Each month, this series will feature an interview with a member of the Digital Pedagogy and Media team. Broadly, our team has expertise in instructional design and pedagogy, multimedia production, and animation and narrative storytelling. We all have interests and expertise that we bring to the team, including the use of digital tools for instructional purposes, negotiating digital identities, studio models for teaching and learning, universal design for learning and inclusive design, digital language pedagogy, digital privacy and self-defense, and more. If you have questions, connections, or would like to partner with a Digital Pedagogy and Media team member on a project, please get in touch!
Introducing…. Heather Stafford, Instructional Designer
How did you get here? What types of education and experiences did you need before starting your job?
I’ve taken a roundabout path to get to this position, but all of the experiences that I’ve had have helped me to do my best work in this role. As an undergraduate student I studied English with a focus on Secondary Education. That course of study involved a semester of student teaching. To this day that is one of the most formative experiences I have ever had. If you want to be humbled – try to learn to teach while surrounded by teenagers. It’s rewarding but also very tough.
From there I worked in higher education admissions and human resources offices, as a technical writer at a software company, and as a technical communications (English) teacher at a career and technical education (CTE) center before landing in my current role. In 2017 I completed my MEd through Northeastern University with a focus on eLearning and instructional design.
Although instructional designers follow a multitude of paths, I’ve always felt that my background has given me a unique and in-depth exposure to the field of education that has served me well in being able to empathize with both learners and teachers. I feel blessed to continue to work in the field of education.
What does a typical day/week at work look like for you?
It’s difficult to answer this question because my work varies quite a bit. However, some of the staples of my day are communication streams. Checking email and Slack consistently is important to ensure that I’m in the loop for projects and upcoming meetings. I typically have 3 – 4 meetings per week that are standing work group meetings where we discuss on going projects, as well as individual consultations where I meet with faculty, staff or students to discuss an idea for a project or assignment.
Professional development is an important part of my work as things are always changing in the field of instructional design. I take time to read about instructional practices, learning science, and updates to software (like Canvas). Recently I’ve been taking more time to process these readings through reflective blog posts. Currently I’m working my way through How People Learn II and sharing highlights.
Lastly, I spend my time working on projects. Some of my most recent ones involve a collaboration with Professor Anne Campbell at MIIS on her Data Interpretation and Presentation (IEMG 8611 / DPPG 9611) course which is being offered in an online format for the first time this semester. I’m also currently working on making institutional documentation about learning tools consistent and easily searchable between our DLINQ site and the LIS wiki. (These are both great resources – check them out!)
Describe a project that you’ve been working on
Working with Professor Campbell on her course has been a great experience because of the way in which we’ve been able to collaborate and reflect on the work before and during the running of the course. It’s been the most involved I’ve been able to be with an individual course which has been helpful in allowing me to offer suggestions and ideas to try to help Professor Campbell meet the goals for her class. The project involved designing multiple structures and timelines during the development phase to help us ensure that all of the pieces came together in time for us to review and check the content and structure prior to the launch of the course.
It’s been an informative process, because although we are designing for an online space, all of the work that we’ve done could be repurposed for a face-to-face class. It’s been a thought provoking and fulfilling process.
What is one common misconception about your work?
I think most people see me as the person to ask when they want to know how to do something. While I can often (but not always) answer these questions, more often the conversation turns to questions about why the person wants to do what they are trying to do. Asking ‘why’ is a really valuable exercise for most activities having to do with teaching and learning. It forces us to critically examine what we hope to achieve by doing something. Too often we do things just because we can and don’t ask whether we should. As an example:
Yes – I can show you how to set up a class blog so that it is open to the world. But before I do that I want to have a conversation with you about what that means. Why is it important that the blog is open? What is the goal? Who is the audience? What other options are you offering students who do not want to blog in the open? How is the writing assignment designed to adjust for presentation in a blog format and how does that fit into your course objectives?
Also, many people say they are hesitant to reach out to ask for help because they don’t want to bother me – but that’s what I’m here for!
What about your job gets you excited to come to work every day?
Getting to ask “why?”
I love dissecting instructional strategies and considering them from a student viewpoint. I like the messiness of the field of education and talking with teachers who want to dig into that mess and ask themselves why their class functions the way it does. I don’t profess to have all the answers – but being willing to interrogate our own assumptions is a great first step for any reflective practitioner. It’s a lesson I first learned as a student teacher, and it’s one I hope to continue to practice every day.
Digital Pedagogy and Media team pedagogical vision statement
We believe that learning communities are built on a foundation that recognizes the humanity of teachers and students, and that learning works best when the diversity of learner backgrounds and experiences are acknowledged, respected, and welcomed; that learners need to be safe, cared for, and confident in order to fully participate in any learning experience. When these needs are met, learners can be invited out of their “comfort zone;” we believe that a playful approach can mediate the space between safety and risk. When learners are supported to build expertise and take ownership over their own learning, we believe that learning is identity-changing. These beliefs guide us toward intentional design of learning spaces that are inclusive, equitable, supportive, authentic, and generative.