This is not the end of my story. This is merely the end to a singular chapter of life, learning and work. The journey has been tremendous and despite my limited personal learning goals at the beginning of my program, I have exceeded my expectations with the knowledge and deepened understanding that I have walked away with. It is impossible to address everything that I've learned in the last two years, through 11 courses, approximately 44 assignments, readings too numerous to mention, and several unexpected, fantastic collaborations. Following are my reflections on meeting my learning goals, the toolbox that I've managed to build in the last 2 years through my M.Ed. process, connections that I've made to my work and business environments, and where I hope to go next.
The masters journey has provided me with more than accomplishment of my original learning goals. I have discovered that the isolated learning that I previously preferred has a time and a place, but there is something very powerful about the collaborative experience, whether it be in a school or work environment. I value the time to learn with and from others and to engage my thinking from the angle of another colleague's perspective. I've discovered that combining efforts reduces workload and helps to achieve a stronger final product overall. This approach to learning will shape and influence my f2f teaching and any design that I am fortunate enough to contribute to in the future.
My research skills have expanded to include finding primary sources and to engaging in the interview process, in addition to using boolean searches and Google Scholar. This process has become a valuable experience for me and has helped me to better understand my work environment and to apply my course content. My writing has changed dramatically, and my APA writing skills have improved along with my incorporation of support for the ideas that I want to convey.
I better understand my work environment, our Open Learning processes, the theory behind our educational design, the technological tools necessary to facilitate and to demonstrate learning, and how to enhance the learning experienced by our on-line students.
Being out of school for at least 8 years when I embarked on this journey left me with doubts and in the beginning, I was not sure if I could manufacture all of the assignments necessary to complete the program. Experiencing the program in chunks alleviated my fears and stress along the way and slowly built up my confidence. As my spouse and children depart on their next learning journeys, my own process will make me more compassionate and empathetic to the weakened self-esteem and dips in confidence that accompany learning and assignment/project development. I now remember what a vulnerable, rewarding and strengthening experience learning can be.
I have worked hard over the last two years to meet my learning goals. Following is a brief reflection that connects my learning goals to the deepened understanding of distance education and the design process that my graduate studies have provided me with.
Fulfilling a commitment that I made to myself several years ago is very rewarding and brings closure to something that made me feel like a quitter or a failure. This victory demonstrates my tenacity and endurance, and proves to me that I can accomplish anything, no matter how impossible the feat initially appears. This success demonstrates the necessity of a basic instructional design principle like chunking up the learning process so that it is manageable and absorb-able. It also relays the critical value of having a support group that doesn't give up, even when I quit again and again, myself. The learning process demonstrated the awareness of needing to revisit and revise goals. A change from an M.Ed. in TESOL, to a f2f M.Ed. in Curriculum Design to an M.Ed. in Distance Education demonstrates a wisdom within my field and my understanding of the anticipated future growth of the industry. I may have begun with an undergrad approach to learning but developed a graduate mindset as I proceeded through the program. It also helped that there was no way that I would let myself abandon my graduate studies again.
The way that the MDDE program is designed requires reflection and application of concepts in authentic situations. In cases where an educational system or issue needed to be analyzed, I always suggested my own environment, whether working individually or in a group. I knew that this would provide me the greatest hands on opportunity with the new skills and would provide me a depth of understanding for my own institution, and the distance education industry as a whole. Today, I understand the issues surrounding modality decisions, how open pedagogy affects course design and saves students money, how to redesign constructive and interactive courses, how technology affects staff, students and budgets, how we produce courses, and how simply changing an LMS affects the whole production workflow process. Moreover, I can identify and contribute to the development of an interactive course that is student-centred.
Our keys words in our department are open, flexible, accessible, and student-centred. Today, through application of theory and open pedagogy to our own system, I understand the importance of still offering print options to students, despite it not being the most cost effective or time efficient way to deliver a course. The main goal of Open Learning with Thompson Rivers University is to do what is best for our students and to provide a student-centred experience. By doing this we easily make decisions like choosing open textbooks to provide the flexibility and accessibility that students seek. Concepts that were discussed in MDDE 601, MDDE 620 and MDDE 621 highlighted these issues, provided information that I could apply to my own work environment and helped me to analyse my workplace situation in a more critical way.
Today, I understand the need for Universal Design in courses and how to remove barriers like culture, language, internet access issues, and the financial limitations that prevent students from learning.
Today's focus is on creating constructive, interactive and engaging courses for students that deepen the learning experience and allow them to make connections to what they are learning. This needs to be done in a digital environment that makes sense to them and speaks their language. This is easier to achieve in a cohort-based course, but more difficult in an independent study course, which is often times what students desire to meet the flexibility of learning (when and where) that they require. There is a constant back and forth between what the designer or instructor wants to design and what the student wants to experience. It is important that the designer keeps the technology and the student in mind when designing courses and that we continue to offer courses that are autonomous AND socially constructed in nature.
