This is the first in a series profiling each Teaching and Learning with Technology (TLT) campus instructional designer. Brian Young is a traveling instructional designer for the Penn State campuses in the western half of Pennsylvania.
Q: Did you do anything with educational technology before you came to Penn State?
Yes, actually. I was an instructional designer at the University of South Carolina for about three or four years before I moved back to Pennsylvania. My wife and I are originally from Pennsylvania. We ended up in South Carolina for graduate school and ended up back here after graduate school.
Q: What got you interested in educational technology?
I used technology in my teaching, pretty sparingly, when I look at what we do now. I used PowerPoint, and that was a big deal. I figured this is a good way to spend a year while we were still in Bloomsburg, and it sort of worked out that way (laughs). I knew I was always interested in technology, but I never imagined myself doing technology for a career. So, that was sort of a roundabout way of getting there, but once I started, it was great.
Q: And what made you want to go into instructional design?
I found that working with teachers was a lot more fulfilling for me, professionally and personally, than teaching. Because you could impact more people if you helped the people that teach.
Q: So, what are your primary areas of focus as an instructional designer?
Right now, I have two. The first one is I travel to the western campuses. Heather Hughes does the eastern half of the state; I do the western half of the state. This job is a little over two years old now, and it was created because one of the things we heard in TLT over and over is that the campuses need help, but nobody’s there to help. So, they wanted a face, they wanted a person they could get help from, and Heather and I were those people.
A lot of what I do is because the western campuses do not have instructional designers on staff. There are some that do, but most don’t. My role there is to be the instructional designer for the campus. My role as instructional designer for the campus is different than somebody that would be on the campus, because we have 12 campuses that have one person and that’s myself (laughs).
I help faculty with TLT supportive services. I help them start thinking about how they can redesign their courses if they were interested in doing something like that, help them get started with some of our technologies, and answer general ANGEL questions if they have them. So, it really depends on the individual faculty’s needs or the campus’s needs. Another part of it is that I work with the DAAs, or directors of academic affairs, on the campuses and the chancellors sometimes, too, to create programs to help the faculty on some of the campuses that don’t have IDs. They get the same sort of opportunities that other campuses have with the ID that’s there all the time.
Q: What are some current projects you’re working on?
So, we have two good ones. One is at Mont Alto. We’re doing a hybrid and online course development cohort. We have three faculty from Mont Alto who are working independently on converting one of their resident instruction courses to either hybrid or online, or a mixture, or just redesigning their course in general to make use of technology in a different way than they have previously.
We did something similar to this at New Kensington last year, and that is sort of where this one comes from. The folks at Mont Alto saw that–it was in a Penn State News article–and said, “We’d really like to do something like this at our campus.” So, that was the beginning of the conversation for that project.
Right now, we’re still planning things. The three faculty are pulling content together, getting things sort of organized in a way they think makes sense, and then probably right after winter break, I will be on campus and we’ll work through some of the details of how we will use this stuff, where it will go, how students can access it, and some of the questions that they have. And I think, once we have the thing sort of together, we’ll call on some of the folks from New Kensington who have gone through this process already, to talk with the faculty at Mont Alto and say, “This is what was horrible that we shouldn’t ever do again, hindsight being 20/20 (laughs), and these are some of the things that worked really well.” So, we should get folks from across different campuses to think about these things together and work through them together.
The second project is something similar that’s happening at Hazleton. So, with the Hazleton project, there were two courses that they’d like to offer. One of them was First-Year Seminar. So, one of the ideas that came about from just conversation was that if we did this in an online format just for students who didn’t get through this course, they can take these online. So, there’s this project, and there are a few Spanish courses on campus, that I’m working with the instructor on, that are using Doceri to create content that’s available online through ANGEL anytime the students need it. So, the First-Year Seminar one is a novel way to approach that.
The Spanish course–in language courses, students really need to hear things and to see people speak the language. Because if it’s not your first language and you’re 20, it’s really hard to learn (laughs). So, the instructor in the Spanish course is using Doceri to do some practice exercises for the students, and then make them available for them to use at anytime. And the other part of my life that is pretty much all-consuming right now is I’m leading the Canvas pilot for ITS.
Q: What does the Canvas project involve?
So, Canvas is one of the LMSs that we’re looking at to replace ANGEL. We have representation from over a dozen campuses and every department at University Park participating in the pilot. We have faculty from each one, we have probably right around 2,500 students and about 60 to 65 instructors that are going to be piloting Canvas in the spring.
From Oct. 31 through today, a lot of that has been working with Canvas to get our contract set up, to work with our IT folks to get our instance of Canvas working so that faculty can access it and put content there. We’re working with our training department to get training support set up. So, there is a lot that happens with starting a pilot like this–it’s a big project.
Q: What do you enjoy most about working for TLT?
I think the great part of TLT, for me, is the impact that we have at Penn State. If you think about just the amount of technology that’s available in our classrooms, and that’s just one group within all of TLT (Classroom and Lab Computing)–if you just think about that, and the fact that it works, just blows my mind. At University Park, we have 320 classrooms that have technology in them. Within Education Technology Services and Operations, we work with faculty all the time to help them improve their teaching and help them use technology in different ways. And for me, that happens all across the state and at University Park. The impact that we have on teaching and learning at Penn State is enormous.
I also like that there’s variety. There are so many different things that happen all the time; it’s not a boring job (laughs). And there’s always a challenge. So, that’s what I enjoy. And, I think the reason that I will probably work at TLT until I die (laughs).
Q: So, what are some things you like most about Penn State?
I think that the community at Penn State is the best community I have been a part of in higher education. Working at USC was great, and I loved the people I worked with in my department. But I never really got the chance to go outside that department and work the way that I do at Penn State. I mean, I just think about the number of people in each of the departments and in each of the campuses that I get to work with on a day-to-day basis–it’s just phenomenal. I don’t think that there are many universities that have instructional design or technology infrastructure the way that we do for collaboration.
Q: What is one educational technology issue you would like to see improved upon in the future?
It’s funny; I’ve always said that we don’t have 1,000 technology issues at Penn State. I think we have a handful of teaching issues that we can address by using technology. I was involved with Doceri since we found out about it as an app, tried it on the podium, and had a few instructors try it out, and now it’s the University-supported service. It went from, “Hey, this might be something faculty can use,” all way through to “We have help desk support, we have folks that can talk with faculty, and I’m one of them, who meets with faculty to discuss how they can use this technology in their teaching.”
What it does is it allows them to get away from the front of the classroom, it allows them to get out from behind the podium and walk into the classroom, where their students are, and work with them individually while still doing their presentation or still controlling the podium computer. So, it gives them freedom that they did not have before. Those sorts of issues are things that I think that we try to solve everyday at Penn State, and at TLT specifically.