Flying Solo: Instructional Designer Finds Her Niche Online
Walrod, Shirley, Distance Learning
Ten years ago, as a graduate student in curriculum and instructional technology, I never dreamed I'd be teaching more online courses than face-to-face (f2f) courses this spring semester 2005. In fact, my first experience as an online instructor was only last semester. As an instructional designer at a medical university for 6 years, I helped many instructors add an online component to their courses or develop an online course from a f2f course. I even taught a module or two in a couple of those courses; however, the fall semester of 2004 was my first solo flight. I can only describe the experience as finally being allowed to fly the plane after teaching instrumentation for 6 years!
As an adjunct instructor with a background in writing and teaching composition and a PhD in instructional technology, I took on an unusual mix of courses on my first flight. While teaching technical writing, business communications, and English composition f2f, I initiated my online career teaching another English composition course. A few weeks into the fall, I facilitated a Nova Southeastern University online graduate course, Applications of Distance Education Technology. These two classes were the North and South Poles of my online life, as most of the composition students were first-year community college students (two were dual-enrolled in high school and college), and the NSU distance education students were all in their dissertation stage.
What the two groups of students had in common were the number of adult students and WebCT. That's it. The NSU graduate students were seasoned distance learners and, because they had started together in a cluster, they all knew each other and had bonded long before I flew into the scene. The college freshmen knew no one (except for the dualenrollees who attended the same high school); most had never taken an online course. On the other hand, most of the NSU students had worked in the field of instructional technology much longer than I. In those moments when I was flying blind, I remembered their vast experience and took comfort in the thought that most of my students could have taught the course themselves.
Now I truly knew the difference between a sage on the stage and a guide by the side. The course was handed to me neatly packaged with a syllabus, study guide, text, and video modules on CD-ROM. I scheduled and hosted the cluster chat sessions, administered and graded the exam over the materials, answered students' questions, monitored and contributed to the discussion board, commented on their video storyboards and made suggestions, empathized with them as they tried on a tight schedule to tape, edit, and produce a 10-minute video on a significant application of distance education, and encouraged them when the technology failed. …