.

Jenn: Yeah. Yeah. It's home to me.

Dan: Well, clearly at that start of your career, you redefine yourself. A graphic designer's view of the world is a little different than instructional design. How about since then? Have you continued to redefine yourself? And if so, how?

Jenn: Well at Anne Arundel, we have the Engagement Coach Program. I did finish the Engagement Coaching Program in 2018 and I received my ICF certification in fall of 2019, right before the pandemic hit so I'm just so grateful that I had that skillset because boy did I need it, right? I mean, I was meeting with faculty one-on-one and with staff and colleagues nonstop. I pulled those coaching skills and whatever I can. It gave me the motivation to have that momentum to keep striving for success. That was key.

Dan: You said it was perfect timing and of course you were suddenly inundated with more people than you had been before, if you were having to kind of drag them to the table, but how have you been showing up differently?

Jenn: With coaching, there's just a realm of different skillsets that we learn, right? One is listening. You have to turn your ears on and listen. What do the faculty, what are their needs and wants? Listening is key to having that supportive role for them. That's my job. I need to be there to support faculty in what they're trying to accomplish. That's key.

Dan: Yeah. Validating whatever they're feeling or their perspective.

Jenn: Right and no judgment. I mean, there's no judgment there. They show up. I may have worked with them a million times, but now this is a new thing we're doing. No judgment as to what's happened previously. We're moving forward. That's what coaching also teaches is that we're coaching from now and forward. We're not digging back into the past. Those are key.

The other piece of it is that I have core values. The college has core values. Hopefully some of the faculty and staff and everybody has core values that they've identified. One of mine is being thoughtful and creative. There are two of them, thoughtful and creative. That would be two. The other theme that you've heard is connections. I loved making the connection. Even though it was through the screen this year, I made so many connections, more so than I have in the past several years. I've made a lot more of this past year.

Dan: You know what I find amazing about that because connection is one of my values as well. When you're using technology, looking through a screen, or maybe you're just on audio, you said listening, you have to pay a lot more attention in a way that you weren't before. You're kind of zeroing in. That is, I think, forcing us to connect more intentionally, at least that's been my experiences. We want that connection. How am I going to do that through this medium? You really can hear it in people's voices, or you really can get that sense. It's different. It's not the same as when you're face-to-face, but it's there and you can make that connection.

Jenn: Yes.

Dan: I'm curious about how the experience of the past year is impacting how you approach your work in instructional design going forward. Maybe coaching is helping to inform that as well. How is this past year impacting how you are approaching or will continue to approach your work going forward?

Jennifer: Yeah. I think in regards to this past year, it's provided more opportunities for us in regards to the virtual campus or online courses in general. Folks that thought, "I'll never be able to teach this online." Well, now that they've had the experience this past year, it's a great time to reflect and say, "You know what? I can teach this online. I did teach this online and it was successful." They can see how it was successful for their students or they can kind of pick and choose like, "Oh, this didn't work so well online. I really need this piece to be face-to-face." Well, then that sets up another opportunity for hybrid courses.

Dan: Yeah. Some are using this term new normal, and some would like to see us return to whatever they considered to be normal. If you had a crystal ball, what do you anticipate will become the normal or new normal for the delivery of higher education?

Jenn: I think it's a balance between the two. I think it's a little extreme to have everything 100% online. I know for a fact that faculty, there are some that truly need to be in the classroom. They thrive on that. That's where they need to be. That's where they shine. The same goes for students. There are some students that it's just not going to work for them fully online. They really need to be in that face-to-face environment. I think going forward, it's a balance between the two. Each person has to find what is the best journey for them. That's what it's about.

Dan: Would you consider this a redefining moment for how we deliver education? If so, how?

Jenn: I think so because we're not going to go back to the same old thing we were doing. It really is a new way of shaping or formatting courses and looking at them and envisioning what is possible. I think everyone can now see it. I really do. I think with a lot of folks working from home and remotely, they can see the possibilities of, "Wait a minute, I can meet with my students like this and I am meeting with my students like this. I have a green screen behind me and I'm recording and I'm doing." It's just opened a whole new world for faculty and students. I think it is a redefining moment for-

Dan: Even just the synchronous aspect of it. You said, "For so long, we were delivering asynchronously." Now just introducing the synchronous, I'm sure that's here to stay. I can just see already that is a big leap.

Jenn: Yes. Absolutely. Absolutely.

Dan:  All right. I'm going to shift from crystal ball to a story. If this were a novel, what's the name of this current chapter for higher education? What would you call it?

Jenn: This chapter would be called... That's a great question. It would be called Remember Who You Are. I say that because there's been so much technology thrown at us this past year, it's really important for people to sit back and reflect on who they are and what is working best for them. Whether you're an instructor or a student or staff member, what works best for you. Remember who you are, because these are all just tools that are out there. We can strive to use them more efficiently and effectively.

Dan: I love that. I thought you were going to go with possibilities since you raised that. You mentioned possibilities. I like Remember Who You Are so much better. I like that description so much better. That's great. I love it.

Jenn: Yeah. Yeah. Of course there's lots of possibilities out there. I mean, that's a given, but I think we all may have lost a little bit of ourselves over this past year. I think that's really important.

Dan: Yeah. Well, Jen it's been great speaking with you and thank you for all that you're doing first for our faculty, in helping them through this time. Then by extension our students, our colleagues and community. Take care and be well.

Jenn: Thank you so much, Dan. It was great.

Before COVID, AACC offered a third of its courses online. When the pandemic struck, Jenn Bopp was part of the team helping faculty and students move fully online, what she calls “the big shift.” It’s been quite a journey. And even though she works in the field, Jenn repeatedly says technology is just a tool. While she dreamed of getting more people to embrace this tool, she didn’t expect it to all come at once.

Therein lies the big lesson. All of us have shifted, and though it may have felt dramatic and immediate, there have been steps along the way. “I never…” became “I can.” New tools have allowed us to envision new possibilities.

With that comes a realization that we need balance. For Jenn, it’s marrying design and technology. Online with in-person. And connection with deeper listening. She advises that we take more time to reflect and digest. Ask yourself what’s truly important? What is it you really want to do? What do you need to get there? In that process, she says, remember who you are.

Redefine U is a production of Anne Arundel Community College. Our executive producer and creative director is Allison Baumbusch. Our producer is Jeremiah Prevatte and our writer, Amy Carr Willard.

Others who helped with this podcast include Amanda Behrens, Angie Hamlet, Ben Pierce and Alicia Renehan.

Special thanks to Jenn Bopp.

Find show notes, how to subscribe and other extras on our website:

I’m your host and creator of this podcast, Dan Baum. Thanks for listening.


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