Reflections on Faculty Conversations with the Digital Learning Commons

The DLC is a unique unit with a difference…I should have expected you to not do a standard interview.”  Sabino Morera

This is Desmond Iriaye (DLC graduate assistant) and Evelyn Helminen (staff, Assistant Director for Digital Initiatives). Join us as we take you through some recent conversations we had with various Faculty in the GSTILE and GSIPM programs. The conversations had a total of thirteen Professors which spanned across the two graduate schools between November 2016 and March 2017.

Our main objective was to better understand the current needs of faculty, and gather a comprehensive picture of how they utilize and require technology in the classroom. From this information we hope to help create a more connected and accessible co-curricular learning experience that effectively meets the needs of the MIIS community. We also hope to contribute to, and learn from, the Envisioning Middlebury process, taking this opportunity to understand how the diverse community and renowned programs can contribute to digital pedagogy and influence developing strategic directions for the Institute.

We purposely designed the interviews to be interactive and engaging in order to tease out details that might not otherwise come up in a standard face-to-face interaction.

Our process started with introductions about who we are and some of the main projects the two of us work on at the DLC—which immediately brought up ideas for how we might work better or collaborate more with that particular Faculty member. (*Note from Evelyn: Ask us about Panopto, Zoom, and MiddCreate!) Then the Faculty member gave an introduction. They gave us insight into how much more work they do than “just” teaching; the responsibilities and expectations of different types of faculty; and the ways and reasons they use (or don’t use) technology in their classrooms.

After introductions, we branched out a little bit. We had colored slips of paper with questions on them—some work-related, and some technology-specific—and had them draw randomly from them and answer that question. Two of the most interesting questions answered were, “What keeps you going on your work?” and “What are your pain points in teaching with technology at MIIS?”

Next, we displayed a stack of twelve images, and asked the faculty member to pick one that best illustrated their understanding of what the DLC offers to them, and then explain their choice. Evelyn and I felt that it opened up a whole different level of discussion, which allowed us to explore their interactions with the DLC without either side feeling discomfort or pressure to say anything other than their experience. No hard feelings, no judgment, no expectation. And it was fun!

The responses were as diverse as the different backgrounds of the Professors.

In the course of the interviews, I found it exciting to be on the other side of the table listening to Faculty politely respond to questions. Every single time I played back the recordings, I observed personality differences and how those shaped the opinions and the mood of each conversation. We found that the same digital revolution changing day-to-day life for the student community also presents many new options to faculty for class teaching, projects, research and immersive learning. Professors understand that they now have multiple options for the use of digital materials in the classroom. They can also do practical real-life simulations as part of their teaching.

It resonated a lot with me that some respondents felt the need to always make pedagogy a priority before offering technology options. While on-the-job at the DLC, I have learnt to always place pedagogy first while troubleshooting for walk-in clients and appointments.

Some conversations showed that not everyone knew what the DLC was all about and what possibilities could arise from tapping into each other’s potentials. As a matter of fact, I got the impression that some are suffering from a siloed effect of the way we function as a service department within the Institute. As a GA, if we really want to be viewed as the ‘centre of concentrated awesomeness’, I see this as a wakeup call to immersing ourselves in our work deliverables and serve as the bridge between our classes, Faculty and interactions with the DLC.

Although these conversations may not be in any way a comprehensive representative of ideas of Faculty, it was unequivocally obvious from the individual interviews that Faculty feel it’s absolutely necessary they talk to each other more often, share innovative ideas through brainstorming, talk about what works in their respective classes and learn from each other through prototyping.

Are you a Faculty member at MIIS? Would you like to share your thoughts in a similar conversation? Email Evelyn (ehelminen at miis dot edu) to be put on the list for the next iteration. We’d love to hear from you, too!