According to Reiser (2012), “the field of instructional design and technology…encompasses the analysis of learning and performance problems, and the design, development, implementation, evaluation, and management of instructional and non-instructional processes and resources intended to improve learning and performance in a variety of settings, particularly educational institutions and the workplace” (p. 5). The MDDE program has compelled me to consider issues of modality, interactivity in independent study courses, design elements, varied job titles and descriptions, and the need for the designer to be as iterative in his approaches as his courses are in their design.
Many of the assignments throughout the Athabasca University MDDE program required that I apply concepts to authentic work-life contexts. I was fortunate that the program also provided me with the opportunity to choose those meaningful contexts. By applying the Systems Analysis Theory to our own messy problem at Open Learning, I was able to better understand the conditions that influence the various modalities that we offer our courses in. I also better understand the various theories that drive our instructional designers to build courses based on constructivist, connectivist and open pedagogies, to better help our students learn. Furthermore, a workflow process analysis provided me with a clear comprehension of how our courses are produced and converted between the various modalities. Discussions within the MDDE courses allowed for direct work and business connections to be made to the concepts being learned.
Vygotsky's Social Constructivism and Downes' and Siemens' Connectivism for a digital age support strategies for developing courses that are engaging, interactive and collaborative. MDDE 601, MDDE 603, MDDE 621, and MDDE 665 provided insight into the elements that create authentic and meaningful experiences for students like debates, blogs, peer reviews, group projects, presentations, digital storytelling events, project, community and inquiry-based problems. I can implement these approaches in an on-line environment or in the f2f classroom where these strategies will serve to enhance the experience that my international students have.
Work and Business Connections
Overall, the application of concepts required in my masters courses encouraged me to choose local, meaningful environments and processes to analyse and critique. I have a much broader perspective of my work environment and understand how important each department is to the development of courses for the students we serve. More importantly, I am compelled to collaborate with others to understand the diverse perspectives and factors that have us making changes within our courses, our design, our LMS, our administrative processes and our budgets. I have closer working relationships with colleagues because I took the time to understand their departments and how we fit together as a whole. By better understanding our processes, I grasp the impact that minor decisions have on the bigger picture and how they impact Open Learning students.
The tasks within the MDDE program have demonstrated the value of collaboration, of reviewing processes and of providing evaluation on a regular basis to make our own business more efficient. The learning that I have acquired has reduced my frustration when communicating with people who are struggling with technology and has taught me to communicate clearly, patiently and often, and the etiquette established within discussion forums has overflowed into my business environment.
With the time that finishing my graduate studies provides me, I plan on collaborating with colleagues to build a WordPress website to prepare graduate students embarking on their studies. I also hope to take a course in the new year called SW290: Surviving the Coming Zombie Apocalypse – Disasters, Catastrophes, and Human Behaviour. This was a course that I collaboratively worked on to present for an assignment within my MDDE studies and was a contributing topic to my artefact 4. The course, for me, represents the epitome of student-centred interactive learning. I am anxious to experience the incorporation of gamification, with authentic learning, and collaboration, while driving where the course takes me on my learning adventure. I am hopeful that taking the course won't just prepare me for an impending apocalypse, but will help me to develop my own strategies in instructional design and media incorporation. I will continue to look for a position in my work environment that will allow me to put my new found skills and knowledge to the test. My work with international students will continue to incorporate constructivist, and open pedagogical ideologies to enhance their learning and access to education. Finally, I will seek out professional development opportunities within and outside of my work place to challenge my thinking and to allow myself to be sharpened by others through the collaborative process.
I can't wait to linger with family, to walk and play with my pups, and to work in our beehives because it brings me pleasure and inspires with the intricacies of creation and this great ecosystem we live in. No more just fitting things in to get them done. The things that bring me pleasure can again be done with purpose and appreciation. I will resume learning Spanish by taking a course on our campus (in a f2f environment), and explore South America with my family in the new year. A return to running and working out daily will hopefully help me to lose the 10 lbs that the masters journey has added to my waistline. There will surely also be time for reading for pleasure, laying by the pool and standing up on my brand new paddle board. I simply can not wait.
Don’t let the final image I have chosen fool you. Not once did I feel like the finish line was that close to my start at any point along the way. Yet, as I wind up and get ready to finish, maybe it never was as far away as it seemed. Today marks a new beginning. How very exciting!
Many thanks to my family, friends, masters and work colleagues who have supported me through this process. Your inspiration and ideas served to motivate me and got me through the process.